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What people will say to get elected....

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One of my favorite stories out of the long and arduous saga of the wrongful conviction of James Driskell has to do with the time then NDP justice critic Gord Mackintosh went to visit Driskell at Stony Mountain Penitentiary in the late 1990s. Driskell had been struggling to find evidence to overturn his 1991 first-degree murder conviction. Manitoba Justice (as it turned out) was doing everything it could to bury evidence showing he did not get a fair trial. During his visit to the big house, Mackintosh said that if he ever became justice minister he would surely do something to review Driskell's case.Fast forward to 2003 and not only is Mackintosh the justice minister, but Driskell has uncovered new evidence that casts doubt on his conviction. However, rather than fulfilling that earlier promise, Mackintosh honored the wishes of his senior prosecutors and did everything in the government's power to try and keep Driskell in jail, and to keep buried evidence of a miscarriage of justice. Ultimately, when reminded of his earlier pledge, Mackintosh and the NDP government did do the right thing and asked Ottawa to review the new evidence. That gesture helped tip the scale in a subsequent decision by then federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler in 2005 to overturn the conviction and declare Driskell officially a victim of wrongful conviction.I have never doubted Mackintosh's sincerity in his visit with Driskell. I feel comfortable with the conclusion that Mackintosh was only acting on the best advice of senior staff in the Public Prosecution office, and was honoring a tradition where the minister rarely interferes in matters that unfold in a court room. However, it does make you wonder what people will say to get elected.The current federal Conservative government has found itself in much the same situation. In a powerful and moving analysis published in this week's National Post , the ordeal of Joanna Gualtieri is examined in detail. Written by former MP David Kilgour, Health Canada whistle-blower Dr. Michele Brill-Ewards, former foreign affairs whistle-blower Brian McAdam and consultant David Hutton, the article recounts the war of attrition being waged by federal lawyers against Gualtieri, a former foreign affairs employee who blew the whistle on her own superiors for lavish and wasteful excess in the 1990s. Gualtieri claims she was ultimately forced from her job, and filed suit against the federal government.Recently, media reports documented how Gualtieri was forced to endure 31 days of examination at the hands of government lawyers, facing more than 10,500 questions. The former federal civil servant suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Twice, the Post reported, she collapsed during or after marathon examinations. Through all of this abominable treatment, she has paid her own legal bills; she has no union to help press her claim.What is particularly galling about the Gualtieri ordeal is that, although it began under Liberal watch, it continues under the very noses of aConservative party that promised to bring in whistle-blower protection as part of it's much vanunted anti-corruption measures. Of course, the final version of what would be known as the Accountability Act was significantly watered down, in large part by a flurry of amendments by the Liberal dominated Senate. (One such amendment limited the amount the government would pay in legal fees for a whistle-blower to $1,500. That kind of amendment seems like an act of conspiracy when you look at the way federal lawyers are trying to run out the clock on Gualtieri.)How could a Conservative government allow the tax-supported muscle of the federal justice department to eviscerate Joanna Gualtieri after promising to introduce a law to protect whistle-blowers? In 2006, she was mentioned by name in Conservative campaign literature discussing the anti-corruption measures that would be brought in should it form government. Prior to being elected, Gualtieri was a hero and a prime example of the need for whistle-blowing legislation. After being elected, she is apparently just another poor unfortunate citizen destined to be steamrolled by government.We have long known that politicians will say almost anything to get elected. It's not unfair for voters to expect that once in a while, they live up to the lofty ambitions of those promises once they achieve power.-30-

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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