Whapmagoostui’s band council found itself in an awkward position recently as a 23-year-old youth with a shady past was elected as their Youth Chief.
Charlie Dick won the November 24 election by two votes, 26-24, over runner-up Jessica George. Seventy youth participated in the vote.
A call to the Returning Officer, Victoria George, revealed an ambiguous Whapmagoostui band council bylaw when she was asked if people with a criminal record are allowed to run.
“It doesn’t really say, but there is a youth council bylaw that council adopted,” she said. “There’s something there that talks about criminal offences. It’s not really specific.”
Whapmagoostui Grand Chief Losty Mamianskum said the band council would have had no legal grounds to stop Dick from running.
“Our legal advisors were of the opinion that it would be very difficult to apply section 18 to interpret it to preclude anyone from running because it’s not in the eligibility provision,” he said.
Now that Dick has been elected, however, Mamianskum is rethinking the by law. “This bylaw (No. 74) is really outdated. It’s from March, 1998. It’s due for an update. And we’ll be updating it,” he said.
“The constituency is the youth, so we’ll discuss with them the updates that are needed. Then we’ll revise it and adopt the bylaw according to what they think is fair and appropriate,” said Mamianskum, who added that there is a youth council bylaw that would automatically remove a chief or councillor from their position if they committed a criminal offence while in office, but not while running for office.
Mamianskum said that the community would police their new youth chief. “The primary purpose of youth chief and councillors is to be role models for the community. As elected officials we’re all responsible to carry out our duties. People do watch what we do outside the office. And I’m sure his constituents will be looking at him in the same way,” he said. “Although he won by majority, the number of voters means he’s still in a minority situation in terms of the election.”
Mamianskum also stressed that if a chief or councillor were convicted of a crime while in office, he or she would automatically be removed from his post.
Dick was reached shortly after the election results were relayed to him. He said that his past is behind him and wished to move on.
“During the elections there were things stopping me from running for chief,” Dick said about an emergency meeting the Whapmagoostui band council called to discuss his candidacy. “Things from my criminal history when I used to drink. It’s been over three years since I’ve been sober.”
Dick said his past shouldn’t stop him, since he’s now focused on his girlfriend and their two kids and has put his troubles behind him.
“Anybody with a criminal record, it doesn’t mean he’s going to stay like that forever,” he said. “They should give a chance to anybody who had a bad past who wants to change their lives. Everybody deserves a chance to prove what they can do.”
Dick admitted to past transgressions, including theft and assault. He said he was on probation four years ago, but he stopped drinking once he finished paying his debt to society.
But Mamianskum said that Dick’s election sends mixed messages and he admits that he has had phone calls from angry community members. His answer was to talk to Dick and “explain to him his responsibilities and how to conduct himself on a personal level.”
Mamianskum would not rule out removing Dick from office, but said that the band council will be weighing their next move.
Dick said he has changed his ways.
“The main thing that I’m really focused on is to let the youth know that there’s more to life than fooling around,” said Dick. “There’s so much life can offer if you stay on the positive side. I want to make them realize how far they can go.”
Dick told the Nation that along with not drinking, he also does not do drugs or get into any more trouble. But he says that his criminal past can be used as a teaching tool.
“People mostly see the negative side of it when they talk about it, but there’s a lot I’ve learned from my past,” he said. “There is a positive side to what happened. All the things I did are preventable so I’ll try my best to prevent it from happening with another youth by talking with them about my past.”