Promoting his online belief, the Order of Freedom, as a valid exemption to city hall’s COVID-19 vaccination policy has landed Councilor Michael Van Holst in hot water.
In his report, Integrity Commissioner Gregory Stewart responds to complaints filed by Mayor Ed Holder and multiple members of the public about Van Holst’s actions after policies were implemented for councilors and municipal employees requiring either vaccination or a valid exemption.
Last autumn, Van Holst promoted his new online belief as a human rights exemption to the vaccine policy during an interview with CTV News and while addressing a rally at Victoria Park.
“Rather than supporting council’s policy he was actively advising the public on ways to get around the policy,” reads the integrity report.
Following an investigation, the integrity commissioner has ruled that Van Holst violated four sections of the council code of conduct:
- (2.4) Members are expected to perform their duties in office and arrange their private affairs in a manner that promotes public confidence and will bear close public scrutiny
- (2.5) Members shall seek to serve the public interest by upholding both the letter and the spirit of the laws of the Federal Parliament, the Ontario Legislature, and the by-laws and the policies of the Corporation
- (2.6) Members shall accurately and adequately communicate the decisions of the Council, even if they disagree with the council’s decision such that the respect for the decision-making process of the Council is fostered
- (8.1) Members shall adhere to such by-laws, policies and procedures adopted by Council that are applicable to them
“Any violation of the code of conduct is a serious matter,” says Deputy Major Josh Morgan. “These are the rules that we place upon ourselves about how we will govern as municipal councillors.”
Stewart’s report suggests that whether the Order of Freedom is a valid believer or not was not a salient point for his investigation.
He focused on whether Van Holst’s actions followed council policy.
Steve Holland, president of CUPE Local 101 represents the municipalities inside workers.
He says promotion of the creed as a human rights exemption to the vaccine policy led to confusion among some unvaccinated employees whose jobs were potentially at risk.
“He’s seen as an authority figure. They’re taking what he says almost like the gospel, and the sad part is by doing this he put people at risk,” Holland explains.
Punishment for violating the code of conduct is limited.
The integrity commissioner recommends council issue a formal reprimand — essentially a scolding from colleagues.
Council could alternatively suspend pay to Van Holst for up to 90 days.
In an email to CTV News, Van Holst says he is reserving comment until Tuesday’s city council meeting when the report and possible consequences will be discussed.
The integrity commissioner’s full report is available on the city website.