Winnipeg Coun. Russ Wyatt charged with sexual assault

Russ Wyatt, a longtime Winnipeg city councillor, has been charged with sexual assault for an alleged encounter with a woman he knew at a residence in the city six months ago, police said Wednesday.

Transcona councillor accused of assaulting woman known to him at a home in Winnipeg

Coun. Russ Wyatt has been charged with sexual assault. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Russ Wyatt, a longtime Winnipeg city councillor, has been charged with sexual assault for an alleged encounter more than six months ago with a woman he knew, police said Wednesday.

The Transcona councillor, 48, was arrested for sexual assault on Tuesday evening. He was then released.

The "serious sexual assault," reported to police on Jan. 14, happened at a home in the city, Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver said at a news conference. It did not happen at Wyatt's home.

The alleged victim was an adult woman who Wyatt knew, though the assault is not considered domestic in nature, Carver said. He added the woman was not Wyatt's spouse.

In a text message to CBC News, Wyatt said he is innocent. 

"I will defend myself in a court of law and will only respond further to the allegation in a court room," the councillor said.

He referred further questions to his legal counsel.   

Russ Wyatt, a longtime Winnipeg city councillor, has been charged with sexual assault for an alleged encounter with a woman he knew at a residence in the city six months ago, police said Wednesday. 2:35

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said in a news conference he was shocked to learn of the criminal charges. He only learned of the alleged assault on Wednesday, he said.

Bowman acknowledged the allegation will cause some people to question the integrity of the elected office. 

"A criminal sexual assault charge on its face value, even before it's adjudicated by the courts, can represent for many people a significant breach of trust," he said. 

Bowman would not answer whether he would welcome Wyatt back to council.

"On a personal level, I'm trying to process these charges," he said.

"My immediate thoughts, as we learn that there is an alleged victim, is to think about her."

Delay due to lab results

Carver told reporters there was no delay in laying charges against Wyatt.

He said sexual assault investigations normally take a long time because investigators with specialized training must gather evidence and wait for lab results. Detectives from the sex crimes unit led the investigation.

Const. Rob Carver explains why sexual assault investigations take time:

Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver spoke on Wednesday about sexual assault charges laid against Coun. Russ Wyatt and why it took six months after the alleged incident took place for police to lay the charges. 2:34

Wyatt was interviewed hours after the accusation was reported to police. Lab results arrived Tuesday and Wyatt was arrested shortly after, police said.

"The delay is solely based on waiting for lab results," said Carver, who would not disclose the test's findings.

He added that Wyatt's status as an elected official did not affect the investigation in any way, other than his name being disclosed and a press conference being held.

Wyatt has been a city councillor since 2002. He was absent from city council from some time in January until May while he was undergoing addictions treatment at a facility north of Gimli, Man. 

He asked the city clerk for a medical leave on Jan. 19, he wrote in a letter to the Winnipeg Free Press.

Making headlines

Upon his return to city hall, Wyatt told council the decision to seek rehabilitation was not an easy one. 

Wyatt said a former member of council suggested he seek treatment at Aurora Recovery Centre, which he described as a world-class facility.

"I have a different outlook on things, a different outlook on life," he said. "I'm happy to be back to work and serve the people."

In June, Wyatt made headlines again when he came out as bisexual at the Winnipeg Pride parade.

"I just came out today as a bisexual man. This is my first Pride. I came out in rehab with the help of some amazing people. And I came out to my immediate family before today," Wyatt said via text at the time.

On June 21, the four-term councillor announced on the floor of council he would not seek a fifth term this fall.

On June 25, he said that decision was "on hold" and suggested he might run for council again or may run for mayor. He also mused on Twitter about a mayoral run. 

He has not registered to run for either office this fall.

Wyatt has not conducted face-to-face interviews since he returned to council. His Twitter account is no longer active.

According to the city charter, nothing precludes a councillor from fulfilling the duties of an elected official while he or she faces a criminal charge.

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