British Columbia

What can Pitt Meadows councillors do about colleague convicted of sex assault? Not much, says lawyer

Two Pitt Meadows city councillors are calling for colleague David Murray to resign after his conviction for sexual assault. But a lawyer says unless he goes willingly, there's not much to be done.

2 councillors say they want David Murray gone, but municipal lawyer says they can't force him out

Despite being convicted of sexual assault, Pitt Meadows Coun. David Murray has not resigned. (City of Pitt Meadows)

Some Pitt Meadows city councillors want their colleague David Murray to resign his seat after he was convicted of sexual assault Wednesday.

Speaking on Thursday, Coun. Tracy Miyashita said Murray — who still remains on council — should do "the right thing" and resign.

"I think it is very difficult to represent the people of our community when you've been convicted of a sexual assault charge," Miyashita said.

"What does that say to the victim, who lives in our community, as well as any victim of sexual assault?

"It's hard for people to have confidence in the leadership of this council, how do we make decisions that affect them. And how do we even function as a group with him at the table?"

Fellow Coun. Bill Dingwall agrees.

"I'm still hopeful that he'll do it himself and resign," Dingwall said. "I'm hopeful that his closer colleagues ... would be able to reason with him. And if not, then I think it deserves a public discussion to see where we go with this."

But a lawyer specializing in municipal law says despite Murray's conviction and the seriousness of the crime, there's little council can do to make him resign.

Pitt Meadows councillors Tracy Miyashita (left) and Bill Dingwall want their colleague David Murray to step down. (pittmeadows.bc.ca)

Options changed with Charter

Reece Harding says there is nothing that local governments can do to disqualify an official from council once elected.

Back in the 1970s and '80s, people convicted of some criminal offenses were forbidden from holding public office, but that prohibition was removed, he says, likely over fears that it was unconstitutional.

"There are certain provisions in the [Community] Charter that specifically set out where elected officials can be disqualified from office," he said, listing concerns like conflict of interest, failing to attend meetings or not taking an oath of office. "But having a criminal record is not one of them."

And he says the situation in Pitt Meadows is not the first time something like this has occurred.

In 2008, then-Port Coquitlam Mayor Scott Young pleaded guilty to assault and breach of an undertaking but refused to leave office and only left when he failed to get re-elected.

While there is a tradition of elected officials facing these situations to resign, he says the decision is ultimately up to the official in question and changing that requires action from the province.

Mayor decries 'knee-jerk' demands

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker has also said there is nothing he or council can do to make Murray resign.

On Thursday, Becker said he would not comment on whether Murray should resign before consulting city staff and the city solicitor.

He also said he would have an in-depth, honest conversation with Murray, whom he calls a friend, whenever Murray was ready to meet him.

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker says he will consult with staff and get legal advice before giving his opinion on what David Murray should do about his future with council. (CBC)

"It demands a response and action from city council, and that will be coming," he said. "What it does not demand is knee-jerk, politically motivated demands for his head on a platter forthwith. I find those offensive and politically self-serving.

"This matter will be dealt with concisely, fairly and promptly."

An email to David Murray requesting comment for this story was not returned. His lawyer declined to comment.

With files from Tina Lovgreen

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