News

1. Inquiry

Cst. Ian Fahie testified at the Mass Casualty Commission, May 5, 2022.

This item contains graphic details.

Yesterday was a difficult day at the proceedings of the Mass Casualty Commission, the public inquiry into the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020.

The commission heard testimony from four RCMP officers — Cst. Terry Brown and Cst. Dave Melanson together, and Cst. Ian Fahie and Cpl. Duane Ivany separately.

Fahie’s and Ivany’s accounts of their experiences on Plains Road contradicted each other, and Fahie’s testimony was not consistent with his own previous statement to the commission.

Fahie, who usually works in Pictou, was called into work early on April 19 and eventually assigned to work calls for the Bible Hill detachment as all the regularly assigned Bible Hill officers were responding in Portapique. But Fahie and his partner Cst. Devonna Coleman were locked out of the Bible Hill detachment building, so they instead operated out of the Operational Control Centre (OCC) in Truro.

The fake police car. Photo: Mass Casualty Commission

Fahie had previously worked in the OCC and knew several of the dispatchers. At around 8:30am, he saw the photo of the fake police car. Fahie recognized that the car in the photo had a push bar on the front — a detail missed by everyone else who had seen the photo. Fahie recognized this because he had at one time in his career been involved with procurement of police vehicles and learned that push bars were not recommended for police cars — if the car was involved in a front-end collision, a push bar interfered with deployment of the air bag.

The problem was, Fahie didn’t tell anyone else about the push bar until 9:48am, when Cpl. Rodney Peterson broadcast on the radio that he had passed a police car on Highway 4; Fahie radioed to say if the car had a push bar on it, it was the killer’s fake car, but by that time Peterson had lost sight of the car.

Fahie and Coleman were the first officers to respond to the scene of the shooting of Heather O’Brien on Plains Road. O’Brien’s Volkswagen Jetta had rolled down an embankment off the shoulder of the road and into a ditch, beyond which there were trees.

In both his statement given to commission staff on Oct. 1, 2021 and in his testimony yesterday, Fahie said that he feared the killer may have been waiting in the trees to ambush him and his partner. So Fahie provided “lethal overwatch” — surveying the scene from the road with his carbine drawn and ready — while Coleman went down the embankment and assessed O’Brien from the passenger side of the car.

During this period, firefighters arrived at the scene, and Fahie told them to leave, as he feared for their safety. Likewise, O’Brien’s daughter Michaela arrived and said that was her mother’s car, and Fahie, carbine drawn, ordered her to leave the scene. Fahie admitted that he was forceful with Michaela, and used the “F word.”

Fahie said that Coleman’s hands were cold and she couldn’t properly feel for a pulse, so the two switched positions, with Coleman returning to the road and Fahie going to the ditch.

In his “member report” written at the end of his shift, Fahie wrote that “I went to the Jetta and attempted to put it in park, the female was barely alive, showing very little signs. Weak pulse, very slight noises. I was preparing to remove her from the drivers seat and Cpl. IVANY (EMRT) [Emergency Medical Response Team] arrived and tapped my shoulder and said he got her. Got her onto the ground…”

But yesterday, Fahie testified that “‘barely alive’ was a poor choice of words. I thought I felt a pulse… I wanted to feel a pulse [but] I can’t say for certain if I felt it — if it were her pulse or if it were mine.”

This angered the audience present at the proceedings. “Liar!” yelled one person. “You can’t say you felt a pulse and then say you don’t know!” yelled another. One person stormed out of the room. O’Brien’s husband also objected loudly.

In his Oct. 1 statement, Fahie said:

And he [Ivany] had requested over the air for LifeFlight… or he was looking for an ambulance, and they’re like, “Ambulances aren’t coming in.” Then he requested LifeFLight and they’re like, “LifeFlight’s not flying due to this.” So, we… I say, we had to let her die, but you know, we had to let her just pass on. We knew she … like to … I don’t think she was going to make it anyways. So, we got a blanket, covered her up and then we just went to the road and guarded. [ellipses in original]

But yesterday, Fahie testified that “we had to let her die” didn’t mean that O’Brien was alive and was being left to die, but rather that they had to leave her body there. “I knew she was dead,” he testified.

“When you said ‘let her die,’ were there signs of life?” asked commission lawyer Roger Burill. “There were not,” responded Fahie.

Cpl. Duane Ivany testified at the Mass Casualty Commission, May 5, 2022.

Ivany, for his part, had an entirely different telling of events.

Ivany said that when he and his partner, Cst. Jeff Mahar, arrived at the Plains Road scene, both Fahie and Coleman were on the road next to their police vehicle, and not down at O’Brien’s Jetta.

Ivany said he immediately got on the radio and asked for LifeFlight, then he and Mahar went down to the Jetta while Fahie and Coleman provided lethal overwatch. Ivany said he never heard that LifeFlight was rejected.

When he arrived at the Jetta, said Ivany, both the drivers side and passenger windows were up, but there were gunshot holes in the windshield. The doors were “jammed shut” — he couldn’t say whether the doors were simply locked or if they had been distorted in the crash into the ditch. He was on the passenger side of the car and reached for his baton in order to break the car window, but then he heard the glass shattering from the driver’s side window, which Mahar had broken.

In this telling, there would have been no way for Fahie or Coleman to check for O’Brien’s pulse, as she was trapped in the car.

Moreover, Ivany said he never tapped Fahie on the shoulder, and he never saw Fahie anywhere near the car.

Ivany went on to testify that it was he, and not Fahie, who was confused by a pulse. He had reached from behind O’Brien to check for a pulse in her neck with his thumbs, which he knew wasn’t ideal, as he was trained to use his first two fingers. When he told Mahar that he felt a pulse, Mahar told him he should check again with his fingers, and then there was no pulse, testified Ivany. He also shown a light in O’Brien’s pupil, and got no response.

Ivany said he saw that O’Brien had been shot in her upper torso and in the eye. The bullet that struck her in the eye exited through the back of her head. He didn’t think there was any possibility she was alive.

But Ivany acknowledged that somebody had applied a Thoracic Seal to one of O’Brien’s wounds. (This is a device that stops air from entering the chest cavity through a wound.) But he said he didn’t remember applying it. It’s unclear why anyone would apply the Seal if they understood that O’Brien was already dead.

All of this testimony was quite upsetting for O’Brien’s family and other victims’ families. They fear that not enough was done to save O’Brien at the scene, and that Fahie’s story has changed in order to protect the reputation of the RCMP.

Eyewitness testimony is often unreliable. For instance, there were over two dozen witnesses to the shoot-out at the Shubenacadie cloverleaf and the murders of Heidi Stevenson and Joey Webber, but the witnesses’ accounts don’t agree and often directly contradict each other. There’s no reason to think any of those witnesses are being purposefully deceitful; rather, memories are formed differently and change over time.

But Fahie and Ivany are trained police officers, and were not just witnesses but direct participants in the events they described. Fahie wrote his experience down mere hours after it occurred. Ivany is an experienced medic. It’s difficult to understand how their accounts vary so greatly with each other, and how Fahie’s account has changed over time.

It would have been useful to have had testimony from Coleman and Mahar, but they are not listed among witnesses to testify. This makes no sense to me: there are contradictory accounts from two people at the scene, each of whom was with another person, and yet those people aren’t being called in to help clarify the accounts.

I’ll write about Brown and Melanson’s testimony on Monday.

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2. COVID

Weekly reported COVID deaths and new case numbers since January. Note that because the reporting period was changed, the week ending April 11 has only six days. Chart: Tim Bousquet

Twenty-two people died from COVID in Nova Scotia during the most recent reporting week, which ended on May 2; that was the second most COVID-lethal week in Nova Scotia for the history of the pandemic, exceeded only by the previous week.

The 22 people who died by age cohort are:

Ages 0-49: 0
Ages 50-69: 3
Ages 70+: 19

Over the same reporting period, 77 people were hospitalized because of COVID. Nova Scotia Health yesterday released the current COVID situation in the hospitals it manages (that is, this does not include the IWK):

• Admitted for COVID-19: 47 (12 of whom are in ICU)
• Admitted for something else but have COVID-19: 192
• Contracted COVID-19 after admission to hospital: 118

The data provided by the Dept. of Health have been scattershot and confusing. The age cohorts have been changed, and even the reporting periods have changed (the reporting week was changed from Wednesday through Tuesday to Tuesday through Monday). I can only understand this as a purposeful move to make week-to-week comparisons (and therefore meaningful tracking of the disease progression) impossible.

For example, I attempted to break the 77 people hospitalized last week into their age cohorts, but the data don’t line up. Here are the age cohort charts from last week and the previous week:

Week ending April 26.
Week ending May 2.

That single asterisk does a lot of work: “* Hospitalizations for individuals missing age are excluded from the analysis (counts, crude rates, age- adjusted rates, risk reduction).”

What that means is that of the 77 people hospitalized last week, there is no reported age for 31 of them. Is it really possible that 31 people were hospitalized and the Dept. of Health doesn’t know how old they are?

Regardless, lab-confirmed (that is, positive PCR test results) new case numbers were down, to 3,415 from 5,436 the previous week. There are an unknown number of people who have tested positive with the take-home rapid tests or who have COVID but never tested at all.

Assuming that the death count lags about three weeks behind the new case count, it seems likely that next week will have also have very high death count — more than 20.

But the people dying are mostly old people, so I guess we don’t care.

No one is arguing for a return to lockdowns or even difficult restrictions. But that doesn’t mean we should do nothing at all, which is the current government course of action.

Acknowledging that the virus is very contagious and yet for most healthy people not lethal, a meaningful government strategy would look like this:

• no restrictions on day-to-day life — no gathering limits, and restaurants, bars, gyms, etc. operate as in pre-pandemic times;
• make PCR testing available for everyone;
• until new case numbers drop considerably, maintain a masking requirement in places where vulnerable people must go — in schools and grocery stores and on transit;
• in preparation for the next wave and/or the next pandemic, spend more money to upgrade ventilation systems and toughen regulations for ventilation systems in new construction.

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3. Cecil Boutilier

Cecil Boutilier. Photo: Cecil Boutilier

“Cecil Boutilier said he feels an interview he did with the Halifax Examiner in January was the reason his statutory release (parole) was revoked and he was sent back to Springhill Institution in February,” reports Matthew Byard:

“I do feel that that’s the reason why I got sent back in,” Boutilier said recently in a follow-up interview with the Examiner. “And I don’t regret doing it, no, because … that’s the proof right there, you know, how they operate.”

“It’s like they want to do things behind closed doors because they can get away with it, right? So when you kind of expose them, then they’re going to try to shut you down. And that’s exactly what they did.”

Click here to read “Cecil Boutilier says his parole was revoked because he spoke with the Examiner.”

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4. Non-resident tax

Premier Tim Houston at the COVID briefing, Feb. 23, 2022. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

“Premier Tim Houston says he’s putting his personal pride aside and dropping the controversial non-resident property tax introduced by his Progressive Conservative government in the spring budget,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“The reputation of our province is more important than any policy, and it’s certainly more important than my personal pride,” Houston told reporters on Thursday afternoon.

“Nova Scotia is a welcoming province and I want that message to be heard loud and clear.”

The non-resident property tax (2%) will be removed for all non-residents who own residential property in Nova Scotia, while the non-resident deed transfer tax (5%) will proceed as planned.

Click here to read “NS drops non-resident property tax.”

Honestly, I haven’t thought through the economic implications of the non-residency tax to come to any meaningful conclusions, but I’ve never liked that government policies are tied to residency. I don’t think it’s right that the non-residents have to pay the Cobequid Pass toll but Nova Scotia residents don ‘t. And I know I’m an outlier here, but I don’t think it’s ethical to milk international students with high university tuition. So charging non-residents a higher property tax than that charged to residents doesn’t sit well with me.

That said, I wouldn’t have a problem with a higher tax applied to all residential property that isn’t one’s primary residence. Residents and non-residents alike could pay a higher rate of tax for their cottages than for their actual homes, whether they be in Halifax or New York.

But those arguments aside, Houston’s proposal just seemed dumb. As he didn’t explain exactly how it would (supposedly) impact housing prices, it looked like a simple tax grab.

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5. Province House

This item was written by Yvette d’Entremont.

In a media availability following Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Premier Tim Houston spent much of the time fielding questions about his decision to drop the controversial non-resident property tax introduced by his Progressive Conservative government in the spring budget.

But he was also asked about Northern Pulp in light of news last week that a B.C. Supreme Court judge extended its creditor protection until the end of October.

When it came to the province’s next steps, he said it was to continue protecting Nova Scotians.

“Our positions have been laid out in those court documents and we’ll continue to advocate for Nova Scotians in that process,” he said.

Asked if he’d continue to pursue defence against the Northern Pulp lawsuit here in Nova Scotia, Houston replied “absolutely.”

Reporters also asked whether the art gallery project was going ahead this year. Houston said his government was happy to honour the commitment made by the former Liberal government.

“Of course, we’re watching very closely to, again, protect Nova Scotians and make sure that the investment that the province has put forward remains inside that envelope,” Houston said.

With all eyes on the United States and the report that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, the last question fielded by Houston was about federal Conservative Party candidates who’ve expressed interest in reopening the abortion debate.

He was specifically asked whether he believed it would be healthy and wise to do so right now.

“I can’t comment on any federal politicians from any of the parties. Obviously it’s well known that I’m not a member of any federal party and not engaged in political discussions with any federal parties,” Houston replied.

“I have a very close relationship with the government, which I value tremendously. But personally I’m pro-choice and this is a province that respects the rights of women to choose and I certainly do.”

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6. Sackville development

A site plan of the proposal from Sunset Plaza Inc. — Screenshot/HRM/WM Fares

“The provincial Utility and Review Board (UARB) has overturned a decision by Halifax regional councillors to deny a development application in Middle Sackville,” reports Zane Woodford:

In November 2021, the North West Community Council — comprising councillors in districts 1, 13, 14, 15, and 16 — considered the application for a four-storey, 52-unit apartment building at the corner of Swindon and Hanwell drives. That’s just off Margeson Drive, near Highway 101.

The developer, Sunset Plaza Inc., owned by Marzieh Ansari Shourijeh according to the Registry of Joint Stocks, wanted to amend an existing development agreement for the site. That agreement allowed the developer to use the site for commercial buildings. When the property didn’t sell for that purpose, Sunset Plaza pivoted, instead looking to build residential units.

Click here to read “UARB overturns Halifax councillors’ Middle Sackville development decision.”

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7. Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly at a Charlottetown city council meeting. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“P.E.I. Communities Minister Jamie Fox should have all the information he needs to order an investigation into financial and administrative concerns raised regarding Charlottetown’s chief administrative officer, says a Charlottetown council member,” reports Kerry Campbell for the CBC:

Bob Doiron says he provided more than 100 pages of documents related to CAO Peter Kelly to the province in August 2019, including a letter in which the former deputy CAO for the city, Scott Messervey, said he believes he was fired by Kelly in retaliation for having raised the concerns.

Kelly wrote a letter to Messervey saying he was being fired because of his interactions with city staff and some members of council, who felt the accountant was “looking for errors” rather than working with them to meet the city’s goals.

In the letter sent to council after he was fired in January 2019, Messervey outlined 18 specific concerns with the city’s financial administration and cited examples where he said he believed the city was operating in violation of P.E.I.’s Municipal Government Act. CBC has not verified those allegations.

The letter also said a complaint was being filed under the terms of the city’s Fraudulent or Dishonest Conduct and Whistleblower policy.

On Tuesday, Communities Minister Jamie Fox told CBC News his office had never received the letter.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for his department said in an email that “given the complexity of the situation, changes in senior staff, and that these claims span over the course of years, staff in the department are now reviewing all documents received concerning the City of Charlottetown.”

Maybe the letter fell behind a filing cabinet or was accidentally tossed in the compost with the coffee grounds.

It boggles the mind that Kelly repeatedly escapes accountability. Some dumb kid sells a little dope and he’s caught up in the justice system for the rest of his life, but Kelly mismanages (and worse) hundreds of thousands of dollars and continues merrily on to his next escapade, no problem.

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Government

No meetings


On campus

King’s

Ceremony of Celebration for the Class of 2020 (Friday, 10am) — more info here

Ceremony of Celebration for the Class of 2021 (Friday, 3pm) — more info here


In the harbour

Halifax
05:30: Siem Cicero, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
08:15: IT Integrity, supply vessel, moves from Pier 9 to Irving Oil
13:00: Asterix, replenishment vessel, arrives at Dockyard from sea
13:00: Freedom Glory, oil tanker, sails from anchorage for sea
15:00: NYK Constellation, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
15:30: One Majesty, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
16:00: IT Integrity sails for sea
16:30: Siem Cicero sails for sea
18:00: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
18:00: Aniara, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
19:00: Oceanex Avalon, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for St. John’s

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures


Footnotes

Fish and chips for lunch. This is a very big deal in my household.


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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Wisdom and courage are two things that are sometimes hard to come by together naturally. Most of us are lucky to have only one of them. The second is usually only gained by a third component which is Experience and that is NEVER easily gained A decision was made by someone, to not allow firefighters, lifeflight or ambulances with no obvious perpetrator around, to try to save someone who was injured, while officers at another scene opened fire at a fire station! My heart goes out to everyone. I feel, the people who are responsible for all of this are the ones who failed to reach out and protect or seek treatment for the disturbed child and young man, GW. Maybe they did but we haven’t heard this. They are no doubt grieving too now and are entitled to their privacy.