Essex councillor faces integrity probe into ‘Chinese flu’ comment

ESSEX — Essex Mayor Larry Snively confirmed Tuesday the town’s integrity commissioner has launched an investigation into comments made by Coun. Chris Vander Doelen that some critics say are racially charged.

Vander Doelen said last Friday on Twitter he had contracted COVID-19 but described his illness as a case of ‘Chinese flu.’ He also tweeted that COVID-19 stood for Chinese Origin Virus, but that tweet has been taken down. COVID-19 is an acronym for Corunavirus Disease in 2019, according to the World Health Organization.

The Ward 3 councillor has not made a formal apology amid demands he resign.

Robert Swayze, the town’s integrity commissioner, declined comment to a series of questions posed to him by email. One of the questions was whether an apology would have any effect on his investigation.

“I am not prepared to comment on my investigation at this time, except to say that I am planning to report to an open session of council on May 17, 2021,” he said.

Snively said Tuesday: “I recommended (Vander Doelen) apologize, I didn’t ask if he would do it, I recommended that he apologize.”

Section 9:03 of the town’s code of conduct states: “All members (of council) have a duty to treat members of the public, one another, committee and board members and staff appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation….. 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.”

In an email obtained by the Observer, Swayze told an Essex County resident who complained about the Chinese flu comment that he has no power to remove Vander Doelen from council.

“My powers include recommending to Council that the compensation paid him as a member of Council be suspended for a maximum of 90 days or that Council reprimand him,” he wrote.

The term Chinese flu was frequently used by former U.S. president Donald Trump to describe COVID-19 and has been linked to increased anti-Asian racism in the U.S. and Canada.

The Essex County Chinese Canadian Association (ECCCA) released a statement Saturday condemning his comments as “unacceptable for someone in his position holding public office.

”The ECCCA said use of the term Chinese flu to describe his diagnosis was a “racial slur” and “xenophobic attack.”

Vander Doelen could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in statements to another media outlet he said he would welcome an investigation by the integrity commissioner.

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