West Lincoln councilor broke code of conduct during ‘freedom convoy’: Integrity Commissioner

West Lincoln councilor Harold Jonker will be suspended from the Niagara Region council without pay for 30 days and must account for and reimburse all food and gifts received while participating in the anti-warrant protest around the hill of the Parliament.

Jonker’s participation in the so-called “Freedom Convoy”, which began on January 28 and was determined by Ottawa Police as “illegal activity”led to a call from West Lincoln Integrity Commissioner John Mascarin for an investigation.

While Jonker’s other advisers 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.

The council was then asked to make a decision on what action would be taken based on the findings of the report, which outlined how Jonker’s participation in the protest violated the council’s code of conduct.

The investigation led the Integrity Commissioner to conclude that Councilor Jonker had contravened sections 4.1 G and 7.1 of the code.

“We recommend that the board reprimand the adviser for his breach of the code to formally denounce his actions,” said Meaghan Barrett, partner at Aird and Berlis during the board presentation.

The adviser remained a vocal representative and leader of the Freedom Convoy group, after the protest was deemed illegal.– Meaghan Barrett, partner at Aird and Berlis

Subsection 4.1 G of the council code of ethics requires council members to recognize that they are representatives of the township and that they have a duty of loyalty at all times to the residents of the municipality.

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

“To be clear, our finding in this regard is not intended to derogate from the adviser’s freedom of speech or right to peaceful protest,” Barrett said.

“The problem is that the councilor remained a vocal representative and leader of the Freedom Convoy group, after the protest was deemed illegal, while continuing his role as a council member,” she said.

Captain of the convoy’s Niagara contingent

Jonker, owner of Jonker Trucking Inc., once told CBC he was captain of the convoy’s Niagara contingent, and he and his wife were in the first truck to arrive in Ottawa on January 28. He also attended a board meeting remotely in Ottawa.

The Integrity Commissioner concluded that a clear conflict resulted and that the councilor was no longer able to fulfill his “duty of loyalty” to the township.

While Jonker told council he attended the protest not as a West Lincoln councilor but as a lorry driver, business owner and to ‘just support what I think is a peaceful protest and legal”.

Councilor William Riley pointed out that councilors do not decide when they represent the city as an elected representative.

“My interpretation of when we took the oath is that at no point do we get to, I guess, pause, where we can say, ‘Hey, look, today we’re not a councillor,” Councilor William Riley said of Jonkers’ comments about not attending the protest as a council member.

“Nowhere in this report does it say that he as an individual cannot protest. It doesn’t even really say that as a councilor he cannot protest,” Riley said. .

“It’s about identifying the fact that it’s become illegal, and his real conflict from what I take from reading it, really comes down to the fact of his role with the municipality. If he doesn’t hadn’t been an adviser, if he had resigned his seat and then participated, we wouldn’t be having this conversation tonight.”

West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma shared a photo of himself visiting Jonker at the protest on social media. “Hanging out in Ottawa with international freedom celebrities,” read the caption of the Feb. 11, 2022, post. (Dave Bylsma/Facebook)

To further clarify Jonkers’ claims not to attend the protest as an adviser, Commissioner Mascarin, a partner at Aird and Berlis LLP, pointed to an explanation for his attendance provided by Jonker himself.

“These are his own submissions. We’re not making anything up,” Mascarin said.

“In responding to the allegations in this complaint [Jonker] writes, quotes, as a representative – A representative of whom? A representative from the township, that’s what he’s talking about – I’ve chosen to represent the residents who are negatively affected by the lockdown and the mandates.”

Mascarin said Jonker “draw the line” himself.

“He said he was a representative of the people he felt he represented. He just said that – of all those he felt had been affected by the closures, masking and all the other health requirements that all levels of government have put in place,” he said.

“So I reject this claim that he was in no way acting as a representative of the municipality. In our view, he was clearly a representative of the municipality. He said so himself.”

Gifts of ‘burgers, hot dogs, bacon and eggs’

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

The investigation revealed that, in his comments to the media, Jonker acknowledged receiving gifts of food and fuel during the protest.

At the July 19 council meeting, Jonker said he had not received money for housing or fuel, but had received gifts in the form of food.

Jonker said the gifts were not received from members of the township itself and expressed concern about the interpretation of this section of the code due to the nature of the gifts.

He was also concerned about being able to account for the amount of donations received in order to be able to reimburse this amount.

“It’s impossible,” said Jonker, “It would be impossible for me even to know how many hamburgers, hot dogs, bacon and eggs I received – and the list can go on and on and on. Again.”

“[Jonker] was obviously a representative of the municipality. He said so himself,’ said John Mascarin, left, a partner at Aird and Berlis LLP who acted as integrity commissioner when the report was presented to the board on July 19. (Youtube)

The Board held two votes, to accept the report and determine the penalties, which passed 5-1.

Mayor Dave Bylsma was the only one to oppose it.

Councilor Riley, who requested a recorded vote, moved the motion and it was seconded by Councilor Cheryl Gannan.

The vote determined that the adviser would be reprimanded, constituting a denunciation of Jonker’s actions and a suspension of his salary for 30 days.

Jonker is also required to account for and reimburse gifts and benefits received within 30 days and then reimburse this amount within 60 days.

Following Jonker saying it would be impossible to track down and repay the people whose gifts he received, Riley suggested a donation to West Lincoln Community Care instead.