Law recognizes right to join conferences electronically

DAVID CANTON - For the London Free Press - May 13, 2005 Read this on Canoe

The right to participate in meetings electronically is being recognized by the law. Telephone, video conferencing and web conferencing allow individuals to participate electronically in meetings when not otherwise able to attend.

Organizations need to consider requests for electronic attendance by those who would otherwise be unable to attend a meeting in person, or they may be faced with legal action.

In a recent case, the Alberta Court of Appeal found the City of Edmonton erred when it failed to consider a request for electronic attendance at a council meeting.

In Keefe vs. Clifton Corp., the case was about whether a transportation consultant from Vancouver was able to participate in an Edmonton city council meeting by teleconference.

The consultant had participated in a previous meeting, but was ill for the second meeting and couldn't attend.

During the second meeting, the city's counsel denied the consultant the right to participate.

The city's bylaw, however, enabled those who could not attend from remote locations to participate in council meetings using telecommunications provided certain conditions were met.

As well, under exceptional circumstances, council could allow teleconferencing without meeting the conditions stipulated.

Where the use of telecommunications is an option to individuals or businesses that want to participate in a meeting and any conditions of electronic attendance have been met, it may be a breach of one's right to be heard or to participate if denied that right to attend electronically.

Electronic attendance at meetings has become a useful tool as organizations operate in national and international markets.

As businesses grow, it becomes more and more difficult to ensure all members are able to attend meetings.

Travelling from remote locations to a meeting is time consuming and costly.

Offering participants the option of electronic attendance not only ensures attendance, but also reduces expenses.

Allowing electronic attendance also ensures that quorum will be met, fuller discussion of the issues takes place, and participation is being offered to those entitled to join.

The Ontario Business Corporations Act and the Canada Business Corporations Act recognize the right of shareholders, directors and officers to attend meetings by telephonic, electronic and other communicative means.

Unless the bylaws of the corporation state otherwise, these individuals are not required to attend the meetings personally.

Governing bodies and other organizations are also reaping the benefits of electronic attendance at meetings.

The ability to involve its members, the public and other necessary persons electronically ensures members make more informed decisions and that constituents are being better represented.

Often the right to participate in meetings by electronic means will be incorporated into the governing documents of a business or organization, such as the bylaws or policies.

There may be certain conditions that must be met before electronic attendance will be allowed, but the importance of offering greater participation is being recognized.

Electronic attendance cannot be denied where the right is provided for and any conditions have been met.

The decision to deny someone the right to participate must be prudently made.

Any decisions made while a person was wrongfully denied participation may be rendered void.

What was once a phenomenon has become common for most businesses and organizations. The costs for electronic attendance are small, and the technology options are numerous.

Electronic attendance at meetings allows for greater representation by the decision makers. More informed decisions are being made quicker, cheaper and more efficiently.

Many businesses and organizations have recognized the importance of and have allowed for electronic attendance. Those that have not -- should.