Manitoba

Wyatt absent as council considers forcing paid leave for members facing criminal charges

A Winnipeg city councillor charged with sexual assault did not attend city council Thursday. A colleague wants any councillors who face charges to take mandatory leave.

Transcona councillor was arrested on July 10; he denies allegations

Coun. Russ Wyatt is not at council Thursday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A Winnipeg city councillor charged with sexual assault did not attend city council Thursday, the same day a fellow councillor introduced a motion to force council members to take a paid leave when facing criminal charges.

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt was arrested on July 10 and released after a woman came forward to police to report an alleged serious sexual assault on Jan. 14.

The 48-year-old, long-time city councillor was granted a leave of absence from Thursday's meeting citing a "doctor's appointment."

CBC contacted the councillor Thursday asking whether he was considering taking a voluntarily leave of absence. He did not reply to the question.

Wyatt has denied the claims made against him. He said last week he will defend himself in court and referred follow-up questions to his lawyer.

Councillors facing charges should be forced to take leave: Gilroy 

Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) introduced a motion Thursday that would have the City of Winnipeg request the province for an amendment to the city's charter to make it mandatory for elected members of council to take paid leaves of absence if they face criminal charges, "including but not limited to, assault and sexual assault."

Coun. Cindy Gilroy introduced a motion on Thursday that would request the province to amend Winnipeg's charter to force elected members of council to take a paid leave if they are charged with a criminal offence, including assault and sexual assault. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Speaking to reporters during the lunch hour, Gilroy said as Winnipeg is a partner in the UN Global Safe Cities Initiative, the city has a duty to protect members of the public who must meet with members of council as well as those who work in the public service.

"I think that we have a responsibility to ensure that women are safe during those times and that they feel safe in this work environment," she said.

"I recognize that there's something more that we could be doing."

Mayor Brian Bowman said he will support Gilroy's motion. He said since Wyatt's arrest, members of council have discussed rules about leave in situations where elected officials are charged with a criminal offence. 

"In many workplaces it's not uncommon for individuals who've been arrested to be required to take a paid leave of absence," he said.

"There is a presumption of innocence, of course, and there's an independent criminal justice process that will unfold as it should." 

A motion at city hall Thursday calls for councillors to take a paid leave of absence when facing criminal charges. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

There's no council meeting in August, so the motion was placed on the agenda for the Sept. 20 meeting. If it passes, the city would work with the province to help draft changes to the charter, said Bowman.

Winnipeg police spokesperson Const. Rob Carver previously told reporters that Wyatt is accused of assaulting the woman in a home. The charge is not considered domestic in nature but the two knew each other, police said.

The motion to grant Wyatt's leave for Thursday's meeting was introduced by speaker Coun. Devi Sharma and seconded by Coun. Ross Eadie. Coun. Gilroy's motion was seconded by Coun. Mike Pagtakhan. 

Bowman said if residents in Transcona have difficulty reaching Coun. Wyatt over the coming months, his office is available to represent their needs.

A Winnipeg city councillor charged with sexual assault did not attend city council Thursday, the same day a fellow councillor introduced a motion to force council members to take a paid leave when facing criminal charges. 2:14

With files from Bartley Kives and Ian Froese