Woodstock, Ont. mayor running for third term despite assault, sexual assault charges

Woodstock, Ont. Mayor Trevor Birtch. City of Woodstock

Trevor Birtch, the embattled mayor of Woodstock, Ont. who is facing several criminal charges including assault and sexual assault, has filed to run for a third term in office.

Birtch, who is scheduled to appear in court in Woodstock on Monday, filed his nomination papers with the city clerk’s office around 11:30 a.m., just ahead of Friday’s 2 p.m. deadline, according to a city official.

Birtch was among the final entrants into the fall municipal race, which will see voters head to the polls on Oct. 24. He was first elected in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018 with 58 per cent of the vote.

Up until Friday, it was anybody’s guess whether Birtch would mount another re-election campaign that would likely see him dogged by the six criminal charges laid against him by London police earlier this year.

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The 47-year-old was charged in February with one count of assault and two counts of sexual assault in connection with allegations dating from 2021 involving the same female complainant who police say was known to Birtch.

Court documents show Birtch is accused of sexually assaulting the complainant on Valentine’s Day 2021 and sometime between Dec. 10 and 13. He’s also accused of assaulting her sometime between June 1 and Sept. 30, according to the documents.

A previous charge against Birtch of sexual assault with choking was later changed to sexual assault.

In April, Birtch was charged with three separate sexual assault counts involving a different complainant.

Court documents show those allegations date to Aug. 15, 2021; April 5, 2022; and sometime between Jan. 1, 2017, and April 5, 2022. At least one of the sexual assault counts stems from an incident which allegedly took place after Birtch was charged in February.

Birtch is set to return to court on Monday.

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In an emailed statement, Birtch said he was proud of his record over his past eight years in office, adding that the city needed “a continuation of strong steady experienced leadership now more than ever.”

“There is much work that still needs to be done and I am ready willing and able to continue,” the statement read.

“We have come through so much over the past two years and I hope to lead this city as it becomes a vibrant hub of activity and a desired destination for business, industry and people of all generations.”

In his statement, Birtch declined to comment on his criminal charges at the advice of his lawyer.

“I will continue to follow this guidance throughout the process. I am thankful for the continued encouragement and prayers from those who understand that an individual should be afforded a fair trial and innocent unless proven guilty. I will not comment further on this matter,” he said.

Birtch took a leave from Woodstock city council in late February, handing his duties over to Coun. Connie Lauder. In April, councillors voted unanimously to have Birtch take a paid leave of absence amid the charges.

In late April, Oxford County council, on which Birtch sits as a member, endorsed a motion allowing him to take a leave of absence amid his charges. The leave, however, would be unpaid and must be requested in writing by Birtch himself.

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Birtch has not requested a leave of absence from county council, and was among those in attendance at its most recent meeting held on Aug. 10.

Speaking with Global News on Friday, Jennifer Dunn, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, said Birtch should have refrained from seeking re-election given the seriousness of the allegations hanging over him.

“There’s other things he can do in the community to show that he’s a community supporter and to give back to the community,” Dunn said.

“I do think that he should have sat this one out and worked toward building back the trust of the community, perhaps, and especially women and girls in the community.”

Under the Municipal Act, there is no requirement for an elected official accused or convicted of a crime to step down from service. Only when an official is sentenced to jail time does it disqualify them from serving.

Dunn reiterated her stance that the act should be reviewed to give councils the ability to force someone in power to step down when accused of serious crimes.

“There’s no reason why someone who is charged with a serious offence like this is able to be the leader of a city,” she said.

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