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Councillor storms out of Kaslo council debate on vaccine mandate action

Emotions erupted after a petition was brought forward to council

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

Tempers flared at Kaslo City Hall on Jan. 25 as council waded knee-deep into the local protest against COVID-19 health policies implemented by the province.

Councillor Kellie Knoll slammed his computer shut and walked out of the meeting as council discussed how to support a local group opposed to provincial vaccine passports and employment mandates.

“It’s a joke,” he said of council’s reaction as he stormed out of the room.

Knoll was angry at Councillor Rob Lang, the only councillor to oppose the Village writing a letter to the province about concerns about the vaccine mandate.

Mayor Suzan Hewat then shut down debate when another councillor seemed about to go on a personal attack against the vacationing Lang.

“Councillor Lang is sitting there in a glorious place, he has no idea what is going on … it’s easy for him…,” Henry Van Mill began.

“Respectful, respectful,” Hewat said, interrupting Van Mill. “He has every right to vote, the same as you and you can’t make a judgement call on where Councillor Lang is sitting at this point.”

Emotions were high from the beginning of the meeting, when a group called BeyondTheDivide came before council as a delegation. Calling itself a “group of concerned citizens … who have joined together to promote unity,” they delivered a petition of about 350 names to council.

“The Village of Kaslo will not entertain proposals that are illegal,” Hewat cautioned the delegation before it presented. “The Village is required by law to follow the orders of the provincial health officer. That said, we are interested in hearing from our constituents on how they are being impacted by pandemic-related restrictions.”

The group called on the Village to declare a “mandate-free Kaslo,” saying that the vaccine mandates were harming the community and council had to address the issue. Most of their presentation was relating anecdotal stories about the impacts of the vaccine mandates.

“Never before has one’s personal choice resulted in so much fear and a willingness to vilify and ostracize others based upon whether or not one is vaccinated,” the group said in its written presentation. “We believe that these measures are causing more harm to our community than the virus itself. The civil ties that bind us together are straining.”

Members of the delegation – including a teacher, a naturopathic physician and a lawyer – asked council to write to the province calling for an end to vaccine passports and employment mandates, and “expressing your concerns for how the passports and mandates are dividing and stressing our community, and causing much harm to its citizens.” About 30 other BeyondTheDivide supporters joined the meeting electronically.

Despite the warning beforehand, council was mostly sympathetic to the delegation’s views. They moved to include the group’s petition as a late agenda item, in order to have a discussion about it.

All voted for adding it to the agenda except one councillor, Rob Lang, who was attending the meeting remotely.

Lang reaffirmed his opposition later in the evening when the item came up for discussion and council began debating how to direct staff on writing a letter to the Province.

“I’m totally opposed to council taking a position on this matter… I think people dying is pretty divisive too,” he said. “I’m just not going to support any position with council saying that they are going to write a letter to the Province asking them to restrict or limit the mandates.”

Knoll, who has been an outspoken critic of COVID public health measures since the start of the pandemic, challenged Lang’s stance on the issue.

“I’m just curious as to why anyone is against this… did you read… did Councillor Lang even look at what they are asking?” he said. “They are asking to express to the government our concerns about what the passports and mandates are doing, dividing and stressing our community. They’re not going against vaccinations, so why don’t you listen a little bit?”

He then grew visibly angry, slamming his computer shut, and storming out of the meeting as Hewat reminded him to be respectful.

After a few moments, the mayor tried to re-establish control of the meeting, cutting off Van Mill’s criticism of Lang.

Concerned that the petition had to be double-checked by staff first, Hewat and Councillor Molly Leathwood, along with Lang, defeated the motion to have staff draw up a letter to the Province immediately.

“The petition will come back [next meeting]… so the corporate officer will have a chance to go through it and come up with suggestions of what council can do based on the correspondence we received in the delegation package… and come back with recommendations for possible actions council can take at that time,” she said.


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