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Broadcasters appeal decision to keep Port Moody mayor's alternative measures secret

A media lawyer argues it's in the public interest to reveal the alternative measures agreed to stay a charge of sexual assault against Port Moody mayor Rob Vagramov.
Vagramov before press
Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov takes questions from the media in 2019 after announcing his return to office following the conclusion of his legal issues.

A trio of broadcasters is appealing a decision by B.C. Supreme Court last spring to keep secret details about the alternative measures required of Port Moody mayor Rob Vagramov that resulted in a sexual assault charge against him to be stayed.

In an application to B.C.’s Court of Appeal, media lawyer Daniel Burnett, acting for CBC, CTV and Global, said B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson’s decision to keep the file closed on the nature of Vagramov’s alternative measures failed to consider the principle of conducting court in an open, transparent manner.

“Some transparency regarding the measures completed is required if the fairness of the alternative measures system is to be understood and considered,” Burnett said in the application.

“The public as well as those charged should not be expected to simply trust that the measure are appropriate, fair, or applied evenly.”

Vagramov was charged in March 2019 following a three-month investigation by special prosecutor Michael Klein into an incident that is alleged to have occurred in Coquitlam in 2015.

Six months later, the case was adjourned when it was announced Vagramov would be seeking alternative measures, a program designed to save court time and expense for minor cases.

Bahareh Danaei, a lawyer with North Shore Law, told the Tri-City News at the time alternative measures could include community service, attending educational seminars, writing an essay to address the harm that’s been caused and an official apology to the victim.

Once the measures are completed and adequate remorse is shown, the charge is dropped or stayed, and the offender has no criminal conviction on their record.

But the specifics of Vagramov’s agreement have never been revealed, prompting the media outlets’ application to have them disclosed. It was rejected April 22, 2020.

In his decision, Justice Hinkson agreed, “it is beyond dispute that the public, and the media, as representatives of the public, have a valid interest in the proper administration of justice.”

But a lawyer for B.C. Corrections argued the purpose of alternative measures “is to reduce the stigmatization” and “confidentiality assists an accused’s rehabilitation.”

If the court allowed access to the media of the agreement’s specifics, the lawyer stated, it could have a chilling effect on others participating in the program.

Justice Hinkson agreed.

But in his appeal, Burnett said if people have more knowledge about the alternative measures program, they might be more inclined to participate.

with files from Stefan Labbé, Glacier Media