Skip to content

Oakville Town Council meeting delayed four hours over cancelled Gaza conflict delegations

An overflowing Town Hall chamber filled with noisy delegates stops council meeting
9 p.m. at Oakville
9 p.m. at Oakville's Jan. 29th town council meeting, two hours into a called recess with dozens of attendees refusing to leave | Ben Brown

Last night's Jan. 29 Oakville town council meeting saw a set of dramatic and unexpected events at Town Hall: dozens of upset delegates were shocked when a discussion item declared "out of order" from the agenda turned into a nearly four hour delay in the council chambers and annihilation of almost all of the evening's planned events.

The source of the conflict was one item on the evening's agenda whose removal caught everyone's attention. That item was Discussion Item 10.1, regarding a statement from Town Council in regards to the current conflict between Israel and Gaza. 

Several councillors confirmed that they had received a combined "hundreds of emails from across Canada" on the motion by Ward 7 councillor Nav Nanda and seconded by Ward 4 councillor Allan Elgar.

The motion was to have council endorse a 'Commitment to Community and Global Peace', calling for the Town of Oakville council to "continue to advocate for a lasting peace solution, a call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire (in Gaza); and release of all hostages."

When Mayor Rob Burton announced that Item 10.1 (considering the motion) would be removed from the evening's agenda and the 24 scheduled delegate presentations would not be heard, what was originally anticipated to be a humdrum, ordinary meeting quickly changed to the most tense gathering in recent memory at Oakville council.

After Mayor Burton announced the agenda change and surprise cancellation of the delegations, the crowd refused to leave and a nearly four hour recess was called so police could wait for the distraught but civil and meeting attendees to leave the council chambers.

Why was Item 10.1 removed from the agenda?

Caught in the cross-hairs of an international conflict/war zone/humanitarian crisis, Oakville council walked away from council chambers after Mayor Rob Burton announced the agenda change withdrawing Nanda's motion.

The motion has been known to be on the agenda for approximately two weeks, as Oakville News first reported on Item 10.1 when Nanda's motion was scheduled to be discussed tonight.

Read more here: Oakville politicians set to debate Israel-Gaza conflict

Was it because some on council felt that the wording was too weak or ineffective? Did some in the community feel that it might be anti-semitic? A mysterious, anonymous email was sent to Oakville News and sent to false emails of the Mayor and 14 local councillors, warning that many young people in Oakville felt that the motion needed to be more forceful in its demands. (After speaking with councillors, Oakville News learned none had received this specific email from Monday afternoon.)

Police on site at Oakville Town Hall | Ben Brown
Police on site at Oakville Town Hall | Ben Brown

The cited reason, according to Mayor Burton, is section 3, clause 4 of the Oakville council procedural by-law, saying council should not consider business that is out of Oakville's jurisdiction, advising council that Item 10.1 would be declared "out of order."

"I am distressed that I have received many messages that I find bullying and threatening in the matter of tonight's Item 10.1," Burton said to open the council's meeting official business.

"It also appears some members of the public may see the meeting [tonight] about the item as a platform to use to promote hatred and divisive anti-semitic views. Delegations tonight appear to be intending to be problematic too."

After referencing a submitted slideshow from an unnamed delegate containing photos that were "gory" and "so horrific they are obscene", Burton concluded that "I feel this kind of communication has no place at a council meeting."

Ward 5 Councillor Jeff Knoll, speaking with Oakville News during the meeting's extended recess, says he researched the procedural by-laws (Article 3.4) and discovered that Oakville’s council had no jurisdiction to wade into what rightly was a federal issue. It was in the last 24 hours he shared the procedural by-law with Mayor Burton.

Despite the fact dozens of cities across Canada had made similar declarations calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, Oakville's "out of order" ruling is not unprecedented - Hamilton and Niagara Falls have both recently ruled similar motions from their councils relating to Gaza out of order in the last two months.

Councillor Nanda felt it was appropriate to propose, stating, "This is not the first time that Oakville and other municipalities have passed symbolic motions, the most recent being the Ukrainian war. At the end of the day, I and my council colleagues have always advocated for Global Peace."

The conflict between Israel and Hamas continues to be a striking and sensitive one in Oakville: the motion was first made in response to a downtown Oakville protest during the first week of the year.

Read more here: Gaza ceasefire rally ends with list of demands

A timeline of the Jan. 29 Oakville town council meeting

Peace was not expected to be the order of the day after Burton looked up and saw that there would be at least 24 delegations. Town staff warned that one presentation contained graphic images of deathly scenes, while some who were delegating were suspected by town staff to not be Oakville residents as they claimed.

The mayor promptly declared a recess after making the agenda announcement and reading a revised "statement" written together by councillor Peter Longo (after having consulted with Nanda and Elgar) to replace the original motion. Burton said that he would sign it, and while he encouraged everyone to sign it, the other 14 councillors remained silent.

Experienced council watchers have come to expect the occasional 10-15 minute recess, but after over an hour’s delay, and the heavy presence of Halton Regional Police now on site to help mediate, most rightly assumed and knew that something was quite out of the ordinary.

Once the chamber was cleared, the meeting was supposed to resume with the other regular agenda items.

As it turned out, while the situation was not overly threatening or dangerous (as determined by investigating police on site), it was decided, unknown to the public, that councillors would go home, waiting until police cleared the chambers to resume the council meeting via Zoom calls, as was normal through most of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here's a look at the evening's timeline:

Just after 6:30 p.m.: Oakville's scheduled Jan. 29, 2024 Town Council meeting begins.

6:35 p.m.: "O Canada" is played and a land acknowledgement read.

6:40 p.m.: Mayor Burton address council and the 150+ attendees in the council chamber, informing everyone of the agenda change and declaring Item 10.1 "out of order."

6:46 p.m.: The meeting is called into recess, and council withdraws from the chambers.

6:50 p.m.: Oakville town staff attempt to clear the room of the agitated delegates after informing them their presentations would not be seen or heard by council. Almost all delegates and attendees refuse to leave the chambers and Town Hall until council agrees to hear their delegations.

Around 7:15 p.m.: Halton Regional Police arrive on request of Oakville town staff.

At an unknown time in the following 40 minutes, town staff and police collectively meet with council and then give instructions to the delegates: they may remain in the chambers and deliver their delegations to each other until 9:30 p.m., at which point the chambers would close for the evening.

After learning council would not come back out, many delegates left at this time.

Around 8:15 p.m.: Council begins to leave Town Hall, agreeing to resume the rest of the evening's meeting over Zoom from their places of residence.

9:30 p.m.: Town staff inform delegates the chambers are closing.

9:33 p.m.: Staff confirm all attendees had left.

9:35 p.m.: The resumption of the Town Council meeting, now online, is delayed due to technical issues for some members of council.

10:25 p.m.: The live stream broadcast of the meeting resumes online, with only Mayor Burton and seven members of council in attendance (just barely meeting quorum with 8 of 15 members in attendance.)

10:29 p.m.: After a condensed agenda is sped through and resolved, the meeting is abruptly adjourned for the night.

Around 10:40 p.m.: The Town of Oakville's official website is updated with the new statement regarding Oakville's position on the conflict in Gaza. At the bottom are signatures from all 15 members of council.

Read more here: Statement of the Mayor and Members of Town Council

By the time the Mayor and seven councillors reconvened, what were patient viewers rewarded with? A race through the rest of the agenda. Over four hours of events, less than 20 minutes constituted the entirety of the meeting's official business.

Ben Brown
Ben Brown
What happens now to Item 10.1?

Oakville News has confirmed with multiple sources that "there will be no further action" on the statement, which was not required to be approved by vote (motions require majority approval, statements do not.)

Describing the evening's events, Councillor Knoll says, "We weren’t able to get control of council chambers. The delegates refused to leave. The overflow of delegates (140+) erupted in anger and frustration and started yelling at council. They were screaming at us and taunting us."

"We originally called for a 10 minute recess. We (councillors) left the chamber and the audience largely stayed. The police were called, they scoped out the situation, talked to some of the delegates, and then came to us and told us that the delegates wanted to continue with their speeches and prepared notes. It was decided to let them stay until 9:30 when the police would clear the chamber."

For the next three hours, most phone calls and emails to councillors went unanswered. Town staff were nowhere to be seen. No updates were published on social media came from the town except for an announcement about an accessibility survey and that February is Winter Commute month.

Those that remained in the council chamber talked among themselves, shouted out various slogans, and delegated to each other, content that their disruption was duly noted and their activist credentials were bona fide. 

With no one on council to hear their concerns, or determine if the original motion was too weak, meaningless or unwarranted, it's unclear what they accomplished. No one from council or staff asked them what they thought of the new resolution/statement.

None of the delegates on site asked by Oakville News for comment agreed to speak on record.

What does Oakville's new statement regarding Gaza now say?

A copy of the full statement, unedited, can be read below:

WHEREAS foreign policy and international affairs are under the jurisdiction of the Canadian government, and

WHEREAS the Town of Oakville council supports the Canadian government’s continuing management  of the Canadian position regarding the conflict in Gaza, and

WHEREAS municipal councils are concerned with more local issues, and

WHEREAS council is dedicated to ensuring a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for all residents, and

WHEREAS the Town of Oakville values peace and harmony locally and globally, and

WHEREAS the Town of Oakville council recognizes the complex and global nature of this conflict and other global issues and their local impact on our residents, and

WHEREAS council condemns all acts of hatred, and

WHEREAS council is committed to the principles of non-violence, mutual respect and the promotion of understanding among all community members

THEREFORE WE RESOLVE That the Town of Oakville council supports the Canadian government’s diplomatic efforts as council remains deeply concerned by the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and ongoing risks to all civilians, and

WE FURTHER RESOLVE That council supports the Canadian government’s diplomatic efforts in support of urgent international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire, humanitarian aid and release of all hostages, and

WE FURTHER RESOLVE That a copy of this statement be sent to the Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of Global Affairs, the Minister of International Development, all local Halton members of Parliament and be made available to the public, and

WE FURTHER RESOLVE our statement be entered into the official records of the Town of Oakville council and communicated to the public confirming council’s commitment to community solidarity.

We the undersigned,

Mayor Rob Burton

Councillor Jonathan McNeice

Councillor Sean O’Meara

Councillor Ray Chisholm

Councillor Cathy Duddeck

Councillor David Gittings

Councillor Janet Haslett-Theall

Councillor Peter Longo

Councillor Allan Elgar

Councillor Marc Grant

Councillor Jeff Knoll

Councillor Natalia Lishchyna

Councillor Tom Adams

Councillor Scott Xie

Councillor Nav Nanda

After what was one of the longest recesses and delays to an official town council meeting in modern history, the events regarding Item 10.1 will make this an Oakville Council meeting one to remember - or possibly forget.

Oakville News writers Ben Brown and Tyler Collins contributed additional research and reporting to this story.

Correction, 12:15 p.m., Jan. 30: An earlier version of this story said that all councillors had received a mysterious email warning of protests at the meeting. The email was sent to incorrect emails of the town's Mayor and 14 councillors, and was only correctly delivered and received to Oakville News.