The mayor of Woodstock, Ont. is staying on in his role as municipal leader with the support of council as he faces three counts of assault against a woman.
Trevor Birtch, 46, was charged last week with assault, sexual assault and sexual assault with choking. The victim and two other women were issued protection by a restraining order when the mayor was charged Feb. 3 in a London courtroom.
The charges stem from incidents that allegedly occurred over a period of ten months last year. Birtch has not commented publicly about the case and he is due to appear in a London court in May.
“City Council reiterates that this is a matter for Mayor Birtch to respond to through the court proceedings. Under our system of justice an accused receives the benefit of doubt unless and until convicted,” wrote Connie Lauder, Woodstock’s deputy mayor.
She released her comments in a statement after a special council meeting Wednesday, but was unavailable to comment further. She said council had received advice from the city’s legal team and noted that there is no requirement under the Municipal Act for an accused elected official to step down.
Birtch has been removed from Woodstock’s Police Services Board which on Tuesday asked the Ontario Civilian Police Services Commission (OCPC) to investigate his conduct.
Other people in the city and beyond are also calling for the mayor to step aside while the case is heard by the courts.
Jennifer Dunn is the executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre. She said Birtch has a moral obligation to step down pending the outcome in the courts even if his resignation is not required under the Municipal Act.
“It is a complete disregard for the value of women and girls in our community that the mayor is able to continue on with his life after allegedly sexually assaulting a woman,” said Dunn. “It would be in the best interest of the city if he would step down while this case is in the courts.”