Municipalities across the province backed two resolutions from Pitt Meadows and Terrace designed to have local politicians charged with serious crimes removed from office.
The similar resolutions both passed with near-unanimous support this morning at the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which is holding its convention this week in Whistler.
“As members of elected bodies, we are in positions of public trust and we should be held to a higher standard or at least the standard of your average employee,” said Terrace City Councillor Stacey Tyers, who spearheaded the Terrace resolution. “Anybody working in a public trust position is subjected to criminal record checks… you would not leave a daycare worker in their position to work with children if they were charged with abusing children.
“If they’re acquitted, they return to their seat just like any other employee would.”
The Terrace resolution, Elected Official Disqualification, requires paid leave of absence for any elected official charged with a serious crime. It also calls for their immediate disqualification from public office upon conviction. Pitt Meadows’ resolution, the Disqualification from Holding Elected Office, calls for an unpaid leave of absence only upon conviction, and disqualification from public office upon the expiration of an appeal, or determination of an appeal.
“We were asked if it was a contradiction approving both resolutions, but it gives the province more [flexibility] … it sends the message we want to talk about both charges and convictions,” Tyers said.
Currently, there is no provision in BC legislation that requires elected officials with a criminal record to resign, and no way to prevent them from continuing to hold office until the court process is complete. There are limited provisions in the charter that says elected officials can be disqualified in the event of a conflict of interest or failing to attend meetings, but not for conviction of a serious crime.
The UBCM resolutions do not prevent someone with a previous criminal record from holding public office.
“I do believe if the electorate wants to elect somebody who has a criminal record, that’s their right to do so,” Tyers said. “It’s when it happens when you’re already sitting that I’m concerned about, because the electorate has no recourse.”
Tyers first presented the Terrace resolution last March at the Northern Central Local Government Association’s annual meeting, around the same time Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold was formally charged with numerous counts of sexual assault, some involving minors.
Pitt Meadows was also coming out of its own scandal involving former councillor David Murray who was convicted of sexual assault for molesting a 14-year-old girl in 1992. Even following his conviction, Murray could not be legally compelled to leave office.
Although Strimbold had resigned just prior to charges being laid, Murray remained on council, to which he was first elected in 2011, and attended regular meetings, as well as community events, until his conviction in October 2017 to nine months in prison. Murray is appealing both the conviction and sentence.
Tyers said the Terrace resolution is not aimed at punishing elected officials simply charged with a crime, awaiting trial, but removing the burden of public office so they can focus on their judicial proceedings, while the remaining council can focus on their elected responsibilities.
“When we look at the case of the previous mayor in Burns Lake, who is currently facing 29 charges of a variety of sexual charges and with six victims under the age of 16—he did resign, thankfully — but nothing in our legislation required him to do so,” Tyers said.
“Under the current circumstances he [could] continue to sit. Every council meeting, guaranteed, would be about his charges and not the work of the community.”
– With files from Neil Corbet (Maple Ridge News) and Brittany Gervais (Terrace Standard)