Former Smithers mayor pleads guilty to sex assault against four boys under 16

By The Canadian Press
May 7, 2019 - 9:57am

The Canadian Press

SMITHERS — The youngest elected mayor in British Columbia's history pleaded guilty Monday to sexually assaulting boys in what his lawyer says is an act of remorse that will bring an end to the cycle of abuse.

Luke Strimbold, who was elected mayor of Burns Lake in 2011 at age 21, pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual assault involving four boys who were under 16.

Shortly after a brief B.C. Supreme Court appearance in Smithers, his lawyer Stanley Tessmer said Strimbold is very remorseful and has been a good person in his life, but he has also made serious mistakes.

"He wants these boys not to feel guilty about what happened, and for them to know it's not their fault," Tessmer said. "This is the time for the cycle of abuse to end and the healing to begin."

A special prosecutor approved 29 charges against Strimbold, including sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching, that were alleged to have involved six people who were all under the age of 16 at the time.

An indictment shows the assaults he pleaded guilty to occurred between May 2014 and September 2017, and involved four different complainants. The boys cannot be identified because of a publication ban.

A pre-sentencing report and a psychological assessment have been ordered and Strimbold's sentencing hearing has been tentatively scheduled for Sept. 23.

Tessmer said he expects the defence and Crown will each make their own requests for sentencing, rather than put forward a joint submission. He also said he anticipates that the remaining 25 charges will be stayed after sentencing.

The charges stunned the small, central B.C. community of Burns Lake where he served as mayor from 2011 to 2016. Last spring, the former chief of the Lake Babine First Nation said his community was angry and disheartened.

"When I first heard about it, I was very, very upset," said Wilf Adam, who noted that he had a close working relationship with Strimbold. 

Adam said the former mayor quit "very abruptly" and they haven't spoken since.

While mayor, Strimbold led the community's recovery from a disastrous sawmill explosion and fire in 2012 that killed two workers and injured 19 others.

In 2013, he was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for community service. A year later, BCBusiness magazine named Strimbold one of the Top 30 leaders under the age of 30, recognizing his efforts to successfully rebuild the local economy.

He was re-elected in 2014, but resigned two years later, saying he wanted to further his education and spend more time with his family.

When a first set of charges were filed against him in February 2018, Strimbold was membership chair for the B.C. Liberal Party. Party officials said they became aware of the charges the following month and he resigned both from the executive and as a member of the party at that time.

A special prosecutor was appointed in the case because Strimbold was a former elected official with "significant connections" to the B.C. Liberal Party, the B.C. Prosecution Service said in March 2018.

The special prosecutor added further charges last August. 

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press