Criminally charged councillors can't be forced from office

Provincial regulations do not require a city council member who has been charged with — or even convicted of — a crime to step down but the UBCM would like to change that.

There is no law preventing B.C. municipal politicians charged with crimes from staying in office.

And efforts to change the law to disqualify those convicted of serious crimes from keeping their seats — or to put them on paid leave if charged — have not been successful.

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Even as recently as last year, there was a flurry of activity to get the NDP government to give municipalities more powers after problems dealing with a Pitt Meadow councillor (and former Port Coquitlam city employee) who was convicted and later jailed for sexual offences involving a teenager.

But the province has so far rebuffed any efforts to deal with the issue, citing the complexity of legal challenges.

During the Union of BC Municipalities convention last fall, civic politicians endorsed resolutions calling on the province to change the Local Government Act to give municipalities more powers to deal with politicians facing serious criminal charges. They wanted to be able to remove a politician who was convicted of a serious offence and for someone who had been charged with an offence to step away from their job on paid leave.

But in February, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs stated in a response to the UBCM that while staff are looking into the matter, “any proposed changes in this area are intricate and must be considered carefully.”

Currently, there are rules that prevent a person from staying in office if convicted of a crime but they have to be serving a sentence. If they have been released on probation or parole and are not in custody, they can still keep their seat — and pay.

This issue has ramifications not only for Port Moody, where Mayor Rob Vagramov was charged today with one count of sexual assault, but for other cities when these kind of issues come up.

Eleven years ago, the city of Port Coquitlam dealt with a mayor who had pleaded guilty to serious offences but continued to work while on 18 months probation. Scott Young plead guilty to two counts of assault and breach of recognizance at the time.

The conviction stemmed from an incident in April 2007 when Young was arrested after assaulting his former girlfriend and her boyfriend.

Although he was given a strict curfew and required to serve a one-year conditional sentence, followed by 18 months probation, Young continued to stay in his job as mayor.

Young ran again — this time for city council — but did not win a seat.

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