Imagine if a politician on New Westminster city council was convicted of a crime, such as sexually assaulting a teenage girl.
Did you know that the rest of council and the public are powerless to force that politician off of council?
The nearby community of Pitt Meadows found itself in the same position when a man named David Murray, who was a city councillor at the time, was convicted and then sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl almost two decades ago.
He was convicted in 2017 and resigned amid public pressure four days later. But he didn’t have to.
“No other community should have to deal with that,” Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker told delegates at last week’s annual meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. “It can’t just be business as usual.”
Current provincial legislation doesn’t have measures in it to force out politicians convicted of criminal acts.
In response to the Murray situation, the UBCM approved a resolution that local council members be put on unpaid leave from office upon conviction for a criminal offence. That leave would continue until the end of the period allowed for appeal of such a conviction or the end of the appeal process.
The resolution also came with an amendment – that conviction for acts of civil disobedience should not bar a public official from remaining in public office. That amendment was narrowly passed.
Vancouver Coun. Adriane Carr suggested the civil disobedience change.
“They are acts of a good social conscience.” Carr said. “I would not want to see those officials barred from public office.”
Civil disobedience often results in contempt of court charges against protesters who disregard court orders. The charge is a criminal one – and one that protesters against the Trans Mountain pipeline have faced after the Supreme Court of British Columbia issued an injunction on demonstrations at Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby work site.
Vancouver mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart, who is a former Burnaby member of Parliament, pleaded guilty to contempt in May.
Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May also pleaded guilty to criminal contempt in May for her role in a pipeline protest.
Smithers Coun. Frank Wray disagreed on removing civil disobedience.
“As lawmakers, we set a poor example when we choose which laws we should support and which we should not support,” Wray said.
The amendment does create a hazy situation, but it seems doubtful a contempt conviction for protesting would create the kind of paralyzing situation that the Murray conviction did.
We’re happy with the overall resolution. It’s needed – now the provincial government needs to act and change the Community Charter and Local Government Act to protect communities from these types of situations from ever happening again.