Essex councillor misses integrity commissioner deadline, faces 60-day pay suspension

·2 min read
Ward 3 Councillor Chris Vander Doelen has said the actions against him in response to his tweets were a result of a
Ward 3 Councillor Chris Vander Doelen has said the actions against him in response to his tweets were a result of a

Essex councillor Chris Vander Doelen has missed Monday's deadline to complete a number of actions recommended by the town's integrity commissioner and endorsed by council, following tweets that sparked outrage earlier this year.

That means, though he will continue in his role as a town councillor, he is to receive a 60-day pay suspension, starting with the next pay period.

In a report presented to council in May, Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze recommended that council require Vander Doelen to remove a number of offending tweets, including one referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese flu" which he posted in April.

The tweet, among others, had sparked widespread outrage and was decried as "racist" and "anti-Asian."

In addition to deleting the tweets in question, Vander Doelen was asked to draft an apology, to be approved by the commissioner, which would be read aloud at an open session of council. He was also ordered to attend diversity and inclusion training. In May, council voted 6-1 to accept Swayze's three recommendations.

Councillor rebuked report

Coun. Vander Doelen did not respond to CBC's Monday request for an interview, but he rebuked the report when it was presented in May and made clear he would refuse to follow the requirements imposed on him by council.

At the time, he said, "I will not be taking down my perfectly reasonable tweets which also happen to be true."

In an interview with CBC in May, he offered a qualified apology to anyone he had "inadvertently offended," but also insisted he should be able to speak freely about the origins of the virus.

Town of Essex
Town of Essex

Since the report, the councillor has not offered a formal apology during a council meeting. The tweet referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese flu" also remained online as of Monday afternoon, beyond the 4:30pm deadline.

It's not clear if diversity training has been completed. Town administration told CBC there was nobody available to comment Monday. Swayze also declined comment.

Meanwhile, as Vander Doelen's pay suspension moves ahead, another councillor faces the possibility of a similar punishment for a separate incident.

During Monday night's council meeting, Swayze will be presenting his report on Councillor Sherry Bondy, who he says violated the code of conduct by publicly criticizing ELK energy and town staff.

If council agrees with the report's recommendation, Bondy will face 30 days without pay, with the possibility of more financial penalties should she continue to criticize staff.

Bondy has rejected Swayze's conclusion, and has said she was just doing her job.

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