Essex town councilor asked to apologize for offensive tweets

The Mayor of Essex has asked a town councilor to issue a public apology after a tweet sparked outrage online — with some community members calling for him to step down from his position.

Hundreds have voiced their concerns on social media after Ward 3 Essex town councilor Chris Vander Doelen tweeted Friday: “My test for the Chinese flu came back positive. So I hafta lay low for another week. A punishment worse than the illness proved to be.”

A tweet that infuriated resident Andy Chan.

“I think a lot of people want to punch him in the face, but actually, I think he needs a hug,” Chan said. “Because only someone full of hate would spew such matter.”

Ward 4 councillor Sherry Bondy said she’s disappointed in her fellow councillor.

“We have to encourage unity and not racism and this doesn’t help. This is not acceptable,” she told CTV News. “There are a lot of people reaching out to council right now and they want to go to the integrity commissioner and talk about the code of conduct for elected officials.”

Damn. My test for the Chinese flu came back positive. So I hafta lay low for another week -- a punishment worse than the illness proved to be.

— Chris Vander Doelen (@winstarvander) April 9, 2021

After comments on Twitter came pouring in, Vander Doelen said he made a mistake.

“I found out even in their viciousness and nastiness some of them were correct,” he said. “COVID does not stand for Chinese origin virus. I fell for an internet meme that was from a source that I believed and apparently it’s not true. It’s coronavirus.”

He said the name of the virus is not the issue, it’s controlling the spread.

“That’s beside the point. It still comes from China,” Vander Doelen said. “It’s still the Chinese flue. History will still record it as the Chinese flu. This is the way we’ve named them for several centuries.”

Essex Mayor Larry Snively issued a statement Saturday that said the town denounces the language Vander Doelen used in recent social media posts.

“There is no place for these kinds of statements in our community and they do not reflect the beliefs of Council nor the Town of Essex,” the statement said. “The impact of these kinds of statements is undeniable. As Head of Council, I have asked Councillor Vander Doelen to retract his statements and issue a public apology.”

Snively’s statement goes on to say the mayor and council have received “a significant number” of phone calls, emails and social media messages on the matter and understands that official complaints are in the process of being filed with the Integrity Commissioner.

“Council and I continue to be committed to making our community a place where everyone belongs,” he said.

When speaking to CTV News, Snively said Vander Doelen’s opinions are his alone.

“This is Chris Vander Doelen and Chris Vander Doelen’s opinion only,” he said. “It doesn’t reflect on the rest of council.”

Snively said he plans to address the issue at the next council meeting in two weeks.

But many responding want more done.

“I want him censored and if he’s smart he’ll reach out to community members and maybe make amends. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s any coming back from this gentleman at this point,” Chan said. “The smart thing for him to do is quit." 

“You can only be sincere about your beliefs and correct your mistakes when you find out you’re wrong, which I did today on twitter,” Vander Doelen said.

While he has corrected his mistake on the name of the virus, he has yet to apologize.