Banished Newfoundlander not welcome in Fort McMurray, say mayoral candidates

A man who was banished from his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador has become a source of controversy for two mayoral candidates in Fort McMurray, Alta.

‘In Fort McMurray, there's no tolerance for criminal activity,’ candidate says

Gordie Bishop walked out of a St. John's, N.L., court on July 11 after he was convicted of assaulting a police officer and banished from the province. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

A man who was banished from his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador has become a source of controversy for two mayoral candidates in Fort McMurray, Alta.

The Newfoundland Supreme Court exiled Gordie Bishop, 33, after he was found guilty of dragging a police officer with the car he was driving.

Part of his sentence included an order banishing him from Newfoundland and Labrador, proposed by his defence lawyer to help keep him from his lifestyle of crime. The banishment order was accepted by the Crown and the justice.

Bishop's father later said his son would likely move to Fort McMurray, where his mother lives.

'Slap in the face to Fort McMurray'

Allan Vinni, a mayoral candidate for the Oct. 16 civic election in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, said he is disappointed that a Newfoundland court is offloading Bishop onto another community.

"It's just a slap in the face to the people of Fort McMurray," Vinni said.

The officer was injured while trying to stop Bishop from escaping after a break and enter at a pub in St. John's more than two years ago. Bishop has a 27-page criminal record, mostly for property offences. 

Bishop was sentenced on July 11 to 825 days in prison, but was given credit for the two years and three months he had already spent in custody. Bishop also received one year of probation and an order to leave the province while serving it.

Justice Alphonsus Faour said at the time that the sentencing, including the banishment, "was not contrary to the public interest."

Vinni, a lawyer, said sentences are supposed to balance deterrence with rehabilitation. He doesn't see that happening in this case. 

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"I also don't see how rehabilitation is assisted by having this person move from what sounds like a place they were born and raised and grew up and have them come out to Fort McMurray," Vinni said. "Presumably most of their support is back in Newfoundland."

Wood Buffalo's mayoral candidates Allan Vinni and Don Scott (L to R) both weighed in on news that longtime criminal Gordie Bishop might be coming to Fort McMurray. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Don Scott, another mayoral candidate and also a Fort McMurray lawyer, said the punishment doesn't fit the crime.

If someone is convicted of harming a police officer, Scott said, they deserve to be sent to jail and not end up in Fort McMurray because of banishment from another province.

"In Fort McMurray, there's no tolerance for criminal activity," Scott said. "And we have strong support for law enforcement."

In January 2015, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Cathy Snelgrove intervened while Bishop was breaking into Peter Easton's Pub in St. John's.

As Bishop was trying to escape, Snelgrove tried to stop him from driving away and was injured while being dragged down a hill. She was transported to hospital.

Bishop was charged with aggravated assault of a peace officer, assaulting a police officer with a weapon, break and enter plus a series of other charges related to the incident.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.