Terrace City Council is pushing for a new provincial law prohibiting convicted criminals from holding public office.
The proposed revision to the Local Government Act was announced during a regular council meeting on Feb. 26 and carried unanimously. Councillor Stacey Tyers, who presented the resolution, said she was inspired by a case in Pitt Meadows, B.C last year, when former councillor David Murray was charged with sexual assault on Nov. 2016. He remained on the council for more than a year afterward because there is no requirement that he had to step down.
“This didn’t come out of thin air,” Tyers said during the council meeting.
She also pointed out that Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba all have disqualification for criminal convictions, but B.C. is missing this piece of provincial legislation.
“Someone could be charged with manslaughter, put on house arrest and still be a member of local government in this province,” Tyers said.
The legislation in the Local Government Act, regulated through the Community Charter, currently disqualifies elected officials due to conflict of interest, failing to attend meetings or not taking an oath of office, but mentions nothing about having a criminal record.
“That to me raises some concerns. Sexual assault is a breach of trust for sure, and it’s also making sure the people at the table are confident to work with each other.”
The revision states people should be required to take a paid leave of absence from their elected position until a verdict is reached or another election is held. This practice isn’t uncommon to other organizations in the province, such as the RCMP. When an officer is charged with a serious crime they are immediately released or placed on paid leave until a decision is handed down from the courts.
“If you’re working with vulnerable people and someone accuses them of a serious crime, do you put them with another vulnerable person and risk that something may happen? No, people are trusting you to do this job,” Tyers said over the phone.
She explained that as a survivor of sexual violence herself she feels this resolution is important to make sure elected officials, both women and men, feel safe to sit at the table and work with their colleagues.
“Sexual assault is a very new serious crime, which is sad, but a new reality,” Tyers said. “For many decades, sexual assault was something that just happened.”
In the Cariboo Regional District, an electoral area director is currently charged with sexual interference of a minor but is under no obligation to step down.
In Burns Lake, former mayor Luke Strimbold, now 28, has been charged with 24 sex-related offences and has since resigned from the membership chair of the BC Liberal party. He was elected as mayor for the northern village in 2011, and stepped down suddenly in 2016 citing educational and family reasons. Strimbold’s next court appearance is on April 6 in Burns Lake.
“There is a lot of victim blaming and victim shaming that happens and we have people on boards who may not see sexual touching as a big deal,” said Tyers.
In the event of serious criminal charges, the councillor added that decision-making processes regarding disqualification should be dealt with provincially instead of at the local level to avoid the possibility of partisan politics.
Councillor Tyers said her resolution was written vaguely for provincial governments to then deliberate and define the rules of the new law.
“We’re just asking them to look at it and address it,” Tyers said at city council.
The recommendation will be presented at the North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA) Convention on May 8-10 and voted on the resolution floor. If passed, it will go to the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) who will then discuss and send it to the province.
“But if the province chooses to get ahead of it they’re welcome to do that,” Tyers said. “They don’t have to wait.”