British Columbia

Should B.C. prevent convicted criminals from being mayor?

The city of Terrace, B.C., is pushing for a new law preventing convicted criminals from becoming city councillors after a Pitt Meadows politician was convicted of sexual assault.

Terrace city council wants law barring anyone convicted of a 'serious' crime from local government office

David Murray was a Pitt Meadows, B.C., councillor until he resigned after being convicted in 2017 of sexual assault. The province has no laws that would have forced him to step down. (City of Pitt Meadows)

The city of Terrace, B.C., is pushing for a new law preventing people convicted of a "serious criminal offence" from holding municipal office after a Pitt Meadows councillor was found guilty of sexual assault and did not step down for several days.

In Oct. 2017, David Murray was convicted of committing sexual assault in 1992 and resigned from his position the next week.

However, the resignation was voluntary because in B.C., there is nothing preventing convicted criminals from holding office. 

Municipal lawyer Reece Harding told the CBC that while the Community Charter disqualifies elected officials from holding office due to conflict of interest, failing to attend meetings or not taking an oath of office, having a criminal record does not get in the way.

For example, in 2008, then-Port Coquitlam mayor Scott Young pleaded guilty to assault and breach of an undertaking, but only left the position when he failed to get re-elected.

Terrace Coun. Stacey Tyers said she thinks more safeguards need to be in place.

"It's really important to me to preserve the integrity of the chamber and the positions," she said.

Paid leave for those facing charges

She also wants anyone facing charges to be placed on paid leave until a verdict is reached, pointing to the example of an area director for the Cariboo Regional District facing one charge of sexual interference with a person under the age of 16 who has maintained his position on the district board.

Tyers says she doesn't see paid leave as a punishment, but as a safeguard to maintain public faith in elected governments.

"The general public... [is] feeling like, often, politicians are above the law," she said.

Denis Lejeune remained mayor of Baie-Trinité, Que., for two years after being found guilty of sexually assaulting one of his employees. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec recently updated its laws to force municipal leaders out of office if they have been found guilty of a criminal offence.

The change was made after the then-mayor of Baie-Trinité was convicted of sexual assault, yet remained in office

Tyers' motion calling on the province to update its laws to prevent anyone convicted of "a serious criminal offence" from holding local government office was unanimously supported by Terrace city council.

Terrace will now bring the resolution to the North Central Local Government Association and Union of B.C. Municipalities to seek support from other local governments.

With files from George Baker and Liam Britten