New Westminster councillor Mary Trentadue has been among the voices calling on Port Moody’s mayor to step down until his ongoing legal issues are resolved – a move he made Tuesday night.
Following an investigation that began on Dec. 17, 2018, a special prosecutor approved a charge of sexual assault against Mayor Rob Vagramov in connection to an alleged assault in Coquitlam in 2015. He went on a leave of absence on March 29, the day it was announced he was charged with a single count of sexual assault, but he returned from his leave on Sept. 9.
“In my opinion, this is not an argument about whether someone is innocent or guilty. He is facing court challenges – that is a fact. That’s not a maybe or a ‘we’ll see’. It’s definite,” Trentadue said. “He’s facing some very serious challenges, and I think you are a distraction if you continue to stay in your position while facing those. I think people are entitled to their day in court, absolutely, but I think the public has a hard time trusting politicians that continue to stay in a job and collect their pay and do the work when there is something very serious overshadowing them.”
Trentadue believes it’s actions like this that erode the public’s trust in elected officials, so they should step away and deal with their legal challenges until they’re resolved.
Last week, Port Moody council considered a motion by Coun. Diana Dilworth to ask Vagramov to resume his leave of absence. During a nearly two-hour delegation period, many speakers, including Trentadue, urged Vagramov to take a leave of absence until his legal issues are settled, while some said he should remain in office because people who are charged with a crime are innocent until proven guilty.
“I know it’s not usual,” she said. “We don’t usually go to other councils and tell them or ask them what to do, but I just really felt that I needed to tell this mayor that I am completely opposed to his coming back and that he really should step aside.”
Trentadue also believes the provincial government should establish an ethics committee to develop a policy that would require an elected official to take a paid leave if charged with a criminal offence.
Asked if she would be bringing a motion to that effect to council for its consideration, Trentadue said she’s unable to speak about anything that is not being considered in open council meetings.
Trentadue is the New Westminster city council’s representative to Metro Vancouver’s zero waste and liquid waste committees. Vagramov, who represents his community on the liquid waste committee, attended last month’s meeting, soon after coming back from his leave.
“I just thought that is just not right, I should not have to sit beside another politician who has been charged with sexual assault. He needs to deal with that,” Trentadue told the Record. “That is what led me to start wanting to speak out. Sadly, I don’t think politicians speak out enough about their colleagues. I think it’s time to do that. I don’t want to remain silent and suggest that ‘it’s not my business’ or ‘it’s up to him’ or anything like that. I think it is really important that we speak out and say that it’s wrong.”
If a member of New Westminster city council was in a similar position, Trentadue said she would expect them to remain on a leave of absence until their legal issue was settled.
“Anybody in any position of trust would have to step down,” she said. “I think it’s really a shame that the province has not put in any kind of legislation to deal with this because this is not the first time it has occurred. I just feel like I can’t remain silent.”
At the Oct. 8 meeting, Port Moody council voted four to three in favour of asking the mayor to step aside until his legal issues are resolved. On Oct. 15 he issued a statement saying he was going back on unpaid leave until the charges against him are cleared and he expects to return to work in the next three or four weeks.
With files from TriCity News