West Lincoln mayor receives court summons after speaking at Ontario anti-lockdown protest

The mayor of West Lincoln, Ont., confirmed to CBC News he has received a summons to appear in court on May 25, after speaking at an anti-lockdown protest in St. Catharines.

'For my civil disobedience I have indeed received a court summons': Dave Bylsma to CBC News

West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma was voted off the township's emergency operations committee after speaking at an anti-lockdown protest in St. Catharines on Saturday. On Thursday, he confirmed he's received a court summons. (Township of West Lincoln)

The mayor of West Lincoln, Ont., says he's been summoned to appear in court after speaking at an anti-lockdown protest in St. Catharines.

"I can confirm that for my civil disobedience I have indeed received a court summons — no fine," Dave Bylsma wrote in a text message to CBC News on Thursday.

The mayor was voted off the township's emergency operations committee (EOC) after appearing as a guest speaker at the protest on Saturday.

"I'm taking my licks for this," he said in an interview earlier this week, regarding council's 5-2 vote to remove him from the EOC, and criticism from area politicians. He called it "a respectful difference of opinion."

Coun. Cheryl Ganann, who took Bylsma's place on the committee, said the vote happened because councillors felt "it was no longer appropriate for him to be the face of what we're doing in terms of keeping our residents safe, keeping them healthy and keeping them well during this COVID time."

In his text message, Bylsma said he was not one to "bemoan the consequences of my actions," adding he received the summons with "politeness and respect."

The mayor did not immediately respond to a question asking whether or not he regretted taking part in the protest.

Bylsma said he's scheduled to appear in court on May 25.

Those who do not follow provincial COVID-19 restrictions can be issued a ticket for $880.

A summons means the court would determine a penalty upon conviction, which could carry a maximum fine of $100,000 and up to a year in jail.

On Thursday, Niagara Regional Police (NRPS) announced a 47-year-old man from St. Catharines and a 50-year-old man from West Lincoln had been charged with failing to comply with an order under the Re-Opening Ontario Act and failing to comply with an order made during a declared emergency.

The names of those charged won't be released because the charges are under provincial legislation, not the Criminal Code, said police.

A summons is an official notice telling a person to appear in court to face a charge.

When asked if he's the 50-year-old from West Lincoln who has been charged, Bylsma responded, "I'm 50." 

Further charges are pending following the protest, NRPS said, along with those already laid by bylaw officers at the event.

Hospital head called protest 'extremely discouraging'

Videos of Saturday's protest showed large crowds of people not wearing masks, walking down the street and chanting "freedom" and "no more lockdowns."

The Niagara Region, along with the rest of Ontario, remains under a stay-at-home order that limits outdoor gatherings to five people.

The area reported 222 new positive cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and one more death, for a total of 379.

It has seen 11,515 cases over the pandemic, including 1,355 that are active and 9,781 resolved.

Lynn Guerriero, president of Niagara Health, released a statement Monday urging people to follow public health measures, and described the protest as "extremely discouraging" for health-care staff and essential workers.

Other elected officials in the area also voicing displeasure included the mayor of St. Catharines, who said he was "deeply troubled" by the presence of a fellow Niagara regional councillor.

"The fact that he blatantly broke the provincial government's stay-at-home order is a serious breach of his elected position and I trust the [police] and public health will act accordingly," Walter Sendzik said in a statement.

Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley said he was "deeply troubled and disappointed" that Bylsma took part.

Bylsma "deliberately ignored the ongoing state of emergency that he himself declared as one of Niagara's mayors," Bradley said in a statement.

Mayor said he wanted to give 'encouragement'

Following the protest and EOC vote, Bylsma said he felt "action" was needed to protest lockdowns, and he took part because he wanted to raise concerns about mental health and the impact on small businesses.

"I'll be judged for my actions, but I think it provided an encouragement for people."

West Lincoln Coun. Albert Witteveen said he was expecting some sort of "recourse" for the mayor's presence at the protest and anticipates the "courts would deal with this in the proper manner."

Witteveen is the only other representative of West Lincoln on Niagara Regional Council, and said he's heard from residents who were distressed by Bylsma taking part.

"I'm personally just disappointed with Dave breaking the law to make his point," he added.

"I empathize with Dave trying to get his point across, but it probably wasn't a good choice. Just like anybody else we're held accountable to what we say and do. I just kinda feel bad that he chose that direction in the position that he's in."