Warwick council wants Integrity Commissioner to investigate Mayor Jackie Rombouts’ support of the anti-vaccine mandate protests.
Last week, Rombouts travelled to Ottawa to visit with John Lammers of Petrolia who has been with several hundred people occupying the streets of Ottawa. The so-called Freedom Convoy was organized by Canada Unity stating they would protest until all mandates against COVID-19 were removed. But the group also has a stated goal of overthrowing the current government and installing the group’s leaders as a temporary government to accomplish it.
There has been widespread concern about the organizers who have ties to the white nationalist movement. Nazi and Confederate flags have been seen in the protest along with flags with expletives condemning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Rombouts told The Independent she did not see any racism while she was in Ottawa and believed the media had been lying about what has been happening on Parliament Hill. She also said the Prime Minister should meet with the protesters and listen to them.
Her words came in the middle of a protest in her own municipality on Highway 402. About 25 farm vehicles parked on the highway near Forest Line. Transport trucks were re-routed around the blockade on local and county roads. That drew the ire of residents who were concerned about the increased traffic and the fact thousands of heavy trucks were destroying the roads.
The Highway 402 convoy left the road Monday afternoon, with Rombouts saying she helped convince them to leave. She believes the group only listened to her concerns because of her empathy to the cause.
Then, as council met Monday, Rombouts faced concerns from councillors for her stand. Warwick councillors denounced the protest.
Thursday night, at a special council meeting which was supposed to focus on the fire service, the first order of business was a sampling of the public comments about the convoy, its costs, who would pay it and how the mayor has handled the issue.
Councillor Todd White says Rombouts comments were not not appropriate for the head of council.
“I’m embarrassed and members of the community have said ‘I’m embarrassed to say I’m from Warwick,'” says White.
“There’s been a total disregard of our council, of the staff of Warwick Township, of the community through this; a person’s actions who are in a place of leadership within a community do matter. I am appalled,” says White. And he’s worried what the affect of the mayor’s words will have on the community.
“I really feel this is a reputational risk for the community as a whole. And I think our reputation in a number of areas has been compromised.”
“For clarification, what are you accusing me of?” asked Rombouts as the conversation turned prickly.
“Not having the best interests of the township at heart, as we all should as councillors. I’m also (saying) you’re bringing huge reputational risks towards us and trust me, that is huge. We’re probably missing out on things because of the way we are viewed right now. And I have concerns and we may never know all of that,” says White.
He wasn’t alone in his concern. “I do feel as though that you have gone rogue,” says Councillor Colin Mitchell.
“I feel like you sought counsel outside of the electorate and acted on those on those (opinions), whether they be ego driven beliefs or ideological beliefs or what what the case is, I believe you think you’re right. But I also believe that you chose not to engage the elected council and acted on your own accord,” he added.
“I felt sidelined and not involved in how to approach the convoy at the 402 which, if I can be frank, it’s a legal activity.”
Rombouts defended herself. “Just to clarify, I had nothing to do with the convoy blockage on the 402. I did not encourage it. I was not involved with the group at all. I wasn’t even in the township when they did the blockage of the 402.”
White pointed out the mayor didn’t distance herself from the protests either.
“I’m sorry, Mayor, but you didn’t even denounce that it was an illegal action. And the rest of us took the time afterwards and did,” he said.
Rombouts continued: “I believe that there is a large portion of our community who supports the convoy,” she said.
“I’m not saying that what they did was right. And if I had have denounced them, if I had have called them names, if I had have called them economic terrorists like a lot of people have, it would have divided our community more.
“There are leaders in the community who want to denounce everybody that disagrees with them and that is their choice to denounce them. But I’m telling you, in my opinion, denouncing half of the population in Canada is not the way to go.”
White says council did not denounce the people involved. “I denounce the actions of those individuals that were illegal and others on your council did as well.” White added Rombouts may be mistaken about the level of support the protesters have.
“We actually do listen to the community as much as you do and we hear what’s going on out there. And I’m sorry, but that I do not believe that is the will of our community. I have never known the community to endorse illegal actions – ever,” White said.
“I did not endorse anything illegal,” says Rombouts. “If they were breaking the law, the OPP would have gone and arrested them. I’m not sure why they did not. But the fact remains, that there is a huge division in our community and obviously in our council.”
While White and Mitchell were the most vocal with their concerns, both Deputy Mayor Jerry Westgate and Councillor Wayne Morris also believed there should be an investigation.
Westgate says one councillor’s beliefs shouldn’t expose the entire township council to criticism.
“I’m not going to get into the question here is whether the mayor went outside the line of her job. We have the Integrity Commissioner to decide that; as far as I’m concerned, let him make the decision,” says Morris. “If the mayor has done something wrong, the consequences will follow. If she hasn’t, it’s a dead subject. It’s gone. The voters in October decide right or wrong.”
Rombouts expressed a need for the community to come together and said council should lead. “I don’t see how us fighting as a council is going to help us bridge the divide that is happening in our community. I think that we need empathy for everybody and we need to learn to heal from this. And we need to come together as a council and as a community. There’s a lot of people and a lot of pain on both sides of this issue,” she told council.
“I have not deliberately – I have not led anything, I have not encouraged anybody to do anything illegal. I am trying my best to navigate through this. But I completely understand why council feels the way they do. I just hope that we can get through this and move on because we have an amazing council.”
All four councillors voted in favour of asking the Integrity Commissioner to investigates Rombouts actions.