FERGUS – A Centre Wellington councillor who was ousted as deputy mayor earlier this year for his anti-lockdown organizing did not contravene the code of conduct for council members, Centre Wellington’s integrity commissioner has found.
Council voted to remove Coun. Steven VanLeeuwen as deputy mayor in February after he, along with four other Canadian politicians, founded the group, End the Lockdowns National Caucus. At the same time, council asked the township’s integrity commissioner, Guy Giorno, to launch an investigation into whether VanLeeuwan had breached its code of conduct.
Giorno findings are included as a 54-page report on Monday’s council agenda.
Giono notes near the beginning of the document the removal of VanLeeuwen from the office of Deputy Mayor, which is not an elected position, was “a political decision that council was entitled to make, and not a matter on which an Integrity Commissioner should comment.”
“The only issue in this inquiry is whether Councillor VanLeeuwen contravened the Code of Conduct,” Giorno continues.
To determine whether VanLeeuwen was in violation of the code, Giorno examined his participation in the End the Lockdowns National Caucus and analyzed his social media activity.
In compiling the report, Giorno interviewed a dozen people including VanLeeuwen, fellow councillors, and public health officials like Dr. Nicola Mercer. He also requested information from various bodies including the Government of Ontario.
“I find as a fact that, with a few exceptions, the factual claims in Councillor VanLeeuwen’s social media posts were accurate and not misleading," Giorno said. "I find that the statements of opinion in his social media posts reflected views that he had a right to express and did not contravene the code.”
Giorno looked at one of End the Lockdowns National Caucus’ central claims — “lockdowns cause more harm than the virus” — and found the effects of lockdown measures, like their impact on mental health, are “unquantified.”
“Since the impacts are unmeasured, there is no evidentiary basis to prove or to disprove an assertion that ‘the lockdowns cause more harm than the virus,’" Giorno said.
Given that, the claim must be treated as a “statement of political opinion,” not “a statement of fact," he continued.
“In Canada we do not penalize elected representatives who hold political opinions, even political opinions out of step with the mainstream,” Giorno said.
Giorno also found, based on evidence available to him, VanLeeuwen did not interfere with law enforcement or attempt to urge anyone to break the law.
“His actions were limited to seeking to overturn the lockdown measures through constitutional, legal, democratic, and political processes,” Giorno said.
Giorno acknowledged the Wellington County OPP declined to participate in the inquiry and if the police had relevant information he was unaware of it.