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Winnipeg city council to review protocol after councillor attends virtual meeting while driving

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Winnipeg city council will be reviewing and updating its protocol surrounding virtual participation in council proceedings after a city councillor joined a virtual video council meeting while behind the wheel. Marney Blunt reports – Jan 28, 2022

Winnipeg city council will be reviewing and updating its protocol surrounding virtual participation in council proceedings after a city councillor joined a virtual video council meeting while behind the wheel.

A screengrab of a Zoom meeting was sent to 680 CJOB, which showed St. Boniface ward Councillor Matt Allard behind the wheel while on a video call.

Coun. Allard says he was partaking in the meeting from his home office, as per COVID-19 protocols, when he stepped out to pick up his daughter from daycare, and kept the video meeting on in his vehicle through his hands-free device. He says he was following the Highway Traffic Act.

Read more: Winnipeg police renew warning to public about distracted driving

He also said he asked his daughter to help with the meeting so he wouldn’t be touching his phone while driving.

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“My daughter was in the car, so I had instructed my daughter that if there should be any muting or unmuting she could hear on the council record, that she knew how to operate the hand-held device while I was using my hands-free device,” Allard told Global News.

The Speaker of Council, Devi Sharma, was alerted to Allard being in a vehicle and raised concerns about the issue during Thursday’s meeting.

“It was the type of meeting where all I needed to do was listen. There was a long speakers’ list and I knew that if it came to a vote, I could safely either pull over to make that vote or I could ask, once my daughter was in the car, that my daughter could unmute me at the appropriate time and I would be able to make the vote that way,” Allard said.

“I don’t think I was required to look at the device. It was a debate done with audio and it was that kind of meeting where I could do my job while listening and also safely get to my destination.”

Read more: Hamilton councillors accept apology after volunteer participated in virtual meeting while driving

Allard also says he’s frustrated with some of his colleagues’ reaction to the situation.

“I’m very angry with my colleagues for suggesting that I would put the safety of my children at risk. My number one job is being a dad – I’m a single dad and I balance my work with my parental responsibilities,” he said.

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“And I read the Highway Traffic Act, and I believe I was doing everything I needed to do in order to continue my job safely.”

Waverley West ward City Councillor Janice Lukes says the incident was concerning, as it was a distraction to council.

“We were in a very big discussion and debate on the Blumberg property, which is a multi, multi-million (dollar) decision we have to make and for me it was very distracting to see someone driving in the meeting,” Lukes told Global News.

Read more: Councillors want decriminalization of small amount of drugs in Winnipeg to be considered

“There’s a lot going on at city hall, there’s a lot of work involved in these multi-million dollar decisions and yeah, it was distracting to many members of council.”

Lukes says while she understands the juggle between work life and parent life, she says the only focus during a council meeting, should be the matter before council.

“I’m a parent, I’ve got three teenage boys, I could be cooking all day. I just don’t think it would be appropriate for me to be making cookies and folding the laundry when I’m in a council meeting making multi-million dollar decisions. That’s just me,” Lukes said.

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“Everyone operates differently. I just think in a council meeting, we need to be focused on the issues at hand, and (when) driving I think you’ve got to focus on driving and then you’re focusing on the sale of the Blumberg golf course and a multi-million dollar golf course. I can multi-task as good as anyone else, but it just seemed really inappropriate in a council meeting.”

She also says it raised the concern of safety.

“I don’t think driving around with your phone on while you’re in a meeting … probably isn’t the safest thing to be doing on the road,” she added.

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The Winnipeg Police Service says they are not aware of or investigating the incident, and distracted driving offences are usually only investigated when police observe the incident.

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However, they’re reminding the public not to use any device that takes your eyes off the road.

“Overall the rules are really very simple, any device that takes your eyes off of the road can contribute to distracted driving. Don’t touch your screen functions, don’t put it in your console or your dash so you can glance at it etc,” a Winnipeg police spokesperson wrote in an email to Global News.

“If there (are) any words for the wise, if you just aren’t 100 per cent sure what is handheld, or what is distracting, then just pull over – take your call, do your business, conduct your meetings – and don’t drive again until these processes are completed.”

Read more: Winnipeg police crack down on distracted driving, discuss ‘one-touch’ phone operation

Sharma told Global News councillors are expected to maintain professional conduct and pay full attention to the proceedings of council. She also said there will be a review and further rules on virtual participation following this incident, which will be discussed at the next governance committee meeting.

“I feel that appropriate remote participation means having your camera on at all times from a location reflective of the professional conduct expected such as the Council Chamber, City Council office, home office or other similar type location containing an environment which allows for the participant’s undivided attention and focus,” Sharma said in an emailed statement.

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Coun. Allard agrees a review and clarity on the rules during the pandemic is a good idea.

“I think it would be good to review what is expected and not expected during council meetings,” he said.

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