1. Glen Assoun
“The Province of Nova Scotia has reached a financial settlement with Glen Assoun, the Dartmouth man who spent 17 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murdering Brenda Way,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
Assoun was fully exonerated two years ago this week — on March 1, 2019. Although he received a tiny interim compensation, the wait for a full compensation package took frustratingly long.
Negotiations with Assoun and the federal Justice department were conducted under the previous justice minister, Mark Furey.
The settlement is “recent” and its terms are “confidential,” according to Randy Delorey, the new minister of justice and attorney general, sworn in nine days ago.
Apart from wanting to know how much compensation Assoun received, there’s the matter of a public apology, which Assoun had been pressing for and to which he seems entitled.
“All aspects of bringing the situation to a conclusion is confidential,” replied Delorey when questioned about whether the province intends to make a public apology. “The agreement predates my time in office but the parties are satisfied that it has been concluded.”
Delorey told reporters he has not yet had the time to read the actual settlement document.
As I’m sure most everyone knows, the Assoun case has been a particular reporting focus of mine since 2014.
I started the Halifax Examiner in June of 2014, with the aim of doing more long form investigative journalism and so started casting about for stories to sink my teeth into. That November, I became aware of Glen Assoun, and went to a strange bail hearing at the courthouse — after being imprisoned for nearly 17 years, Assoun was being granted bail even though he hadn’t yet served the 18-and-a-half years he needed to reach parole eligibility. All this was couched in language that suggested Assoun had been wrongly convicted, but no one was giving any details.
I figured I’d pull the court file, get into the particulars of the case, and have an article or two out in a couple of weeks. But I’ve been working on the story for over six years now, have published dozens of articles, including the multi-part Dead Wrong series, put together a podcast series with Janice Evans and Nancy Hunter for the CBC, and am still writing about the case. I’ll probably be reporting on the Assoun story for the rest of my life, to some degree.
For now, I don’t have much comment. I don’t know the amount of the settlement, but am told that Assoun is satisfied. All he’s ever wanted was to be able to buy a piece of land and a truck and have enough money to live out his life comfortably, and I hope he can now do that.
I don’t like that the settlement amount is confidential because I think the public should know how much justice gone wrong costs us, and I think other wrongly convicted people should have a benchmark to make claims in their cases. But I can understand why Assoun would agree to confidentiality; whatever the amount, it will seem huge to some people, but no amount of money can properly compensate him for the wrongs done upon him by Halifax police, by the RCMP, by the Crown prosecutors, and by the courts.
Those institutions having failed Assoun, it remains up to the public to do right by Assoun. We should begin by doing all we can to welcome him into the community.
I only hope that there can be some degree of accountability in this case, but it appears that all those institutions are trying to sweep their wrongdoing under the rug. For example, the mandate given to the Serious Incident Response Team restricts SIRT’s investigation only to possible wrongdoing by the RCMP, which destroyed evidence that should have cleared Assoun five years after he was convicted, and prevents SIRT from investigating the original Halifax police investigation, which is riddled with inconsistencies and in my view criminal wrongdoing.
Time and again, we have various commissions, inquiries, and statements from courts and judges that make concrete suggestions about how to make meaningful changes to prevent future wrongful convictions, and time again those concrete suggestions are ignored, reform never happens, and the injustices continue.
Because we never make those changes, we can draw a straight line from Donald Marshall Jr. to Clayton Johnson to Glen Assoun. There are, I’m positive, other local wrongful convictions, and I’m working on telling two of those stories.
As an aside, none of my reporting on the Assoun case would’ve been possible without support from readers, meaning people subscribing. That’s what makes this work possible. I look at the breadth and depth of Examiner stories just in today’s Morning File, and I’m astonished at how far those subscription dollars travel.
The Halifax Examiner is a lean machine; there are no American hedge funds or six-figure CEOs leeching money away from the task at hand: reporting.
The Examiner is at a moment. In the next month or so we’ll be hiring a new reporting editor, partly to free up some of my time so I can do more reporting myself, but also to extend the reach of our reporting further still. I’ll have details about that when the time comes. But I worry: can this position support itself? I hope it can. So I ask readers: if you haven’t subscribed already, please do. And if you are already a subscriber, please keep that subscription going.
I thank you.
2. Nova Scotians to get one dose of vaccine by end of June
“Premier Iain Rankin told journalists after the first meeting of his new cabinet [Thursday] that all Nova Scotians can expect to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
That statement is conditional on Nova Scotia receiving the supply it has been promised by Ottawa and vaccine manufacturers.
This rapidly improves on the scheduling presented Tuesday, when vaccination officials presented a chart showing that most age groups would not receive their first dose until after the middle of July, and the youngest groups not until September.
The change comes due to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI)’s announcement [Wednesday] that “jurisdictions should maximize the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose of vaccine by extending the interval for the second dose of vaccine to four months.”
Rankin said this means more Nova Scotians can be vaccinated more quickly than previously thought.
“We no longer have to hold back the second dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine,” said Rankin. “So if you do the math, that means the doses or the allocation we have been promised means all Nova Scotians will be able to get their first dose by the end of June.”
Rankin and Chief Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang have scheduled a COVID briefing for 1pm today; I’ll be present and try to get clarification on a number of issues.
3. Sacrificing wild Atlantic salmon for gold
“We’re standing on the snow-covered banks of the Killag River beside the lime doser, a white silo that has been calibrated with intricate controls to apply just the right amount of lime into the river every day,” writes Joan Baxter:
Edmund Halfyard, a biologist working with the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, tells me that the “right amount” — between one and 15 tonnes per day — depends on the flow of the river.
The lime doser is one of two — the only ones operating in North America — that the Nova Scotia Salmon Association and its partners have set up on the West River Sheet Harbour watershed to de-acidify the water and undo the damage caused by acid rain in the 1970s and 80s, which decimated the population of wild Atlantic salmon and other fish in rivers along Nova Scotia’s South and Eastern Shores.
Although it’s a frigid winter day, the Killag River is not frozen. Just in front of the doser the water gurgles over rocks forming miniature rapids, on its way from a stillwater known as the Cameron Flowage just upstream, before eventually flowing into the West River that makes its way into the Atlantic Ocean at Sheet Harbour after a series of gentle step-like waterfalls.
The lime doser is in a place called Marinette, known locally as Beaver Dam. There has been rampant clearcutting in the area. Much of the land around here, including that on which the doser stands, belongs to Northern Pulp’s sister company Northern Timber, and quite a lot of the landscape is either denuded or covered by scrubby softwoods.
Nevertheless, it is still a quiet and lovely piece of the universe, a few kilometres off Highway 224, and about 25 kilometres inland from Sheet Harbour.
Halfyard and his colleague Jillian Leonard, a conservation biologist with the Nova Scotia Salmon Association (NSSA), are unabashedly enthusiastic about and proud of their work to restore the river system to health. In addition to the liming, they are working with academic and other partners on a remarkable range of research projects, including one looking at the behaviour and survival rates of salmon that develop in acidified rivers when they first venture into the ocean.
The NSSA is also working with the Mi’kmaw Conservation Group to create artificial reefs in Sheet Harbour to benefit salmon and trout, and they hope to expand that partnership to do more reconfiguration work in the West River to provide deep and cool pools for salmon and other aquatic species.
Having set the scene, Baxter goes on to show how that remarkable decades-long work to restore salmon to the river might be for naught, as an open pit gold mine is proposed for just 50 metres from the riverbank.
I’m always impressed with Baxter’s reporting, and this is an especially well-written and well-reported piece.
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4. King’s announces Hankey review
Yesterday, University of King’s College President Bill Lahey sent the following campus-wide email:
It has been four weeks since Dr. Wayne Hankey has been charged with sexual assault in a King’s residence in 1988. I promised a third-party independent review to determine the facts and an appropriate response, conducted in a way that is respectful of the criminal justice system.
Today, I write to tell you that King’s has appointed well-respected Toronto lawyer, Janice Rubin, and her firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP to conduct the Review. Janice Rubin is widely acknowledged as a leading authority on workplace harassment in Canada. She is a pioneer in the field of workplace investigations, assessments and reviews. Additionally, Janice has identified Elizabeth Bingham as the colleague at Rubin Thomlinson LLP who will assist her with the Review. They proceed with our full confidence and support.
The Terms of Reference for the Review are attached and were developed in consultation with Janice Rubin and others, including representative leadership groups from within our community including students, faculty, staff, alumni and board.
We have also been cooperating with the Halifax Police, who contacted King’s last month asking for employee records pertaining to Dr. Hankey, and who will be providing the necessary production order with the legal authority to require the provision of this otherwise confidential information. King’s has gathered the available information. One document that is no longer available is the report from the committee that looked into the charges that led to Dr. Hankey being disciplined by King’s in 1991. While there is institutional memory about the work of this committee and ancillary documents pertaining to the committee’s work, a comprehensive search led us to conclude that the university’s copy of the report has not existed for a number of years. The scope of the Review is broad enough to include this matter.
The university will not be saying anything that could interfere with the credibility and effectiveness of the Review. From this day forward, Janice Rubin and her team will determine how they do their work, not the university. As their work gets underway, more will be communicated about their process. In the meantime, I have been asked to share that they have set up a dedicated email address for the Review, [email protected], should anyone wish to reach out to them on a confidential basis.
Please also be reminded that King’s has a policy and supports in place for any member of our King’s community who has experienced sexualized violence, or who has found this news difficult, to come forward to get the support you need, knowing that you will be treated with dignity and respect. King’s Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Officer, Jordan Roberts, [email protected], is at King’s and available to provide confidential services and support to community members who need it.
With this announcement and the sharing of the Terms of Reference, King’s will be fully transparent. As the Review moves forward, be assured that our silence is born of respect for the process and not any avoidance of it.
This has been difficult for our community. In my responses to the students and alumni who have contacted me, I have emphasised the responsibility of King’s to be both factual and fair. When the Review concludes you will hear from King’s again. And at that time, King’s will be as transparent as the law allows. I am determined that future generations will not find us wanting. The University of King’s College is committed to providing a safe and supportive environment for everyone; one that is free of discrimination, harassment and all forms of violence.
5. North end affordable housing
“A housing co-operative plans to build 57 units of affordable housing in two six-storey buildings in North End Halifax using $4.5 million from the provincial and federal governments,” reports Zane Woodford:
Compass Nova Scotia Co-operative Homes Ltd. describes itself as a “non-profit sector-led co-operative whose mission is to intentionally sustain, grow and build inclusive housing communities by drawing on the values of sustainability, inclusion and collaboration.”
Since 2019, six housing co-operatives have amalgamated into Compass. It has 76 units in Dartmouth, Spryfield, Sackville, Antigonish, and Cape Breton. Now it’s looking to build its first project.
The co-operative plans to start construction on two six-storey buildings at the corner of Maitland Street and Portland Place in 2022. The site is currently a parking lot.
6. Legislature gears up
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
The next sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislature will begin Tuesday, March 9.
The three parties have agreed to a model where most MLAs will attend by videoconference. Three MLAs from each party and the speaker will attend in person to comply with Public Health rules around physical distancing. Finance Minister Labi Kousoulis said yesterday that a budget will be introduced the week after March break, and despite a projected deficit in the neighbourhood of $500 million, civil service jobs will not be cut.
“We are operating with the mindset there will be no layoffs in the public sector,” he said.
Deputy Premier and Community Services Minister Kelly Regan has requested permission to introduce a bill to allow for the opening of adoption records to allow adopted children and birth parents to learn more about each other. Nova Scotia is the only province in the country which still gives birth parents a veto over the disclosure of all information.
Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell was asked whether provincial regulations would allow the Mi’kmaq to sell lobsters and other catches to onshore buyers in Nova Scotia if First Nations communities agree to a federal proposal that would issue licences during the same fishing seasons that bind commercial or non-indigenous fishermen.
“We would have to look at it and see exactly what DFO is going to do when they finally get an agreement with the Mi’kmaq,” answered Colwell. “If DFO recognizes they have legitimate licences that are fished within the season and all the stuff that DFO needs, I would probably think we would be all right with the regulations that we have and buyers could then buy from them.”
Lands and Forestry Minister Chuck Porter was quizzed about when the Rankin government intends to implement recommendations from the Lahey Report received two-and-a-half years ago. They would permit more clearcutting on a small portion of Crown land in return for much less clearcutting over a larger swath of Crown lands. Porter said he is still in the process of being briefed on the file and has had a meeting with University of King’s College president Bill Lahey to try and gain a firmer understanding.
Porter’s only commitment Thursday was to follow through on a promise Iain Rankin made during the Liberal leadership campaign, in which Rankin promised to implement recommendations from the Lahey Report by the end of 2021.
That triggered this response from NDP leader Gary Burrill:
“The NDP Caucus has called for a moratorium on clearcutting on Crown land until the Liberal government reaches key milestones in implementing the Lahey Report. The delays surrounding the Lahey Report have led to a loss of public confidence in the Liberal government’s stewardship of forest resources.”
Premier Rankin was asked by the Examiner whether he will revisit a directive to Nova Scotia Power from the McNeil government last May to burn more biomass to help meet renewable energy targets. Delays in receiving Muskrat Falls energy was one pretext for the directive but that was undercut last month by an audit carried out for the Utilities and Review Board. The audit report by Bates White determined the province will not require the electricity generated from biomass purchased from Brooklyn Energy to meet its renewable energy targets in 2022 and the cost to purchase it could add as much as $10 million dollars to the bill for ratepayers. Rankin did not provide a clear answer to that question.
“Following a presentation from an Ontario-based middle school student, Halifax regional council’s Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee has asked for a staff report on recycling dried-out colouring markers,” reports Zane Woodford.
There are some people with such large presences that they stick with you forever. One of those people in my life is Matthieu Aikins.
I met Aikins when I was an editor at The Coast and he was a talented young freelancer. I had immense respect for his work and encouraged him to write more, but I completely understood when he told me he was going to take six months and bum around Europe.
I heard from him from Prague, but then not again for I think a year. He popped up with an amazing tale: on nearly a whim, he ended up on the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan border, and had decided to cross over to the war-torn Afghanistan. He grew a beard and passed as a member of one of Afghanistan minority groups, a Hazara, I think, and travelled around the country at great risk to himself.
Aikins lived to tell the tale, obviously, but also fell in love with the country. He took up residence part-time in Kabul, before moving to New York. But then he made a remarkable journey to Pakistan, where he managed to slip back over the Afghani border and interview one of the most storied and violent warlords in the country, in Kandahar.
Over the years he also reported on apparent war crimes by US troops in Afghanistan. He’s been published in Harpers and the New York Times, among other publications.
I’d sometimes run into Aikins unexpectedly here in Halifax, where he still has family. I’d drop everything to spend some time with him. But given the pandemic and everything else, we haven’t kept in touch.
But yesterday he sent an email pointing to his latest article in the New York Times Magazine, “How One Looted Artifact Tells the Story of Modern Afghanistan: Many of the country’s finest antiquities were stolen under cover of war, ending up in elite museums all over the globe. Should they be returned?”
It’s an astonishing piece, a long read documenting the looting of Afghani art and antiquities during the civil war, and showing how much of that stolen art has ended up in prestigious museums around the world.
Aikins travelled back to Kabul and made some hazardous excursions around the country, but also went to Germany and France to track down the art.
Aikins in particular chased down art taken from an archeological site, the 12th-century palace of Mas’ud III in Ghazni — panels that told a tale:
A thousand years earlier, the Ghaznavid emperors and their horsemen ruled an empire stretching from Iran to India. The words in stone were part of a verse extolling the dynasty that scrolled along the wall of the imperial court. It was there that the poet Ferdowsi, whose stature in Persian letters is comparable to Shakespeare’s in English, presented his epic work, the Shahnameh, to Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni.
Aikin’s writing is so engaging that I spent an hour I really didn’t have yesterday googling around to learn more about that remarkable period in history.
And Aikin is personally responsible for getting some of it repatriated to Afghanistan:
Rekha Verma, the Malaysia museum’s head of collections, said it acquired its panel from an “established dealer” in Britain. After I presented her with evidence the panel was stolen, she expressed dismay and said the museum had removed the marble from view, and subsequently handed it over to the Afghan Embassy. “We take it seriously when it comes to looted pieces from any part of the world,” she wrote. “We will return this panel without any hesitation to its rightful owner.”
Almost as an aside, Aikins mentions a piece in a New York museum:
The Ghazni marbles are not the only artifacts from the Afghan government collection that have turned up abroad; Buddhist items from Afghanistan are also highly sought after. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is a room dedicated to the art of Gandhara, the ancient region that straddled present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. One bust is particularly striking, characteristic of Gandhara’s unique blend of Classical and Buddhist influences: a terra-cotta Buddha depicted as a Grecian-looking youth, his hair a mass of finely worked curls. Most unusual, his eyes are made of garnet stones; an amber light shifts in their depths. “Afghanistan, probably Hadda,” reads the inscription. On the Met’s website, you can find a little more information on its provenance: The statue was purchased by the museum in 1986, from the London dealer Spink & Son. (The auction house, which has since changed ownership and no longer deals in ancient art, said it had no records of the object, but no reason to believe that the previous owners hadn’t complied with the law.)
Beyond the detective work, Aikins conveys the deep cultural significance of Afghanistan, and shows how the country is reclaiming its artistic heritage. I was especially taken by this passage:
Entering the museum’s lobby, Saifi and I passed the limestone statue of Kanishka, a second-century Buddhist emperor, which had been smashed by the Taliban and later restored, shard by shard. A case on the ground floor held items confiscated from smugglers at Afghanistan’s borders, and there was a roomful of looted antiquities returned by the Japanese government, including a famous relief of the Kashyapa Brothers’ adoration of the Buddha. Until recently, there was a gallery nicknamed the Heathrow Room, filled with objects seized in Britain. Hundreds of important objects had been returned to the Kabul museum; hundreds more were still at large. Rahim told me they were establishing a cultural-protection office that would pursue restitution claims abroad. The museum’s archives had burned, making it difficult to know exactly how many objects were missing, but a project to catalog its holdings, assisted by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, was nearly complete. “You have to bear in mind what happened to this museum,” Alejandro Gallego, the project’s field director, told me. “That the museum is still standing, and that it still has its objects and artifacts — it’s the epitome of resilience.”
When Gallego showed visitors around the museum, he would shuttle back and forth among the various donor rooms, trying to link the objects into the familiar story line from Stone Age to Medieval Age. But amid the reconstructed, preserved and restituted artifacts, an alternate narrative would emerge: of cycles of human endeavor in the face of repeated destruction, with the scars of the building and the people themselves as the exhibits. “There’s the story that the museum tells,” he said. “But sometimes the story that the museum doesn’t tell is more interesting.”
There’s terrible destruction relayed in the article, and accounts of western institutions abetting criminal theft. But by the end of the journey Aikins takes us through, there is hope, and celebration.
Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am) — contingency date
East Coast International Development Summit 2021 (Friday, 10am) — free conference until Saturday; keynote speakers, panels, and roundtable discussions, with the theme “Global Health and Development”
In the harbour
06:00: Taipei Trader, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Kingston, Jamaica
06:45: One Maxim, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
10:00: Siem Hanne, supply vessel, moves from Pier 9 to Bedford Basin for sea trials
10:00: Nave Equinox, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
16:30: Taipei Trader sails for Kingston, Jamaica
18:30: Macao Strait, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
18:30: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
19:00: Elka Sirius, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
19:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
I had the perfect footnote in mind for today, but of course I forgot what it was.