Wednesday, September 4, 2019

NDP MLA Wages Seized For Unpaid Court Fine, Should Disclosure To Voters Be Required?

Heading towards the Manitoba election, a PC government backbencher brought forward Bill 240, the Elections Amendment Act. 
Winnipeg Police Chief Smyth laughs it up with Danny's NDP Angels, 
(R-L) Wab Kinew, Point Douglas MLA Bernadette Smith, Smyth, Nahanni Fontaine 
Sarah Guillemard, seeking re-election in Fort Richmond, sponsored the legislation which now requires candidates to reveal any convictions they've had under the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drug and Substances Act and the Income Tax Act.
 It was characterized by the Progressive Conservative caucus as an important tool to ensure "candidate transparency". 

Eight candidates have disclosed criminal convictions - 4 New Democrats, 3 Green Party candidates and one from Manitoba First. Candidates who don't disclose could face a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail sentence of up to a year.

The Free Press reported, "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."  

The description in the former case is of NDP leader Wab Kinew, who has prior convictions from about 15 years ago for an assault and a DUI. He also disclosed 2 breaches of court orders from that period, all of which have been pardoned.

"These were serious mistakes made years ago, for which they have all taken responsibility," NDP spokeswoman Emily Coutts said in an email statement.  

There are other well-discussed issues that have dogged Kinew that did not fall under the requirements for disclosure, including a domestic violence charge that was dropped without knowledge of his then-spouse. 

There's another matter only vaguely remembered by members of the press corps as coming up. 

My archived notes indicate it was revealed in an 'anonymous' circular when Kinew ran for the NDP leadership against longtime MLA Steve Ashton.  

On Feb 19, 2015, a Certificate of Default for a Provincial Court fine was issued against an employee of the University of Winnipeg named Wabanakwut Kinew, for $556.50 plus $50 costs. Why? In October 2014, Kinew received a speeding ticket that was unpaid. 
According to CTV, Kinew said he "found out about the ticket through an email and didn't realize it was legitimate."

A Notice of Garnishment to satisfy the Creditor, Her Majesty the Queen in the right of the Province of Manitoba, was issued. 

This resulted in a cheque in the amount of $606.50 cents being delivered to the Minister of Finance on March 31, 2015.

Kinew subsequently was elected an MLA and is a candidate in the provincial election. Similarly, in 2011 a Winnipeg City Councilor who later was elected a Progressive Conservative MLA, was the target of a Garnishment Order. But that story has a slight twist.
Scott Fielding was dinged to the tune of $863.25 plus $50 costs. Fielding became an MLA and a cabinet member in the Pallister government, now running for re-election in Kirkfield Park. 

The order was terminated a week later apparently due to a misunderstanding, no wages were seized, and Fielding paid the fine promptly afterwards. 

I have discovered that Kinew was not the only NDP candidate to have wages seized for failing to pay a provincial court fine. 

It could be said, that in his case, Kinew was not serving in public life, and that sometimes, these things can happen. Maybe it was careless but still a simple private matter, was suggested to me, and not Bill 240-worthy. But at least, when his wages were seized in 2015 he wasn't an NDP MLA occupying a seat in the Legislature.  

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth and Nahanni Fontaine (in blue)
at the joint NDP constituency AGM in March with  Bernadette Smith 
On October 31st 2017, a Certificate of Default was issued for a Provincial Court speeding fine. 

"HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN IN THE RIGHT OF THE PROVINCE OF MANITOBA" was owed $243.80, with $50 costs tacked on. Based on the evidence - the name and the employer receiving the Garnishee Notice - the debtor in 2017 subject to the Order was the same Nahanni Fontaine who was the  MLA for St. Johns constituency at the time, at a salary of $94,513.

A Notice of Garnishment was issued directing her employer, the Government of Manitoba, to withhold the requisite amount of the taxpayer funded MLA salary of Nahanni Fontaine. This Halloween trick-or-treat resulted in a cheque in the amount of $293.80 cents being delivered to the Minister of Finance on January 15, 2018. 

Fontaine, like Kinew, is seeking re-election. Unlike Kinew, the court action attaching her MLA paycheque was never reported in the media. 

Now it may be, that a person could take the position that a previous Garnishment Order from the Crown involving a private citizen (ie while employed at the U of W), does not reach a threshhold of disclosure being in the public interest. 

Fontaine (in blue) gazes at the biggest 'boy in blue', Danny Smyth
However, in this case the debtor is a sitting MLA who has a sworn duty to uphold provincial acts and regulations. 

"Canadians are required to take an Oath of Allegiance before occupying a military, police, judicial or governmental post (such as MLA) as they are charged with creating or administering the lawAccording to Wikipedia, it was implemented to secure the supremacy of the reigning monarch of Canada, the giving of faithfulness to whom is a manifestation of a key responsibility central to the Canadian system of government."

I've been asking: What if an elected lawmaker defies a court ordered fine for violating a provincial law. Is that something the public has a right to know?
EDIT: (From a reader) "Good analysis. One fact missing, though, is that she was also the NDP justice critic at the time of the unpaid fine and subsequent garnishment."
It was pointed out that would be added costs to taxpayers beyond the $50 surcharge included in the garnishment of Fontaine's wage. 
  • The Sheriff serving the notice and filing an affadavit was paid on the public dime. (Maybe the $50 covered that).
  • So was the payroll officials who had to redirect her pay to the courts. (The $50 was towards the court's costs, not the government's, so ...
  • The court officials who had to administrate the payment and reflect it on the public record, were also paid by the taxpayer. 
  • By that point $50 to cover costs seems stretched a little thin. 
I also asked some of my readers what message it might send constituents and all voters when an elected member of the Assembly failed to pay a Provincial Court offence fine on time without good reason (ie incapacitating illness, mail strike, etc)? 

The answers were swift and categorical - a wrong message. 
"If their MLA doesn't respect the courts, why should they?"

"Most courts will accept payment arrangements so I suspect these folks felt such entitlement that they were above mere mortals."

"MLA's make $94,000 a year, why wouldn't she pay the fine?"

I asked the Parties if they would contemplate an amendment to the Act to require that garnishee orders filed against an MLA (for instance Fontaine, but not Kinew) be disclosed if they run for election again?  I was not asking about garnishments sought in the course of civil claims, only those involving the Courts seeking redress. At time of publication, none had responded.

It seems to me that along with other basic information a voter wants to know about a candidate, such as do they live in the constituency, and the obligated disclosures under Bill 240, an elected MLA like Fontaine forcing the Crown to chase them to pay a court-ordered fine surpasses the threshold for the public's right to know. 

Without disclosure of a Garnishment Order - which at least informs voters and allows them to question the candidate - there is no step where a candidate like Fontaine would have taken responsibility for stiffing the Crown - and adding expense to taxpayers to have it collected.
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