Rob Vagramov, the mayor of Port Moody, was charged with sexual assault in March of this year. The charge relates to an April 2015 incident, at which time he was a Port Moody city councillor. On September 9th, 2019 he announced he was returning to work from his leave of absence after Crown and his legal counsel reduced the indictment to a summary matter. Three days later, on September 12th, the sexual assault case was adjourned to allow for consideration of alternative measures which could result in the charge being stayed.
If the charges are stayed, we will likely never know the details of the attack. What we do know, is that as the mayor of Port Moody and a former city councillor, he has considerable power and status in the world. As a frontline anti-violence worker, I know how difficult it is for women to report their experiences of men’s violence against them to the police. It takes particular courage to do this when the victim knows that her attacker has a public profile and political supporters. The charge approval threshold in British Columbia requires Crown counsel to believe that there is a substantial likelihood of conviction and that it is in the public interest to proceed – so how come the file is now potentially being resolved through a process called “alternative measures”?
According to the Crown Counsel Policy Manual, alternative measures can be used in cases involving “less serious offences”. They usually involve offenders with no criminal history. The accused is given the opportunity to accept responsibility for the crime and make amends to the community without going to trial. Some sexual assault offences may be referred for alternative measures with the approval of a Regional Crown Counsel. In all cases, the above approvals should be given only if the following conditions are met:
• the victim has been consulted and the victim’s views considered
• the victim has been made aware of available victim assistance programs
• the accused has no apparent history of violence or sexual offences
• an alternative measure is not contrary to the public interest
Alternative measures have their place within our criminal justice system. A criminal record for an offence such as petty theft can seriously impede a person’s future opportunities. However by allowing for alternative measures in cases of sexual assault, the BC Prosecution Services is sending a message that sexual assaults are not serious. Although the victim’s views are considered, the decision about how to proceed on a file is ultimately up to Crown counsel’s discretion. And faced with the reality of having to publicly testify against the highest ranking official in your community, I understand why a woman would agree to the alternative measures process.
Rob Vagramov has framed the sexual assault charge as a trivial matter after Crown and his legal counsel reduced the indictment to a summary matter and promptly returned to his duties as mayor. Women in Port Moody are outraged that he has resumed office with a sexual assault charge still out against him and are demanding he resign. We support their demand. If you would like to stand in solidarity with women in Port Moody, come to the next city council meeting on October 8th, 2019 at 7 pm at Port Moody City Hall (100 Newport Drive in Port Moody, BC).