Port Moody council asks mayor to step down until his court case is heard

Port Moody, B.C., city council has voted in favour of asking Mayor Rob Vagramov to take a leave of absence while his sexual assault charge remains unresolved.

The motion passed in a 4-3 vote Tuesday night at Port Moody council.  Councillors Diana Dilworth, Amy Lubik, Zoe Royer and Meghan Lahti voted in favour. Councillors Hunter Madsen, Steve Milani and Mayor Vagramov voting against.

“No one is speaking to your innocence or guilt,” said Coun. Diana Dilworth who introduced the motion.

“What they are speaking to is there is no legal mechanism to address the situation we are in.”

Tuesday’s council meeting came a month after Mayor Rob Vagramov returned from his self-imposed leave of absence to contest sexual assault charges. 

His case remains unresolved and his next court appearance is on Nov. 13. That created a heated environment during a public session at the beginning of council when people for and against the motion spoke for nearly two hours. 

Vagramov is under no obligation to step down, and there exists no way to recall local politicians in B.C.

After the vote was taken, Vagramov — who chaired the debate — said he would take the comments “to heart … and take them into consideration.”

A packed council chamber at Port Moody City Hall on Oct. 8. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Heated, emotional debate

While public comments about the motion took nearly two hours, they often repeated the same points.

Many who spoke in favour of the motion said it was inappropriate for someone to lead Port Moody while still facing a sexual assault charge. It also makes women feel comfortable, they said. 

“I shouldn’t have to sit next to another elected official who is facing challenges of sexual assault,” said New Westminster Coun. Mary Trentadue, who serves on a Metro Vancouver committee with Vagramov, and came to Port Moody to speak.

Those against the motion argued it was politically motivated by people who disagreed with Vagramov’s broader agenda and called on council to uphold the principle of innocent until proven guilty. 

Most councillors said the decision weighted on them heavily, with Coun. Lahti in tears as she described how the controversy had divided the suburban Metro Vancouver municipality. 

“In my entire 20 plus years at this table, I have never felt so upset at what’s happening in our community,” she said. 

“Maybe it’s OK [for you] to have this happen at every meeting for next few weeks. It’s not OK for me, it’s not OK to our staff, it’s not OK to the community.”

What comes next? 

Regardless of what Vagramov chooses to do, upcoming events might provide some clarity. 

Several councillors said the provincial government is preparing a legal framework to address municipal politicians charged or convicted with serious crimes, as was requested by the Union of B.C. Municipalities in a resolution last year. 

Vagramov’s next court appearance could provide more details on his case, or could see the charges stayed, with the B.C. Prosecution Service approving alternative measures if there is a resolution agreement.

In the meantime, Dilworth worries Port Moody’s political culture will continue to erode. 

“Until his legal issues are resolved and he’s exonerated,” she said, “every meeting of council is going to be the same gong show you saw this evening.”

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