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West Lincoln mayor removed from emergency ops post amid investigation into COVID-19 protest

A West Lincoln councillor has characterized actions of mayor Dave Bylsma as “not a fine moment” for the community and said the departure from the municipality's emergency operations centre was about a “conflict of interest matter.”. Municipality of West Lincoln

The mayor of West Lincoln has lost his seat on the city’s emergency operations centre after council removed him from the position on Monday night.

Following a “confidential” closed session among municipal councillors, chair William Reilly said the five-to-two vote in removing mayor Dave Bylsma was “the right move” and “restores confidence that could have possibly been lost.”

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The departure comes the same day Niagara Region chair Jim Bradley issued a statement saying he was “deeply troubled” by Bylsma’s participation in an anti-COVID-19 lockdown protest on Lake Street in St. Catharines on Saturday.

“It is particularly distressing to have a member of Regional Council openly flout the law, thereby setting a poor and unfortunate example for those we represent,” Bradley said.

Read more: Niagara-area barbershop is using film set exemption to reopen amid pandemic

The demonstration is under investigation by city bylaw officers and Niagara Regional police after the both services attended the gathering they say drew large crowds.

Cst. Phil Gavin told Global News charges are pending for those who participated, but none have been laid as of yet.

“The role of the police in these types of situations is to ensure continued public safety and to preserve the peace,” Gavin said.

A portion of the protest took place out front of a St. Catharines barbershop which made a pivot in January, operating instead as a production studio offering haircuts after grooming businesses were required to close amid a lockdown order in Niagara.

Alicia Hirter, owner of Chrome Artistic Barber, told Global News about her struggles trying to keep her business of 18 years alive during multiple shutdowns in 2020 due to provincial orders during the pandemic.

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Read more: Niagara-area barbershop is using film set exemption to reopen amid pandemic

Hirter eventually closed her operation in late February after being issued an order under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

The shop remained closed even after salons were allowed to reopen when Niagara shifted into the red-control level of the province’s reopening framework in March.

“I still wasn’t able to operate because of the (Section 22) order,” Hirter told Global News.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 fatigue and frustration rise across Canada as pandemic drags on' COVID-19 fatigue and frustration rise across Canada as pandemic drags on
COVID-19 fatigue and frustration rise across Canada as pandemic drags on – Apr 12, 2021

During a council meeting in St. Catharines on Monday, Mayor Walter Sendzik said he was “disappointed with the blatant disregard” for provincial orders in Saturday’s protest – currently prohibiting outdoor gatherings of more than five people.

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“While I believe in free speech, the actions of those protesting put our community at greater risk and further causes harm to our abilities to control COVID-19,” said Sendzik.

West Lincoln councillor William Reilly characterized Mayor Bylsma’s actions as “not a fine moment” for the community and said the departure was a “conflict of interest matter.”

Read more: After violent anti-curfew rally, Montreal doctor says people must make ‘some degree of sacrifices’

“With the Mayor’s recent actions demonstrated this past weekend, which was the opposite of the EOC’s directive, it was clear to me and to a majority of other members on council that it was no longer appropriate for him to remain in this role and position,” Reilly told Global News in an email.

Global has reached out to Mayor Dave Bylsma for reaction to regional chair Bradley’s comments and his removal from West Lincoln’s EOC team. The mayor has not responded to either query as of Tuesday afternoon.

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