A town councillor for Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland is demanding an apology from the township after he was stripped of his council seat for not getting the Covid-19 vaccine.
After a lengthy fight to reclaim his seat in the town council, the Newfoundland Supreme Court found that Grant Abbott’s removal from the council was undemocratic and unjust and has reinstated him to the council.
“There’s an apology that needs to be made to the town, there’s an apology that needs to be made to me and all the individuals involved,” says Abbott.
Abbott was elected to the town council on September 28, 2021 after he was encouraged by members of his community to do so. He ran to, in part, to propose an infrastructure project to bring food sustainability to his small community.
In an exclusive interview with True North, Abbott says that at one of the first council meetings as a councillor, the council proposed and implemented a bylaw that would bar any unvaccinated town councillors from attending council meetings.
“They used the tool that was the vaccination policy and the tool of the Municipalities Act to quiet a dissenting voice,” says Abbott.
He decided not to receive the Covid-19 vaccine because of some heart palpitations he had in the years past and he didn’t feel comfortable taking the shot.
Abbott, a duly elected councillor with 49% of the vote, was unable to attend council meetings in-person and the council refused to make reasonable accommodations to allow Abbott to carry out his duties as a councillor.
The town had not only barred Abbott from attending council meetings in-person, but had also passed a motion that excluded unvaccinated councillors from attending council meetings remotely, despite making the same accommodation for councillors who were working out of town or who were unable to attend for medical reasons.
Abbott called into council meetings once he was barred from entering the town hall, but was not permitted to speak during the meetings and the meeting minutes documented that Abbott had not attended the meetings.
After three months of failing to attend council meetings, the town council declared that Abbott’s council seat was vacant. Abbott would challenge the town’s decision, bringing the case to the Newfoundland Supreme Court.
The Newfoundland Supreme Court found that the town council had unjustly barred Abbott from attending council meetings and stripped him of his seat, comparing the punishment to the death penalty.
“The consequence of vacating a councillor’s seat is a serious deprivation of a resident’s right to participate in local government and democracy,” read the ruling.
“The vacating of a councillor’s seat is as ‘close to capital punishment in the world of municipal politics.’”
Abbott says that he was metaphorically “up to the Guilliotine, but luckily I was spared.”
Abbott says that the legal challenge cost the town $50,000 and cost him $20,000 in legal fees. In order to recuperate the legal fees, Abbott has set up a GiveSendGo fundraising page with the help of Action4Canada where they have raised over $6,000 so far.
When asked where Abbott will be going from here, Abbott suggests reforming the way township governance is done through greater transparency with the public.
“I’m wanting to change the way towns and communities interact with their citizens – to communicate with them, be transparent and have accountability through shared minutes and audio recordings, which have never existed before.”