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Motivations of some North Cowichan candidates questioned

Anti-vaccine and other views held by a number of those running for office
Find out about your local candidates before you head to the polls. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

The motivations of some of the candidates running in the municipal elections on Oct. 15 in the Cowichan Valley, and across the province, are raising concerns among politicians at the local and provincial level.

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring, who is retiring, said on his blog he suspects at least four of the candidates running for seats at the council table in the municipality would never have considered running if it hadn’t been for the controversies engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said if their motivation for running is even tangentially connected to stopping vaccine mandates, supporting trucker convoys, or some of the other so-called “freedom” issues, they need to understand that local governments really have very little authority in these areas.

“While getting elected to local government may be the easiest route to political ‘influence’, the reality is that the influence that can be exerted on these larger issues from the local government table is pretty much non-existent,” Siebring said.

“These folks are certainly entitled to their opinions, but my fear is that electing people with these priorities will detract from the real and serious issues that local governments are facing, and divert attention and staff time away from those more serious matters.”

Siebring posted to his mayoral Facebook page that while he was recently having a coffee with a friend in a coffee shop, he was approached by a woman calling him a terrible mayor. She asked how much money the World Economic Forum paid him to push through its agenda in the new official community plan that council adopted this summer.

“Another affirmation of my decision to retire from local politics,” Siebring said. “The wingnuttery is becoming increasingly ridiculous.”

At the all-candidates meeting in Maple Bay on Oct. 4 for those running for office in North Cowichan, candidates were asked if they believed the municipality’s process of developing its official community plan was influenced by the World Economic Forum and/or the United Nations, as some conspiracy theorists contend.

The moderator asked those who believe that to stand, and councillor candidates Chris Shaw, Joseph Enslow, Adrienne Richards and Charles Borg stood up.

In a general email to all North Cowichan candidates from the Citizen asking their thoughts on the Freedom Convoy and the views it expressed, Shaw said he supported the convoy, along with thousands of other Canadians in the Cowichan Valley and across the country.

Shaw, who wrote the book Dispatches from the Vaccine Wars: Fighting for Human Freedom During the Great Reset, said he felt, and still feels, the truckers and their supporters were demonstrating their conviction that medical choices of all types are part of an inherent right to security of the person.

“In any democracy, such a right is crucial, and indeed in Canada it is embedded in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he said.

“With the mandate for truckers to be vaccinated in order to cross the border, the federal government had demonstrated their disregard for Canadians’ basic rights.…Added to this disregard for basic rights, almost all of the official justification for the original decrees, and the events that then followed in Ottawa, clearly demonstrated to many that such measures were less about health than control.”

Borg responded that as a proud veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, he supports the constitution, specifically the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“I did support the Freedom Convoy earlier this year as it was ruled a peaceful, legal and safe protest by Ontario Superior Court Justice Mr. McLean,” he said.

“I believe peaceful, legal and safe protests are fundamental in a free and democratic society and I support all individuals, groups and organizations that choose to participate in protesting as long as it is peaceful, legal and safe.”

A wide-ranging interview with Borg is posted on the Veterans 4 Freedom Facebook page (he is a member of the group), in which Borg compares pandemic mandates to fascism and communism, and talked about wanting to “take back our community and hopefully flourish up to the province, to the country and we can live in peace and prosperity once again.”

“We must take back our councils and then we’ll take back our legislature and then we’ll take back the House of Commons.”

Joseph Enslow and Adrienne Richards, the other two candidates who stood at the all-candidates meeting in Maple Bay, didn’t reply to the Citizen’s questions by press time. The two are running as United Independents with Shaw. Though they say they are not a formal slate and they each have independent ideas, they are sharing a website and other election materials.

Some other candidates in North Cowichan have also expressed anti-vaccination, pro-convoy views.

Joyce Behnsen, running for seat as a councillor, has posted such content on her Facebook page amid posts on local community events and people, though she did not respond to the Citizen’s emailed question.

In a posting in March, Behnsen states that people are expected to “trust the so called vaxxes that are unproven to be effective”.

She encourages readers to wake up to the “plandemic” and check the facts, and has also linked to multiple anti-vaccination articles. Multiple other posts also voiced support for the Freedom Convoy.

Some of the other candidates who replied to the Citizen’s question on the Freedom Convoy were less supportive.

Christopher Justice said the Freedom Convoy, per se, is unrelated to the issues under consideration in North Cowichan’s municipal election.

However, he said there seems to be many residents who believe some of the same underlying attitudes including libertarian anger related to COVID-19 restrictions and beliefs related to what some consider conspiracy theories are motivating in whole or in part some candidates running in local elections this fall.

“Personally, I did not support the cause of the Freedom Convoy, nor do I see the world in the same way that I believe do those who participated in it,” Justice said.

Chris Istace said the leadership of the national Freedom Convoy movement chose the crisis to forward an individualistic platform through anger, division and intimidation when what was needed was for everyone to come together to protect one another.

Peter Rusland said he denounces the “so-called” Freedom Convoy and its seditious tenets.

“The Trucker Convoy comprised, at least, misguided, well-meaning folks frightened by insidious misinformation,” he said.

“It is based mostly on dubious social-media posts by hateful conspiracy theorists and agenda-driven radicals. At worst, the convoy included criminals who occupied our capital city and elsewhere.”

Dana Arthurs said what a person believes or feels is not for her to judge.

“One of the great things about our country is our ability to share our opinions freely, without persecution,” she said.

Elizabeth Croft said that as far as civil disobedience goes, the Freedom Convoy was impressive, but it went too far.

She said the participants sent a loud, clear message that went around the world.

“When they stayed so long, they severely imposed [on the] freedoms of the citizens of Ottawa to get to school, work, open their businesses and get on with their lives,” Croft said.

“The convoy imposed on everyone’s freedom by hampering Parliament’s work; again by staying for a such a long time after the message was heard. At that point, I felt the convoy was not interested in the freedom for Canadians overall, but had become overly focused on their own agenda and forgotten the damage they were doing to people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Mike Caljouw said he’s in line with science and the government mandates on vaccinations, and has been triple vaxxed and going for his fourth.

In regards to the Freedom Convoy, he said he thinks that it is everyone’s right to be able to peacefully protest about what they feel is wrong.

“The Freedom Convoy’s journey across Canada was a completely legal protest,” Caljouw said.

“It was when they got to Ottawa that it changed. A peaceful protest is one thing, but to stop business and deny peoples’ livelihoods is wrong. Many hundreds of people were forced out of work while the Freedom Convoy occupied the streets.”

Caljouw said the real issue is that none of this has anything to do with municipal politics.

“As a matter of fact, my platform speaks to this completely,” he said.

“I want the Municipality of North Cowichan to get back to core values; roads, water, sewer, facilitating development, all while keeping our rural nature. Keep the Freedom Convoy out of North Cowichan’s municipal hall.

None of the three mayoral candidates – Rosalie Sawrie, Rob Douglas and John Koury – responded to the Citizen’s questions by press time.

As for councillor candidates, those who didn’t respond are Tek Manhas, Kate Marsh, Debra Toporowski and Bruce Findlay. Their social media accounts also do not speak to the subject.

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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