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Should candidates be required to declare past convictions?

November 2011
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Here we go again. CBC North is reporting today that a newly minted MLA was convicted of falsifying documents to obtain a wilderness tourism license. Yesterday, Kluane Yukon Party MLA Wade Istchenko called a press conference to confirm that he had been convicted for misreporting his credentials to obtain the license in 2008 and was fined for the offence. He stated that it was a “lapse in judgement.” Premier-elect Darrell Pasloski is quoted as saying he did not have prior knowledge about the conviction but that it would not affect his place in government. Pasloski reportedly stated that, “by coming forward, Istchenko is demonstrating a commitment to openness and honesty.”

Openness and honesty? Time out, here. I have questions regarding the timing involved. If Mr. Istchenko felt that he should disclose this for transparency’s sake, why did he not do this as part of his campaign rather than after being elected? Failure to present this during the election is a bit misleading. Or, did he release this disclosure now before another source, such as the press, threatened to do so? If this is the case, I’d be curious to know whether or not he intended at all to bring this up or to just let it stay hidden. Neither of these possibilities imply “openness” and the failure to disclose this to the party as part of the candidacy procedure does nothing to improve the appearance of this. After all, it would be difficult to say that failing to disclose a three-year-old conviction to your own party was an oversight.

I agree that this situation rarely arises. There has been some similar history of this when Dennis Fentie’s criminal record for drug trafficking was put forward as a hint of a minor brush with the law for selling marijuana, when it turned out later that he had been convicted and imprisoned for selling heroin. This fact did not impede Mr. Fentie’s being re-elected in another majority government in the next election. However, this certainly casts a somewhat distasteful appearance to his political career.

Maybe, it’s time to amend the Yukon Elections Act to require a disclosure of convictions as part of the candidacy selection process. How this is done is probably up for some discussion. For example, should there be a time limit on convictions before disclosure is required? Should this only apply to Criminal Code convictions or should territorial offences also be included? And, the big question is: should the disclosure be a public document or one only made to the party involved or the riding association?

To be honest, I think that, someone who has been convicted of an offence and has not re-offended has paid for their indiscretion. People make mistakes, people change, and none of us are perfect. However, we do expect a high standard of conduct for those in public office. And, to be honest, hiding such a conviction during an election campaign probably speaks more to a candidate’s character than the actual offence committed itself…

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