Municipal Councillor Punished For Attending Ottawa Protest Challenges Decision

HAMILTON: The Justice Centre announced that a lawsuit was filed on September 23, 2022, on behalf of Harold Jonker, a part-time town councillor from the Township of West Lincoln, in the Niagara Region. Mr. Jonker is the owner and operator of a trucking company and attended the “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa. On July 18th, 2022, West Lincoln Council decided to reprimand Mr. Jonker for his participation in the protests and fined him 30-days’ pay. The Council also demanded that Mr. Jonker pay back the value of any food or gasoline that was donated to him by Canadians while participating in the protest.

The decision followed a public complaint and an investigation into whether Mr. Jonker’s participation in the protests breached the Township’s Code of Conduct. The investigators concluded that the protests were illegal, which resulted in their recommendation that Mr. Jonker be punished for his participation. Mr. Jonker was not fined or charged with any criminal offence during the protests.

“The Integrity Commissioner’s report relies on many allegations about the Freedom Convoy, none of which have been proven in a court of law,” Mr. Jonker said at the Council meeting. He stated, “I went to the protest as a truck driver and as a company owner to support what I believe was a peaceful, lawful demonstration.”

This lawsuit seeks to strike the decision to financially punish Mr. Jonker. Justice Centre lawyers assert that the decision is invalid due to procedural irregularities, factual errors and flawed findings in the investigative report prepared by West Lincoln’s Integrity Commissioner, most notably the finding that Mr. Jonker participated in an illegal activity. The lawsuit also claims that the decision violated Mr. Jonker’s Charter right to freedom of expression.

“The claim that Mr. Jonker participated in illegal activity is a suggestion that is not supported by the facts. It is also bewildering that the Integrity Commissioner found that Mr. Jonker, who is a trucker, was in Ottawa in connection with his duties as a town councillor, rather than as a trucker and Canadian citizen peacefully protesting Federal and Provincial mandates,” says lawyer Jorge Pineda, who represents Mr. Jonker.

“The sad truth is that Mr. Jonker has been punished for his political position, in the context of an ongoing dispute with other councillors. In Canada, we must tolerate strong differences in political opinion. Elected politicians should not be permitted to weaponize codes of conduct to silence and intimidate their political opponents. The Charter is intended to guarantee free expression. Canadian democratic institutions cannot survive if such guarantees can be easily ignored through these kinds of tactics.”

Mr. Pineda and other Justice Centre lawyers will bring this case in Hamilton Divisional Court on a date to be announced.