1. Crown to appeal Al-Rawi verdict
“Less than a week after Judge Gregory Lenehan acquitted a Halifax taxi driver of sexual assault in a controversial decision hinging on consent, the Public Prosecution Service says he ‘could have and should have’ found the driver guilty based on multiple grounds,” reports Haley Ryan for Metro:
On Tuesday, the province’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) released a statement outlining six specific grounds for appeal in the case involving taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi, plus anything else that may appear later from a review of the record.
“The judge erred in finding that the Crown had produced no evidence of lack of consent … the circumstantial evidence was there in which the trial judge could have, and should have, found that Mr. Al-Rawi was guilty,” [Crown counsel Jennifer] MacLellan said.
The next step is having police personally serve Al-Rawi, MacLellan said, then the matter will be sent to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal to be heard by three judges. There will be dates assigned for each side to file written arguments, and finally an oral hearing, she said.
MacLellan added she “really can’t say” how long it will be until a hearing.
Meanwhile, about 300 people showed up at Grand Parade yesterday to protest Judge Lenehan’s verdict, including the alleged victim.
It’s good to have Ryan, the Metro reporter, on this story. She was in the courtroom to hear Lenehan’s verdict and has obviously developed a rapport with the woman who was in the cab. It’s solid reporting.
2. Court Watch
Christina Macdonald goes to court to get some justice. Along the way she discusses several sexual assault cases in the news and Unfiltered Brewing’s suit against the NSLC.
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3. Prison phone calls
Examiner contributor El Jones has often discussed the usurious fees charged to the families of people in prison for phone calls from their loved ones. Jones wrote in January 2016:
[O]ne of the most important things for prisoners and families is phone calls. Maintaining connection to families and communities is important in supporting prisoners through their time inside, and particularly in helping them to have supports when they get out. For prisoners who are parents, phone calls are obviously vital in being able to be present in their childrens’ lives. Having supports on the outside are one of the most important factors in reintegrating people when they get out, and in preventing recidivism.
Which is why the cost of phone calls for inmates should be a concern for everybody. Calls from the “new jail” (North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou) cost $7. By comparison, calls from Burnside cost $1.20 a call (for 20 minutes.) This cost doesn’t include the approximately 30 per cent service fees that are placed on top of the cost of calls. For example, $60 of calls from Pictou actually costs $88 if you pay for the calls over the phone system.
Seven dollars a call is absurd. Even if the call is local, inmates are still being charged the same cost. Most families cannot afford to pay this much. Even $20 of phone calls is less than three calls a month, which is more than many people on a fixed income can afford. As a result, many people go months without being able to call their families or loved ones.
This January, Jones followed up, pointing out that Bell Media, which sponsors a #BellLet’sTalk advertising campaign supposedly promoting discussion of mental health issues, has a monopoly control over phones in federal prisons that directly and adversely affects the mental health of prisoners:
[W]e criminalize mental illness and use incarceration instead of treatment. Companies like Bell who profit off the prison industrial complex exploit mentally ill prisoners and their families, as they have a literally captive market with no options, no leverage, and no rights.
Last week, Jones noted on Facebook that prisoners in provincial jails are now facing increased phone fees:
Calls from North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility (Pictou) are $7 for 20 minutes and $1.35 just to connect. As Burnside in Halifax does construction on the North unit, hundreds of prisoners are being moved to Pictou — not for disciplinary reasons, conflict, or the requested change — but because of construction beyond their control. They are now two hours away from family paying for long distance calls. We should be demanding that the justice minister address the issue of predatory charges on phone calls that make contact with families nearly impossible. Now prisoners from Halifax/Dartmouth are forced to move not because of any behaviour issues — yet they are penalized for the jail’s construction by facing impossible prices for calls. The province needs to end the practice of exploitive phone contracts that steal money from families.
Robert Devet has followed up on that observation with an examination of the province’s contract with a company called Synergy Inmate Phones to run the prison phone system:
[Synergy] charges prisoners $1.85 for a collect local call and $7.50 for a collect 20-minute long distance call. That’s an awful lot of money, especially if your loved ones happen to live outside local call range.
Even more so if you take into account additional fees and surcharges the company collects for, well, basically everything.
Any long distance call will cost you $1.00 if it is prepaid, $1.50 if it’s collect, and that’s before you even touch the dial. Next, the company charges a $2.00 transaction fee and grabs five per cent of the deposit if a deposit is made with a credit card. For money orders there is a $3.95 transaction fee.
Even if you pay with cash there is a $2.00 surcharge, and you are still on the hook for an additional two per cent of the amount deposited.
Lots of people in Nova Scotia, people on welfare and even people who earn minimum wage, cannot afford to buy food, let alone absorb the added cost of for phone calls with loved ones in jail. Yet such phone calls are vitally important.
4. Missing: Bras d’Or Lake ice
“An ice-free winter is not your friend if you own land along the Bras d’Or Lake,” reports Ed MacLellan for Local Xpress:
When ice fails to form, especially on the southern, largest section of the lake, a howling nor’easter can hurl waves of 1.5 metres or more against a fragile coastline composed mainly of easily eroded glacial deposits, says Bruce Hatcher, the marine ecologist who is director of the Bras d’Or Institute at Cape Breton University.
[I]f it’s a winter with mostly open water — and there have been many on the big part of the lake in the past 20 years — properties can get pummelled.
“Any waves on the Bras d’Or Lake are eventually going to find their way to shore and therein comes the rub,” he says, and he means that literally. He’s gotten calls from people who have lost $5,000 worth of land in a year and are starting to spend a lot of money to stave off erosion.
He actually has a half-century of research to draw upon, quick to credit 30 years of unpublished data provided by retired physical oceanographer Brian Petrie, who from 1966 to 1995 observed ice formation on the lake. (Scientific papers generally refer to the system of linked channels and basins as the Bras d’Or Lakes, while the province opts for the singular, calling it Bras d’Or Lake.)
Petrie found ice cover typically peaked the first week of March, when it averaged almost 80 per cent north of Barra Strait and just over 70 per cent south of the strait during his three decades of record-keeping. He saw five years with almost 100 per cent of the lake sheathed in ice, a far cry from recent times.
“We’ve only had two years in which ice cover has exceeded 75 per cent during the last 20 years,” says Hatcher. “We’re lucky to get a year that has 80 per cent cover and we have lots of years that are below 25 per cent.”
5. Judge rejects drunk driving sentence recommendation
“In a rare move that sparked a feisty exchange, a Sydney provincial court judge has rejected a joint sentencing recommendation for a man who pleaded guilty to impaired driving,” reports the Cape Breton Post:
Judge Alain Bégin described the joint Crown/defence recommendation as a “farce” adding if he accepted the recommendation, the accused “would walk out of the courtroom laughing.”
“I think I am the only one in this courtroom who thinks he has a drinking problem,” said Bégin, in reference to accused Gordon Louis MacDonald, who pleaded guilty driving with a blood/alcohol level exceeding the legal limit.
In taking a breathalyzer test, MacDonald produced readings of 220, 230 and 250 — well over the legal limit of 180.
The crown and defence put forward a joint recommendation that MacDonald be sentenced to two years probation and one day in jail, and the day in jail would be satisfied by MacDonald showing up at court. In other words, he’d serve no actual time behind bars.
The judge was partially irked at the recommendation because MacDonald had a previous conviction for drunk driving in 2009. Moreover, the crown, defence, and MacDonald’s family all maintained that he didn’t have a drinking problem, even though MacDonald admitted he had “a few beers to shake off the hangover he was feeling from the previous night,” according to the Post.
Richard Starr has a long and detailed history of Nova Scotia’s history of inclusion.
2. Cranky letter of the day
You could see it coming — once an increase to P.E.I.’s minimum wage was announced the other day, the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce was moaning to the media about it.
The headline on their website “Chamber of Commerce alarmed by sudden minimum wage increase; reaffirms call for a long-term minimum wage strategy.”
“Alarmed?” That’s a bit strong for a quarter-an-hour increase. They want more notice. Well, in 2015, the P.E.I. government published the scheduled minimum wage increase for all of 2016, over six months notice for the first one and nine months for the second one. At that time, the chamber website said it “continues to express concern over the pace of increases to the Island’s minimum wage rate.”
So, I think nothing to do with minimum wage, other than not increasing it, will make them happy. Put a little context into the conversation — the coming increase will make the minimum wage $11.25 an hour. That works out to $450 a week for a 40-hour job before taxes. Could you live on that? And many businesses now schedule staff for closer to 30 hours so they can get out of paying benefits. The chamber spokesperson, in the media, says the government should increase the basic personal income tax exemption. I agree, but I think the chamber supports that only to fight minimum wage increases.
Here’s a thought: you don’t want to deal with the “unfairness” or “short notice” of minimum wage increases? Pay your staff more than the minimum.
Lloyd Kerry, Charlottetown
Audit & Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — there’s a bunch of stuff on the agenda.
Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Wednesday, 5pm, Alderney Public Library) — here’s the agenda.
Public Information Meeting – Case 20996 (Wednesday, 7pm, École secondaire du Sommet, Halifax) — more Bedford West rezoning.
Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — no taxi issues.
Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4pm, City Hall) — an orientation meeting for the committee, to teach new members how not to protect the architectural heritage of Halifax.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Denise Perret, deputy minister of the Department of Health and Wellness, and Janet Knox, CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, will be asked about physician services.
Economic Development (Thursday, 9:30am, Province House) — this will be a fun meeting, as the committee discusses “Barriers and Opportunities for Economic Development in Cape Breton.” Guests include Eileen Lannon Oldford, the CEO of Business Cape Breton; Parker Rudderham, the chair of BCP and owner of Frank Magazine; John Phalen, the Economic Development Manager at Cape Breton Regional Municipality; and Keith MacDonald, the CEO of the Cape Breton Partnership.
Wait a minute… the Frank Magazine dude?
Integrity Services Branch (Wednesday, 11:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) Ahmed Shalaby and Justin Bayard will talk about,“Integrity Services at Services Canada.”
Don’t Pull Up a Chair (Wednesday, 12pm, Room C266, CHEB) David Westwood, Michelle Stone, and Laurene Rehman will talk about “Staying Active, and Avoiding Inactivity, at Work.” Register here.
The Abominable Crime (Wednesday, 7pm, Room 15 Weldon Law Building) A screening of Maurice Tomlinson’s film, which deals with the effects of the criminalization of homophobia in Jamica, and a panel discussion titled, “Queer as a Crime; International Legal Perspectives,” with the filmmaker and LeZlie Lee Klam.
The Element of Crime (Wednesday, 8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — a screening of Lars von Trier’s 1984 film.
Fractals (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase) — Clark Kimberling will talk about “Fractal Sequences, Fractal Trees, and Linear Recurrences.”
Resource Boom Spillovers (Thursday, 3:30pm, The Great Hall, University Club) — David Green of UBC will speak on “Spillovers from Canada’s Resource Boom and How They May Have Staved off America’s Fate (For Now).”
Cap-and-Trade 101 (Thursday, 4pm, Ondaatje Auditorium) — “Capping Carbon / Trading Talk,” with Elizabeth Beale, Kate Ervine, Brendan Haley, and Jason Hollett. More info.
Solid Waste (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain Building) — Andrew Wort speaks on “Solid Waste Management: Social, Environmental and Economic Sustainability.”
Women Reading Women (Thursday, 7pm, The Muse) — Dalhousie’s Writer-in-Residence Sue Goyette hosts students reading excerpts by women writers.
Women & Media (Wednesday, 6:30pm, McNally Main Theatre Auditorium) — A panel discussion to mark International Women’s Day, featuring Malini Veerassamy MacDonald, Tami Meredith, Gabrielle Morrison, and Collette Robert.
In the harbour
4:30pm: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
7pm: Industrial Dart, cargo ship, arrives at anchorage for bunkers from King’s Wharf, Bermuda
11pm: Asian Moon, container ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Mariel, Cuba
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.
There’s a bunch of stuff in the works. Stay tuned.