A New Brunswick Liberal MLA says it's time for the legislative assembly to lift its ban on a controversial Fredericton blogger and activist.
No one has ever been given the full details of why Charles LeBlanc was banned from the grounds of the legislature, including the lawn in front of the building, in 2006. Legislature officials say it was to ensure employees could work in a secure environment free of harassment.
LeBlanc began his blog as a crusade against Ritalin. He now uses it to write about social issues and to hurl insults at provincial politicians.
In April, he defied the prohibition and was arrested on the legislature's grounds. Police charged him with mischief and assault.
Saint John-Lancaster Liberal MLA Abel LeBlanc, who is no relation to Charles LeBlanc, said the ban should be reversed at least in part, arguing that banning the blogger from the main building is one thing, but he should have the right to protest outside the assembly and take photos.
"I don't think Charles LeBlanc did anything that drastically that he has to be barred, period. But if he's barred from in here, he should be allowed to go out there, take pictures as a blogger, like anyone else. That's my position," LeBlanc said.
The Liberal MLA said even if banning the blogger from inside the building is justifiable, it shouldn't be indefinite. And he said if Charles LeBlanc asks him to, he'll try to get the committee of MLAs that approved the ban to amend it.
The original ban was approved by the all-party legislative administration committee, which meets in secret, and was imposed by Daniel Bussières, the legislature's sergeant-at-arms.
However, not everyone agrees with the idea of allowing the blogger back in the legislature.
Most Liberal and Progressive Conservative MLAs don't question Bussières's decision, including Opposition house leader Paul Robichaud.
"Mr. Bussières is a former member of the RCMP. We have to trust him and believe in his judgment, and I'm not in a position to discuss his recommendation and his decision. And I would rather follow his recommendation than argue his recommendation because of his expertise," Robichaud said.
LeBlanc often showed up at legislature, despite ban
LeBlanc's recent arrest was probably inevitable. Despite being banned from the legislature, LeBlanc has been showing up on the grounds more often.
The blogger admits he irritates politicians but he doesn't think he should be banned for being irritating.
"The bottom line here is democracy and to start convicting people without providing the evidence? I'm sorry. I don't agree with that," LeBlanc said.
Bussières declined an interview request to discuss the criteria for banning someone from the legislature because he may have to testify when LeBlanc goes on trial.
Don Forestell, a clerk assistant, wouldn't talk about LeBlanc specifically. He said in an email that the decision to ban someone is never taken lightly and is made to ensure legislature employees have a secure, healthy workplace.
Forestell said the legislature recognizes peoples' rights to visit the building, watch debates and protest peacefully and a ban is always a last resort.
Banned minister supports LeBlanc
George Feenstra, a United Church minister, is another person who would like to see LeBlanc's ban eased.
Feenstra and LeBlanc have one thing in common, they have both run afoul of Bussières and ended up banned from the legislature.
He was a bit too theatrical one day in the legislature when a commissionaire asked him to move out of a VIP seat in the public gallery.
"At that point in time, I caught the eye of a member of the legislature on the floor who had been watching this little interaction, and I gestured with my hands, spreading them open like, 'What's going on here?'" Feenstra said.
"And I took my clown nose and put it on my nose and pointed to it and suggested, 'What kind of foolishness is this?' — in pantomine, of course — which caused the member of the legislature to give me a bit of a smile."
After he put on his red nose, Feenstra was asked to leave the legislative assembly.
A few weeks later, Feenstra said, he was just inside the main door to the building, listening to a politician talking to reporters.
"A member of security came, noticed me and told me I was not to be there. And I questioned that, in a very quiet voice, not to be obtrusive. And at that point they took hold of me and began to bodily evict me," he said.
After that, Feenstra joined LeBlanc on the legislature's banned list.
Feenstra said he doesn't agree with everything LeBlanc has to say but he should have the right to say it even if the blogger's style ruffles feathers on the province's politicians.
"It behooves those of us who are stronger in terms of our acumen and such things to listen to Charles carefully, and interpret, and perhaps carry that message forward," he said.
"Just to be aware of those marginal voices and what they're saying … to hear them and respect their point of view. His basic message seems to be there's something really, really wrong with the way we treat poor people in this province. Who knows? Charles may have the key to reforming social policy."