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Good news story turns bad

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What started as a prison rehabilitation success story has become a media relations nightmare for Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba. A story carried in various Mennonite publications including the Herald (see “Bookstore aims for transformation,” May), introduced ex-convict Tim Collins as manager of Sam’s Place, an MCC Manitoba used books store and cafe. But on May 20, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that Collins, formerly known as Klaus Burlakow, was “returned to the federal pen [Stony Mountain Institution]…after a series of court decisions left him on the hook for more than $12,000.”

Contrary to the Free Press report that Collins was fired, MCC representatives say he parted company from Sam’s Place “through mutual agreement” on April 9, 2 weeks after their press release had gone out. In a letter to Mennonite media dated May 22, MCC Manitoba executive director Peter Rempel said after Collins’ arrest and return to prison, MCC was “contemplating sending an update to the Mennonite media.” Rempel acknowledged regret for the “lapse in communication” that resulted in the Free Press scoop.

In answer to Canadian Mennonite’s question about Collins’ conflict of interest in both serving on the advisory committee for the project and successfully bidding for the position of project manager, Brad Reimer of MCC’s constituency relations said, “I think this particular circumstance was one of both not having other applicants and wanting to give Mr. Collins a chance. If this is not best business practice, then maybe it is ‘best Christian practice.’”

“We are sorry that Tim is back in prison after working hard at the project in support of MCC,” Rempel said. “We grieve that violation of his parole has forfeited his opportunity to resume a constructive role in our community. This story with a fall, following upon positive steps in a person’s life, illustrates both the challenges, as well as the disappointments we all can experience.”

—from report by Ross Muir, Canadian Mennonite

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