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This article was published 19/7/2018 (832 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Coun. Russ Wyatt, who was arrested July 10 and charged with sexual assault, was a no-show at Thursday’s city council meeting.
Wyatt was granted an approved leave of absence from the meeting for a "doctor’s appointment," thanks to a motion put forward by Couns. Devi Sharma and Ross Eadie. It passed quickly, and unanimously.
The longtime Transcona representative has avoided the public eye since being charged with a "serious sexual assault," a term police use to refer to an attack consistent with rape. He has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
While he was not present Thursday at Winnipeg city hall, Wyatt's legal situation was behind a motion moved by Couns. Cindy Gilroy and Mike Pagtakhan seeking to have the province amend the Winnipeg Charter, making it mandatory for council members to take a paid leave of absence when facing certain criminal charges.
"For far too long, we have not listened to women’s views on these issues and we need to start doing that," Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) told reporters.
"We have many women who have dealt with sexual violence in the past, and these are triggers. We need to remember that there are many people that have to work in that environment. They have rights, too, and we have to make sure we’re providing a safe working space."
Mayor Brian Bowman said he plans to support the motion when it is voted on by council in September. He pointed out the practice isn’t uncommon in the private sector.
"I will absolutely be supporting it. In many workplaces, it’s not uncommon for individuals who’ve been arrested to take a paid leave of absence while a criminal justice process unfolds," Bowman said.
Both Bowman and Gilroy didn’t have answers for how the new policy would operate in practice, given the fact it can often take years for a criminal charge to work its way through the courts, effectively leaving a ward without representation on council.
"The request is to ask the province to consider it. There are a number of considerations that the province would need to take a look at," Bowman said.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was asked for his opinion on the city council motion, during a conference call from New Brunswick, where he’s attending a premiers’ meeting. He made clear the presumption of innocence is fundamental to Canada’s justice system.
"That does not preclude premiers or others from taking actions preemptively or asking leaves to be taken. But at the same time, I’d be very, very careful to not conclude guilt because of an accusation. There is a court system in place for a reason," Pallister said.
Police allege Wyatt, 48, attacked a woman in a Winnipeg residence in January. The woman is not his wife and is not believed to be a city employee, police said, adding the alleged attack did not occur at his home.
Wyatt, who has represented Transcona since 2002, issued a statement last week denying any wrongdoing, saying he would fight the charge in court.
The sexual-assault charge is the latest bombshell in a tumultuous 2018 for the city councillor.
Not long after the police investigation into the alleged sexual assault began, Wyatt disappeared from the public eye. He requested an extended leave of absence from his city hall duties Jan. 19, for what city officials later described as a personal family matter.
In March, the Free Press revealed Wyatt was in rehab, seeking treatment for alcoholism and drug abuse at the Aurora Recovery Centre in Gimli.
A noticeably thinner Wyatt returned to city hall in May, and, speaking from the floor of council, said he had a new outlook on life.
In June, at the Winnipeg Pride festival, Wyatt came out as bisexual, saying he’d been living a double life.
-- with files from Aldo Santin and Larry Kusch
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Thursday, July 19, 2018 at 7:32 PM CDT: Final version
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