In Court

Christopher Garnier appears for bail revocation hearing

On Tuesday, Justice Peter Rosinski began a two-day bail revocation hearing for Christopher Calvin Garnier, 29. Garnier is charged with the second degree murder of Truro police officer Catherine Campbell and with interfering with her remains. In December he was granted bail, but he was taken back into custody in February when police said he failed to report for a compliance check at his parents’ homes.

In February, Garnier’s father Vince Garnier was a vocal advocate for his son, telling Steve Bruce of Local Xpress that the breach was a mix-up: his son had been in bed at his mother’s house the whole time, but no one heard the police knocking. On Tuesday, Vince Garnier was made to leave the courtroom after reportedly trying to communicate with a witness.

Those other cab drivers charged with sexual assault

Pretrial hearings will begin in May in the case of Seyed Mirsaeid-Ghazi. According to police, Mirsaeid-Ghazi touched the complainant in a sexual manner without her consent.

Last week, Judge Michael Sherar presided over the trial of Saher Hamdan, in which a young woman described Hamdan touching her leg without her consent and asking to kiss her. Judge Sherar asked for written submissions, and a date for him to deliver a verdict won’t be scheduled until June.

Butcher fires lawyers before pretrial hearings

Last week I had hoped to watch pretrial hearings in the case of Nicholas Butcher, a law graduate accused of killing Kristin Johnston in 2016. The online Supreme Court dockets are sometimes wrong almost as soon as they’re posted due to scheduling changes; in this case, the scheduled pretrial hearing for Butcher was only a darkened courtroom.

Turned out Butcher broke things off with his lawyers, Roger Burrill and Luke Merrimen. Burrill is a heavy hitter who mostly does appeal cases for Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Merrimen is a criminal defence practitioner who has a blog I really enjoy.

Following this news, law students speculated wildly about why Butcher would do this. Maybe a change in direction? New counsel will need time to get up to speed on the case, so his jury trial scheduled for April 24 might have to be pushed back.

Diab’s husband found not criminally responsible for domestic violence

Maroun Diab, husband of MLA and Immigration Minister Lena Diab, will be held at the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth after being found not criminally responsible due to mental disorder for charges of domestic violence against his wife. Judge Gregory Lenehan accepted the joint recommendation from Crown and defence. A doctor from the forensic hospital testified that Diab had, in his opinion, “no knowledge, due to his manic episode, grandiose delusion and persecutory delusion, of the wrongfulness — both legal and ethical — of his actions.”

First Nova Scotian convicted of human trafficking sentenced to seven years

Owen Ross Gibson-Skeir pleaded guilty in December to trafficking a 15-year-old girl. On Friday, he was sentenced to seven years, for which he was credited eighteen months for pretrial custody.

On the day of his guilty plea, he pointed his fingers in the shape of a gun towards the victim sitting in the gallery and said “I’ll see you.” Mark Crosby caught the moment on camera back in December. He will face more charges for uttering threats.

Before the sentencing, the victim’s mother told CBC reporter Angela MacIvor she was hoping the judge would sentence Gibson-Skeir to 10 years, but seemed to feel his courtroom stunt made his plea deal “not … a deal at all really.”

MacIvor’s coverage includes an interview with Crown prosecutor Catherine Cogswell about the challenges of these human trafficking cases, which are often difficult to prosecute due to the nature of the evidence that must be given by victims in court. Cogswell is the same prosecutor in the case of two brothers also facing human trafficking charges.


DCS wins appeal against income assistance recipient with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

Over my term at Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, I worked hard on the case of a woman with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. RG couldn’t afford to live anywhere that didn’t make her seriously ill on $535, the maximum someone on income assistance can receive for a “shelter allowance.” Additional shelter allowance can be available for people requiring barrier-free access to their home or with a terminal illness, but her MCS condition didn’t qualify.

No one disputed the severity of RG’s MCS. It had taken her ages, all while living out of her van — an environment she could mostly control — to find an apartment at $850 where she could actually stay for more than a day or two without deteriorating. We had meetings with our client away from the office, in parks and open areas, as she couldn’t set foot in our aging Gottingen Street office. I’m obviously biased in her favour, but it was a serious condition.

In August, the Income Assistance Appeal Board accepted our argument that RG was eligible for a special exception on the calculation of her budget deficit, which is used to determine how much assistance someone receives. A special exemption from the normal budget deficit calculation is available under the ESIA Regulations in cases “where a supervisor considers it necessary to … protect the health or safety of an applicant or recipient, or dependent child or spouse of an applicant or recipient” (s 46). “In the appellant’s case,” the Board wrote in its decision, “the needs for accommodations are numerous, unique and well out of the norm for her to be safe and healthy” (cited in the judicial review decision at para 33). The Board awarded RG the $850 she needed per month.

The Department filed for judicial review of the Board’s decision. Justice Ann Smith ruled that the Board’s decision was not reasonable. The interpretation of s 46 of the Regulations, she wrote, “has the effect of removing the regulatory cap on shelter allowances, a result inconsistent with the scheme of the Act as a whole.” Justice Smith overturned the Board’s decision and upheld the Department’s denial of a higher shelter allowance.

I’m disappointed, of course, and thinking about a woman who might be living out of her van again.

29 years later, father who served seven years for manslaughter of son has name removed from Child Abuse Registry

In a complex decision released Thursday, Justice Beryl MacDonald allowed GA’s application to have his name removed from the Child Abuse Registry.

The facts of the original case for which GA was imprisoned are rough. In 1987, when he was 21, GA’s girlfriend punched their 19-month-old son in the stomach. The child died two days later from a perforated bowel. The girlfriend pleaded guilty to illegally causing the child’s death, and GA was found guilty of manslaughter by a jury. He served seven years, and his name was added to the Child Abuse Registry.

Over the years, when GA attempted to have a new relationship with a woman who had kids, the Department of Community Services would inform the woman that GA was a potential risk, and that their children might be taken into care if he didn’t leave their home. To avoid DCS involvement, the women always agreed to cut ties with GA. Procedurally, this meant that numerous protection proceedings were initiated and later withdrawn, giving GA no opportunity to contest any findings at a later hearing.

Now 51, GA applied for his name to be removed from the Registry. The Minister of Community Services contested the application, arguing that he was clearly still a risk to children. He kept denying responsibility, the Minister argued, and couldn’t show any evidence that he was no longer a risk to children. GA argued that assessors take anything short of a complete admission as evidence of him denying all responsibility, and that the Department has effectively prevented him from ever having the chance to demonstrate his lack of risk to children by scaring away all his girlfriends.

Justice MacDonald was not convinced by the Minister’s evidence of examiners and assessors who, she agreed, seemed inclined to take GA’s desire to have his child’s mother’s guilt acknowledged to mean that he rejected any responsibility for his crime. On the contrary, even while accepting that GA had been less than truthful in the past, Justice MacDonald seemed to understand his need to rationalize the events of his life.

It’s a really interesting decision to read — just look at this passage [paras 50-51]:

What can we know about ourselves? What can others know of us? We humans do avoid admitting what we cannot face to protect ourselves. Often that self-protection does us harm because we are branded as liars and sometimes we are liars. We lie to protect ourselves and others as often as we lie to deceive. Unfortunately, the difference does not usually matter to those in authority.

Sometimes we humans we do not see what others expect us to see and they cannot believe that we have not seen what to them is obvious. Sometimes when we tell what we have seen we are not believed or are later accused of telling what we saw too late and are told we must only have done so because it suited our purpose. Those who analyze us and give us psychological tests find traits that explain us. So they believe. They use words like defensive, manipulative, in denial, angry, unremorseful. They tell us that because of our personalities we cannot be trusted. Without agreeing with their definition, we will never be allowed to escape the labels we are given.

Justice MacDonald found that GA had proven he posed no substantial risk to children, and granted his application to have his name removed from the Registry.

Human Rights Commission must investigate patio accessibility complaint

A group of disability rights advocates will have their complaint about patio accessibility investigated by the Human Rights Commission, despite its argument that it can’t investigate everything that comes its way. Anjuli Patil reported the decision on Tuesday last week.

The applicants are Warren Reed, Gerry Post, Ben Marson, Jeremy MacDonald, Kelly McKenna, and Paul Vienneau. Reed filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission in the summer of 2016, alleging “selective enforcement of regulations regarding access to washroom facilities thereby discriminating against persons who use wheelchairs.”

Reed was rebuffed by two Human Rights Officers (HROs) who wanted him to bring his complaint to the province’s Ombudsman. Justice Frank Edwards disagreed, stating that the Human Rights Act required the commission to inquire into every complaint. It would then have the power to dismiss the complaint — but only after first “inquiring” into it, which these HROs did not do.

They do not have the discretion to refuse to accept a complaint, the judge said. Legislators could easily have written such authority into the Act, but they didn’t. Justice Edwards suggested that might be the better avenue:

Counsel for the HRC referred to the “sheer volume” of inquiries. What that means and how it relates to Mr. Reed’s complaint is somewhat puzzling. If there are statistics available to show that unless staff can refuse to accept complaints the Commission will be overwhelmed, those statistics should be shown to the appropriate legislative authority. They have no relevance in the context of this review.

The second HRO provided a lengthy but confusing explanation for refusing Reed’s discrimination complaint. Much of its more bewildering passages are cited in the decision, including a suggestion that because older people and people with children also have accessibility issues with some businesses, it means that accessibility issues faced by persons with disabilities are like not that bad? It’s at paragraph 17 if you feel like getting instantly irritated. (But you know, your irritation wouldn’t even compare to the irritation faced by … etc.)

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