Recently in the Northwest Territories, there has been some controversy and heated discussion about the ethics and legalities of allowing people to run for positions of public office despite having a criminal conviction. This topic has become an important one for NWT residents because of an incident with Member of Legislative Assembly Michael Nadli. Over a year ago, Nadli pled guilty to the assault of his wife and served eight days of a 45-day sentence.
Upon his release, Nadli had just enough time to run for re-election, which he won. This created much discussion within the Yellowknife area about whether people with convictions should run for office. It was particularly focused on public government positions about looking after the welfare of, among other things, women and families, which someone with a conviction for assaulting family members might not ideally represent.
Past & Consequences
There is now a five-member committee on rules and procedures that have discussed the matter internally. It made the recommendation that people who are convicted of crimes relating to family violence should be banned from participating in elections for five years.
Currently, there are no laws in place that actually bar anyone with a criminal conviction from running for office. Clearly, in the case of Michael Nadli, his subsequent arrest, charge, and conviction was not enough to dissuade his voters from putting him up for a second term in office. Some people have debated the fact that a criminal conviction shouldn’t mean lifelong exclusion from other opportunities in life, including politics, as sometimes these very experiences can be formative to making a better person with improved leadership skills.
The Suspension Issue
However, one of the most interesting things about the current debate and recommendations is that there was a clear stance on people with Record Suspensions. Anyone that has already been cleared of their conviction via the Canadian process of a Record Suspension would not be subject to the five-year ban, even if that charge was for a family violence related crime.
There are many good reasons for excluding Record Suspension holders from such a ban. The most important point is that, technically, a criminal conviction no longer exists once it is cleared from the records via a suspension. But beyond that, the act of getting a Record Suspension indicates that not only has someone convicted of a crime served out the sentence, he or she has remained a law abiding citizen in the time since, and is now qualified to have that conviction struck, with a sincere wish to do it and afford more opportunities for the future.
While the idea of politicians themselves committing crimes is nothing new, there is a big difference between someone that is “caught in the act” while actually holding a position in public office and someone that has learned from their mistakes.
Even within the debate now occurring in the Northwest Territories, many are saying that simply barring someone from participating in office because of the presence of any kind of criminal conviction may be a step too far. Both men and women in the region have certain convictions on their records that are not a reflection of who they are now, and their sense of duty and responsibility to the public, so much as a testimony to how far they may have come from a more troubled youth.
A Record Suspension is one way to ensure that not only have you learned from your past, but also that the past does not unfairly come back to impede your future. If you have a criminal conviction, it affects many of your professional opportunities. But depending on the type of conviction you have, you may already qualify for a Record Suspension or may qualify soon, once enough time has passed.