YWCA calls for ban on MLAs running within five years of assault convictions

Jan 10, 2017
YWCA calls for ban on MLAs running within five years of assault convictions

Recommendation comes as standing committee reviews members' code of conduct rules

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Monday, January 9, 2017

The Yellowknife chapter of the YWCA is urging the territorial government to implement a five-year limit on eligibility to become an MLA for anyone convicted of violence or threats of violence in a domestic situation.

The proposal was introduced by lawyer Caroline Wawzonek, who is also vice-president of the board of the Yellowknife YWCA, to the legislative assembly's Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures earlier this month.

"We urge you to consider revising the provisions regarding the eligibility of candidates to reflect the aspirations of our Northern population for its leadership," Wawzonek told the committee. "We propose that basic eligibility should speak to a core issue impacting the North and its people by expressly disavowing domestic violence by our highest leaders."

Wawzonek went on to say violence in the NWT is pervasive and normalized and that family and intimate-partner violence is not talked about openly or honestly. She added the territory continues to have one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Canada.

By imposing a five-year ban on becoming an MLA after a conviction for domestic violence, the legislative assembly would be sending a strong message that such conduct is not tolerated in the NWT, she said.

Current legislation disqualifies candidates or MLAs convicted and imprisoned of a criminal offence but that disqualification ends with the term of imprisonment. The legislation does not address offences that do not result in jail sentences.

The committee has been touring the territory to gain public feedback as it works on tabling a report on the review of members' code of conduct guidelines. It is expected to be debated during the upcoming legislative session which begins on Jan. 31.

Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli plead guilty to assault causing bodily harm against his spouse last year after he was arrested in an April incident in Fort Providence. He was released from jail after serving only eight days of a 45-day sentence and was able to file his nomination papers just before deadline for the 2015 territorial election. He ended up running a successful campaign and regained his seat.

Had Wawzonek's proposal been in effect at the time, Nadli would not have been eligible to run.

"Our proposal is not meant to capture any one person, not targeting any one person," said Wawzonek. "The proposal is meant to speak to a certain kind of harm in a way that gives a level of restriction, punitive, I'm sure some would say, to the kind of harm that's at issue.

Wawzonek said it is outside the role of the YWCA to speak about anyone who has been elected or is running for election.

"The reason this issue has taken on the focus it has is because of (Nadli's) situation," she said. "I've heard that he actually has distinguished himself as being someone who is speaking out on issues of domestic violence. When I say there is an opportunity for leadership - it's still there. He may be the example of that. I hope he is."

Committee chair and Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly said there is interest from the public in the code of conduct guidelines in part because of what happened during the last election.

"I'm not going to speak to Mr. Nadli's individual situation or what happened with him," said O'Reilly.

"Some people are of the view that there should be higher standards in terms of who should be eligible to serve ... We heard representations that acknowledge that our justice system is not perfect in terms of over representation of some populations, particularly indigenous people who are incarcerated."

Nadli could not be reached for comment by press time.