Edmonton city council security plan rolled back after water ban brought to councillors attention

A metal detector is part of the new security measures at Edmonton City Hall. Scott Johnston, 630 CHED

It’s just Day 1 of the new security protocol at Edmonton City Hall and changes are already being made.

Plans included metal detectors before going into council chambers and the River Valley Room, a main floor meeting room, and councillors learned on Tuesday morning that the public wouldn’t be allowed to bring water in.

“Oh boy. It goes on and on and on,” said Councillor Mike Nickel who heard of the water ban from the media. He said council didn’t get a memo on that.

“I literally heard about this water issue five minutes ago,” Mayor Don Iveson said after Tuesday’s council meeting.

“If there’s an issue, a question of reasonableness, then we can follow up on that. But that’s the first I’m hearing about it today,” the mayor said. “That seems onerous considering that we expect the public to sit through hours and hours of meetings, observantly or participating in a public hearing. Water would seem to be a reasonable concession for people.”

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READ MORE: Metal detectors, bag checks now in place at Edmonton City Hall

He suggested that maybe they’ll have to figure out a way to provide water inside if there’s a valid security reason.

On Tuesday afternoon, city manager Linda Cochrane told reporters she had heard from enough people and changed the policy before the end of the day.

“A few of us were discussing the fact that it doesn’t seem to be particularly fair that so many councillors and so much of the administration drink beverages in the room so why shouldn’t the public be allowed to? So I talked to security and we’re definitely going to let beverages,” she said.

Under the old system, there was a ban on bringing in food, it just was never enforced. Cochrane said as long as people are being reasonable, they’ll allow food as well.

She said staff believed they had thought of everything. Cochrane said the water issue “snuck up on us.”

Further changes reportedly relate to councillors’ staff members. Nickel said he got word about things his staff can and can’t do during a meeting.

“The city clerk’s office says now I’m not even allowed to have my staff in the bunker,” he told reporters about the large room at the back of the council chambers. “I think we’re going to take some of these things up again in council services committee.

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“It’s getting to a level of silliness.”

Rule changes like this was exactly what Councillor Ben Henderson was afraid of when the security measures were first discussed. He didn’t want to see any changes.

“For a number of different reasons, I think it’s always worked because there’s a bond of trust between the public and us. I worry a little bit that that’s being undermined by saying: ‘We don’t trust you anymore.’”

“We may bring these problems on ourselves,” Henderson said. “I hope not.”

READ MORE: New security measures at Edmonton City Hall to be discussed in public

Tuesday morning’s council meeting had hardly any members of the public attend. It was another in a series of high-level overview sessions for council to prepare them for the four-year term. Tuesday afternoon outside the main meeting area, the River Valley Room, three security guards manned the metal detector for a meeting of council utilities committee.

The first major test of the new system will be Nov. 17, which is a public hearing. It’s expected a large crowd will attend because the Holyrood development will be back before council. It drew a large crowd in September prior to the election.