Councillor van Holst avoids punishment for violating code of conduct on a tie vote by council

City council acknowledged that Michael van Holst violated four sections of their code of conduct — but did not reprimand him for his actions on Tuesday.

A motion by Coun. Shawn Lewis to formally reprimand van Holst, as recommended by Integrity Commissioner Gregory Stewart in his report, was defeated on a 7-7 tie vote.

The mayor, who filed one of the complaints, was absent from the council meeting while recovering from a medical procedure.

“I believe the public nature of this action, and the report from the integrity commissioner is enough, and I won’t support piling on,” said Coun. Maureen Cassidy.

Last autumn, van Holst promoted his new online creed as a human rights exemption to the COVID-19 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 council’s decision such that the respect for the decision-making process of Council is fostered
  • (8.1) Members shall adhere to such by-laws, policies and procedures adopted by Council that are applicable to them

“At what point do we as individuals have to forgo our personal opinions?” asked Coun. Stephen Turner.

Turner expressed a belief that there were harms done by van Holst’s actions when tensions were high during the pandemic, but admitted he was conflicted about how to proceed.

“I’m weary that we get into a reprimand that inhibits debate. However, I’m worried as well that not taking action, especially in a crisis situation, allows big holes in our ability to garner confidence in policies.”

Van Holst did not speak as council deliberated, but had sent a letter detailing why he disagreed with the findings of the integrity commissioner’s investigation.

“Interactions with the integrity commissioner were so few that there were significant gaps in mutual understanding,” his letter reads.

Van Holst adds that he doesn’t believe the integrity commissioner can speak authoritatively about his intentions, adding, “In a previous council meeting, I talked about how we have different world views. It seems this may also be the case with the integrity commissioner and me.”

Council had the option to formally reprimand van Holst — essentially a scolding by his colleagues — or to suspend his pay for up to 90 days.

Voting in favour of a reprimand were councillors Peloza, Helmer, Morgan, Salih, Lehman, Lewis and Turner.

Voting against a reprimand were Hopkins, Fyfe-Millar, Cassidy, Hamou, Van Meerbergen, Hillier and van Holst.