British Columbia

Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov takes a leave of absence after being charged with sexual assault

A special prosecutor has approved a charge of sex assault against Port Moody Mayor Robert Vagramov.

The first-term mayor denies the allegations, but says he will need to give his full attention to the matter

Rob Vagramov was elected mayor of Port Moody last fall. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov has taken a leave of absence, after a special prosecutor approved a sex assault charge against him.

"The allegation that has led to the charge is false and will be strongly challenged in court," said Vagramov, adding that he would launch a defamation suit of his own.

"I expect that this legal matter will reach the stage where preparing properly for my defence will take my full-time attention, and will take away from my ability to complete the work I was elected to to do as mayor of Port Moody." 

The assault is alleged to have happened in Coquitlam on April 1, 2015, court records show.

Michael Klein was appointed as special prosecutor to look into the allegations against Vagramov in December, according to a news release from the B.C. Prosecution Service.

The sex assault charge was sworn on Wednesday. Vagramov is scheduled to make his first court appearance in provincial court in Port Coquitlam on April 25.

"As someone who has been in contact with victims of sexual assault, I hope this false accusation does not take away from the validity of other cases," he said. 

Emergency council meeting 

Vagramov made his statement after an emergency council meeting this afternoon. While he could have stayed on as mayor during the legal battle, he quickly requested to temporarily step down. 

Before the meeting, Coun. Meghan Lahti had indicated her preference Vagramov take a leave.

"My concern from the get-go was that we proceed with good governance in the city. Having that kind of burden, from the press and residents, if he's not at council then we've removed that cloud from the city," she said.

Coun. Diana Dilworth is acting mayor, and council will determine a rotating structure for the position going forward, said Lahti, who cautioned that Vagramov's absence could be lengthy. 

"We have to be prepared ... we'll probably want to look at the remainder of the calendar year and see how it goes," she said.

"While [Port Moody residents'] faith may have been shaken ...  they can rest assured their council is going to provide the best governance they can during this time."

Past controversy 

Vagramov was elected mayor last fall at the age of 26, after four years on council. He is currently the youngest mayor in B.C.

During his campaign for mayor, Vagramov came under fire for a 2014 video that showed him asking a homeless man to shotgun a beer in exchange for a sandwich.

When the video surfaced, he told CBC he "wouldn't have made it today," but also denounced the attention as a "smear campaign."

No rules for removing officials

There is no process in British Columbia for removing elected local politicians or forcing them to take a leave of absence, if charged or convicted of a serious crime.

In 2018, municipalities voted at their annual convention to ask the provincial government to change those rules — but to date, it hasn't taken action. 

"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," it said to the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

"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."   

Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson echoed those comments in a statement Thursday.

"Staff are actively exploring the sensitive issues raised by the resolution and will be providing me with options for how we can better support local governments in situations like this, including whether legislative changes are necessary," Robinson said.

"The public should be able to have confidence in their elected officials and I take this issue very seriously. "