Niagara regional council has voted to dock the mayor of West Lincoln, Ont., one week's pay following an investigation that found he violated its code of conduct by asking a woman in May if the COVID-19 vaccine changed her menstrual cycle.
Mayor Dave Bylsma posed the question to Emily Spanton in a private Facebook message in May.
"Not a usual question to ask an acquaintance, but did you notice any changes in your period?" he asked in part. "Again it's also none of my business. I respect your person and privacy."
Spanton previously told CBC that past messages with Bylsma were largely around civic issues. She said she found the COVID-19 question about her cycle startling and invasive, and decided not to answer.
"I don't see anything that I could say that would turn this into a productive conversation," she said at the time.
On Thursday evening, council received a 19-page report compiled by interim integrity commissioner Michael Maynard following a complaint filed by St. Catharines Coun. Laura Ip on May 19.
The councillor wrote that asking anyone about their menstrual cycle is "so far beyond appropriate conduct for an elected official that I don't know where to begin."
Bylsma replied in a formal response dated June 7, 2021, that the message was sent privately and the fact that it was shared publicly was Spanton's decision.
The mayor added he had apologized within two days, and suggested Ip's complaint was an attempt to use the integrity commissioner's office to "suppress honest debate."
Mayor violated 2 sections of code of conduct
In his analysis, Maynard described Bylsma's question as "alarmingly invasive and arguably insulting."
He determined the mayor contravened two areas of the Pursuit of Excellence section of the region's code of conduct, noting Bylsma's "actions were irresponsible, and also appeared to violate a trust relationship with Ms. Spanton."
Council voted 29-1 in favour of the integrity commissioner's recommendation that Bylsma's pay be suspended for seven days.
Only West Lincoln Coun. Albert Witteveen voted no.
Councillors are paid $30,204 per year, according to the region's website. That means Bylsma will lose approximately $580.
No precedent because question never asked
The mayor had already faced criticism and received a court summons for participating in an anti-lockdown rally.
That matter remains before the courts. He faces a potential fine up to $10,000.
When contacted by CBC about council's decision to dock his pay, Bylsma sent a brief statement by text: "I will continue to expose vaccine injury and oppose medical apartheid."
Bylsma expressed similar sentiments during the meeting, alluding to studies he said showed impacts of COVID-19 vaccines on women and drawing specific attention to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik responded, referring to correspondence in the same journal that stated: "Our study found no evidence of an increased risk for early pregnancy loss after COVID-19 vaccination.
"I needed to read that into the public space so that people can see we can't just put out the name of a journal and say it validates what we think without actually reading the information that was provided," said Sendzik.
Bylsma told council on Thursday that he made a "sincere" and "full" apology to Spanton.
He added be believes the integrity commissioner's report showed "bias" and was "flawed."
The mayor also took issue with several aspects of the investigation, including that the integrity commissioner was "striking out into new territory" as he could not point to any similar situation or precedent on which to base his decision.
During the council meeting, Ip fired back, saying Bylsma's challenge of its findings "calls into question the sincerity of the apology."
As for his point about there being no precedent, she had an answer for that too.
"I would suggest that's because no councillor has ever asked a citizen about their menstrual cycle before."
With files from Samantha Craggs
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca