A Gananoque Town Councillor has been found in breach of Council’s Code of Conduct because of comments he made about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine policy.
Councillor Mike Kench has been suspended as a result of the findings.
In a report to Town Councillors, Integrity Commissioner Tony Fleming concluded that Coun. Kench crossed the line into bullying with comments and emails referencing Nazi Germany to indicate his view that vaccine mandates are oppressive, and that COVID-19 is “not a true health crisis” and “non-deadly.”
The emails included exchanges with a YMCA of Eastern Ontario staffer and town staff.
The commissioner’s 10-page report outlined that the Council’s Code of Conduct requires that councillors work in the public and municipality’s interest.
It’s the second time in this Council term that Kench has run afoul of an Integrity Commissioner. In November 2019, an Integrity Commissioner found that Kench breached Council’s Code of Conduct by liking a “disgusting” and “shocking” homophobic comment on Facebook, and by undermining and being disrespectful to Town staff in emails and social media posts. That report led to Kench’s two-month suspension.
During the latest investigation, Coun. Kench referenced the Holocaust and the Nuremberg trials, and the way he expressed his views was designed to make those who disagree with his views on COVID-19 and vaccines “feel like their beliefs were more than just wrong,” wrote Fleming.
“To equate policy that seeks to ensure a majority of the population obtains a vaccine to combat a global pandemic with actions taken by Nazi Germany to exterminate targeted segments of society is wrong; it is nothing more than an attempt to bully those who disagree with the councillor into accepting his view,” the report stated.
In the report, it is made clear that the matter at hand is not a debate about the pandemic or the vaccine, but rather the manner Coun. Kench advocated for his beliefs about vaccinations and the pandemic, added Fleming.
“Expressing a minority view on the topic of vaccinations or policies that encourage vaccinations is not a breach of the code. What breaches the code is the fact that the councillor has taken such aggressive steps to advocate for ‘pushing back’ on these directives. That is not the councillor’s role and it is a message that is contrary to the direction council has advocated,” the report added.
In his written response to the Commissioner, included in the report, the Councillor said that it was ironic that he would be attacked for attempting to prevent discrimination and harassment.
In response to the Commissioner’s report, Council decided to suspend Coun. Kench without pay for 90 days, thus docking his salary in the amount of $3,327.
In the report, the commissioner stated he was guided in the penalty recommendation by the fact Coun. Kench was not remorseful and doesn’t see his behavior as inappropriate. Rather than appreciating that his approach was not appropriate, he suggested that those offended by his reference to the Holocaust “should grow thicker skin.”
During the Council meeting on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, Coun. Kench was advised that he may take part in the debate on Council’s decision on whether to implement the financial penalty, or the amount of the penalty, but could not vote on the decision.
However, he left the debate in the hands of his fellow Councillors.
Councillor Adrian Haird said, reporting out of closed session, that often times, regarding the pandemic, Coun. Kench has spoken out against or voted against what the majority of Council had decided on or passed, and is representing what he and his constituents who share the same belief think.
“I don’t believe he has necessarily gone against what we as a Town have decided, because we as a Town don’t always agree,” Haird said.
Coun. Haird added that he would be supporting the recommendation of the 90-day suspension because he believes that Coun. Kench went about sharing his and his constituents’ beliefs the wrong way.
“I think Coun. Kench’s energy and commitment on this cause should be commendable,” said Mayor Ted Lojko, adding that he will be supporting the penalty recommendation because people need to respect others’ opinions and beliefs.
The entire report from Integrity Commissioner Tony Fleming regarding Coun. Kench’s actions is available through the Gananoque Town Council agenda for Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.
Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.