Asian community, councillor say more action needed from Town of Essex regarding 'racist anti-Asian' tweets

·4 min read
Zhenzhong Ma, president of Chinese Association of Greater Windsor, says while he's glad council is taking some action to address what has happened, more can be done. Ma says Counc. Vander Doelen should step down or be removed from his position on Essex Council.  (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)
Zhenzhong Ma, president of Chinese Association of Greater Windsor, says while he's glad council is taking some action to address what has happened, more can be done. Ma says Counc. Vander Doelen should step down or be removed from his position on Essex Council. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)

Essex council plans to send a letter of support to a local Chinese association following "racist" tweets from one of its councillors about COVID-19, but a member of the Asian community doesn't think that's good enough.

Essex's Ward 3 Counc. Chris Vander Doelen, who tested positive for COVID-19, has faced backlash and criticism for "racist anti-Asian" tweets related to COVID-19. Since the tweets surfaced last week, Vander Doelen has not offered a formal apology and has refused to delete some of the tweets.

Following the remarks, the Essex County Chinese Canadian Association (ECCCA) said the community is "disturbed that an elected official in the Town of Essex has made racist comments in his Twitter feed regarding COVID-19."

Now, council said it will be sending a letter to mend its relationship with ECCCA, but Essex Mayor Larry Snively said it will not include an apology.

Zhenzhong Ma, president of Chinese Association of Greater Windsor, says Vander Doelen needs to be held "accountable" and should step down from his position or town council should remove him.

"He did not consider how we feel," Ma told CBC News. "I'm glad that town council is doing something to try to address this issue ... but on the other hand I was very disappointed that the councillor Chris does not have intention to do anything and try to address it."

Ward 4 Counc. Sherry Bondy made similar comments and said the letter is the "least" council could do to repair the damage Vander Doelen's comments have caused.

Vander Doelen uses council meeting to focus on his sickness

During Monday's council meeting, Vander Doelen decided to talk about the "suffering" he has faced since being diagnosed with the disease, which he says caused him to lose 12 pounds and took all of his energy.

WATCH: Vander Doelen addresses Essex council

"It's day 15 for me from suffering from COVID, the disease whose source we cannot discuss," Vander Doelen said during the meeting, hinting toward the tweets he sent.

Prior to the public meeting, council had a closed meeting during which they discussed Vander Doelen's actions, according to Bondy.

"There was no public statement from councillor Vander Doelen or no formal public apology. It's not really surprising because if he was going to apologize and it was going to be genuine I think he would have done it by now," Bondy said, adding that instead it's up to council to lead the way and show the community that they don't support this behaviour.

Following Vander Doelen's public remarks, many criticized the former Windsor Star columnist for his "harmful language," especially amid the rise in reports about anti-Asian racism over the past year.

Bondy said Vander Doelen's actions have been "disheartening" and harmed the public's trust in council.

"When you're on council, it's not just about your opinion solely anymore. It's about the people you represent and the amount of public outrage and emails we got deserves a response," she said.

"Even if he doesn't absolutely agree with it, he's hurt people and that's what I've come to the conclusion with. Like people are hurt, it's unfortunate that he's adamant that he hasn't hurt people."

More action needed from Essex mayor: Bondy

Bondy was also critical of Essex's mayor for his lack of action following the tweets from Vander Doelen.

She says Snively should be "leading the way" on an issue like this to show the community that "this isn't tolerated."

Essex's Ward 4 Counc. Sherry Bondy says the letter is the 'least' council can do at this time. She says the comments and lack of action from her colleague are 'disheartening.'
Essex's Ward 4 Counc. Sherry Bondy says the letter is the 'least' council can do at this time. She says the comments and lack of action from her colleague are 'disheartening.' (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Instead, she said Snively is letting the integrity commissioner deal with it.

Snively turned down an interview with CBC News on the matter, but said any discipline Vander Doelen faces will be up to the integrity commissioner.

Recommendations from the integrity commissioner are expected by mid-May, according to Bondy.

"Public trust is something that has always been lacking in Essex and so anything we can do to restore it, saying you know we understood that these remarks and a lack of apology have hurt the community and we're going to deal with it but instead this is how this council likes to take approaches and I can't control that," Bondy said.

She suggested taking Vander Doelen off of certain paid committees, such as ERCA and Union Water, until public trust can be restored in the councillor.

In order to take Vander Doelen off of these committees, she said council would have to vote on it.