British Columbia

Special prosecutor appointed in case of former B.C. mayor charged with sexual assault of minors

15 of the 24 charges date back to Luke Strimbold's time as mayor

March 07, 2018

Luke Strimbold was mayor of Burns Lake, B.C., from 2011 to 2016. (Village of Burns Lake)

A special prosecutor has been appointed in the case of the former mayor of Burns Lake, B.C., who is charged with sexually assaulting minors while in office.

Luke Strimbold is charged with 24 sex-related crimes, including sexual assault, against four people between October 2015 and November 2017.

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Court documents reveal that three of them were under the age of 16 at the time the incidents are alleged to have taken place.

Fifteen of the charges date back to Strimbold's time as mayor. The majority of the alleged acts took place in the months immediately leading up to his sudden resignation in September 2016.

None of the charges have been tested in court.

Police say they believe there are more victims.

Ties to B.C. Liberals

On Wednesday, the B.C. Prosecution Service announced Leonard Doust, a Vancouver lawyer in private practice, has been appointed special prosecutor for the Crown in the charges against Strimbold.

The appointment was made "to avoid any potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice in light of the nature of the allegations and the identity of the accused as a former elected municipal official with significant connections to the BC Liberal party."

Prior to news of Strimbold's arrest being made public Friday, Strimbold was a member of the B.C. Liberal Party's executive board, serving as membership chair.

He also contributed to multiple election campaigns for Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad.

Party leader Andrew Wilkinson said the party had no previous knowledge of the charges, and that Strimbold resigned from the party after being asked to do so.

Public not at risk: RCMP

The RCMP have also said there was no need to inform the public of Strimbold's arrest on Feb. 3.

It was only after his arrest and subsequent release on bail were reported by media on March 2 that RCMP publicly acknowledged the case, a delay that has been questioned by some in the community.

Police said the investigation was "progressing well" following the former mayor's arrest.

​"The RCMP continually assesses and reviews the information that can be released against the need to further a police investigation," spokesperson Madonna Saunderson said in an email. 

"Prior to issuing a news release, a number of investigative avenues were being pursued and the investigation was progressing well. Our investigation has not determined that the greater public was at risk."

Chief Wilf Adam of the Lake Babine First Nation said Strimbold had betrayed the community's trust and questioned why RCMP did not make his arrest public immediately. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

The conditions of Strimbold's release include that he not go to any parks, school, playgrounds or other places where people under the age of 18 "can reasonably be expected to be present."

Along with sexual assault, Strimbold is charged with sexual interference, sexual exploitation and invitation to sexual touching, the majority of which are related to people under the age of 16.

Community, colleagues 'shocked' by charges

People who worked alongside Strimbold have expressed surprise and sadness since the news broke.

"I was shocked," said Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad of the B.C. Liberals.

Rustad said he's known Strimbold for about eight years, and that Strimbold had contributed to his most recent re-election campaign.

Nechako Lakes Liberal MLA John Rustad said he was shocked by news of Strimbold's arrest. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

​"Luke was a friend, we talked about many issues," he said. "We worked closely on a number of things."

Rustad said he knew nothing of the arrest until Friday afternoon when he received a phone call asking how he was reacting.

"Having known Luke for so long I was literally just shocked by the news. I couldn't believe it."

He also said it would be his preference for news of all arrests to be made public immediately. 

"Personally, when anybody's charged, I think that information should be public. I think that should be the normal course in any sort of charge that is brought forward," he said.

Still, Rustad said he had trust in the police process.

"I imagine they are collecting information, they want to make sure there's a fair trial and that information is brought forward," he said. 

The community of Burns Lake is home to fewer than 2,000 people. Strimbold was a well-known and well-respected member of the community prior to his arrest, serving as mayor from 2011 to 2016, as well as positions with the local Rotary and Chamber of Commerce. (Andrew Kurjata)

Burns Lake is home to fewer than 2,000 people and Strimbold was well known and respected prior to his arrest.

He was just 21 when he was first elected in 2011, making him the youngest mayor in B.C. history. He was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for his service to the community in 2013 and placed 20th in the 2014 B.C. Business magazine's "Top 30 Under 30" list.

After being re-elected in 2014 he stepped down suddenly in 2016. He maintained a leadership role in the community, serving on the executive of the chamber of commerce and local Rotary club.

Saunderson said a person's prominence does not affect the RCMP's decision whether to make news of their arrest public.


With files from Audrey McKinnon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata
@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George.

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