Skip to main content

Luke Strimbold, mayor of the village of Burns Lake, addresses the media during a news conference in Burns Lake, B.C., on Jan. 21, 2012.JONATHAN HAYWARD

A former BC Liberal cabinet cabinet minister says it's "disturbing" that the party's membership chair held his executive role for a month after being charged with two dozen sexual-assault offences, but that Luke Strimbold had a minimal role in party affairs at that time.

BC Liberals are grappling with the fallout of what party Leader Andrew Wilkinson described to reporters in Victoria as "a very nasty surprise." On Feb. 3 – the day Mr. Wilkinson was elected – Mr. Strimbold, a former mayor of the northern community of Burns Lake, was charged with 24 counts of sexual assault and related offences.

However, the BC Liberals say Mr. Strimbold never disclosed his situation to the party. He continued as membership chair – a volunteer post – until the media learned of the situation last Friday, began asking the party questions and Mr. Strimbold, once the youngest mayor in B.C., stepped down.

"It's disturbing to learn that [Mr. Strimbold] continued to serve as membership chair after being charged criminally," Geoff Plant, a former BC Liberal attorney-general, who served as chief returning officer for the recent leadership race, said in an e-mail exchange on Monday.

Mr. Plant said Mr. Strimbold should have resigned as soon as he knew of the criminal allegations.

The charges against Mr. Strimbold have not been tested in court and he has not responded to requests for comment.

Mr. Strimbold served on the rules committee for the leadership race held to select a successor for Christy Clark, a former premier who stepped down as party leader after the BC NDP and the BC Greens ousted the Liberals in a confidence vote last summer. The committee members drafted rules approved by the BC Liberal executive.

Mr. Plant said that the campaign rules imposed high standards of ethical conduct on leadership candidates, who had to complete and sign an extensive questionnaire about criminal convictions and whether or not there was anything about them that, if known, would harm the reputation of the party.

"I think that a member of the party executive overseeing a campaign that asked those sorts of questions about the candidates ought to apply the same standards to themselves," Mr. Plant wrote. "Obviously, as citizens, we are entitled to the presumption of innocence, but a higher standard than that applies in some contexts – and a political leadership campaign is one such context."

RCMP have said the charges against Mr. Strimbold, including sexual assault and sexual interference, relate to allegations that occurred in 2016 – five years after he was elected mayor of Burns Lake, a village about 200 kilometres from Prince George. At the time, he was 21 – B.C.'s youngest-ever mayor.

Following a sawmill explosion in 2012 that killed two men and injured 19 others, Mr. Strimbold led community recovery efforts, subsequently earning a Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for community service and being named one of the province's top leaders under age 30 by BCBusiness magazine in 2014. He stepped down in 2016, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and further his schooling.

Court records show Mr. Strimbold was released on $2,500 bail and with 11 conditions including having no contact with alleged victims, not possessing or consuming alcohol and not going to a park where anyone under 18 is present. His next court appearance is on April.6

In Victoria, Mr. Wilkinson said he only learned about Mr. Strimbold's legal issues on Friday, at the same time that the party found out.

Emile Scheffel, a spokesperson for the BC Liberals, said Monday that he only learned about the situation from a media call in the afternoon, an hour before the party put out a statement saying that Mr. Strimbold had quit as membership chair – a post he had held since early 2017.

He said the party did not meet, beyond one or two conference calls on the leadership race, in the month after he was charged.

Mr. Scheffel said the party holds members of the party executive and others involved in the party "to a high standard" and that he expects the whole situation, including the responsibility of party members to disclose such troubles, will be the subject of talks at the next party executive meeting.

The RCMP said that regardless of someone's prominence in the community, the force must continually assesses and review information that can be released against the need to further a police investigation.

"Prior to issuing a news release, a number of investigative avenues were being pursued and the investigation was progressing well," Corporal Madonna Saunderson said in a statement.

"Our investigation has not determined that the greater public was at risk. As our investigation progressed we have reached a point when a request for public assistance was made."

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe