Is an indefinite suspension of a municipal councillor an unauthorized removal?

A recent unreported case provides important guidance to municipalities regarding the legislative limits of their ability to suspend council members in relation to Code of Ethics complaints.

In Kaiser v Rural Municipality of Baildon No. 131, QBG-MJ-00019-2022, Council for the RM of Baildon No. 131 (“Council”) passed a number of sanction resolutions stemming from an Investigation Report which concluded Councillor Kaiser had breached the RM’s Code of Ethics Bylaw.

The sanction resolutions:

  • required Councillor Kaiser to make a public apology and acknowledge the contents of the Investigation Report as true;
  • removed Councillor Kaiser from all Council committees; and
  • restricted Councillor Kaiser’s access to RM property and interactions with RM personnel.

When Councillor Kaiser declined to apologize or acknowledge the Investigation Report as true, Council passed a resolution suspending Councillor Kaiser until he did so.

Councillor Kaiser made a court application have the sanction and suspension resolutions quashed pursuant to s. 358 of The Municipalities Act (the “Act”).

Suspensions imposed by council must be temporary in nature

In the decision, Justice Megaw held that due to its indefinite nature, the suspension amounted to an unauthorized removal from office.

Justice Megaw determined that a suspension is intended to be a temporary state of affairs to allow council to control its process and its proceedings. However, because the suspension was contingent on Councillor Kaiser fulfilling certain requirements, Justice Megaw concluded the suspension amounted to an unauthorized removal from office.

The Act sets out very limited circumstances where a municipal councillor may be disqualified from council. These circumstances do not include Code of Ethics infractions. Therefore, Justice Megaw concluded that Council did not have the legislative authority to impose the suspension sanction.

Justice Megaw held that a municipal council’s power to suspend a member for a Code of Ethics contravention does not permit council to “usurp the democratic process” by permanently removing a councillor from elected office.

Municipal councils do not have authority to remove members

The case establishes that a municipal council’s broad discretion to impose remedial action pursuant to section 93.1 of the Act does not extend to indefinitely suspending a council member, particularly where reinstatement is contingent on the council member fulfilling certain conditions.

The case also provides an important caution regarding elected bodies’ authority to interfere with the democratic will of citizens. While municipal councils may sanction an elected member, they are not permitted to effectively remove a member.

The lawyers in our Municipal practice group have wide-ranging experience advising municipalities across Western Canada. Contact us to learn more.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.