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Illegal marriage ceremony scare at town hall

Norfolk tightens up civil ceremony procedures

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There were some tense days recently at Governor Simcoe Square shortly after Teresa Olsen arrived as Norfolk County’s new clerk.

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Following a review of Norfolk’s civil ceremony practices, questions arose as to whether recent marriages conducted on the municipality’s behalf were legal and binding.

As it happens, they are.

However, council this week tightened up procedures and – going forward – far fewer county officials will have the authority to perform marriages.

“There were legitimate concerns in the clerk’s department for a few days that there may be a legal problem with these ceremonies,” Mayor Kristal Chopp said Wednesday. “It was an issue that needed to be cleaned up.”

Norfolk County has been offering civil marriage ceremonies in the council chamber at Governor Simcoe Square since 2005. Under the Municipal Act, municipal clerks have the authority to delegate their responsibilities, in writing, to anyone they choose other than an elected municipal official.

Reviewing the records, Olsen noted that several individuals in the community who no longer work for the county are authorized to perform marriages on the municipality’s behalf and continue to do so. This severed connection to the municipality — and therefore the province and its statutes — raised questions about the legality of the civil ceremonies they’ve performed.

“At this time, the clerk recommends providing the civil marriage ceremony as it was originally intended and established by Norfolk County — to be offered on-site and during regular business hours by members of the clerk’s department,” Olsen said in a report to council Tuesday.

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Chopp also noted Wednesday that authorized officiants in the community who no longer work for the municipality are no longer subject to county standards regarding code of conduct and other considerations that Norfolk County would take an interest in.

For her part, Olsen said the county needs a say over health and safety standards in places where employees or those acting on the municipality’s behalf do business. As such – effective Sept. 1 – all civil ceremonies involving Norfolk employees will be conducted in county facilities.

The current civil ceremony bylaw expires Aug. 31. As of Sept. 1, Olsen recommended — and council agreed — that only three members of the clerk’s department have authorization to perform civil ceremonies on the county’s behalf. They are Olsen, deputy-clerk Kevin Klingenberg, and licensing officer Marie Cook-Potter.

In her report, Olsen says seven wedding ceremonies were performed in the council chamber at Governor Simcoe Square last year. A total of 29 ceremonies in 2020 were conducted on behalf of the county by individuals with delegated authority at off-site locations and outside regular business hours. The fee for a county wedding ceremony is $297.

In her report, Olsen noted that the county data base counts 93 churches in Norfolk County, many of which offer wedding services of their own.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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