1. Police evidence room and the Glen Assoun case
Congratulations to Jacob Boon at The Coast for tracking down an audit detailing the abysmal performance in the police evidence room:
An internal audit by Halifax Regional Police has uncovered the department’s shocking habit of losing track of drugs and money seized as evidence.
Conducted last summer and released to The Coast under the Freedom of Information Act, the audit found a nearly 90 percent failure rate within the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) for evidence continuity.
Drug exhibits are often stored in unsealed Ziplock bags, with incomplete paperwork, which makes them impossible to locate. The initial audit sample found 90 percent of the exhibits in CID’s drug vault couldn’t be located, along with close to a quarter of the evidence exhibits that were supposed to be inside police headquarters. Over half (55 percent) of the items in the department’s seized money vault also couldn’t be located.
A follow-up search conducted in May dropped some of those numbers, but the results remain significant. The department still can’t locate 52 percent of the sample exhibits in CID, 12 percent in HQ and 32 percent of the money vault. Two full-time employees are currently working to track those 67 exhibits down, according to police public relations manager Theresa Rath.
The department claims the high number of missing items is the result of poor file management and probably not theft, but that might not matter to defense lawyers wondering if their client received a fair defense on drug charges.
In response to the release of the audit, the police department issued the following statement:
Earlier this year, police announced that a drug exhibit audit would be conducted after the Serious Incident Response Team charged a Halifax Regional Police officer with theft, breach of trust and obstruction of justice, a matter that remains within the purview of the courts. At the same time this matter was originally referred to SiRT in 2015, the leaders of the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division (comprised of investigators with both Halifax Regional Police and Halifax District RCMP) also acted quickly to initiate a drug exhibit audit to examine drug exhibits with respect to policy, procedure, infrastructure and personnel.
HRP’s Oversight & Risk Management Unit conducted the drug exhibit audit between mid-June and November 2015. The audit was reviewed by management in May 2016, which resulted in a request for further direction, follow-up and clarification with respect to some of the findings. We’re now in a position to share the findings of the Drug Exhibit Audit with media and our community.
The key observations are:
- Continuity: Evidence Continuity Reports are often missing important details and are rarely accurate.
- Inaccurate recording of exhibit location – the audit strived to determine if an exhibit was in the location where it was supposed to be based on Versadex, our records management system. Following are the results:
- Drug Vault 1: 90% of the exhibits in the sample (66 of 73) weren’t located where they were supposed to be during the initial audit in 2015; after a further review in May 2016, additional exhibits were located. However, 52% of the original sample (38 of 73) couldn’t be located.
- Drug Vault 2: 24% of the exhibits in the sample (18 of 75) weren’t located where they were supposed to be during the initial audit in 2015; after a further review in May 2016, additional exhibits were located. However, 12% of the original sample (9 of 75) couldn’t be located.
- Money Vault: 55% of the exhibits in the sample (34 of 62 exhibits) weren’t located where they were supposed to be during the initial audit in 2015; after a further review in May 2016, additional exhibits were located. However, 32% of the original sample (20 of 62) couldn’t be located.
- Currency: Currency, for the most part, is recorded inaccurately/inconsistently in Versadex Evidence Continuity.
- Policies: Policy is not being followed and needs to be reviewed and updated as necessary.
- Training: Training for Drug Unit members needs to be standardized.
- Supervision: It’s the opinion of Sergeants in the Drug Unit that they don’t have adequate time to devote to exhibits.
- Infrastructure: Drug vaults need to be modernized to address health and safety concerns.
Senior officers of both HRP and RCMP have reviewed the recommendations of the audit. We’re prioritizing the 34 recommendations and are developing a road map which will be a multi-year endeavour. Our priorities include finding the missing and/or incorrectly logged exhibits, updating policy and creating/delivering training related to drug exhibits to protect both our officers and our organization. It’s important to note that we haven’t had a court case affected due to exhibits that couldn’t be located.
Further, our investigators in the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division are highly competent at investigating and solving crimes, including drug files. We also trust our officers to do the job they are assigned to do and maintain the values and integrity of the oath they swore to uphold.
We’re committed to becoming better and stronger as a result of this auditing process and the corresponding road map.
The police evidence room has been of particular interest to me, as it relates to the DEAD WRONG series.
You’ll recall that in November 2014, Glen Assoun was released from prison after serving 16 years for the murder of Brenda Way. Assoun’s murder conviction is being characterized as a probable miscarriage of justice.
I spent a year getting into the details of that case, and it is the subject of Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the DEAD WRONG series. As part of my investigation, I asked to see the court evidence. I particularly wanted the videotaped interview of a witness named Robin Hartrick, as I called her reliability into question and I believe the video will demonstrate the point. There were other pieces of evidence I wanted to review as well, including crime scene photos and police notes — not for voyeuristic reasons, but to help explain how Brenda Way probably wasn’t killed at the time prosecutors posited; I believe a full review of the evidence will show that the prosecutors’ timeline was all wrong and that Assoun couldn’t possibly have killed Way.
But when I asked for the evidence, I was told that the court had sent it back to the police department for safe keeping.
I asked the police for access to the evidence, but police declined to let me see it. The police argued that they couldn’t release the evidence because they had signed an agreement with the Justice Department saying they would not discuss the case until the Criminal Conviction Review Group fully vets the case.
I countered that I didn’t want the police to discuss the case. I merely want access to the court evidence from 1999. As of right now, Glen Assoun is still guilty of murder, and in Canada we don’t convict people on secret evidence.
I brought my lawyer into the issue, and he told me that we could battle the issue in court, but the police and the Justice Department would likely appeal at every turn. I could spend five years and $50,000 for uncertain results. So I let the matter drop.
But the evidence in the Assoun case still sits in the very same police evidence room that was is subject of the damning audit uncovered by Boon. One police officer has been charged with stealing evidence from the room,
allegedly to protect a friend from prosecution.
(UPDATE, June 25: Constable Laurence Gary Basso was the officer charged with stealing evidence; that evidence was allegedly a chemical related to “cutting” a drug, and not the drug itself. Further, the reasoning offered by the Serious Incident Response Team director Ron MacDonald for the alleged theft was less clear than I made it out to be — see the CBC’s article about the arrest here. Nasha Nijhawan, a lawyer who represents the Halifax Regional Police Association and Basso, informs me that the charges against Basso were stayed on May 31. My apologies for the errors.)
The cops say other evidence has gone missing due to sloppy record keeping.
Just how safe is the evidence in the Assoun case? The Criminal Conviction Review Group’s investigation will very likely turn up improper police procedures. I believe police investigators coerced witnesses to change their stories in order to convict Assoun, and if so, proof of those coercive methods might be found with the evidence. It’s even possible that the review could result in criminal charges against police investigators.
I’m worried that the court evidence will be stolen or lost in order to protect police.
2. Arrest in Cameron Homicide
Investigators in the Homicide Unit of the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division have arrested a 17-year-old male youth from Dartmouth in connection with the homicide of 20-year-old Joseph Douglas Cameron.
On March 29 at approximately 5:20 a.m., officers responded to a report of shots fired in the area of Spring Avenue and Mount Edward Road in Dartmouth and found Cameron deceased on the sidewalk.
As a result of the ongoing investigation, officers arrested the youth without incident at approximately 8:30 a.m. this morning at a residence on Spring Avenue. The youth is currently in police custody for questioning.
3. Fuck that
“A Dartmouth man who was arrested last year is going to court to defend his right to use foul language at a public protest,” reports Preston Mulligan for the CBC:
Halifax Regional Police arrested Joseph Currie, 26, during a protest on Spring Garden Road. It was one of many protests that happened across the country, in which protestors took to the streets to express their displeasure with anti-terror legislation Bill C-51.
Currie is charged with causing a disturbance. Court records show police allege Currie yelled, “F–k the government. F–k this place. Take action.”
Currie was using a megaphone at the time, which drew complaints from people on Spring Garden Road.
Mulligan interviews both Currie’s lawyer, Gordon Allen, and Dal prof Bob Huish. Both say Currie has a right to use strong language in a political protest.
I’ll go one further: I don’t believe anyone at all complained about it. I’d like to see the discovery on that. It wouldn’t matter if someone did complain about the protestor saying “fuck” — Currie still has the right to use the word — but my guess is the cops made the complaint up out of whole cloth.
“The tension between dog owners and homeowners around an off-leash area at Shubie Park in Dartmouth has exploded, with charges being laid against one person for setting off fireworks to intentionally scare off dogs,” reports Lisa Blackburn for the CBC.
The comment section on the Shubie Park Dog Off Leash Area Facebook page is everything you would expect it to be.
5. Yarmouth ferry
Seeing how neither the provincial government nor Bay Ferries is releasing the number of passengers on the ferry, I’m relying on Pictou MLA Tim Houston. I don’t know where Houston gets his numbers, but I have no reason to believe they’re not reliable:
Total (I repeat total) number of passengers that boarded the Liberal ferry (either in Yarmouth or in Portland) today: 153 #not612
— Tim Houston (@TimHouston_) June 24, 2016
It’s early. It’s not the height of the tourism season. The uncertain start of the season made it difficult for people to make plans. The marketing hasn’t kicked in. Maybe this will turn around…. but it isn’t looking good.
“Wednesday marks the 40th anniversary of the House of Commons vote to abolish the death penalty in Canada,” notes CTV, which is reason enough to talk about the last execution held in Halifax: Daniel Sampson was hung in 1935, from the gallows behind the courthouse, in what is now the parking lot for the building.
Judging from the photos, the gallows were a rickety structure with an overhead beam from which presumably hung the noose. It’s hard to get a sense of the dimensions, and there doesn’t seem to have been a trap door, so I don’t know how executions were actually carried out.
Starting next June, the Dartmouth Sportsplex will close for 16 months as the structure is renovated, reports Zane Woodford for Metro:
“We’ve made the difficult, but necessary decision that we will have to close the facility for the project period,” said Denise Schofield with the municipality’s department of parks and recreation at a media event on Thursday.
She said they “explored the possibility of being able to do this project in phases, but ultimately determined that any attempts to even reopen small portions of the facility before the completion of all the work would actually create safety concerns, and dramatically increase the length of time and the cost of doing the work.”
The municipality is suggesting people use other facilities during the construction period, like the Findlay Centre and Dartmouth North Community Centre, which will both be offering extra fitness and recreation programs.
The Sportsplex has posted architectural renderings of the rebuild on its website (counterintuitively, the most up-to-date stuff is at the bottom of the page, not the top).
Oh, the reconstruction will see the elimination of the swimming pool’s pirate ship. I never understood why the ship was up in the air.
1. Power Friends
“The various causes of power outages in the province have decided to join forces and co-star in a brand new children’s television show,” writes Matt Brand:
Over the years, some truly adorable creatures have been the root causes of some truly ugly power outages throughout parts of Nova Scotia. Most recently, crows were blamed for leaving 4,000 Nova Scotia Power customers in HRM totally powerless.
Due to their undeniable cuteness, a crow, a racoon, a squirrel, a tree, and salty fog will begin shooting episodes for their new show, Power Friends, this summer with a release date set for some time in the fall.
“Let’s not tell kids they can do anything. Let’s show them that something as docile as salty fog has the ability to knock out power to tens of thousands of customers, and we’ll have kids saying to themselves ‘maybe I can cause mass power outages too’,” said [director James] Benson.
This vid has been making the rounds:
Gotta love that 1990 Halifax crowd with their 1970s hair.
No public meetings.
Logo (11am, 2nd Floor Foyer, Cumming Hall) — Rotational presentation of logo and marketing materials being developed for the year-long celebration of Dalhousie’s 200th anniversary in 2018. I bet it’s bold and innovative.
In the harbour
5am: Atlantic Conveyor, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England; expected arrival in Liverpool is Thursday, June 30
5:30am: Helga, general cargo, arrives at Pier 31 from Santiago, Cuba
4:30pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 36 for San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic
10pm: Helga, general cargo, sails from Pier 31 for Rotterdam, to arrive at Rotterdam on July 7
6am: Em Kea, container ship, arrives at HalTerm from Montreal
I’ll have two additional articles up this morning, just as soon as I can edit them. Check back on the home page.
Please consider subscribing to the Examiner. Just $5 or $10 a month goes a long way. Or, consider making a one-time contribution via PayPal. Thanks much!