Ontario politicians are set to vote on whether to strip local mayor-elect Rob Burton of his sinecure as village trustee, after several reporters reported him asking a high school student if her HPV vaccine had changed her menstrual cycle.
In 2014, a teenage girl received a questionnaire from Burton offering to be her town’s “relationship counselor” via Twitter.
Jenny Hayden, who is in her teens and a member of the school newspaper staff at Port Stanley, Ont., said in an interview that the questionnaire was a roundabout way of asking her about her personal health history.
“I’m not sure where it came from, but it’s deeply worrisome,” she said. “I felt really awkward when I had to answer those questions because they’re quite inappropriate.”
The questions – submitted anonymously to the Tribune, Port Stanley’s weekly newspaper – ask her when she’s last been in her menstrual cycle, if she has cancer or hasn’t had cervical cancer yet, if she had an HPV vaccine, what her usual eating habits are and what she believes is the average amount of water she drinks each day.
Hayden said Burton – who will be sworn in as mayor next week – tried to solicit opinions from other Twitter users on whether she should or shouldn’t have the HPV vaccine, but it is unclear if they were people in the community or not.
Burton, who has represented a 3rd Ward ward in Port Stanley since 1999, told CBC News that he didn’t start soliciting opinions about the HPV vaccine.
“To ask somebody what their response was to a vaccination, it would be, I guess, less than welcome,” he said.
Burton recently won reelection with 68% of the vote after defeating incumbent incumbent Virginia Holeswray in a landslide last month. In addition to being mayor-elect, Burton will also be an alderman on the board of trustees.
Under Canada’s New Citizens Act, mayors are appointed to a three-year term, at least during their first term. The act also lists several duties associated with that position, including facilitating the cooperation and development of municipal civic affairs, the maintenance of good order and peace, and the governance of the organization.
After the election, Burton said the HPV vaccination questionnaire was not an example of a mayor working within his prerogative. The questionnaire, he said, was simply a “selfish way of looking at getting someone’s opinion”.
“[I]t was very blunt. I do expect and hope that people will express their opinion,” he said. “If I am wrong, I can correct myself.”
He added: “I was trying to find out something … my heart went out to this young lady.”
Lisa Hume, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Municipal Board, the provincial regulatory body, said in an email that they would hold a hearing on Burton’s request to be stripped of his job as trustee “sooner rather than later”.
But Hayden isn’t so sure her Twitter timeline was enough evidence to get the council to strip Burton of his position. She tweeted, for example, that that she was happy to share her views about her health, and that she appreciated and appreciated Burton’s understanding of her opinion on the HPV vaccine.
“I would take it to the councillors in terms of the tweets, but that doesn’t mean [they] shouldn’t go for it,” she said.
Another Port Stanley resident, Maureen Veresavangskis, who is a nurse, said that she had concerns about the council using personal questions as they approach the issue.
“I would take that more as, ‘Are you aware of the risks of the questions you are asking her?’” she said. “As much as she is a human being, the councillor’s supposed to be a higher person than that. I don’t really believe the solicitor’s advice will help me with my personal belief system.”
Burton has not responded to an email request for comment from the Guardian.