Wyatt joins list of Winnipeg civic politicians who have been brought up on charges

The long arm of the law can easily reach into Winnipeg city council chambers. Although it's rare for city officials to be brought up on charges, Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt is only the latest example of a Winnipeg elected representative who has been accused of breaking the law.

A look back at 4 city councillors, and 1 mayor, who faced legal issues while in office

Coun. Russ Wyatt was charged with sexual assault for an alleged encounter with a woman he knew. (CBC )

The long arm of the law can easily reach into Winnipeg city council chambers, as Coun. Russ Wyatt learned on Tuesday when he was charged with sexual assault.

Although it's rare for city officials to be brought up on charges, the longtime Transcona councillor is only the latest example of a Winnipeg elected representative who has been accused of breaking the law. 

Frank Cornish

Francis Cornish, Winnipeg's first mayor, was known for inciting public acts of violence, including one against a speaker of the Manitoba legislature. (The London Room/London Public Library)

Winnipeg's first mayor was perhaps one of the city's most outrageous.

When Frank Cornish came to Winnipeg, he was already dogged by rumours of political corruption for stuffing ballot boxes during his time as mayor of London, Ont.

"He was already a bit of a rogue ... and it more or less continued in the same vein," said historian Gordon Goldsborough, who is vice-president of the Manitoba Historical Society.

In addition to being vocally anti-French and anti-Catholic, Cornish was also known for inciting public acts of violence.

In 1872, he encouraged the public to ransack a federal election polling station. The following year, he called for the speaker of the Manitoba legislature to be tarred and feathered over a disagreement with the provincial government regarding Winnipeg incorporation.

But perhaps the most outlandish thing he did, Goldsborough says, was to preside over his own court case for driving a carriage while drunk.

He ordered himself to pay $5, but waived the fine.  

Thomas Steen

Former Winnipeg Jet and city councillor Thomas Steen faced assault charges while in office in 2014, but the charges were later stayed. (CBC )

Former Winnipeg Jet and city councillor Thomas Steen was charged with two counts of assault and one of uttering threats after an alleged incident in May 2014 at a Winnipeg restaurant involving a woman he knew.

He took a leave from council and was suspended from his role with the Winnipeg Police Board while the investigation into the charges took place.

But the charges were stayed in June 2016, meaning the Crown decided to stop pursuing the case. No explanation was provided by justice officials at the time.

Steen represented the Elmwood–East Kildonan ward at city hall from 2010 until 2014, when he lost his re-election bid to Jason Schreyer.

Al Golden

Former city councillor Al Golden resigned from his post after being convicted of filing a false assessment on his 1989 income tax return and failing to declare $727,000 in income in 2000. (CBC )

Al Golden was a city councillor for St. Vital from 1988 until 2000, when he was forced to resign after being convicted of filing a false assessment on his 1989 income tax return and failing to declare $727,000 in income.

He was sentenced to pay $75,000 in fines.

He later attempted appeal his conviction, but his case was dismissed by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in 2002.

In 2011, he was sued by the federal government for nearly $1.9 million in unpaid taxes.

Don Mitchelson

City councillor Don Mitchelson faced impaired driving charges while in office in the early 1990s, but was later acquitted. (CBC )

City councillor Don Mitchelson was arrested and charged with impaired driving in December 1988 while driving home from a city hall Christmas party.

According to a Winnipeg Free Press article from 1990, police said Mitchelson was "fishtailing" his van, and smelled of alcohol when he was pulled over.

Testifying in his own defence, Mitchelson told the court he had four or five drinks, but did not feel impaired.

He was acquitted of impaired driving but convicted of driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit.

But the legal saga did not end there, as Mitchelson later appealed the conviction and a new trial was ordered.

That trial was halted when the judge realized a personal friend was being called as witness.

At the third trial, Mitchelson's conviction was thrown out. The Crown appealed that decision with the Manitoba Court of Appeal, but lost their case.

Terry Wachniak

Former city councillor Terry Wachniak was arrested while at a city council meeting in 1988, for failing to pay $2,500 in fines for five convictions of driving while disqualified. (CBC )

In February 1988, councillor Terry Wachniak was hauled out of a city council meeting in handcuffs.

Police arrested Wachniak for failing to pay $2,500 in fines for five convictions of driving while disqualified. He was 32 at the time.

Wachniak had pleaded guilty to the charges in May 1987. At the time, he sat on the committee which oversaw the city's police department.

After his arrest, Wachniak accused then-police chief Herb Stephen of orchestrating the incident to try to discredit him for being a vocal critic of the police department.

Cases rare, historian says 

Despite these cases, Goldsborough says, it's rare to find examples of Winnipeg's mayors or city councillors getting into serious trouble with the law.

"I think they're generally one-off," he said.

"The people who get into politics usually do so because they want to stay in power, and they realize that if you make this sort of outrageous pronouncements or if you do these sort of outrageous things, you're going to have a short political career."