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10th February 2019
'Isn't this Canada?' Union Bay residents banned from public meeting

Union Bay resident Kathy Calder wants to know why she can't drink her tap water.

Her community, in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, has been on a boil water advisory for more than a month. Calder was looking forward to asking some questions at Thursday night's Union Bay Improvement District [UBID] public meeting.

However, a letter posted to the district's website Jan. 10 says residents are banned from attending the public meeting, which consists of elected officials.

The officials say they invoked the ban because past meetings have been sidetracked by heckling.

The boil water advisory and the subsequent banning of residents from public meetings has fuelled tensions in the small coastal community of 1,200, where some residents believe their most basic democratic right access to information has been thwarted.

An Improvement district is a local authority that provides services for a community. In Union Bay, it's run by five elected trustees.

'Are we not entitled to see and hear what's going on?'

Since Dec. 15, 2018, the residents of Union Bay, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, have been forced to boil their water due to a high turbidity level in nearby Langley Lake, where the community draws its water.

Some residents wonder if increased development and logging near town may have affected the water quality. But district officials say heavy rain and winds have kicked up particles in the water and increased turbity.

Turbidity is the measure of the cloudiness of fluid.

Residents say the poor water quality is an urgent matter, noting some local stores are running out of water.

"We're very, very frustrated," said Calder, who moved to Union Bay with her husband in 2015. "We're in our late 50s and it's not good to have to boil everything."

She wants to address district officials directly to voice her concerns.

But district chairperson Ted Haraldson is adamant the weather is to blame for the poor water quality. He added stricter drinking water regulations introduced by the province in August 2018, have also led to the advisory.

Haraldson admits, however, that he doesn't know when the boil water advisory will be lifted and people will be able to drink water straight from their taps again.

Calder wanted to raise her concerns at the next public meeting, from which the public is now banned.

"Isn't this Canada? Are we not entitled to see and hear what's going on in our community," said Calder.

'It is a privilege to be attending a board meeting'
Some residents say the heckling allegations from the district are unfair, arguing residents aren't always to blame.

Resident Janet Thomas said board members are often seen heckling each other at meetings.

Indeed, videos from meetings held in October and November show how proceedings often descend into chaos, as trustees continually speak over each other.

At the November meeting for example, what began as a correction to the minutes quickly devolved into chaos as board members bickered, resulting in Haraldson threatening to call the police on one of the trustees. Eventually, the residents too became riled.

Haraldson said he's run out of patience. "It is a privilege to be attending a board meeting," he said.

"I would love to see people attend this meeting, to listen to what's said in a governance manner. But that's not what's happening."

He says a handful of culprits tend to cause the most problems. Yet, instead of banning only them, the entire community has been punished.

The move has angered many residents. And the lack of information is driving residents like Calder away.

Calder said she and her husband are considering selling their home and moving, which saddens her.

"We thought this would be our retirement home."