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Town of Essex councillor under fire for COVID comment

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A Town of Essex councillor has triggered anger among many locally and far beyond after posting on Twitter about testing positive for “the Chinese Flu.”

Chris Vander Doelen, who retired five years ago from the Windsor Star and has served on council since being elected in 2018, posted the following on Friday: “Damn. My test for the Chinese flu came back positive. So I hafta lay low for another week — a punishment worse than the illness proved to be.”

Dozens of comments in response on Twitter criticized the comment as racist, demanded an apology and urged residents to speak out against the town councillor.

Vander Doelen remained unapologetic online despite the backlash and further tweeted in response to one of his critics: “Oh you pathetic socialist git. COVid stands for “Chinese Origin Virus etc.” Only apologists for their murderous regime take issue with it.”

According to the World Health Organization, COVID stands for Corona Virus Disease.

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Among critics online were local MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L — Windsor-Tecumseh) who tweeted: “This statement is unacceptable & I urge Councillor (Vander Doelen) to remove it immediately. All of us have a role in combatting rising anti-Asian racism & I call on our local leaders to stand up to all forms of racism & discrimination.”

University of Windsor professor and cancer researcher Lisa Porter tweeted: “You are in a leadership role? The good people of @EssexON deserve better. You need to take a step back and educate yourself.”

Perhaps the strongest criticism came from former Essex MP Tracey Ramsey, who also will run as NDP candidate in the next federal election. She will be writing and filing a complaint with the the town’s Integrity Commissioner and called on others to do the same.

She made reference to the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes — globally and locally.

“A strong message needs to be sent,” said Ramsey on Saturday of the councillor’s comments. “These type of racist comments and xenophobia can not go unchecked. This is not acceptable behaviour from anyone, let alone an elected official.

“We have seen hate crimes against Asians rise in staggering numbers. That is being fed by these ideologies that somehow this virus is the fault of one group of people.”

Ramsey was “shocked” when she first saw Vander Doelen’s comments online Friday and is frustrated that did not remove the comments from Twitter.

“An apology is not enough and that’s why I’m encouraging people to speak up and contact the integrity commissioner,” she said. “This is not acceptable and he needs to be held accountable.”

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Vander Doelen, long known for his right-wing views, defended his words in an interview with the Star on Saturday and said he is simply being targeted by left-wing activists.

“They are saying I should be removed from council,” he said. “For what? I said this is a Chinese-origin virus. The fact is it comes from China.

“The leftist Twitter mob wants me silenced and cancelled. This is cancel culture and COVID shaming.”

He believes most of the online criticism directed at him comes from outside the town.

“I suspect only about 100 people from Ward 3 in Essex may have viewed this,” Vander Doelen said. “It’s taken on a life of its own. People are attacking me mercilessly. They will go after anyone who is Conservative. A lot of the names I have seen are people who don’t want me to win on council. They think this is the way to do it.

“The Canadian economy is ruined, 23,000 people have died and they want me to apologize (the virus) doesn’t come from China.”

If an Integrity Commissioner investigation occurs based on the complaints, Vander Doelen said he would “welcome that.”

“It will be a waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “A lawyer is not going to rule against free speech and criticizing a totalitarian government. I believe he will throw this out. These people want mob justice and it’s very clear that’s a dangerous trend.”

Essex Mayor Larry Snively on Saturday said the town “denounces the language” used by Vander Doelen.

“There is no place for these kinds of statements in our community and they do not reflect the beliefs of council nor the town of Essex,” he said. “The impact of these kinds of statements is undeniable. As head of council, I have asked Coun. Vander Doelen to retract his statements and issue a public apology.”

Snively indicated he and others on council had “received a significant number of phone calls, emails, and social media messages” regarding Vander Doelen.

“We appreciate everyone who has shared their concerns with us and we understand that official complaints are in the process of being filed with the Integrity Commissioner, who has the independent authority to initiate investigations into the conduct of individual council members,” he said.

“Council and I continue to be committed to making our community a place where everyone belongs.”

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