Christmas in Kagawong organizers cancel 2021 event citing recent integrity commissioner interventions

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KAGAWONG – Patrons of the always popular Christmas in Kagawong celebrations, which had been held for the past 27 years, are decrying the announcement that the event has been cancelled.

“The Billings Economic Development Committee (EDC) has decided to not continue with Christmas in Kagawong,” a post on the Christmas in Kagawong website announced last week. “Thank you to all the people who made it such a successful event. After 27 years it’s sad to see it go.” 

“The event has been cancelled,” confirmed Sharon Alkenbrack, chair of the committee, when contacted by The Expositor on Friday of last week. “We had a committee meeting the other night and the committee voted to cancel the event. After 27 years it is sad.”

Ms. Alkenbrack explained, “the event was cancelled because Christmas in Kagawong was an event drawn into allegations against a couple of councillors (to the Billings’ integrity commissioner). So, our committee decided not to go forward with the event. We did not want this event to be used as a tool to be used against elected officials.” Ms. Alkenbrack is one of the councillors cited in the complaint.

“The committee has helped organize and put on the event for many years, and it was always extremely successful thanks to the support and help we received in putting it on, participants and vendors, and the many people that came out to then event,” said Ms. Alkenbrack.

Tracy Paris, a member of the Billings EDC committee was unable to attend the committee meeting last week where the decision was made to cancel the annual event. “I couldn’t make it to the committee meeting, but I can understand the decision being made.” 

“I love our community, and Manitoulin Island, and I’m very disappointed when some community members maliciously target a few people who are trying to run the community or put on events that benefit the community,” said Ms. Paris. “And the backdoor complaints made about the activity of councillors is not merited, especially when it is taken to an integrity commissioner (IC). And both councillors who were investigated were found to be credible by the (IC).”

“When disgruntled members of the community go to the steps of using backdoor practices to make these types of complaints it is like a slap in the face of all those volunteers who provide their time and effort to do things that benefit the community,” stated Ms. Paris. She noted that the costs of the IC investigations are being paid by all local taxpayers and will now not be able to be used to help benefit everyone in the community.

“It’s so sad,” said Ms. Paris. “It causes division in the community, makes it difficult for anyone who is considering volunteer and support events and activities being planned for the community, and it will make it more difficult to encourage people to step up to run in elections in the township.”

Once the news hit social media, comments were numerous and people were upset the annual event has been shelved.

“We would like to know the reason for this,” was one of the comments made.

Another person wrote, “ah bummer, I was looking forward to being able to go this year.”

“Very sad,” someone wrote, with another person stating, “traditions such as the market are why people flock to our community and our community flourishes. It is a sad day when people with little or no personal boundaries can cause so much strife and damage by sending falsehoods to a council watchdog with such notice. I trust this foolishness stops and that we can again feel proud of our community and the event within, and we maintain and expand on what makes our town so inviting.”

As had been reported in the July 28 edition of The Expositor, two Billings Township councillors have been found to not be in contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA) and the Township of Billings Code of Conduct in relation to two public events, including the Christmas in Kagawong event. The investigation was completed by Expertise for Municipalities (E4M), the integrity commissioner for the Township of Billings. 

Shawn Mahoney of E4M presented the findings into the matters respecting Councillors Sharon Alkenbrack and Sharon Jackson at a Billings council meeting on July 19. “We will not be applying to a judge with respect to the allegations that Councillor Alkenbrack and Councillor Jackson contravened the MCIA.”

The lengthy inquiry process included interviews with the applicant, many township staff, councillors and organizers. “The investigators found the witnesses and both councillors to be credible. They participated in the investigation, provided support evidence and cooperated with requests for additional information,” said Mr. Mahoney.