Pitt Meadows council continues to call for changes in law, so a councillor convicted – or even charged – with a serious crime can be removed from office.
Coun. Nicole MacDonald said at last week’s council meeting that facing charges of a serious offence should result in elected officials being removed from their positions.
“We’re a little bit short in just pursuing conviction. I still feel that charges are where we want to go,” she said.
City hall began this effort after former Pitt Meadows councillor David Murray was convicted of sex assault in October 2017, and finding there was no legal requirement for him to be removed from office.
Following his conviction, Murray met with former mayor John Becker and chose to resign.
The city lobbied for changes through the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM), which almost unanimously supported a Pitt Meadows resolution Disqualification from Holding Elected Office in fall 2018.
It would require an elected official be put on unpaid leave immediately upon conviction of a serious criminal offence, as defined by provincial legislation. That person would then be disqualified from holding office upon the expiration of an appeal, or determination of an appeal.
Minister of Municipal Affairs Selina Robinson said her ministry would work with the UBCM on the issue.
The province responded to the UBCM, which forwarded that response Pitt Meadows council recently:
“The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing takes these matters very seriously; however, this is a sensitive issue, triggering complex policy, legal, and practical questions. The legislation should balance the principle that it is the electors’ choice to decide who should best represent their interests in their communities with statutory restrictions to protect communities from candidates who are ‘unsuitable’ for public office. Ministry staff are currently reviewing potential options to address the issues raised; however, any proposed changes in this area are intricate and must be considered carefully.”
MacDonald, a notary and former Vancouver police officer with a master’s degree in applied legal studies, said she is heartened the province will review the issue.
But, she added: “I respectfully disagree with them that it is as complex as they put in their response. Most jobs, organizations, unions, professional societies have a mechanism or process in place if somebody is convicted of a serious crime.”
McDonald sees an issue with four-year terms, if criminal offences come up early on.
Then does the city have a potential issue that it is not the elector’s choice anymore, she asked.
”And if there is no process or mechanism that can force, or have a process for paid leave, then we’re left in a very difficult position as a community.”
Mayor Bill Dingwall said the province will be considering leave, paid or unpaid, for elected officials who are charged with serious crimes, under a separate UBCM resolution.
“I know some of my colleagues around the table at the Mayor’s Council continue to talk about this, and it will be a topic at UBCM again to make sure we keep moving that ball forward …” he added.
The resolution makes an exception for people convicted of crimes related to non-violent acts of civil disobedience.