Re. "Vagramov says 'awkward date' resulted in sex assault charge" (tricitynews.com, Nov. 14) and "Sex charge is stayed against Vagramov" (The Tri-City News, Nov. 14).
With the announcement of the completion of alternative measures and the staying of the sexual assault charge against Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov, it is my sincere hope that the community can move forward and start to heal the divisions surrounding this issue.
I, like many others, was taken by surprise when the charges were announced in March. Although shocked, I was also encouraged by our system of justice as those allegations had been seriously investigated by the police and a special prosecutor was appointed to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to warrant the charge that was ultimately laid. This is a positive message for any person who has been the victim of a sexual assault: The complainant was taken seriously and her story was believed.
But as a lawyer, I also believe strongly in the presumption of innocence for any person accused of a crime. For this reason, I was happy that Mayor Vagramov voluntarily elected to take a leave of absence so that the city would not get swept up in the matter.
The charge has now been stayed as Mr. Vagramov has completed “alternative measures.” One of the requirements for eligibility under alternative measures is that “the person accepts responsibility for the act or omission that forms the basis of the offence that the person is alleged to have committed. However, that requirement does not necessarily mean the accused person admits guilt to the crime, only that he accepts responsibility for the action.
Understanding this nuance may be a bit complicated to those who do not have legal training but, essentially, many criminal charges have two elements: the actus reus (the criminal act) and the mens rea (the mental element). The actus reus may or may not be criminal depending on whether the mens rea is present.
Sexual assault is a charge that has both elements and the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that the actus reus of assault is unwanted sexual touching and the mens rea is the intention to touch, knowing of, or being reckless of or wilfully blind to, a lack of consent from the person being touched. Accordingly, it is possible for an accused person to take responsibility for the actus reus (the unwanted sexual touching) without admitting that the required mens rea was present, which would be necessary in order for the person to be found guilty of the crime. In other words, the person could have committed the act but still be not guilty of the crime.
Alternative measures are a positive feature of our justice system that allow the Crown, which represents the public interest, and the accused to come to a just resolution outside of criminal proceedings. This saves the public the cost of a trial and avoids the stress on the complainant of testifying. In most cases where alternative measures are used, the complainant is also consulted regarded the alternative measures and, thus, the resolutions can be a step towards reconciliation and healing, much more so than that which would come from the criminal trial process, which is necessarily adversarial.
In this case, we do not know the details of the alternative measures Mayor Vagramov completed nor should we be entitled to those details. However, what we do know is that he was not found guilty of a crime and that justice was served outside of the criminal proceeding to the satisfaction of the Crown.
It is my hope that this brings some closure to the complainant and both parties can move forward with their lives.
Our community should take a lesson from the restorative justice process that was successfully used in this case: We need move forward to deal with the other issues in our community.
Matthew Turnell, Port Moody