Councillor wants mandatory leave for civic politicians who've been criminally charged
A city councillor is calling for tougher rules for civic politicians in trouble with the law.
Cindy Gilroy wants the province to change the City of Winnipeg Charter to make it mandatory for councillors who’ve been charged with a criminal offence to take a paid leave of absence.
She put the idea forward a little more than a week after Transcona councillor Russ Wyatt was arrested and charged with sexual assault.
Wyatt’s seat in council chambers remained vacant Thursday for the final council meeting before summer break.
He was allowed to miss the meeting due to a doctor’s appointment.
Wyatt couldn't be reached for comment Thursday but has previously said he is innocent and will defend himself in court and it appears he may keep working.
He told CTV News last week he plans to attend a committee meeting in September which could deal with a motion he introduced on banning single-use plastic bags.
Under the city's charter, councillors are only removed from office for criminal offences after a conviction.
Coun. Gilroy wants the city to request the province amend the charter so that it would be mandatory for an elected member of council who has been charged with a criminal offence, including assault and sexual assault, to take a paid leave of absence.
"Somebody is innocent until they're proven guilty and that's a fact but we also need to remember that there's many people that have to work in that environment," said Gilroy. "I think this is looking at a policy that we lack and trying to make sure that moving forward we have a better way of doing this."
Mayor Brian Bowman supports the idea but acknowledged considerations would need to be taken into account, such as who would represent constituents with an elected official off the job during lengthy court proceedings.
"My support for councillor Gilroy's motion should speak to my position of what the rules should be,” Bowman told reporters. “I think the rules should be changed by the province."
The province said in a statement it's open to discussions with the city on the proposed changes but will wait until councillors have had the opportunity to review and vote on the motion.
Gilroy said a paid leave of absence for criminal charges is a common practice within other businesses and organizations.
In an emailed statement the City of Winnipeg said if an employee has been arrested and criminally charged its policy is to deal with each matter on a case-by-case basis to determine whether to remove a worker from the job pending the conclusion of any court proceedings.
Factors taken into consideration include the nature of the criminal charges, public attention and potential damage to public confidence and the city’s reputation.
“In the absence of evidence to support cause for discipline for the off-duty conduct, the removal would be on a leave with pay,” read a statement provided by the city.
The city said it would also take into consideration whether court-ordered conditions would prevent an employee from reporting for duty or performing their job.