Sean Chu is the councillor for Calgary’s Ward 4. He was re-elected for his third term in the recent civic election. It now appears that Councillor Chu has a skeleton in his closet.
In 1997, when he was a 34-year-old police officer, he faced allegations involving a 16-year-old girl. He claims he picked her up in a pub assuming, due to the premises, that she was over 18. She claims he sexually assaulted her in his home. In any case, the incident was investigated and he was reprimanded but no charges were laid.
The incident came to light only recently and Chu is now under siege. Most of his fellow councillors have suggested he should resign and Mayor-elect Gondek has said if he doesn’t she will refuse to swear him in. The premier has said he is taking the allegations”very seriously” and the minister of municipal affairs has initiated a review of the situation and is seeking expert advice on how to respond. Even federal politicians have gotten in on the act. Federal MP Michelle Rempel has removed her endorsement of Chu and turfed him from her constituency association.
So what is to be done? He has made it clear he is not stepping down. The premier has said the province doesn’t have the authority to fire him. The mayor-elect disagrees and suggests they are “just getting up to speed on the powers they have to do something about this.”
With all due respect for the mayor-elect (and I have a great deal of respect for her), I don’t believe she has any legitimate right to refuse to swear him in. It isn’t up to her to decide who represents the citizens of Ward 4; it is solely up to the citizens of that ward. If they want him as their councillor, warts and all, and he has not broken any laws, then he should be at city hall.
And this is where it gets tricky. Is Sean Chu truly the representative the citizens of Ward 4 want? If he had won a convincing victory in the recent election, I would say they have made their choice clear. But it was anything but a convincing victory. He won over his closest opponent by only a few dozen votes. Furthermore, his offence was not made public until after the advance polls. We can confidently assume that if electors had known earlier, many would not have voted for him. So some might say he won under false pretences. This, and this alone, should give the province the right to depose him. If indeed it has any such right.
I sincerely hope it is not easy. I am looking south of the border at those Republican state governments that are manipulating the system to give themselves more power over presidential elections. That is scary stuff.
It is a profoundly serious business to tamper with the democratically-expressed will of the people. This gets at the very heart of what our society is all about. If Mr. Chu is to be dealt with, it must be carefully and with due process. If his constituents decided to recall him, that of course is another matter.
But should he be “dealt with” at all? Should he step down or be fired? He did something wrong, he was punished, and he has not reoffended in 24 years. Is he to be a political pariah forever?
This isn’t the Middle Ages. Even murderers can get parole in 24 years. Perhaps it is time to forgive Mr. Chu his sins and allow him to serve his community as long as the citizens of Ward 4 are willing to accept that service.