This past week, the Township of South Glengarry was rocked by the news that Mayor Frank Prevost was facing criminal charges of Child Luring and Sexual Assault against an adult.
Such issues are difficult to discuss, but a newspaper is a private business with a public responsibility. I feel I have a responsibility to provide clarity and context to this story, especially after seeing some reactions on social media to our articles on this story.
First of all, we should all recognize that there is an alleged victim in this case and we should hope that this person gets the support and care that they need.
In my years working in news, and covering criminal cases, especially ones where the charges are as serious as this one, I often see the tendency, on social media in particular, to pass judgement before even a trial has been held. In our justice system, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Our personal feelings about the accused or the crimes they are accused of have no bearing on the results of a trial and nor should they. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and it will be Frank Prevost who has to endure the trial process.
On Friday, the Township’s Council voted unanimously to approve Prevost’s request for six months of unpaid leave. When we published our coverage of this story, there were a few who questioned why Council did not vote to remove Prevost as Mayor and the simple answer is, they can’t.
Municipalities are creatures of the province. Municipalities exist within the framework of provincial law and the scope of what they can and cannot do is governed under the provincial Municipal Act. The Municipal Act does not allow municipal councils to vote to remove one of their own members. For over a year, the City of Ottawa has faced a similar dilemma with Councillor Rick Chiarelli, who has been accused in a series of incidents of sexually inappropriate behaviour. Members of Ottawa City Council have called on Chiarelli repeatedly to resign, but he has refused, and they are unable to vote to remove him due to the limitations of the Municipal Act.
Even if municipal councils could vote to remove one of their members, any such decision would be drawn out, ugly, and ultimately, it is not a decision they should have to make. No one runs for public office to deal with such situations, and they shouldn’t have to. That is why I am telling the Mayor of South Glengarry directly, Frank Prevost, you must resign, and if there was another member of Council in your position instead, you would tell them the same thing, to resign.
As I said, anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, but until this legal process that Prevost is facing has reached its conclusion, and if he is vindicated, it will cast a shadow over the entire municipality, over its administration, its council, and all of its residents.
For the next months if not years, the Township of South Glengarry should not be known as the township whose mayor is on trial for Child Luring and Sexual Assault. Trials can be deeply divisive, and Prevost should not allow it to divide this community. Every public event attended by a member of South Glengarry Council, every accomplishment of municipal staff, every single Council meeting will have this shadow hanging over it. Even the title of Acting Mayor is a reminder that the municipality, through its mayor, is in court.
I grew up in South Glengarry. I went to school there, and I spent most of my life there. I know what this case means to the community. Frank Prevost has been a part of the South Glengarry community for decades and has been in municipal politics since the 1990s. I know that charges like this and a case like this will shake a small community to its core. Frank Prevost should separate himself and the trial he will go through from the municipality and from the community. Let us move on and not have this hang over everyone for months if not years. Let us heal.
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