Kaslo Village Hall. File photo

Kaslo Village Hall. File photo

Kaslo councillor still keen on vaccine scrutiny for grant recipients

Kellie Knoll is critical of public events exclusive to vaccinated participants

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

A Kaslo Village councillor says he didn’t tell a local community group it had to ignore provincial public health directives in order to continue to receive a property tax exemption from the Village.

At the Dec. 14 special council meeting, Councillor Kellie Knoll said he wanted to “to set the record straight” about what he had said at the Nov. 23 council meeting.

“I didn’t ask the Langham to go against the provincial health orders … I was asking them to not participate in the segregation and discrimination. It’s completely different,” he said. “There are businesses in town that have done that quite successfully.”

But then he suggested the Langham and other community groups could still be scrutinized for their actions during the public health mandates, which require some public activities to be restricted to those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Word on the street is this is now turning into an exclusive membership in there, and in our policies we don’t fund exclusive memberships…” he said of the Langham. “The word on the street is also the curling rink is doing the same thing.”

He didn’t say who the “word on the street” was from, but warned there would be consequences for not listening to it.

“All I’m doing is forecasting what is coming down the pipe. This is going to get real,” he continued. “People are challenging this all over. So there’s options you can do: you can not participate in this, or you have to take the heat.”

At the Nov. 23 council meeting, Councillor Knoll questioned why the Village was giving property tax grants to the Langham, when it was enforcing the province’s vaccine mandates. The councillor’s position prompted Mayor Suzan Hewat to issue a special public statement a few days later.

“[T]he Village cannot use a threat of losing a tax exemption to force an organization to operate unlawfully,” she said in the Dec. 10 prepared statement.

‘Dangerous and ambiguous’

Knoll’s comments also prompted the executive director of the Langham to write a letter to council, which was received at the Dec. 14 meeting. The letter clarified that only a small fraction of events – five in the last year – were covered by the vaccine mandate.

“Our real concern here, and one that should concern other organizations, is that a sitting Village councillor is proposing that the Langham’s long-standing property tax exemption be held hostage to a divisive political agenda,” wrote Paul Grace-Campbell.

“Councillor Knoll is asking a community organization to break the law knowingly and willingly in direct contravention of BC Public Health Orders designed to protect the health and safety of our community.”

The letter goes on to say that instead of outright rejecting the idea, the rest of council and staff sent a “dangerous and ambiguous message” to the community.

“This is incredibly dismaying – a reasonable expectation from council would be in the immediate rejection of the request, a clear indication that no such request would be considered at any time in the future, and perhaps a rebuke for Councillor Knoll for making it in the first place,” Grace-Campbell wrote.

‘Big Brother province’

Hewat defended the position in her Dec. 10 statement, saying community groups believed they were doing the right thing by following the public health rules, and should not have their tax status jeopardized.

“I stand behind that,” she said, but added that the next council might not feel the same way. “And if next year there’s a different flavour, it’d be up to the next council of the day whether they want to take punitive action against an organization that is following public health orders as they are written,” she said.

Knoll, who has raised concerns at council about lockdown and other government orders since the pandemic began in 2020, said he thought municipal governments had to work against the senior government’s actions.

“I am just wondering how long we are going to allow this to continue to affect our community, as it keeps rolling out,” he told the council. “Our health services, our first responders, our fire responders, this is coming down the pipes, folks. I’m just saying let’s do real, there’s going to be a time we’re going to have to stand up to Big Brother Province here.”

But the mayor cut short the discussion.

“We’re not debating. We each had our comments, I think we’ll leave it at that,” said Hewat.