An Ontario mayor who has peddled pandemic disinformation is under fire after he went on Facebook to ask a woman if the COVID-19 vaccine impacted her menstruation.
West Lincoln Mayor David Bylsma — who has suggested international images of body bags and hazmat suits were part of a ploy to instill fear and has been charged for speaking at an anti-lockdown rally — sent the message to Emily Spanton, a Niagara homeless outreach worker.
“You posted you received the vaccine a while back correct?” wrote Bylsma in a direct message later posted to Twitter by Spanton. “Not a usual question to ask an acquaintance but did you notice any changes in your period?”
Spanton said the out-of-the-blue question was upsetting.
“If he had reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, do you have time to talk about this?’ I would have made the time. For him to send a message like this and for it to be so intimate, that’s my problem with it.”
After she shared Bylsma’s message on Twitter, it drew condemnation from Niagara regional chair and former provincial Liberal cabinet minister Jim Bradley.
“This behaviour is not becoming of a Regional Councillor, nor is it the type of conduct the public expects and deserves from an elected official,” Bradley said in a statement.
Bylsma, who has questioned the necessity of vaccines, did not respond to interview requests for this story, nor answer questions about why he sent the message to Spanton.
Spanton, a St. Catharines resident, said she had conversations with Bylsma about local political issues in the past “but nothing personal.”
“We always had a good, professional relationship but I unfriended him on Facebook after all his anti-lockdown stuff,” said Spanton. “So this was pretty shocking, and when we talk about things men do that make women uncomfortable, this is one of those things.”
Spanton said she has had to deal with unsettling questions of a personal nature in the past. She had been sexually assaulted by two police officers in France, which led to a high-profile trial that resulted in the officers being sent to prison.
“Even then, and I had to deal with some very uncomfortable questions, no one asked about menstruation,” Spanton said.
An opponent of masking bylaws, Bylsma embraced the anti-mask group Hugs Over Masks, calling them his “constituents” after the Niagara regional council, which he sits on, passed a bylaw in the summer. Bylsma is also a member of a national anti-lockdown coalition of politicians.
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Bylsma has criticized the local public health department for not including what he called “mom advice” – drinking orange juice and wearing a toque – as part of COVID-19 safety messaging. He was a featured speaker during a large St. Catharines anti-lockdown rally on April 10.
“Do you remember those first images coming out of China — dead bodies, people in body bags, people walking around in hazmat suits? Has that been your experience? Of course not. It was to instil fear,” Bylsma told the more than 1,500 people at the rally in St. Catharines. “Fear is how they have been controlling us.”
As a frontline outreach worker, Spanton said she had posted on Facebook about her vaccination in part to help overcome vaccine hesitancy.
“I work with a lot of vaccine-hesitant people, so I find what Mayor Byslma is doing is dangerous. It is dangerous thinking,” she said. “The regular vaccine hesitancy I encounter is from people who don’t want to go into a health-care institution or deal with a health-care provider they don’t know. Nothing like this.”
Some women have posted on social media about changes to their periods after receiving a COVID vaccine. Experts say there is no known association between the vaccine and menstrual changes, which can be triggered by different factors including stress.
There is also a recent conspiracy theory that falsely claims being near a vaccinated person will negatively harm a woman’s reproductive system because the inoculated person sheds toxic material.
Bylsma received a court summons for allegedly violating provincial stay-at-home orders by speaking at the St. Catharines rally — he faces a penalty of as much as $100,000 and a year in prison — and his township council removed him from its emergency operations committee.
Afterwards, the mayor took to Facebook to bemoan being “cancelled.”
In the April 16 Facebook post, he said his elderly parent’s disregard for masking, social distancing and public health regulations resulted in their “inevitable” COVID-19 infections.
“I asked my mom what they would have said if one of them had passed? ‘Then we would have died living.’ Solid Mom advice,” wrote Bylsma.
In his statement, Bradley offered a “sincere apology” to Spanton, saying Bylsma’s behaviour is “offensive and unacceptable,” which does not reflect the council’s values.
“Regional councillors, like all elected officials, hold a position of influence and authority in our community,” Bradley said. “When communicating with residents, it is absolutely imperative that they do so with the greatest respect for the individual.”
In the matter of the alleged stay-at-home violation, Bylsma is scheduled to appear in court May 25.
Grant LaFleche is a St. Catharines-based investigative reporter with the Standard. Reach him via email: [email protected]
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