News

1. Glen Assoun is released from prison

As I wrote yesterday:

Glen Assoun after he was released, with his daughter Tanya Assoun. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Justice James Chipman has ordered the release of Glen Assoun, the man convicted of the brutal murder of Brenda Way. Way was the 28-year-old mother of two whose body was discovered on the morning of November 12, 1995 in the parking lot behind an apartment building on Albro Lake Road. She had been repeatedly beaten and stabbed. Assoun was convicted of her murder in 1999, and sentenced to life in prison.

He’s being released because he very likely is innocent. Crown prosecutors have agreed to bail for Assoun as his case is reinvestigated. His lawyer expects that eventually Assoun’s conviction will be reversed, but that could take as long as five years.

He is being released on extraordinary procedures only given to five previous prisoners in Canada. Basically, because everyone agrees he is likely innocent, it would be a miscarriage of justice to keep him in prison, so he is being granted bail before he would otherwise be eligible for bail, in 2016.

The rest of the article is behind the Examiner’s pay wall and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.

A man spent nearly 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. What does this say about the Halifax police investigation into Brenda Way’s murder, and about Nova Scotia’s justice system? There’s so much more to say about this case, and so I’ll write a second article later this morning further exploring the issues.

2. Catie Miller

Catie Miller

Halifax police release from yesterday morning:

Investigators in the Homicide Unit of the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division have charged a man in relation to the disappearance of 29-year-old Catherine ‘Catie’ Miller who was last in contact with her family on July 15. She was reported missing to Halifax Regional Police on July 21.

On November 22 at 9:45 p.m., members of the HRP Emergency Response Team arrested 29-year-old Jason James Johnson at a Charlotte Lane address in Halifax. Investigators interviewed him and subsequently charged him in relation to the disappearance of Catie Miller. Based on their investigation, this matter has been ruled a homicide; however, Catie Miller’s remains have yet to be found.

Johnson, who is of no fixed address, is scheduled to appear in Dartmouth Provincial Court today to face a charges of first degree murder and indecently interfering with a dead human body.

Miller was the mother of a three-year-old boy. Police say she and Johnson were in a relationship, and the interfering charge could mean that her body was dismembered.

3. Rehtaeh Parsons

Rehtaeh Parsons

The Chronicle Herald has violated the publication ban in the Rehtaeh Parsons “high profile” child pornography case.

As I predicted yesterday, the young man facing the charges pleaded guilty, and now the case is done.

4. Three pedestrians hit

Last night Haliogonia.ca posted photos on its Facebook page of an accident scene at Victoria Road and Nantucket Street in Dartmouth, and said that three pedestrians had been hit. The photos show emergency responders and at least one person being put into an ambulance on a stretcher. Frustratingly, the 4:30am police shift report from Staff Sergeant Barb Saunders tells us only that “Halifax Regional Police responded to 114 calls during the shift, there were no notable incidents  to report,” so I guess there are so many people run down in intersections the cops no longer think such incidents are notable.

It’s remarkable how, with absolutely no further information provided, many commenters on the Haligonia post were blaming the pedestrians for the incident. Many people just take it for granted that when a pedestrian gets hit, it’s the pedestrian’s fault. But while we don’t yet have a police report on last night’s incident, we do know that from January through October of this year there were 169 vehicle.pedestrian incidents. (“SOT” in the chart above refers to Summary Offence Ticket issued by a police officer, as opposed to criminal charges laid directly through the court.) Of those, 66 resulted in tickets for the driver, and just nine with tickets for the pedestrian. No tickets were issued in 90 of the incidents, and at the time of the report four were still under investigation (one of those four involved the man killed in Portland Estates; the driver has subsequently been ticketed). So drivers are getting ticketed at more than seven times the rate as pedestrians, but let’s keep ragging on pedestrians because some kid once walked out in front of you and how dare you have to slow down.

I also want to take issue with the objection sometimes raised that there may not be more pedestrian incidents here than anywhere else. It’s hard to make such comparisons, but even if so, so what? There are more obese people in Alabama than in Nova Scotia, so does that mean Nova Scotia doesn’t have an obesity problem?

When I was growing up, drunk driving was not a public issue at all. It took coordinated effort by people then considered shrill to raise drinking and driving as an issue that needed serious public attention. As a result, the number of drunk driving incidents has plummeted, and while there are still far too many incidents, drinking and driving is universally understood to be bad behaviour. But could you imagine someone making the argument that since on a per capita basis there aren’t any more drunk drivers in Halifax than in other cities, we don’t need to take the issue seriously? No, of course not. That’s a ridiculous argument. Likewise, it really doesn’t matter whether there are slightly more or fewer pedestrian incidents in Halifax as compared to some other city. The point is that 169 pedestrian incidents in 10 months is a huge problem, in and of itself.

5. Divest Dal

Reporter Rachel Ward says that:

Dalhousie University’s board of governors votes [today] on possibly ending its investments in fossil fuel companies. The investment committee will present a recommendation on what to do with around $20-million invested in 35 companies related to coal or oil and gas industries.

That article is behind the Examiner’s pay wall and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.

Ward will be at the meeting and reporting what happens at halifaxexaminer.ca.

6. Child poverty

The Report Card on Child and Family Poverty 2014, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, finds that one in five children in Nova Scotia lives in poverty. In Cape Breton it’s one in three. Reports the Cape Breton Independent:

The report makes several recommendations for ending child poverty. [Report author Leslie] Frank stated that increasing the child tax benefit would be the most “effective and achievable” for two reasons. Firstly, the child tax benefit is currently in place and therefore would not require any new program development, which means it would be easy and relatively quick to change it if the political will exists. And secondly, adjusting the child tax benefit would be most effective because it goes to those who are most affected by child and family poverty.


Views

1. Moral panic

Parker Donham weighs in on the high profile child pornography case.

2. Dartmouth history

It’s in the university listings below, but I thought I’d further highlight that historian David Jones, of the Dartmouth History Blog, is giving a talk tonight.


Government

City

The proposed expansion of Daffodil Place.

Halifax and West Community Council (6pm, City Hall)—The Canadian Cancer Society wants to expand Daffodil Place on South Street, across the street from Victoria General Hospital and the IWK. Daffodil Place provides temporary housing for people who live out of town and are being treated for cancer at the hospitals. The existing building is four storeys high, and the proposal calls for extending that building eastward to Wellington Place. It’s not an overwhelming high-rise, but Wellington Street residents have been organized in opposition to another development proposal on their street—for two buildings of 10 and 12 storeys. I doubt anyone will oppose the Daffodil Place expansion, but we’ll see.

The Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee has asked the Community Council to do something about dogs in the park. The Advisory Committee says the off-leash rules are reasonable, but nobody much knows what the rules are or if they do they don’t obey them.

Province

Standing Committee on Human Resources (9am, Room 233A, Johnston Building)—the committee will be asking questions about the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency. Marjorie Davison, the CEO of the agency, and Carol MacCulloch, the chair, will be witnesses.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Thesis defence, Electrical and Computer Engineering (Tuesday, 11am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building)—PhD candidate Haoran Yu will defend his thesis, “Techniques for Enhancing the Performance of Bulk-Driven Circuits in Nano-Scale CMOS Technology.”

Climate Change in the Northwest Atlantic (Tuesday, 11:30am, RM 3655, Life Science Centre, €“ Oceanography Wing)—presentation by John Loder, from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

PhD defence, Biology (Tuesday, 2pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building)—PhD candidate Trevor Dickson Davies will defend his thesis, “Population Status of Exploited Marine Fish Populations.”

Board of Governors (3pm, University Hall, Macdonald Building)—This meeting will decide the Fossil Fuel Divestment issue. The Examiner will be reporting on this later today. See this article for more information.

Wednesday

The European Union’s interest in the Arctic Ocean (12:30pm, Lord Dalhousie Room, Henry Hicks Building)—Mathilde Jacquot, a doctoral student from the Université de Bretagne Occidentale in Brest, France, will be talking.

Jim Stanford (Wednesday, 7:30pm, Scotiabank Auditorium, Marion McCain Building)—the economist and Globe and Mail columnist will talk on “Money, Myths and Manipulation: Debunking Austerity Economics.”

Pull My Daisy and Me And My Brother (Wednesday, 8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery)—the promo for the film screenings explains:

Robert Frank, Alfred Leslie, USA, 1959, 1969, 30 minutes, 91 minutes. Nova Scotia resident Robert Frank’s unorthodox films broke new ground somewhere between documentary and fiction, with performances by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso and many other Beat luminaries.

Saint Mary’s

Environmental issues around Halifax (Tuesday, 2:30pm, Loyola 186):

Students in Environmental Challenges course ENVS 1200.1 will showcase their group-based research projects that tackle a wide range of environmental issues affecting the local community. All welcome.

The Archaeology and History of Colonial Dartmouth (Tuesday 7:30pm, Theatre B, Burke Building)—Historian David Jones, of the Dartmouth History Blog, will be presenting.


Noticed

The news is horribly depressing today. Some light-hearted diversion is called for. Here, have some Marx Brothers:


In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 6am Monday. Note the heavy tanker traffic around Saint John. Approaching Halifax Harbour are Faust and Oceanex Sanderling, followed by Federal Hunter, a bulk carrier bypassing Nova Scotia en route to Texas from Quebec. Map: marinetraffic.com

(click on vessel names for pictures and more information about the ships)

Faust, car carrier, Fawley, England to Autoport, then sails for New York
Oceanex Sanderling, con-ro, St. John’s to Pier 36
Atlantic Cartier sails for Liverpool, England
Vera D sails for Mariel, Cuba


Footnotes

Big snowstorm on the way, maybe.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Parker Donham’s comment is right on the spot. (Except for badmouthing Tim Bousquet.)

    I would go a little further: Penal law needs to distinguish between child pornography and teen pornography. Both should be illegal, but they need to be held apart. Molesting pre-school children is a different thing than taking explicit pictures of a consenting, sexually active teenager who may even be old enough to go to war and die for King&Country.

  2. Re 4.Three Pedestrians Hit: Insensitivity, not being able to truly emphasize with fallout or pain inflicted is one (only one) reason contributing to pedestrian/vehicular accidents. Recall rear-ending a car during heavy rain, unable to stop quickly enough, in Lr. Sackville years ago, my first accident in thirty years’ driving, and being devastated at effect on other driver. Never forget insurance rep’s contempt at my emotion, asking, “Why are you so upset?!” To him, the incident, the participants, the real injury – emotional or physical – were abstract. His attitude appears to be widely shared.

  3. The child poverty statistics shock but what about poverty? Children live in families. Poor children live in poor families. Increasing child tax benefits won’t work if, we allow the real value of social assistance to fall, which is exactly what has happened over last 25 years – with the result that “child poverty” will continue. We need adequate social assistance, starting with annual cost of living increases.

  4. I’m coming around to your view on crosswalks. Your analogy with drunk driving implies this is a behaviour problem. Do you think it’s behaviour or design, or both?

    If it’s a behaviour problem, what behaviour needs to be changed? How best to change it?

    If its a design problem, what innovative designs can you point us to that might make crosswalks safer? At what cost to transportation efficiency (passive and active)? CBRM just installed some brightly coloured crosswalks. http://bit.ly/1Ca75ni

    Will the design of crosswalks at roundabouts help?

    1. I think it’s a design problem because it’s a behaviour problem. That is, you can try to design to accommodate and lessen the effect of some bad behaviour. The new roundabout does that, to a large degree. There are lots of intersections where little tweaks would help (the one by my house, for example). But you can’t design away the underlying behaviour problem. The simple truth is people go too fast for conditions.

      I too have my “holy shit that was a stupid pedestrian!” story. Was driving down Hollis Street (probably to the farmers market, but can’t be sure) one early morning, and some NSCAD-looking dude walked right out into the street, crossing on the red. I had to slam on my brakes to avoid him, and thought, You fucking idiot!

      But I’ve reflected on that incident, and I remember the many times I’ve done stupid things, both in a car and as a pedestrian (or really, just sitting on my sofa at home), and I realized, you know what? People do stupid shit. That’s what it means to be human. We all make mistakes, we all do things we later regret, we all misjudge situations, purposefully or not. And so we should try to lessen the potential impact of our own stupid mistakes, and anticipate other people making stupid mistakes. When driving, this means mostly slowing the fuck down when pedestrians might be present, and being on the look out for them. It’s mostly as simple as that, although there are things like not passing at a crosswalk, and other behaviour at intersections. Somehow we’ve gotten it in our collective heads that the ease and speed of travelling in cars is more important than the lives of pedestrians. This has got to change.

      1. This still begs the question, Tim.

        Behaviour doesn’t change because columnists rail against it. So, what are the elements that have changed behaviour with respect to drunk driving or seat belts, since these seem to be good analogies? MADD, television commercials, stricter enforcement, driver’s ed…all of these were and are elements to be sure. We don’t simply have a motorist hitting pedestrians problem. The struck pedestrians are the canaries in the coal mine. What we face now is speedy and distracted driving (including texting, tweeting, phoning, Facebooking…). These are deep-seated habits: being wrapped up in my sordid little dramas is more important than paying close attention to the fact that I am operating a ton-and-a-half lethal weapon. Being wrapped up in ourselves is the human condition, as you say.

        What can be done in design and public-consciousness raising that could begin to get us to slow down and pay more attention to what we’re doing at the wheel? If we can invent a bigger iPhone, we can certainly come up with some clever designs to jar us out of the waking slumber of distracted driving.

      2. Some of it is behavior: Drivers tend to acquire bad habits that usually have no negative consequences – speeding, tailgating, not stopping at the stop line, gunning it to make a yellow light, making a rolling stop at a four way stop, etc. Then when something rare happens, they can’t stop in time. Better enforcement of driving rules and retesting would help, but there’s only so much that can be done – people still drive drunk, and still don’t wear seat belts.

        On the design side, we’ve made cars the priority on the roads. That can be changed – in town speed limits could be lowered (http://www.20splentyforus.org.uk/) and light controlled intersections can stop all traffic for pedestrian crossings (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedestrian_scramble) but that requires changes in attitude.

        1. I was recently is Chicago, and noticed that pedestrian lights turn green two seconds before the lights change for drivers. That tiny change made a huge difference—pedestrians are out in the street already when the light changes for drivers, so drivers don’t try to “beat” the pedestrians through the intersection.

    2. Foremost, it is a behavioural problem. Take a windows seat at a second floor in the metro core and watch pedestrians for an hour. I did that once, in a restaurant. Afterwards, I was amazed by the fact that this area is still populated!

      One Haligonian after the other trotting onto the street, running out between parked cars, crossing the street diagonally, without any look to the left or right, while eating, or reading, or using a cellphone, or at least listening to music on their headphones.

      Or visibility: Drive down Bedford Highway on an early fall evening. You will encounter numerous joggers, clad in black, running on the wrong side of the street (i.e. not facing the vehicle traffic on their side). It is a modern version of Russian roulette, if you ask me.

      As for drivers, most do not keep distances to other vehicles as required by physics. Guardian angels must be working overtime. Sometimes they are understaffed, and then things go awry.

      Yes, you can do a lot with design. One example is reprogramming traffic lights. Sounds easier than it is. First, it will reduce the crossing’s capacity for vehicles. Less vehicles per hours will be able to pass the crossing, which will lead to more traffic jams. Second, it is unbelievably expensive. A reprogramming of the traffic lights at an intersection may cost a six digit figure, especially if there is a central control that tries to keep various intersections in sync.

      Reconstructions are even more expensive.

      Street lighting in Halifax is nothing to be proud of. Is there even a minimum illumination standard in the law?

      I’ve also noticed that the marking on Nova Scotia’s roads are of low quality. Their reflective abilities under dim light conditions are dismal. There is much better stuff to be had – but are we prepared to pay a three digit amount per meter?

      I don’t want to attach a price tag to a person’s life. But at the end of the day, we could always spend more money to save an extra life. However, we don’t want to pay the necessary taxes. I can not solve that conundrum.

      Just to be sure: I do NOT advocate fines for jaywalking pedestrians. I like the French solution: I have been told that there are no fines for jaywalking in France. However, if an accident happens as a result of jawalking, the jaywalking pedestrian is liable. And it will be a lot more expensive than any arbitrary fine.

      I do, however, advocate fines for drivers who do not keep the distance to the vehicle in front of them as would be required by physics.

      I would also welcome a modern safe driving training track to be established in this beautiful province. A place where you can experience ice, snow and rain any time of the year, water obstacles, skidding plates, various types of tarmac, etc. I would go there for an update of my driving skills at least every other year, just like a car needs an MVI.

  5. The accident at Victoria Road and Nantucket Street last night is a perfect example of how Halifax has placed the car on a pedestal. The police said the heavy rain was a factor,..essentially the driver couldn’t see because of the rain. Now call me crazy but I figure that if you can’t see in front of you for whatever reason (heavy rain or snow) then maybe, just maybe you shouldn’t be moving your car forward. But in Halifax if you can’t see, you’re not responsible for your actions.

    1. A few years ago, someone ran into the back of the school bus because they couldn’t see where they were going but continued to drive anyway.