Essex councillor dismisses ‘trumped up’ integrity report, defends ‘Chinese flu’ tweet

ESSEX — Coun. Chris Vander Doelen has refused to apologize for his use of the term “Chinese flu” to describe the COVID-19 virus and called the subsequent investigation by the town integrity commissioner “trumped up.”

The report by lawyer Robert Swayze said Vander Doelen should apologize for the tweet, remove it from his Twitter account and also take diversity training.

But the Essex councillor refused to withdraw the post, said he had already apologized to the appropriate people within the local Chinese community and would not take any training. He called the report “wrong-headed” and said calling his post racist was “slanderous.”

“The fake outrage mob even claims that words such as mine are responsible for the anti-Asian attacks and the hatred seen in U.S. inner cities. And this wrong-headed report supports that woke fantasy. Such an imaginary connection.”

Swayze told council Monday that in his 13 years as an integrity commission he never received so many public complaints about comments made by an elected official.

In his written response to the complaint that launched the investigation, Vander Doelen said he was the target of an organized, politicized attack. Swayze dismissed that defence.

“I have had experience receiving orchestrated complaints and none of the complaints I received in this case were organized by anyone. They were all sincere, diverse and prepared spontaneously in reaction to the public statements made by the respondent,” he wrote.

In his prepared statement to council Vander Doelen said “the only reason we’re sitting here discussing this tweet is that a group of protestors, activists and ragtag cancel culture army from outside Essex is trying to take down an effective conservative voice.”

Robert Swayze

The report lists some of Vander Doelen’s tweets, which were posted after he had been diagnosed with COVID. He used the terms Chinese flu and Chinese Origin Virus and called China “a murderous regime that peddles falsehoods” to obscure the origins of the pandemic.

Only the Chinese flu comment remains on Vander Doelen’s Twitter page.

Vander Doelen did not back down over his comments about the Chinese government.

“(The report) disapproved of a tweet of mine calling them a murderous regime but that’s what they are; ask Tibet or India or the Uyghurs who were being wiped out by Beijing in a modern-day communist genocide.”

He also dismissed the suggestion he take diversity training. He said he helped raise two stepsons who are half-Asian and said one of those stepsons “laughed out loud” at the comment he take diversity training.

He said he received more positive comments about his remarks than anything he wrote as a reporter or columnist at the Windsor Star.

“Nearly all of those who reached out to me assured me I did nothing wrong whatsoever and have nothing to apologize for — no matter what a trumped-up investigation says, no matter what all those political extremists from outside town say.”

He reacted strongly to Swayze using the word “racist” to describe the still-undeleted tweet, calling it slanderous.

“I’ve known many of the leaders of the Windsor-Essex Chinese-Community since the 1980s and as everyone knows they are some of the most learned, accomplished, productive and downright decent people in town. Who the heck would want to insult them? Certainly not me, and I didn’t.”

Anyone who didn’t realize how the Trump administration had weaponized the term Chinese flu was just not being real.

Every councillor at Monday’s meeting voted to endorse Swayze’s report — except Vander Doelen.

Many of the councillors said they view Vander Doelen as a colleague and friend but could not accept his description of the virus as the Chinese flu.

“I know he’s not a racist,” said Coun. Steve Bjorkman. “He is a man of words, that’s what he does …. And I made my public statement that anyone who didn’t realize how the Trump administration had weaponized the term Chinese flu was just not being real. So, in my opinion … this was a breach of our code of conduct.”

Section 3:03 of the town’s code of conduct reads: “A member shall not use indecent, abusive or insulting words or expressions toward any other member, an employee or any member of the public and shall not speak in a manner that is discriminatory to any individual based on that person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age, colour, marital status or disability.”

Every councillor made statements similar to Bjorkman.

Coun. Kim Verbeek said she received numerous comments and emails from neighbouring municipal councillors about Vander Doelen’s remarks.

“I’ve heard from all of the major political groups across the community of elected officials speaking out against this type of speech because they understand the importance of dousing any of these seeds before they are planted because if they are ignored they do grow,” she said.

Council’s endorsement of the integrity commissioner’s report means Vander Doelen will be docked 60 days’ pay if he does not comply with the recommendation by mid-July.

In his report, Swayze said elected officials must be held to a higher standard — a comment Vander Doelen ridiculed and used to take a shot a Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Don’t give me that guff about politicians being held to higher standards than others,” he said.“We are held to a much lower standard of truthfulness and good character, and (in) a country whose prime minister … is known to have worn blackface numerous times and still sits in Parliament. You’re claiming higher standards for politicians, you’ve got to be kidding.”

In Vander Doelen’s written defence of his Twitter comments, he acknowledged use of the term Chinese flu may have made members of the Asian community “nervous” and that had made apologies on various media outlets in the Windsor area.

Swayze said that wasn’t enough.

“It is difficult for me to understand why he can both acknowledge that the Tweet makes the Asian Community nervous and that it is not racist,” the integrity commissioner said in his report.

At the end of his prepared statement Vander Doelen said he would welcome the next election in 2022.

“I’m looking forward … to looking my constituents in the eye when I meet them in the street and at the ballot box next year.”

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