Ryan Leef keeps the skeletons of his defaced election signs in the back of his campaign office. He actually prefers “destroyed” to “defaced,” since all that’s left, really, are blue borders framing gaping holes.
The signs are a reminder of what has been, for better or worse, the most memorable moment of the Yukon’s federal election campaign and the only one to attract national attention. In late August, the Conservative candidate handcuffed Whitehorse resident Carrie Boles and placed her under citizen’s arrest after catching her cutting out his name from his campaign signs late at night.
At the time, to convey that the arrest wasn’t planned, Leef made it sound as if it wasn’t unusual for him to carry handcuffs. He clarified that point in a recent interview with the News.
“Of course I don’t walk around with handcuffs all the time,” he said. “Give me a break.”
Six weeks after the arrest, Leef is standing by his decision that night. “If you break the law in the territory, you need to be held to account,” he said. “If I was in the position again… I would do the exact same thing again.”
He specified, though, that his background in law enforcement qualified him to make that decision, and he wouldn’t necessarily recommend that others do the same. “I’m a nationally certified expert in this. This isn’t an average citizen going out and making a decision to engage in a citizen’s arrest.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a former mixed-martial-arts fighter, Leef is not one to back down from a fight, and not only when it comes to vandalism. He’s made his feud with Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell over the long-gun registry a centrepiece of his election campaign and insists, vehemently, that the Liberal Party will bring back some form of registry if elected. Bagnell maintains that won’t happen.
“Why would a party who adamantly and passionately defended it through the entire 41st Parliament all of a sudden now abandon the notion of bringing it back?” Leef asked. “That’s not credible. That’s not credible at all.”
It was frustration over Bagnell’s backtracking on the long-gun registry that helped push Leef into politics nearly five years ago. In 2010, Bagnell voted with his party to keep the registry, after telling Yukoners he opposed it.
Leef, who previously worked as an RCMP officer, a conservation officer, and as deputy superintendent of operations at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, said he felt betrayed by Bagnell’s decision and that spurred him to get involved in the election campaign. Three months after throwing his hat into the ring for the Conservative Party, Yukoners voted him into office.
“It was a whirlwind at the time,” he said.
Though he was new to the political arena in 2011, Leef’s four years in office have produced some noteworthy moments.
In 2013, he brought forward a private member’s bill that would have allowed judges to consider fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as a mitigating factor in sentencing, though he dropped the bill in 2014. At a forum hosted by the Yukon Chamber of Commerce this week, he said that bill remains the one piece of legislation he would pass if he could.
In October 2014, after Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fatally shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on Parliament Hill, Leef apparently fashioned a makeshift spear out of a flagpole to help protect his colleagues in the barricaded caucus room.
And earlier this year, he was the lone Conservative MP to vote for an inquiry for missing and murdered aboriginal women. He’s also quick to point to other instances when he voted against the Conservatives, though a political scientist from Universite de Montreal recently calculated that Bagnell has voted against his party more frequently than Leef.
Leef has maintained throughout this campaign that his party is the only one to make promises specific to the Yukon. Certainly, the Conservatives have offered the territory a number of goodies in recent weeks. There’s the promise of a new Canadian Armed Forces reserve unit, a new cadet facility, the paving of the Dawson City airport runway, and most recently, an expansion of Yukon College’s Haines Junction campus. These are, in part, the reasons why Premier Darrell Pasloski says he formally endorsed Leef’s campaign this week.
And it’s true that these focused commitments have largely not been matched by the other parties, though Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell has promised to increase the Northern Residents Deduction and bring back Whitehorse’s Canada Revenue Agency office.
There’s an energy and an intensity to Leef that seems sincere, if adversarial at times. Long-gun registry aside, he said he’s running because he wants to keep giving back to his community.
“This is my home. This is where I’m going to live the rest of my life. This is where I’m raising my son.
“I’ll always choose the Yukon over the party.”
Contact Maura Forrest at