The office of the Ombudsman of Ontario received 61 complaints about Hamilton’s “Sewergate” controversy in 2019.
That’s according to Paul Dubé’s annual report, which notes there was “public outrage” after it was revealed that 24 billion litres of untreated wastewater had spilled into Chedoke Creek over a four-year period.
“Most of these were focused on the city’s decision not to disclose the volume and duration of the spill,” Dubé wrote. “People were also concerned about long-term environmental impacts, possible health and safety risks, and potential tax increases resulting from expenditures incurred by the city.”
An environmental impact study released earlier this year says no remediation of Cootes Paradise is required in response to the spill, but the Ministry of the Environment is in the process of collecting its own findings.
Dubé says he will wait until the province has wrapped up its environmental investigation before determining whether a separate probe is warranted.
The city has hired a technologist to monitor water quality within all of Hamilton’s waterways, specifically downstream of city infrastructure.
At an April council meeting, General Manager of public works Dan McKinnon told city councillors that the goal is to prevent a repeat of the incident, which happened when a bypass gate was left partially open at a combined sewer overflow tank, allowing sewage to enter Chedoke Creek between January 2014 and July 2018.
The Ombudsman report also notes that the city of Hamilton was the focus of 154 complaints in 2019. Only the cities of Toronto (404) and Ottawa (200) ranked higher.
A city of Hamilton hiring committee that met out-of-town twice in February 2019 was at the centre of 77 complaints – which is the highest number of complaints the ombudsman has ever received in a single closed meeting case.
Those meetings, which were held at a resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake and involved interviewing applicants for the city manager position, were found not to have violated the Municipal Act.
However, the Ombudsman did rule that the open portion of the first meeting was illegally closed to the public due to “a breakdown in communication” between the city, its recruitment firm and the venue.
The report says the group of Hamiltonians who had travelled to Niagara-on-the-Lake to protest the open parts of the meeting found out that the scheduled meeting time had changed without notice and were turned away by security at the venue.
“The Ombudsman found that the city’s failure to ensure that the public could attend the open session constituted an illegal meeting,” Dubé wrote, recommending that “council members be vigilant in ensuring that the open meeting rules are followed and that the city update its procedural by-law to ensure public notice is provided for all committee meetings.”
In terms of the province’s correctional facilities, the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre ranked fifth in terms of complaints, with the ombudsman’s office reporting 557 cases associated with the Barton Street jail.
One complaint was filed against the Hamilton Conservation Authority.
Hamilton’s public school board was the subject of 20 complaints, while the Catholic board saw four cases filed against it.
The Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton had 55 complaints filed against its organization and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton had 23.