A Port Moody resident is lobbying B.C.’s civic politicians for changes that would require elected local government officials to take a paid leave of absence if they are charged with a criminal offence — and removed from office if they are convicted.
Laura Dick said she wants the Union of BC Municipalities to remount efforts it began last year to get the province to make changes to legislation as there is nothing that requires mayors and city councillors to step down while criminal proceedings are taking place.
“It is a very complicated issue but just because it’s a complicated issue doesn’t mean it’s not pertinent and shouldn’t be addressed,” said Dick, who gathered 123 signatures on a letter she is sending to all B.C.’s municipal politicians hoping to spur them to action.
At last year’s Union of BC Municipalities convention, members endorsed two resolutions seeking changes to legislation that would disqualify from office someone convicted of a serious Criminal Code offence and require those charged by the Crown to take a paid leave until the legal process is complete. (This year's UBCM convention is being held Sept. 23 to 27.)
But the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has so far rebuffed the municipal politicians’ request.
In February, the ministry wrote 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.
Dick said she hopes her letter gets some action because she has been frustrated that politicians can stay on the job even while facing court cases, citing situations in Pitt Meadows as well as Port Coquitlam and, more recently, Port Moody.
In PoMo, Mayor Rob Vagramov returned to his $111,000-a-year job before his sexual assault case has been resolved, stating that because he expects it won’t go to trial, he now has more time for his mayor’s duties and needs to work on fulfilling his election mandate. Vagramov returned to city hall Sept. 9 and his next court date is Nov. 13.
At the last council meeting, Vagramov’s appearance spurred discussion from both supporters and opponents taking different positions on his return to work.
But Dick says laying out a process in provincial law would make the situation more straightforward and take it out of the political arena.
“There has been no conviction. Our mayor is still innocent until proven guilty. That’s a fundamental right in Canada. We’re protected under our Charter. The challenge is when you are charged, then things happen and you’re not able to do your job effectively for a variety of reasons.”
Dick said she collected signatures for her letter — 68 from PoMo residents, 11 from Coquitlam, five from PoCo and from one to four each from 19 other municipalities — from an email bast she sent out to friends, who then reached out to others representing voters across the province.
In it she writes: “This letter is requesting that you, as mayors, councillors and elected officials representing 190 British Columbia municipalities, regional districts and First Nation members, act in the best interests of your constituents by calling on the Government of British Columbia to respond to the UBCM resolutions and change the act without delay.”