Pitt Meadows council wants laws changed to allow cities to remove councillors convicted of crimes.
Mayor John Becker will bring forward a motion at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association conference in Whistler, May 9-11. The motion will encourage the group to lobby the provincial government to make legislative changes to the B.C. Community Charter to give municipalities the power to suspend or remove an elected official convicted of a criminal offence.
“There’s a gap in the legislation that needs to be addressed,” said Becker. “Currently, there is no authority under the B.C. Community Charter to allow a municipality to remove an elected official from office even if convicted of a criminal offense.”
The city’s motion advocates through the LMLGA and, subsequently, the Union of B.C. Municipalities for changes to legislation for local government.
The “Disqualification from Holding Elected Office” motion would require an elected government official be put on paid leave immediately or disqualified from holding office upon conviction of a serious criminal offence or until the expiration of the time to file an appeal or determination of an appeal.
After Murray’s conviction, Becker met with him to discuss the matter, and Murray agreed to resign, several months later to avoid a by-election.
Becker said he was able to “lean on a personal relationship” with Murray in the discussion about the convicted council member leaving his position. Murray had no obligation to then resign.
“He could still be sitting as a member of council, with full rights of participation and pay,” Becker added.
Murray was sentenced to nine months in jail on March 21, but was incarcerated for 16 days before being granted bail as he appeals his conviction and sentencing.
There are limited provisions in the charter that specifically set out where elected officials can be disqualified from office, such as conflict of interest, failing to attend meetings or not taking an oath of office.
But having a criminal record is not one of them.
“The City of Pitt Meadows is committed to leading this change, so that no other council will be faced with this unacceptable situation again,” said Becker.
He has heard from critics who say Murray should have been off council as soon as he was charged, but Becker said the presumption of innocence and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would complicate that position.
Becker, a lawyer, said he has spoken to Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson about the issue, and numerous local government officials, and has heard agreement that the issue needs to be addressed.
“The status quo is unacceptable.”