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Fessing up about criminal past

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>The Law Courts in Winnipeg.</p>


The Law Courts in Winnipeg.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/8/2019 (388 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Eight candidates in the provincial election have disclosed their criminal convictions in accordance with Manitoba's new election law.

A Free Press review of all the candidates’ statements of disclosure on the Elections Manitoba's website found that four New Democrats, three Greens and one independent have past infractions. Neither the Progressive Conservatives, Liberals nor any other fringe party had any candidates disclose a criminal history.

The offences range from non-violent civil disobedience and shoplifting to impaired driving and assault. The most recent conviction dates back 15 years while another happened more than 50 years ago.

"These were serious mistakes made years ago, for which they have all taken responsibility," NDP spokeswoman Emily Coutts said in an email statement. Since their convictions, each candidate who is running under the NDP banner has spent their career "working to make life better in their communities," Coutts said.

Mel Hiebert, a spokeswoman for the Greens, said the party assesses and vets potential candidates and their records on a case-by-case basis.

In May, the legislature passed a bill that requires candidates to inform Elections Manitoba if they had pleaded guilty or been found guilty of offences under the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act or the Income Tax Act.

The bill was introduced by Sarah Guillemard, a Tory backbenner who is running for re-election in Fort Richmond. As per the Elections Amendment Act, the record disclosures must be posted online by the chief electoral officer. Those who fail to disclose criminal convictions could face a maximum fine of $10,000 or a year in jail.

While Guillemard said the intention of the bill was to enable voters to "make the best decisions possible," University of Winnipeg criminal justice chair Kelly Gorkoff questions the ethics of the law.

Gorkoff, who teaches ethics, said the law, while ostensibly constructed to increase transparency, will likely have the unintended consequence of denying political legitimacy to people with a criminal history, regardless of the socioeconomic and racialized factors that might have contributed to their encounters with the law.

"Criminal records can be used in a very political manner, and I don’t think that’s an appropriate way to deal with someone’s past," she said. "It’s a very slippery slope. It’s not that the public shouldn’t be aware of who’s representing them, but that information needs to be thought about contextually.

"What has that individual done in terms of their own healing? That’s (an example) of the context necessary when using criminal record checks," she said, adding that this law would have disproportionate effects on racialized people, including Indigenous people, who are grossly overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

At least three of the eight candidates who disclosed incidents in their past — Ken Henry (Borderland) of the Greens, and Wab Kinew (Fort Rouge) and Joe McKellep (Assiniboia) with the NDP — are Indigenous.

McKellep, the candidate for Assiniboia, is Métis and Cree. In 1998, he was found guilty of assault causing bodily harm for his involvement in a bar fight, he told the Free Press last week. After his plea, he paid restitution and apologized to the man he assaulted. Then, he used his experience to educate Indigenous youth and communities, telling them, "A mistake doesn’t define you."

If that additional context isn’t given, Gorkoff fears that, at least in the minds of voters, it could define candidates under the new law. Political opponents, namely the PCs, have routinely reminded voters of NDP leader Kinew’s past run-ins with the law, heading into the Sept 10 election.

"At first blush, it seems like very convenient timing," said Gorkoff.

Kinew recently received a record suspension for his convictions, including assault, which date back more than a decade ago.

When the law was introduced, the PCs said it was a tool to boost candidate transparency.

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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