Editor’s note: with declining numbers of reporters, there’s been a noticeable drop in court reporting. The Halifax Examiner can’t replace all the good work that was done in the past, but we’ve asked law student Christina Macdonald to keep an eye on the courthouses and file a weekly brief with what she finds notable or interesting. This is Macdonald’s first report.


Acadian election ridings

Reference re the Final Report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission

This decision was handed down on Monday, January 24. Cabinet is here exercising one of the perks of executive power: asking judges to give legal opinions.

The regions of Clare, Argyle, and Richmond are predominantly Acadian. They’re also rural and sparsely populated. Their election ridings were scrapped after government pressure on the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission led them to deliver a report recommending they be eliminated.

Local Express and the CBC have thoroughly covered the case, including comments from the Liberals and the Conservatives. The NDP government of five years ago isn’t around to defend itself, and I don’t presume to know their reasons for doing away with the districts. The decision favours the arguments of other groups who are underrepresented in the legislature, like Mi’kmaq persons and African Nova Scotians.

James Keats

R v Keats

James Keats was convicted of sexually assaulting women in the back of an ambulance. CBC covered his most recent sentencing hearing. 

In this case, Keats was seeking a Court-appointed lawyer to help him appeal his case. Keats did have a Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyer throughout his convictions and appeals. For this case, NSLA turned him down because it felt his appeal had no merit. He asked the Court of Appeal to order the province to pay for a lawyer for him.

The Court of Appeal believed he could not afford a lawyer, but also saw no merit to his claim. Keats wanted to appeal because, among other things, he said the judge got the facts wrong when he gave instructions to the jury.

A fun law-nerd thing about this case is that it pulls evidence law from cases with some memorable names. At paragraph 7 it cites R v Bernardo, which is an authority on what the phrase “the interests of justice” means in court. In the next paragraph it cites R v Assoun [this is the very same Glen Assoun who is the subject of the Examiner’s Dead Wrong series], where Justice Cromwell — recently retired from the Supreme Court of Canada but then on the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal — describes the factors that Nova Scotia courts should consider when assessing whether it is in the interests of justice to appoint a lawyer for the person. Spoiler alert: one of those factors is the merit of the appeal.

Justice Beveridge summed up the Court’s opinion that the facts weren’t misrepresented by the judge, but that Keats just disagreed with them: “In a nutshell, the complainants said he touched them inappropriately. He said he did not. The jury found him guilty of two of the allegations” (para 32). No state-funded lawyer for this guy.

Animal distress

Nova Scotia (Agriculture) v. Rocky Top Farm
Brennan v Nova Scotia (Agriculture)

In this pair of decisions, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal considered appeals from the owners of Rocky Top Farm in New Ross, concerning first cattle, then ponies.

The first decision concerned emaciated and dying cattle seized by inspectors for the Department of Agriculture in January 2014. The scene sounds grim:

The cows were described as hunched up, and emaciated. One calf was cold and lethargic. There was no hay or dry bedding in the pen itself. The water bucket was empty. The floor had a 10 inch build-up of manure and the cattle were wet and filthy from lying in it. No hay was seen, either in the barn or on the property. (para 12)

One calf had to be euthanized on site. Inspectors decided to seize all the cattle and attempted to confront the owners with the help of RCMP. The owners were uncooperative.

The owners disputed the seizure of their cattle, but the Deputy Minister of Agriculture upheld the seizure and the cattle were sold. The owners appealed to the Supreme Court, where Justice Moir ruled that the seizure of the cattle had been illegal and that the owners should get the proceeds of the sale. One of the purposes of the Animal Protection Act, Justice Moir said, was “balancing the interests of the owner and the need to overcome distress” (para 53).

The Court of Appeal overturned that decision and upheld the initial seizure. Justice Saunders writing for the Court said the only purpose of the Animal Protection Act “is to provide for the protection and aid of animals who have been neglected by those who are charged with their proper care” (para 54). The Animal Protection Act, then, doesn’t require inspectors to weigh the interests of the owner with their animals’ distress before acting on that distress. They need to make reasonable efforts to inform an owner and get them to cooperate in alleviating the animal’s distress — but if they won’t cooperate, inspectors can act quickly to stop an animal suffering.

The case was referred back to the Deputy Minister to make a new assessment on the validity of the seizure. I hope those cows are chowing down happily somewhere else.

David Roberts at Pink Larkin discusses the Court of Appeal rulings in these two cases, here


In Halifax Supreme Court this week, among other things, William Michael Sandeson’s case is on the docket with 18 days of pre-trial applications. Sandeson is accused of killing fellow student Taylor Samson. There’s a publication ban on any of these pre-trial motions, but I’ll try to sit in on a few of them for my own interest.

The Knowledge House trio continues their trial; they have hardly been off the docket for almost a year [most recent update from Blair Rhodes in August]. 

On Wednesday, Cory Patrick Melvin will be in court for a sentencing.

On Thursday, a young man who was charged with stabbing two men in Westphal in June 2015, is being sentenced.

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