In the classic movie Animal House staring John Belushi, some of the rowdy students are put on “double-secret probation.” Yikes! You’re in trouble and you don’t know it and if you could find out you’re in trouble, you’d have to find out twice to get out of the double-secret part.
Which brings us to the “double-secret” City of Mississauga emergency plan. Cities are required by Ontario provincial law to have plans and make them available to the public. Nobody thinks we should know the location of the police’s secret cache of weapons, but a city plan should guide citizens and businesses in how to make their buildings, businesses, and neighbourhoods more resilient to unforeseen events.
Remember that Mississauga is a big urban area near other big urban areas, and was the scene of the train derailment in 1979 that caused the largest peace-time evacuation in North American history. I expected big things from this plan.
But, at first glance, I can’t be sure if I’ve found the city’s plan. The plan is found on the web: “ …forms Schedule “A” to the current City of Mississauga Emergency Management By-law (see appendix S)…” So, the plan is actually a schedule (or attachment) to a By-law.
But I may not have seen the By-law because “The Plan’s appendices are confidential and are not to be made public…” You might not think we have secret laws or By-laws in democracies, but it seems we do.
What do we do with people who are not in compliance with a secret law that nobody knows exists?
Mississauga’s plan, if that’s what it is, is pretty clear. “The appendices do not form part of the Plan. Any reference to an Appendix within the Emergency Plan is solely for the assistance of the users of the manual, individuals identified within the IMS structure.”
Appendices might contain the location of firefighting gear or medical supplies, and that should be secret. Fair enough.
But to describe Mississauga’s plan as a manual is a reach. Roles and responsibilities take up more than four dozen pages. There are seven pages of definitions. Citizens should expect more on how to prepare for an emergency, prevent one, or respond to one. The plan was “Replaced” and then “Revised” and was still at least four years old when studied and some sections may be a lot older.
Are the appendices that responders have equally old? Do they have them?
A notation of the legal authority for this confidentiality provides no guidance on how to stay safer. The fact that the plan’s appendices are secret is “explained in the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act R.S.O. 1990…” But “Section 10 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act provides that an emergency plan must be available to the public during regular business hours at the municipal office.”
So, the law that keeps appendices secret requires the plan to be made public. What’s the status of the plan that’s an appendix to a by-law? Shame the British political satire Yes, Minister isn’t still on the air.
That same Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act contains other directions. It’s the law that “Every municipality shall conduct training programs and exercises to ensure the readiness of employees of the municipality and other persons to act under the emergency plan.”
That’s good. Checking with each responder will see if all have their appendices. These exercises and simulated exercises required by law are to be held every year. And “Amendments will be distributed to the plan holders … in January of every year.”