So… Trevor Zinck has “compassion fatigue.” His problem is not that he defrauded taxpayers of $9,000 by stealing money destined for charities, and sponsorships, and poured it down the bottomless drain of casino gambling.
Nor is his problem that he suffers from an all-too-commonplace gambling addiction, which he needs to acknowledge and seek treatment for.
No, Trevor Zinck’s real problem is that he… cares too much.
“It’s not malarkey,” Zinck insisted last week after his lawyer managed to put off the former MLA’s day of legal reckoning one more time by raising the red compassion-fatigue flag of convenience.
“I can’t tell you what it is,” Lyle Howe acknowledged. “I’m not an expert. [But] it’s something that Trevor feels like is relevant and that he wants to explore with an expert.”
It’s been a month and a half since Zinck knee-capped his promise of a vigorous defence of the criminal case against him by copping to charges of fraud and breach of trust instead. He’s apparently been using that time to scour the Internet for ways to avoid and evade responsibility.
Enter compassion fatigue.
“Go on the websites… go in and type ‘compassion fatigue,’” Zinck instructed skeptical reporters.
Wikipedia says compassion fatigue, which has been diagnosed since the 1950s, involves “a gradual lessening of compassion over time,” particularly among “persons who are overly conscientious, perfectionists, and self-giving.”
As self-description at least, that shoe fits Zinck.
The syndrome is most “common among individuals that work directly with trauma victims such as nurses, psychologists, and first responders.” Politicians? While the designation of those who may suffer from the condition has broadened over the years to include other “caring” professions, politicians — perhaps not surprisingly — have yet to make the cut.
Zinck is not deterred. And he can even explain why he is only now discovering this self-serving explanation for his self-destructive behavior.
“Part of the diagnosis,” he explains, “is that you put off taking care of yourself.”
In other words, Trevor Zinck didn’t realize he was suffering from compassion fatigue because he was too busy being compassionate.
Whatever deeper explanations there may be for his behavior — and there may well be — Trevor Zinck has to begin by acknowledging he has a problem, not just a condition.
The careening train wreck Trevor Zinck’s political career and personal life had become has finally flown off the tracks, plunged over the cliff and disappeared into an abyss.
Zinck, who’d promised a vigorous defence of the criminal charges in the MLA expense scandal, turtled instead. On the the fifth day of his trial — after the prosecution had laid out its damning, he-even-stole-a-kid’s-hockey-dreams case against him — Zinck pleaded guilty to fraud and breach of trust.
Zinck then promised to fight to hold on to his MLA’s job, only to do another 180, hastily resigning his seat after learning he’d lose $51,000 in transitional funding if he waited to be expelled by his fellow MLAs.
Zinck is now vowing to win back his job in the next provincial election…
Nova Scotians have a right to be angry. And Zinck deserves to pay for his crimes.
But his is also, ultimately, a sad case.
I met Zinck shortly after he was elected MLA for Dartmouth North in 2006. I’d written about child welfare problems in Nova Scotia, and a group of parents invited me to a meeting to discuss their options. Zinck was there too. He took notes, offered helpful advice, promised support. I believe he followed up.
In the three years since Zinck’s expenses became a matter of criminal investigation, I’ve written a number of critical columns about what he did. Each time, I’d receive emails from constituents who still considered him their champion. There may be fewer of those now that we know the constituents and charities he’s stiffed.
Why did it all go off the rails?
The short answer appears to be some combination of alcohol and gambling addiction. Early on, Zinck acknowledged he’d had “problems,” but during his trial he downplayed them. “Every once in a while I go to the casino,” he shrugged after the prosecution connected the dots from his constituency bank account to late night ATM withdrawals at the Halifax casino.
I hope — though his behaviour to date doesn’t encourage much — Trevor Zinck will finally pause, take stock of what’s happened and why, and seek help.
Not for the sake of his political career.
But for his life.
If his latest poor-me pronouncements weren’t so outrageously obnoxious—not to mention flagrantly false—we would be wise to treat disgraced, and disgraceful former MLA Russell MacKinnon with the mocking contempt he’s richly earned.
The Finance Department made me do it… The Finance Department made me do it…
MacKinnon, one of four MLAs whose entitled-to-their-entitlements expense claims were so egregious they warranted actual criminal charges, arrived for his trial two week s ago, loudly proclaiming his innocence. Three days later, he copped a mid-trial plea like a common thief when it became clear he couldn’t sell his convoluted contortionist’s explanations for his bad behavior.
He pled guilty to one count of breach of trust and got a sweetheart deal. Four months’ house arrest, with numerous get-out-of-the-house free cards, four months’ curfew, a year’s probation.
Unfortunately for MacKinnon’s reputation—and our blood pressure—his sentence didn’t come with a muzzle.
MacKinnon has spent the past week playing the aggrieved. “I didn’t defraud the government of five cents, not a penny… I got the bejesus kicked out of me for the last three years over this, and I didn’t do anything wrong… I pleaded guilty to breach of trust because I believe MLAs are held to a higher standard, and I have to take responsibility even though the fault lies with the Department of Finance…”
Oh, let’s not bother responding to his truth twisting.
No wonder people are upset. No wonder the call by the we-hate-any-government-anywhere-anytime-anyway Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation to eliminate pension benefits for former MLAs convicted of crimes has traction.
But we need to pause, take a breath.
The real problem here isn’t with MLAs convicted of breaching their public trust continuing to draw pensions to which they contributed, and to which they—and, more importantly, their families—are legally entitled.
It’s with the MLA pensions themselves. By most anyone’s standards, they’re incredibly rich and wrongly funded out of regular operating revenues rather than investments.
By all means, let’s reform the MLA pension system.
But let’s not set a bad precedent by taking away someone’s legally earned pension benefits. There’s no telling where that could lead.
Let’s just accept that Russell MacKinnon’s behavior is beneath and beyond contempt—and move on to more important matters.
Like MLA pension reform.
What was he thinking? That he could baffle, buffalo, bamboozle past way too many inconvenient contradictions from too many witnesses with too little to gain to lie about what he’d done? That the law wouldn’t apply to him because he’d been an MLA and Liberal cabinet minister?
On Friday—after four days of a scheduled five-day trial and in the middle of his own credulity-stretching testimony—Russell MacKinnon caved, signed a hastily cobbled together one-page written statement of agreed facts and copped to a plea of a breach of the public trust.
By the end of the day and after an apology that wasn’t—“I would like to apologize for allowing the matter to come this far”—MacKinnon managed to walk away from it all with no jail time. Just a ruler-to-the-knuckles eight-month conditional sentence.
In 2006, MLA MacKinnon submitted $3,400 in receipts for work done by constituency secretary Nicole Campbell. The problems: Campbell never did the work and never received the money. MacKinnon did.
He also submitted $7,500 in receipts for work done by George MacKeigan, his executive assistant. Again, MacKeigan never saw the cash; MacKinnon kept it.
Four years later—after an auditor general’s report triggered an investigation that led Canada Revenue Agency to issue T4A slips to MacKinnon’s former aides for the payments they’d never been paid—the whole sordid mess unraveled.
At that point, MacKinnon doubled down on his deceit, showing up on the doorsteps of his former aides with cash peace offerings to make his wrongs right.
Even after that didn’t wash, MacKinnon still had the audacity to take up valuable court time with his far-fetched versions and that-never-happened stories.
Until late Thursday when his wife, NDP MLA Michele Raymond, and his lawyer, Joel Pink, decided Judge Felix Cacchione wasn’t buying the soap MacKinnon was selling.
“You watch your client, you watch the body language of the judge and you try to make a determination as to how the judge is reacting to the evidence,” Pink explained later.
Russell MacKinnon should have gone to jail.
Not so much for what he did. But for what he didn’t do. Apologize. And take real responsibility for his actions.
He didn't. Pity.
The old Young Mike Duffy would have been all over it.
A Senator playing fast and loose with parliamentary rules of residence, claiming as his full-time home a modest bungalow of a summer cottage that hasn’t seen a snowplow in a year’s worth of winters.
A Senator pocketing more than $30,000 for the inconvenience of residing in rustic, rural Cavendish, P.E.I., 1,333 km (as the Google crow flies) from his Senate workplace at 111 Wellington Street in Ottawa—while actually bedding down in a comfortable Ottawa suburb.
Not to forget the spectacle of a Senator—having been caught with his fingers in the fudging and futzing jar—applying for a fast-tracked Prince Edward Island health card in order to make wrong appear right.
The former Mike Duffy would have been in his element.
One has to—almost—feel sorry for the old New Mike Duffy, now being brought low by all those new Old Mike Duffys.
Young Mike Duffy launched his career in the mid-1960s as a deejay—the “Round Mound of Sound”—at Amherst radio station CKDH. After discovering his nose for news, Duffy moved on to then-Halifax station CHNS where his gleefully non-partisan, neither-fear-nor-favour scoops from City Hall and the provincial legislature earned him an enviable reportorial reputation, which earned him a position in CBC’s parliamentary bureau, which earned him his own star billing at CTV, which…Well, that’s where things soured.
Duffy began to believe his own publicity hype—and in his own self-worth. He lobbied for his Senate appointment and, when he landed it in 2008, assumed himself entitled to his entitlements. Including $900 a month to live part of the year in Ottawa where, of course, he has lived virtually all of the years since the 1970s.
New Mike Duffy, of course, is less than amused by his latest turn of misfortune, chiding reporters after a speech in Halifax last week to do some “adult” work instead of bothering him with trivial matters about where he lives and how much he claims for not living there.
Sorry Mike. Those who live by the microphone sometimes get hit on the head with it on their way out the door.
So long, Senator.
Let’s review. On February 3, 2010, Auditor General Jacques Lapointe reported some Nova Scotia MLAs played fast and loose with their expense accounts.
One year after that—on February 14, 2011—RCMP charged three former and one sitting MLA with the criminal equivalent of fast and loose.
Today—17 months after those charges, 30 months after that report—only two of those cases have completely navigated the legal system, and only because the MLAs pleaded guilty.
Two didn’t. Former NDP-now-Independent MLA Trevor Zinck is due back in court in September just to set dates for his trial. Former Liberal MLA Russell MacKinnon’s trial isn’t scheduled to begin until March 2013—37 months after the A-G’s report.
By the time those trials—and appeals—play out, I’ll be more than pensionable. The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won the Stanley Cup...
Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right to be tried within a reasonable time period.
Last month, an accused in the 2011 Stanley Cup riots appeared in Vancouver court to have her trial date set: Fall 2013.
While the court deemed that reasonable, British Columbia judges threw out 109 other charges last year because cases had taken too long to reach them. How long must they have taken.
In Ontario in April, a man accused of using a stolen identity to sneak into Canada two-and-a-half years ago had charges against him stayed because of delays.
What’s the solution? Hire more judges? Improve disclosure? Impose new rules to speed up trials?
I don’t know, but I do know that if we care about justice-delayed-is-justice-denied, we need to start talking about this issue—and stop allowing the Harper government to see building more jails to house more people for longer periods as the solution to everything.
Consider. Seventeen years after a group of Port Hawkesbury men went to the RCMP to complain they’d been sexually abused as children by Fenwick MacIntosh, they’re still waiting for justice. This fall, the Supreme Court of Canada will decide whether to uphold this year’s Nova Scotia Appeal Court decision to acquit MacIntosh—not because the judges believed he didn’t commit the crimes but because the case had taken so long, it “prejudiced his right to a fair trial.”
Copyright 2012 Stephen Kimber