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Farnworth Defends RCMP Silence On Sex Charges Against Ex-Mayor

After media revealed charges, police now seeking potential victims.

By Andrew MacLeod 6 Mar 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The RCMP made the right decision when it chose not to inform the public after arresting former Burns Lake mayor Luke Strimbold on 24 sex-related charges in early February, says Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.

“Those are operational decisions by the RCMP,” Farnworth said. “At this moment this case is before the courts and the police make those operational decisions and given the circumstances they made the appropriate decisions.”

Strimbold was released on bail Feb. 3 with conditions that included having no contact with people under the age of 18 and staying away from public parks and other places where young people may be present.

But it wasn’t until March 2, a month after the arrest, that The Tyee and other media were able to make details from Strimbold’s court file public.

Following the publication of the news, the Burns Lake RCMP detachment released a statement confirming the charges and seeking more victims and witnesses.

“The RCMP is investigating the possibility that there are more victims who have not yet spoken to police,” it said.

Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam has since been widely quoted questioning the length of time it took for the RCMP to reveal the charges.

The Burns Lake RCMP detachment referred The Tyee’s call to Madonna Saunderson, an RCMP spokesperson based in Prince George. Saunderson did not respond to The Tyee’s messages Monday.

Farnworth said the RCMP did the right thing by not announcing Strimbold’s arrest sooner. “The individual is not a public official any further. Had they been it would have been appropriate to say that he had been charged right away while he still held office.”

Strimbold was elected mayor of Burns Lake in 2011 at the age of 21, making him the youngest mayor in the province’s history. He was re-elected in 2014, but abruptly resigned in 2016 saying he wanted to spend time with family and pursue business and educational opportunities.

The RCMP statement said the charges stemmed from incidents in 2016.

Until Friday, Strimbold was the membership chair on the BC Liberal Party’s executive. Shortly after the news of the charges broke, the Liberals announced he had resigned from both his position and the party.

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said he understands the party contacted Strimbold “indirectly” Friday and that he agreed to resign immediately.

“It’s obviously a very nasty surprise, especially for the people of Burns Lake and the victims,” Wilkinson said. “And it was one of those sad and tragic things you reflect on and think, ‘This is a very unfortunate turn of events.’“

Asked about the month it took for the RCMP to speak publicly about the charges, Wilkinson said, “I’m not privy to what happened inside the RCMP and I think the questions are better addressed to them, but I found out about this Friday afternoon the same time it came out in the media.”

The charges against Strimbold include eight counts of sexual assault and five of invitation to sexual touching involving a person under the age of 16. There are also seven counts of sexual interference and four counts of sexual exploitation, an offence that includes the abuse of a position of trust or authority over a young person.

None of the charges have been heard or proven in court. There is a publication ban on any information that would identify the victims or witnesses.

Strimbold is scheduled to appear in court April 6 in Burns Lake.

He is currently listed as manager of safety, contracts and agreements at E.A. Strimbold Ltd. in Burns Lake, which describes itself as a family-owned forestry company.

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