Port Moody mayor returning to work after sexual assault charge stayed

Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov has announced he will be back in office by Monday, after prosecutors stayed a sexual assault charge against him Wednesday and announced the case had been privately resolved.

Vagramov said he plans to begin the transition back to work in the coming days. The mayor has been on a leave of absence since mid-October, when he stepped away from his role as prosecution against him moved forward.

"I think the number one thing that I could be best focusing on [now] is the things I got elected to do," Vagramov told reporters at a news conference at city hall Thursday. 

Allegations against the mayor stemmed from his behaviour during a date with a woman he'd been seeing in 2015.

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"It hasn't been a pleasant process to go through," Vagramov said Thursday. "I think that the same can be said for the complainant, for sure. I know, first hand, that that has not been an easy process to go through."

The Crown stayed the sole charge against Vagramov on Wednesday because he "successfully completed" an alternative measures program as a way of resolving the case. Such programs are available to prosecutors as a way to have an accused make amends to the complainant and their community, without going through the courts.

The stayed charge means Vagramov will not be prosecuted further over the incident.

The mayor was initially charged in March. Defence lawyer Ian Donaldson said the 2015 incident involved "two adults, fully clothed, in daylight, on a third date, in circumstances where many people might have thought there was consent but [the complaint] said there wasn't."

Donaldson characterized it as "an awkward date" and not "predatory" behaviour. Vagramov used an identical description when he reference the date during his statement Thursday.

The mayor said the situation "could have benefited from more communication."

"It wasn't a match and it wasn't until three-and-a-half, almost four, years later that it was raised that the complainant felt like she had an issue with the way that the date went down and next thing you know, we're here," he said. "I left somebody with a negative impression and I feel awful about that."

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Vagramov contested the charge against him throughout proceedings. He took a leave of absence after the charge was sworn, but created a rift at city council when he returned to work in September. He left again on Oct. 18 after council approved a motion asking him to leave office again until the case was resolved.

The mayor said Thursday he was "deeply regretful" for the tension his criminal case brought upon council and the community. He said he returned to work prematurely because he knew the case was "on its way out" but realized, in hindsight, the public did not have that information.

"Personally, I am happy to live in a place where people's reports are taken seriously by the justice system, where no one stands above the law and where being an elected official means more scrutiny in the justice system and not less," the mayor continued.

Lawyers on both sides of the case said the specifics of the alternative measures in Vagramov's case are private. 

Such programs can be used in cases involving less serious offences, according to the province. Plans usually involve offenders who don't have a criminal history and give the accused an opportunity to accept responsibility for the crime.

Donaldson said he could not say whether the mayor admitted to wrongdoing as part of his alternative measures agreement. The lawyer also declined to say whether Vagramov apologized to the woman.

The mayor said he apologized to the complainant when the incident first happened and a second time "recently." He also said he thinks he is "always 100 per cent responsible" for his own actions.

Vagramov was elected mayor in October 2018, when he was 28. At the time of the date, he was a city councillor.

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