Manitoba

Sex assault charge stayed against former city councillor Russ Wyatt

The sexual assault charge laid against former city councillor Russ Wyatt laid last July has been stayed, Crown prosecutors said Friday.

Former Transcona councillor had been charged in July 2018

A sexual assault charge against former city councillor Russ Wyatt has been stayed by Crown prosecutors. (CBC News)

A sexual assault charge laid against former Winnipeg city councillor Russ Wyatt has been stayed.

The long-time councillor for Transcona had been charged with what police called a "serious sexual assault" in July 2018.

The charge was stayed by the Crown Wednesday, according to provincial court records.

Wyatt's lawyer, Evan Roitenberg, said he was in the process of preparing to take the case to trial when the Crown filed court documents staying the charge.

"It means the charges have been dropped," Roitenberg told CBC News on Friday. 

"Mr. Wyatt has, from Day 1, proclaimed his innocence, and he's innocent until proven guilty. This is the Crown acknowledging that they are going to decline any opportunity to prove otherwise."

Roitenberg said the court documents didn't explain why the Crown stayed the charge.

A spokesperson for the Manitoba Prosecution Service wasn't able to provide specifics in the case, but said Crowns will direct a stay proceedings when the "charging standard is not met."

"Manitoba Prosecution Service has a twofold test for determining whether charges ought to be laid or proceeded upon: whether there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction and [whether] it is in the public interest to proceed," the spokesperson said in an email.

Proceedings can be restarted within one year if new evidence becomes available, the spokesperson said, but wouldn't comment on whether the Crown plans to re-prosecute Wyatt.

Charges laid

The charge against Wyatt stemmed from an alleged encounter in January 2018 with a woman he knew, police said when it was laid on July 11, 2018.

The "serious sexual assault" reported to police on Jan. 14 happened at a home in the city, Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver said at the time. It did not happen at Wyatt's home.

The alleged victim was an adult woman whom Wyatt knew, though the alleged assault is not considered domestic in nature, Carver said, adding the woman was not Wyatt's spouse.

Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver spoke on Wednesday about sexual assault charges laid against Coun. Russ Wyatt and why it took six months after the alleged incident took place for police to lay the charges. 2:34

Roitenberg said Wyatt, who has maintained his innocence since the charge was laid, is relieved to see the charge stayed.

"You can only imagine the relief that somebody must feel having something like this hanging over their head for well over a year, and to now have it removed," he said.

"My client is quite relieved, as anybody would be who believes they did nothing wrong but was facing the spectre of a criminal charge.

"To have that taken away as an obstacle to the rest of his life, he's quite happy."

Wyatt was first elected to city council in 2002. He was absent from city council from  January until May 2018 to undergo addictions treatment at a facility north of Gimli, Man. 

Wyatt did not run for re-election last fall.

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