Municipalities across the province backed a resolution from Pitt Meadows designed to have local politicians who have committed serious crimes removed from office.
Pitt Meadows put the resolution forward in the wake former councillor David Murray being convicted of sexual assault for molesting a 14-year-old girl in 1992.
Even following his conviction, Murray could not be legally compelled to leave office.
The city’s Disqualification from Holding Elected Office resolution received almost unanimous support from the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which is holding its convention this week in Whistler. The vote was taken Thursday morning.
According to the resolution, it will 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.
Murray was charged in Nov. 16, 2016.
For approximately a year he remained on council, to which he was first elected in 2011, and attended regular meetings, as well as community events, until his conviction in October of 2017.
He was convicted on a Wednesday, and resigned the following Sunday after a conversation with Mayor John Becker.
Even following the conviction, Becker observed, city hall could not compel Murray to leave office.
Council determined to lobby for changes.
“The Community Charter provides no assistance to city councils in circumstances where members of council have been convicted of a criminal offence while in office,” Becker said previously.
“The David Murray situation simply provided us with a practical example of the gaps,” Becker reflected on Thursday.
“The public needs to see we’re taking care of business, and I’m pleased to see that today we got that done.”
Becker said he and Coun. Janis Elkerton spoke to their municipal council colleagues from around the province about the need for legislation. Their message was simply “don’t get hung up on the wordsmithing,” but rather focus on the fact cities presently have no “tools” to compel a convicted politician to leave office.
“There was a good understanding of the intent of the motion,” said Becker.
He noted that Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs, has made a commitment to work on creating new legislation with the UBCM, and Becker expects that work will commence in the coming weeks.
There was a similar resolution from Terrace, “that an elected local government official be required to take a paid leave of absence from office upon Crown approval of charges until the court process is complete.”
It also passed with a high level of support.
Both of the resolutions contained an amendment that would not compel politicians convicted of contempt of court for non-violent civil disobedience to be required to leave office.
Becker noted that vote was much closer, highlighting the need for a lot of conversation on the nuances of the new legislation.
Coun. Bill Dingwall, who is running for mayor of Pitt Meadows, also spoke to the issue at the UBCM. He appreciated the Terrace resolution because it gets politicians off the job when they are charged with a serious offence. He felt that should have happened in Murray’s case.
“It can’t be business as usual upon a charge,” Dingwall told the UBCM, adding the city should protect the public and its employees, demonstrate leadership to victims, maintain the public confidence, and limit liability.
He called that year between Murray’s charge and conviction an “emotional time” in Pitt Meadows.
“Our community lived through that challenge and experience, and no other should have to,” added Dingwall.
“I’m extremely happy with both the Terrace resolution and ours passing,” he said. “It’s the start of a new conversation.”
Murray was sentenced to nine months in jail. He is appealing both the conviction and sentence.