Thomas Steen has informed Winnipeg city council he is taking an indefinite leave to deal with "a personal and private issue," after news came out he is facing an assault charge.
"Dear Council Colleagues: In response to allegations in recent media reports I would like to advise you that I will be taking some time to deal with a private personal matter," said Steen, in an emailed statement to other members of council.
The former Winnipeg Jet star centre is facing an assault charge following an incident last week at a city restaurant, the Free Press first reported this morning.
Steen turned himself in to police Tuesday evening and was promptly released on a promise to appear in court, a justice source said. The allegations have not been proven and Steen is presumed innocent.
He allegedly got into a dispute May 1 at the Boston Pizza location on McPhillips Street. A woman known to Steen reported she was assaulted and contacted police, who authorized a charge following a brief investigation.
The arrest charge also prevents Steen from carrying out his duties on the Winnipeg Police Board.
One of two council representatives on the fledgling police board, Steen is prevented from attending meetings or participating in decision-making while under police investigation.
Winnipeg Police Board chairman Coun. Scott Fielding said that if Steen is convicted he would be forced to resign from the police board.
Fielding said he spoke to Steen late Tuesday afternoon, adding he was surprised to learn of his arrest and charge.
Could lose seat if convicted
Mayor Sam Katz said he would not comment on Steen’s situation, adding only he remains innocent until proven guilty.
Katz said there is nothing preventing Steen from attending council or committee meetings while under investigation.
However, Steen will need support from council if his leave is a lengthy one.
According to the City of Winnipeg Charter, a councillor forfeits their seat if they miss three consecutive regular meetings of council unless their absence is approved by a resolution at one of the missed meetings.
Steen could lose his seat if convicted.
Section 47 of the charter states a member of council forfeits their seat if convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment for five years or more; or if convicted of any offence that involves breach of trust by a public officer, municipal corruption, taking money to influence decisions or appointments.
In addition, a member of council can lose their seat if other councillors pass a bylaw stating that the conviction warrants removal from office.
Once removed from office, the charter states the former member of council cannot run in a byelection, but can run again in the next general election.
The Free Press tried to contact Steen for comment Tuesday evening.
Steen's release conditions include having no contact with the woman, who did not suffer any serious injuries. His first court appearance is later this spring.
Steen is currently finishing his first term as councillor for Elmwood-East Kildonan after being elected in October 2010. He is expected to run again this fall but will face a challenge from at least one candidate who has already declared.
Prior to entering the political arena, Steen enjoyed a successful professional hockey career that included 14 seasons with the Jets. His son, Alex, is now a star forward for the St. Louis Blues of the NHL.