Beyond the Headlines

MLAs in court

Posted: Jan 16, 2012 2:00 PM ET Last Updated: Jan 16, 2012 2:00 PM ET

We now have a much clearer picture of what crimes former MLA Russell MacKinnon is alleged to have committed. But we can't tell you.

MacKinnon, the former Liberal and independent MLA for Cape Breton West, is charged with eight counts of uttering forged documents, theft over $5,000 and breach of trust. Some of the evidence came out Monday at MacKinnon's preliminary inquiry.

The court heard from three potential witnesses, but we can't tell you what they said because there is a ban on publication.

MacKinnon isn't getting special treatment. Preliminary inquiries are held to determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial, and to give the defence a chance to test the strength of that evidence. Publication bans are routine to protect the accused's right to a fair trial.

MacKinnon is one of three former MLAs charged with defrauding taxpayers (Richard Hurlburt and Dave Wilson are the other two). Dartmouth North MLA Trevor Zinck faces similar charges.

Next up in court is former Liberal MLA Dave Wilson. Wilson, who last September pleaded guilty to uttering forged documents, fraud and breach of trust, will be sentenced January 25th.

Since I started covering this story I'm often asked if I think Wilson will get jail time. The simple answer is, I have no idea.

These so-called "white-collar crimes" are hard to read. Judges in these cases often sentence the guilty party to house arrest, with community service and an order to pay back the money they stole.

But in Wilson's case you have to add the charge of breach of trust. As an MLA, Wilson is held to a higher standard. His job was to safeguard taxpayer's dollars, not steal it. On the other hand, Wilson pleaded guilty, and judges usually take that into consideration when handing down a sentence.

So far the Crown attorney, Andrew Macdonald, isn't saying if he will be asking the judge to impose jail time, so we'll have to wait until the sentencing hearing.

You can bet Russell MacKinnon, Richard Hurlburt and Trevor Zinck will be watching very closely.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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