Parents join push to change in electoral laws

Two Nanaimo parents are lobbying for provincial legislation requiring school trustee candidates to undergo criminal record checks

Two Nanaimo parents are lobbying for provincial legislation requiring school trustee candidates to undergo criminal record checks after a trustee with a criminal record was elected last month.

Kerry Gaultois sent e-mails to provincial politicians, including Nanaimo MLAs, the education minister and Premier Christy Clark, asking that the legislation be amended to require disclosure of each candidate’s criminal background.

“I’m sure it must be an oversight,” she said. “I think it’s the public’s right to know – this is our kids’ safety we’re talking about.”

People are only restricted from running for office or holding office if they are serving time in jail for an indictable offence.

The issue was brought to Gaultois’s attention when she read in a newspaper that Bard has a criminal record. Bard was found guilty of production of a controlled substance in 2006 and given a one-year conditional sentence.

“I thought, ‘How can this be?'” said Gaultois. “I started looking into it and discovered they didn’t need criminal record checks. It’s a gap. [Trustees] go into schools and they interact with kids.”

She’s concerned someone with a history of violence or child exploitation could be elected.

Trustees are supposed to serve as role models for students, Gaultois added.

Jacques Major, whose youngest child graduates from secondary school this year, also plans on writing letters to local MLAs.

“The law is antiquated and has to be updated,” he said. “My complaint is the law is not even-handed.”

Everyone else who works with children, such as teachers, has to have a criminal record check, said Major.

Someone who has made a bad judgement in the past is not necessarily the right person to help manage public money, he added.

Leonard Krog, Nanaimo NDP MLA, said at the provincial level, while there is no disclosure requirement for nominees written in legislation, political parties do their own screening of candidates.

“My general view is when you run for public office, your life is an open book and you have to be prepared to explain and account for what you have done in the past,” he said. “I file financial disclosure every year, it’s just part of it. If you’re bankrupt, you can’t sit in the legislature.”

Bard said he didn’t put his record in his nomination papers because it wasn’t required.

“If the legislation is changed, I will happily do that,” he said. “The message I would send to kids is, ‘Look at what I’ve done and it’s cost me dearly.’ If I could go back, everything would have been very different.”

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said Bard followed the electoral process.

“We’re just going to move on,” said Brennan. “We don’t need any more distractions. We’ve got work to do.”

George Abbott, Education Minister, said in an e-mailed response that there is a criminal record check system for teachers and others who work with children, but applying that to someone who proposes to be a school trustee is a different question.

“I will have to explore that question, it’s not one that’s debated at the ministry or cabinet yet, but I’m glad to think about it, glad to consider it,” he said.