What does David Lemelin’s pardon mean?

What does David Lemelin’s pardon mean?
A fallen Lemelin post obscures one of his candidates behind it.

A fallen Lemelin post obscures one of his candidates behind it.

You’d think municipal elections would be a quiet thing, here in a city like Quebec.  For all intents and purposes, this election was supposed to be little more than a confidence check on the leadership of incumbent mayor Régis Labeaume and his team – something to fill out the back pages of newspapers while the real political attention was devoted the National Assembly.

But then yesterday the newspapers broke out with the story that David Lemelin, the mayor’s only serious opposition, had a past conviction – since pardoned – for domestic violence, dating back to 1993.  The ensuring malaise has left many no doubt confused.  Breaking this story a mere 48 hours before the actual election makes the whole thing reek of a well-timed sucker punch, a straight-up règlement de compte by one of Lemelin’s enemies, either past or present.  It’s a dirty move, but hey, apparently that’s the way politics goes.

While it’s a purely theoretical analysis in my case – I already voted by anticipation for Labeaume last week – I still find myself wrestling with the impact this could have had on my decision, had I been a Lemelin supporter.

Here’s what we know: David Lemelin was found guilty of domestic violence against his then-spouse in 1993, and he was pardoned a little over a year ago.  Since the news broke, Lemelin has explained to both his team – which apparently knew nothing about this – and to his supporters that this was a horrible mistake done by a 20-year-old.  He has described it as a “gifle”, a slap to the face, during a heated argument.

My thoughts on the act itself are mixed.  Domestic violence is an incredibly complex issue to analyze, fraught with emotion, legal complexity, ego, and double-standards.  I can’t help but think that had David Lemelin been a woman who’d hit her spouse, for instance, his popularity might actually have increased.  A domestic violence charge also requires surprisingly little – a light shoving match between lovers is theoretically a criminal offense.  It’s a taboo rarely spoken of, but the ugly truth is that most of us – men and women alike – have had a moment where we lost our cool.  While the act itself is no doubt unacceptable, Lemelin’s explanation certainly makes it potentially forgivable.  He also argues that our legal system has seen it fit, given his upstanding behavior since then, to award him a pardon.  The law itself has certainly forgiven him… couldn’t we?

What’s less forgivable, though, is the horrible judgment that accompanied Lemelin’s handling of the situation.  I really feel for the Démocratie Québec candidates who hitched their credibility, ambition, and desire to serve their city to his wagon without knowing something so potentially explosive about his past.  That Lemelin looked his team and his supporters in the eye and said they could trust him, and then that he ran a campaign on transparency and accountability, all while concealing this load is… difficult to accept.  As a private citizen, he’d have been well in his rights to keep this to himself – that’s the point of a pardon in the first place.  But as a politician and a leader, he’s not asking for the same standards of privacy.  What bothers me most, I think, is that he obviously should know better, implying that his concealing of this ugly moment in his life isn’t done out of simple shame, but out of a calculated gamble to increase his appeal to both his party and to the electorate in general.

I have no doubt many of Lemelin’s supporters – or simply Labeaume’s dissenters – are going through a similar process… only much more real.  After all, the way our democracy is built, we vote in support of people, and not merely the ideas they represent.

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About the author:

Farnell-Morisset_BiogFarnell Morisset is passionate about discussing (among other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.

It is with this in mind that he contributes to LifeinQuebec.com as a valued member of our in-house writing team.

See other articles by Farnell Morisset

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