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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Council supports Integrity Commissioner’s recommendations regarding Vander Doelen’s Tweets

by Sylene Argent

In his 13-year career as an Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swayze said the Tweets where Councillor Chris Vander Doelen referred to COVID as the “China Flu,” garnered the most complaints for an incident.

  According to his report, Swayze received around 80 complaints on the matter, and also received less than 10 letters of support for Vander Doelen, who also sent and an additional 50 letters that were addressed to him on the issue, noting they did not believe Vander Doelen’s was a racist.

  “I’m not calling him a racist, but he is an elected official and should be a leader in his community,” Swayze said. “Anyone who reads a newspaper or watches TV knows of the hate crimes that have been experienced in the US and in Canada, coming from statements mainly by Donald Trump, but from other people, China flu, etc. “

  The Town of Essex does have a Code of Conduct that prohibits speaking in a manner that is discriminatory, based on a person’s race or place of origin. “I believe the Code was contravened by making these many Tweets, and that is my finding,” Swayze said.

  Swayze recommended that Vander Doelen have three months to remove all Tweets from his Twitter account, referring to the China Flu, China Virus, the Chinese Origin Virus, and/or the murderous China regime; prepare a draft apology for the approval of the Integrity Commissioner to be read by him in an open session of Council; and attend a diversity and inclusion training session.

  For whatever reason, Swayze said, Vander Doelen has refused to remove one of the Tweets. “And that refusal by him is not acceptable by me.”

  He added he cannot accept Vander Doelen did not know the impact on the Chinese-Canadian community of his Tweets.

  If the Councillor fails to perform any one or more of the above three requirements by 4:30pm on Monday, July 19, 2021, Swayze recommended the compensation paid to the respondent as a member of Council be suspended for 60 days.

  In a recorded vote on the matter, Vander Doelen was the only one opposed. Mayor Larry Snively was absent from the meeting.

  In his report, Swayze said the complaints came from within the Town of Essex, the County of Essex, and some from “far beyond.”

  “He referred to COVID 19 as the ‘Chinese Flu’ the ‘China Origin Virus’ and he called China ‘a murderous regime’ that peddles falsehoods to obscure the origin of the COVID Pandemic,” Swayze wrote in his report.

  “There is a need for sensitivity by all public figures, particularly when they use terms, which are considered racist and have resulted in hate crimes across North America. There can be no doubt that his Tweets would be considered racist, given the public reaction in Canada to the same statements made by the former President of the United States,” Swayze wrote in his report.

  Vander Doelen thanked the more than 100 individuals whom he said reached out to him to offer kindness and support. Most of those individuals, he said, were mostly local residents. He claimed nearly all of those who reached out to him noted he had nothing to apologize for and had done nothing wrong.  

  He said nothing about this issue has anything to do with the Town’s actual business. Swayze, he added, is charged with dealing with issues affecting the municipality. He said Swayze has no authority over the comments or actions of a Councillor. “Anything more he claims in terms of anything, would be a gross infringement on the free speech rights on a citizen, who happens to be a Councillor. This is, therefore, simply unacceptable and unjustified.”

  For that reason, “I reject his conclusions on this issue, as should the rest of Council,” Vander Doelen said, adding Swayze’s report is based on opinion, not law.

  “It is legal to utter the words ‘Chinese Flu,’ and people do thousands of times a day, all over the world,” Vander Doelen said. “The only reason we are discussing this, is because there is a group of protesters, activists, and ragtag cancel culture army from outside of Essex, who are trying to take down an effective, local, conservative voice.”

  He claimed they have been trying to do so for decades by harassing him and his family, and even vandalizing his property in the past.

“It is absurd to suggest I was insulting Chinese-Canadians. Who would do that? I’ve known many leaders from the Essex-Windsor Chinese-Canadian community since the 1980s. As everyone knows, they are some of the most learned, accomplished, productive, down right decent people in Town,” Vander Doelen said. “Who the heck would want to insult them? Certainly not me. I didn’t and I apologize to them, very publicly on radio, television, and in three newspapers.”

He noted that for two centuries, people have spoken about pandemics in terms of their place of origin. German Measles he said, was never an insult against Germans. The same judgement should be applied to those, “who are trying to sabotage society by hijacking the language and turning it to their political purposes.”    

  He added the only investigation that should be going on about his Tweets are the connections between all the “actors in this organized hit job.”

  Vander Doelen said racism must be confronted and rooted out. He said his family has had to deal with racism. He said some politicians are frightened of woke mobs, and will submit to things they know are wrong.

  As for the suggested punishment, Vander Doelen said he would be letting down too many if he submits to this “giant lie” in any way. He added he will not take down what he called his perfectly reasonable Tweets, and said he has apologized enough to the right people, and refused the offer of a politcal re-education, paid for by taxpayers.   

  Councillor Sherry moved the recommendations. She said does not believe what happened was a political hit or part of cancel culture. She believes he made a mistake in a Tweet and that there was a lack of a sincere apology to rectify the situation.

  She said Council got a lot of emails about the issue, so the Town had to deal with it. She added the complaints to the Integrity Commissioner were from the community. She said people are hurt in the community and region. She claims she has heard there are people who do not want to shop in Essex, as a result to the situation.

Bondy believes there should be a fourth recommendation, that Vander Doelen apologize to his fellow Councillors and administration for the stress put on them.

  She said she was disappointed in Vander Doelen’s speech and that it is worrisome. “It might take an election to fix some of the attitudes here in Essex.”

  She said Council should be have training every year, and didn’t think taxpayers would mind funding that.

  “Let’s take diversity training together,” she said.

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman said this has been a difficult situation for him, as Vander Doelen is not just a colleague, he is a friend. He said he knows Vander Doelen is not a racist, but he is a man of words. “Anybody who didn’t realize how the Trump administration had weaponized the term ‘Chinese Flu’ was just not being real.”

  In his opinion, this was a breach of the Town’s Code of Conduct.

  Councillor Morley Bowman also considers Vander Doelen a friend. He said he thinks it is an unfortunate situation. He said Vander Doelen is set in what he believes. He said some of the email complaints received seemed to be from a common format. There were others that came from individuals that were affected by the remarks, some of whom are from the Asian community. Because of that, he thought Council should follow through the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendations.

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