An integrity commissioner investigation found that West Lincoln Coun. Harold Jonker broke the code of conduct during his role in the "freedom" convoy in Ottawa earlier this year.
The report, published on July 12, found that Jonker broke two sections of the code of conduct: one requiring a duty of loyalty to residents, and another regarding the acceptance of gifts or benefits.
On Monday, July 18, West Lincoln council received the report and voted to penalize Jonker for his actions.
The investigation, carried out by Toronto law firm Aird & Berlis LLP, found the councillor was a vocal representative and leader of the convoy, including after the point the protest was deemed unlawful, meaning the councillor was no longer able to fulfil his duty of loyalty to residents.
It found that Jonker was described as the head of the Niagara convoy and claimed he was among the first group of trucks to reach Parliament Hill on Jan. 28.
Jonker said he did not go to Ottawa as a councillor, but rather as a truck driver and company owner to support what he believed to be a peaceful, lawful demonstration.
“If you’re a member of council, you’re a representative, at all times, of the council,” said John Mascarin, partner at Aird & Berlis LLP.
Responding to the investigation, Jonker wrote: “As a representative I choose to represent the residents who are being negatively affected by the lockdowns and mandates.” The investigation chose to accept that meant he was a representative of the township.
Jonker was also deemed to have breached the section of the code that prohibits the acceptance of gifts or benefits. In comments to media at the time, the councillor confirmed he accepted gifts of fuel and food during the demonstration.
The investigation invited Jonker to outline the gifts or benefits he received, but he did not reply, allowing the investigation to find that the councillor did accept the gifts or benefits.
Jonker said that he missed the email, sent to his township email account, and criticized the investigators for not following up to check he received it before accepting that the lack of response was his fault.
However, Mascarin said that it was convenient that Jonker was only raising the missed email in the council meeting and was attempting to undermine their process and procedure, which was correctly followed.
“If he’s missing emails, it’s a big problem … I’ll be honest, I thought he was ignoring us,” said Mascarin.
At the council meeting, Jonker claimed he did not receive any gifts or benefits as part of his role as a councillor, but rather as a truck driver. He did not personally receive any lodging or fuel, but received coffee, hamburgers and bacon and eggs.
He said it would be impossible for him to quantify the amount of food he received during the demonstration, which Mascarin countered by saying that as a councillor, he should have kept track.
In closing, Jonker asked: “Do we want to live in a country where we are not allowed to protest, or some of us are not allowed to protest, against what we believe and understand to be wrong and harmful for our country?”
“It’s still heart-wrenching and very tough for me when people come up to me, still to this day, and thank me as a truck driver for saving their life, for giving them hope,” he continued.
Council voted to reprimand the councillor, constituting a denouncement of Jonker’s actions, and to suspend his remuneration for 30 days. In addition, Jonker is required to account for the gifts and benefits received, and to reimburse those. Since Jonker said it would be impossible to reimburse the food gifts, Coun. William Reilly suggested a donation to West Lincoln Community Care.
The two votes, accepting the report and determining the penalties, carried 5-1, with Mayor Dave Bylsma opposed.
Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News