West Lincoln councillor breached code of conduct during 'freedom convoy': Integrity Commissioner

·6 min read
Investigation conducted by West Lincoln's appointed Integrity Commission determined that the participation of Coun. Jonker, pictured left, in the anti-mandate protests at Parliament Hill earlier this year to be in violation of the council's code of conduct. (Youtube - image credit)
Investigation conducted by West Lincoln's appointed Integrity Commission determined that the participation of Coun. Jonker, pictured left, in the anti-mandate protests at Parliament Hill earlier this year to be in violation of the council's code of conduct. (Youtube - image credit)

West Lincoln Councillor Harold Jonker will be suspended from the Niagara-area council without pay for 30 days and be required to account for and pay back all food and gifts received during his participation in the anti-mandate protest around Parliament Hill.

Jonker's participation in the so-called "Freedom Convoy," which began on Jan. 28 and was determined by Ottawa Police to be "unlawful activity", led to a call by West Lincoln Integrity Commissioner John Mascarin for an investigation.

While Jonker's fellow councillors voted against an investigation in February, it was conducted after a formal complaint was filed.

Following an investigation by Toronto law firm Aird and Berlis LLP, a report was presented to West Lincoln council on July 19.

Council was then asked to make a decision on what action would be taken based on the findings of the report, which described how Jonker's participation in the protest was in violation of the council's code of conduct.

The investigation led the Integrity Commissioner to find that councillor Jonker had contravened both sections 4.1 G and 7.1 of the code.

"We recommend that council reprimand the councillor for his breach of the code in order to formally denounce his actions," Meaghan Barrett, associate at Aird and Berlis said in the presentation to council.

The councillor remained a vocal representative and leader of the Freedom Convoy group, after the demonstration had been deemed to be unlawful. - Meaghan Barrett, associate at Aird and Berlis

Subsection 4.1 G of the council's code of conduct requires members of council to recognize that they are representatives of the township and owe a duty of loyalty to residents of the municipality at all times

The investigation concluded that Jonker's participation in the demonstration, and in particular his role as a leader and as a spokesperson for the Freedom Convoy group, following the emergency declarations by the City of Ottawa, the province of Ontario and then the federal government was a contravention of this provision of the code, Barrett said.

"To be clear, our finding in this regard is not intended to derogate from the councillor's freedom of expression or right to demonstrate peacefully," Barrett said.

"The issue is that the councillor remained a vocal representative and leader of the Freedom Convoy group, after the demonstration had been deemed to be unlawful, while at the same time continuing his role as a member of council," she said.

Captain of the convoy's Niagara contingent 

Jonker, an owner of Jonker Trucking Inc., previously told CBC he was the captain of the Niagara contingent of the convoy, and he and his wife were in the first truck to arrive in Ottawa on Jan. 28. He also attended a council meeting remotely while in Ottawa.

The Integrity Commissioner concluded that a clear conflict emerged as a result and the councillor was no longer able to fulfil his "duty of loyalty" to the township.

While Jonker told council that he did not attend the protest as a councillor of West Lincoln but as a truck driver, company owner and to "just support what I believe was a peaceful, lawful demonstration."

Councillor William Riley pointed to the fact that councillors don't get to decide when they represent the town as an elected representative.

"My interpretation of when we took our oath to office, is that at no point we get to, I guess, pause it, where we get to say, "Hey listen, today we're not a councillor"," Councillor William Riley said in regards to Jonkers' comments about not attending the protest as a council member.

"At no point in this report does it say that he, as a private individual, cannot protest. It doesn't even say really he as a councillor cannot protest," Riley said.

"It's identifying the fact that it became unlawful, and his real conflict from what I take away from reading this, really comes down to the fact of his role with the municipality. Had he not been a councillor, had he resigned his seat and then participated, we wouldn't be having this conversation tonight."

Dave Bylsma/Facebook
Dave Bylsma/Facebook

In further clarification of Jonkers' claims of not attending the protest as a councillor, commisioner Mascarin, a partner at Aird and Berlis LLP, pointed to an explanation of his attendance provided by Jonker himself.

"These are his own submissions. We're not making this up," Mascarin said.

"In responding to the allegations of that complaint [Jonker] wrote, quote, as a representative – A representative of who? A representative of the township, that's what he's talking about – I choose to represent the residents who are being negatively affected by the lockdown and mandates."

Mascarin said that Jonker "drew the line" himself.

"He said he was a representative of the people that he felt he was representing. He's just said it — of all those that he felt were impacted by the lockdowns, the masking and all the other health requirements that all the levels of government have put in place," he said.

"So, I reject that claim that he was not acting in any way as a representative of the municipality. In our view, he clearly was a representative of the municipality. He said so himself."

Gifts of 'hamburgers, hot dogs, bacon and eggs'

Jonker was also found in contravention of section 7.1 of the code, which prohibits members of council from accepting gifts or benefits in the direct or indirect performance of their duties, except in certain specific circumstances.

The investigation found that, in his comments to the media, Jonker acknowledged that he received gifts of food and fuel during the course of the demonstration.

During the council meeting on July 19, Jonker said he did not receive any money for lodging or fuel, but did receive gifts of food.

Jonker said the gifts weren't received from members of the township itself and expressed his concern with the interpretation of this section of the code due to the nature of the gifts.

He also expressed concern over being able to account for the amount of gifts received in order to be able to repay that amount.

"It's impossible," Jonker said, "It would be impossible for me to even know how much I received in the amount of hamburgers, hot dogs, bacon and eggs – and the list can go on and on."

Youtube
Youtube

Council held two votes, to accept the report and determine the penalties, which was carried 5-1.

Mayor Dave Bylsma was the only one opposed.

Councillor Riley, who asked for a recorded vote, brought the motion forward and it was seconded by councillor Cheryl Gannan.

The vote determined the councillor would be reprimanded, constituting a denouncement of Jonker's actions and a suspension of his pay for 30 days.

Jonker is also required to account for and reimburse the gifts and benefits received within 30 days and then pay back that amount within 60 days.

As a result of Jonker saying it would be impossible to track down and pay back the people he received the gifts from, Riley suggested a donation to West Lincoln Community Care instead.

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