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Pitt Meadows council in turmoil after sex assault conviction

Randy Shore, Postmedia Network

David Murray was first elected to Pitt Meadows council in November 2011. (Postmedia file photo)

David Murray was first elected to Pitt Meadows council in November 2011. (Postmedia file photo)

The sex assault conviction of Pitt Meadows Coun. David Murray and its messy aftermath has the provincial government pondering an overhaul to rules governing municipal councils.

Murray was convicted of sexual assault in Port Coquitlam provincial court this week for an incident that occurred about 25 years ago. The victim's name is subject to a publication ban.

Murray has not resigned his seat on council.

"I think it places a huge cloud over us as a council and the reputation of our city," said Coun. Bill Dingwall, a retired RCMP officer with a law degree from the University of Ottawa. "It completely sends the wrong message about sexual assault to victims and in particular this victim."

Dingwall and fellow councillor Tracy Miyashita have considered resigning their seats rather than serve with Murray.

"I will not sit at the table with David Murray should he choose to remain on council," said Miyashita. "To do so, would be a slap in the face to the victim and the people I serve in Pitt Meadows."

The Community Charter and Local Government Act offer no process for removing elected officials who are convicted of criminal acts, according to Dingwall. Even bribery, corruption and influence trading are covered by the Criminal Code.

"There are huge gaps (in the legislation) regarding misconduct by elected officials," said Dingwall.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities is seeking ways to enforce responsible conduct rules that include disqualification from office, according to a policy report released in August.

"I've been participating in this process to push for change by the provincial government," he said. "Other Canadian cities have implemented mandatory codes of conduct so there are beacons of hope out there."

Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson said the provincial government will consider changes as a result of Murray's failure to resign.

"Sexual assault is a serious crime, and I can understand why people are concerned," she said. "I am disappointed the councillor has not resigned and strongly believe he should listen to his constituents."

"Unfortunately, the ability of the ministry to take action is limited right now but in light of this situation we will be looking at whether new tools are needed.”

Meanwhile, Dingwall is calling on his fellow councillors to censure Murray, if he will not resign voluntarily.

"Staff will find it very difficult and uncomfortable to deal with a member of council who has been convicted of a serious offence," he said.

Complicating matters is Murray's status as a member of the de facto ruling slate on council, led by Mayor John Becker. Murray has continued to serve on council since being charged nearly one year ago.

"I hope that the mayor and the councillors he is close to are encouraging him to resign," said Dingwall. "If not, council needs to take a leadership role, meet as soon as possible with our legal counsel present and find a way to deal with this reprehensible conduct."

Censure could limit Murray's ability to work on committees and represent the city as acting mayor, he said. Council next meets November 7.

"There are a number of things we could have done and should be doing now to deal with this very serious situation," Dingwall said. "By not acting it is fuelling a lot of anger in the community."

In light of his conviction Murray, a parks maintenance worker for the City of Port Coquitlam, has been on paid leave from his job since Oct. 2 while the city resolves his employment status, according to a spokesperson.

Becker and Murray did not respond to inquiries by press time.

rshore@postmedia.com