1. The McNeils and the information non-breach scandal

It’s anyone’s guess what caused the over-the-top police response to the non-breach of the Freedom of Information website, but it’s worth noting that Premier Stephen McNeil is brother of Halifax deputy police chief Robin McNeil. As I wrote last June:

Yesterday, I mentioned that Robin McNeil, brother of Premier Stephen McNeil, has been named Deputy Chief of the Halifax Regional Police Department, a position another McNeil brother, Chris McNeil, held before he retired after allegedly lying under oath to protect a fourth brother and another cop, Anthony McNeil.

Here’s a scorecard for the Other McNeils at the Halifax PD:

Chris McNeil: former Deputy Chief at the Halifax PD who retired after allegedly lying to the police review board, and brother of Stephen McNeil, Robin McNeil, and Anthony McNeil.
Robin McNeil: newly named as the Deputy Chief at the Halifax PD and brother of Stephen McNeil, Chris McNeil, and Anthony McNeil.
Jason McNeil: sergeant at the Halifax PD and Chris McNeil’s son.
Anthony McNeil: sergeant at the Halifax PD and brother of Stephen McNeil, Chris McNeil, and Robin McNeil.
Joanne McNeil: sergeant at the Halifax PD and spouse of Anthony McNeil.

Looks like the Halifax PD is a family business.

This feels like a really crappy 1970s cop shop sitcom, where the recurring gag has someone running into the squad room yelling “Sergeant McNeil!” and hilarity ensues. Also: antics. Don’t forget the antics.

Or we could discuss, you know, nepotism. The Deputy Chief of Police will inevitably have to make management and personnel decisions that involve his brother, his sister-in-law, and his nephew. That can’t possibly end well.

And here we are 10 months later, with an embarrassing scandal involving the FOI website — so embarrassing that the premier decided to weigh in on the issue:

On Friday, the premier accused the teenager of “stealing” the information.

Former Halifax Global reporter Marieke Walsh comments from Toronto:

“On Friday, the premier accused the teenager of “stealing” the information.”

… all of a sudden the well-tread convention of not commenting because something is under investigation/before the courts is out the window. #nspoli

— Marieke Walsh (@MariekeWalsh) April 17, 2018

So, Stephen McNeil was so worked up about the non-breach and the potential PR hit to his government that he felt he had to deflect criticism by placing blame on a teenager.

This raises the question: Did Stephen McNeil pick up the phone and ask one of his brothers or his sister-in-law or his nephew at the Halifax police to intervene?

I don’t have any evidence of that, but then again, Stephen McNeil has publicly stated that he uses the phone rather than email precisely in order to avoid his conversations being subject to Freedom of Information requests.

And, a reader points out there’s another McNeil brother (there are 17 McNeil siblings) who is a school principal, so the political talk at family reunions must be, er, interesting.

I’m also told there’s yet another McNeil connection in the Halifax police department, a relative via marriage.

2. Dartmouth homicide

A police release from last night:

The suspicious death that occurred in Dartmouth [Monday] has been ruled a homicide.

At 8:49 p.m. on April 16, Halifax Regional Police responded to a report of an injured man inside a residence in the 0-100 block of Portland Street in Dartmouth. Upon arrival officers located a man suffering from life-threatening injuries. EHS pronounced the man deceased at the scene.

Based on today’s autopsy, the Medical Examiner has ruled the death a homicide and identified the victim as 52-year-old Darren Clyde Reid of Dartmouth.

Patrol members arrested a 68-year-old man from Dartmouth at the scene, last night. He remains in police custody and charges are expected. This is not a random act as the victim and the suspect knew one another.

My understanding is that Reid lived in an apartment above Revanna Pizza.

3. WTCC sale goes through

The crappy old office building on Argyle Street. Photo: Halifax Examiner

The sale of the old convention centre and the crappy old office tower above it was registered on April 9.

George Armoyan’s Armco Capital, Inc. paid $12 million for the property, which is assessed at $13,032,300. That $12 million represents the “book value” of the property, which, had Armoyan not stepped in, the city would’ve been required to pay. So this is a save for city coffers.

The deed lists the seller as Trade Centre Limited (TCL), which makes sense. But I wonder if that $12 million is now rolled into the operations of Events East, TCL’s successor that operates the new Halifax Convention Centre, or if the money goes directly to the province.

The sale is accompanied by a 96-page “shared services agreement” which details how the operations of the office tower and the adjoining $48 NSF Fee Centre, still owned by the city, are to be handled. The two buildings share hallways, heating plants, electrical systems, and so forth. I didn’t have the time nor the expertise to dive into the details of the agreement yesterday, but it seems fraught with the possibility of future litigation.

4. Convention Centre loan

The Grafton Street Glory Hole, with the convention centre above it. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Meanwhile, up the street at the Nova Centre, Joe Ramia has separated out the convention centre from the larger complex into its own company, and secured a $150 million loan from Manual Life Insurance for it. The loan has a 4.1 per cent annual interest rate, and is secured by the lease of the convention centre to Events East. Someone do the math for me and tell me if that makes sense.

5. Randy Riley convicted

On Monday, a jury convicted Randy Riley of second degree murder. There’s a lot I don’t understand about that verdict, and about other aspects of the case, but rather than comment now, I need to do more research.

I will, however, note one regrettable thing that happened Monday. The jury came in and the clerk of the court asked, “on the charge of first degree murder, how do you find?” The jury foreperson was supposed to respond by reading the entire verdict, which in this case was something along the lines of “we find Randy Riley not guilty of first degree murder, but we find him guilty of second degree murder.” But rather than read that, the foreperson simply said “not guilty.” And instead of instructing the foreperson to continue reading the response to that count, the clerk moved on to the next count, which was a relatively minor charge having to do with a weapon. The foreperson said the jury found Riley guilty on that charge.

At that point, Justice Chipman intervened, explaining that the foreperson had to read the entire thing, so the clerk and foreperson had to back up and do it all over again properly.

The result was that Riley’s family and supporters in the gallery were sent on a emotional roller coaster ride. They heard “not guilty” of first degree murder but “guilty” of the gun charge, which in their minds probably meant that Riley would be released for time served. But then when the verdicts were re-read, they realized Riley had been convicted of second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life, with parole possible in the range of 10 to 25 years (Chipman will make that ruling at a future date).

No matter the defendant’s guilt, family and supporters shouldn’t have to go through that.


1. Fingerprints

Living Dead Dolls figure into Canadian jurisprudence.

Halifax lawyer Barbara Darby continues her wanderings through Canadian court decisions, this time to look at “The Myth of Fingerprints“:

Simon Cole in the New York Times writes about the Myth of Fingerprints and gives a really interesting, brief history of their use in forensics:

The claim that no fingerprint has ever appeared twice was first popularized more than a hundred years ago, and by dint of analogy (with other natural objects like snowflakes), lack of contradiction and relentless repetition, this bit of folk wisdom became deeply enshrined. By extension, it lent the technique of forensic fingerprint analysis an aura of infallibility. More than just a useful tool, it came to be regarded as a perfect system of identification, and examiners’ testimony at criminal trials came to be practically unassailable.

He talks about difference between science on the one hand, and culture and public faith in the idea that “Our fingerprints were unique, and, therefore, so were we.”  However, cases reviewed by Cole indicate that

…the relevant question isn’t whether fingerprints could ever be exactly alike — it’s whether they are ever similar enough to fool a fingerprint examiner. And the answer, it’s increasingly, unnervingly clear, is a resounding yes. A recent proficiency test found that as many as one out of five fingerprint examiners misidentified fingerprint samples. In the last three years, defendants in at least 11 criminal cases have filed motions arguing that fingerprinting does not meet even the basic requirements for scientific and technical evidence.

Darby goes on to look into one very weird case involving a single fingerprint on something called a Living Dead Doll, and then another case where the judge pulled out his own magnifying glass and ruled a fingerprint analysis invalid, both of which are great fun. Even greater fun is the point of the essay, which is Darby’s contemplation of individuality.

2. Forests

A remnant patch of old growth hardwoods in Nova Scotia

“These last few weeks I’ve been plagued by a question no one seemed able to answer, at least not to my stubborn satisfaction,” writes Zack Metcalfe in an op-ed for the South Shore Breaker (which must be one of the Chronicle Herald’s or Saltwire’s “community papers”; I found it through reading David Patriquin’s Forest Notes site, which is now part of my daily routine):

From botanists to foresters, I could only get informed theories and stumped expressions. Why, I asked them, are the wilds of Canada’s West Coast fundamentally more spectacular than those of the Maritimes?

They have more mountains of course, but why are their forests so much taller, lusher and more exceptional to behold? I could think of a thousand facts which could be at play but had no one to lay them out straight, until very recently over cold beer, someone I respect a great deal, with decades of experience behind their answer, leaned forward and shared the big picture. Here’s, roughly, what they said:

“Zack, consider the pastures of Scotland. They seem to go on forever, naturally, interrupted by only the occasional tree. But it wasn’t always like that. Scotland was once a forested country, except generations of cutting has left it bare. Now look at Nova Scotia. We still have forests here, but how many times have they been cut over? Four? Five? We impoverish our soils with every clearcut and what grows back is a little less impressive than its original self. So we’re in the middle stage. Out West, their forests have only been cut over once or twice, never in some cases. Harvesting over there is still out of control, but their forests haven’t dealt with it long enough to lose their size or beauty.

“The difference between Scotland’s forests, Nova Scotia’s forests and British Columbia’s forests is a thousand years of cutting, 400 years of cutting and a century of cutting, respectively. There’s still time to preserve and value giant forests out west, but here, we’ve missed our chance.”

This reminded me of a book I read 20 years ago, The Last Stand: The war between Wall Street and Main Street over California’s ancient redwoods, which, the Kirkus Review reminds me, is a “mesmerizing, blow-by-blow account of Pacific Lumber’s hostile takeover by Charles Hurwitz [the junk bond trader], and the ecological battles it engendered.”

Author David Harris managed get both the complicated financial dealings and the environmental issues at play, and convey them in an understandable manner. I wonder if I still have the book around here somewhere. I’ll look.

Anyway, in the book, Harris gave the background of the Pacific Lumber Company, which before Hurwitz was a family-run firm. And that family had long roots (ahem) in forestry. The first generation of the Murphy family lumbered in Maine, but they so over-cut the forests that it wasn’t profitable to continue, so the second generation moved to Wisconsin to start the process all over again; soon enough, the Wisconsin forests were likewise over-cut and unprofitable, so the third generation moved to California.

Figuring that the Pacific Ocean barred them from going any farther west, the family dedicated themselves to building a sustainable forestry operation, Pacific Lumber. It helped that they owned vast tracks of land. But the new philosophy was that at any one time, most of the land would remain uncut. The company would operate in one area for a number of years, then move on to the next, and the next, and so forth, only returning to the original cut area after it had ample time to heal and become a fully valued forest again. The workers were on board (ahem) with the plan: they had good-paying jobs with pensions and benefits, and bragged they would “work forever,” across generations. Children grew up fully expecting they’d work in forestry, as their fathers and grandfathers had before them.

But this sustainable forest operation was viewed by Wall Street as under-valued. Those trees just sitting there growing? Under-utilized assets. The good-paying jobs and pensions? An unneeded expense. Hurwitz took over, and for a few years there was lots and lots of work as lumbermen from across the county descended upon northern California and Oregon to liquidate the assets.

But soon enough, the inevitable happened: the trees were gone. I remember a newspaper editor friend of mine — Bruce Anderson, a flagrant Trotskyite who owned the radical Anderson Valley Advertiser — once commenting that a few years previously, the lumber trucks often carried just three logs, which were giant pieces of a trunk from the same tree. But after Hurwitz’s raid, said Anderson, all the trucks carried dozens of logs, the tiny scraps that were left.

Some of the Pacific Lumber mills were taken apart and shipped to Japan where they were reconstructed. In the new economy, it made more “sense” to cut the trees and ship them across the ocean to be milled, and then ship the resulting lumber back to California. Other California mills were retooled, so they could cut trees that had diameters as little as four inches.

And then the jobs disappeared.

Of course the full story is much more complicated. Earth First! and other environmentalists fought back, and the company was successful in blaming the environmentalists for the loss of jobs. But anyone with eyes could and still can see the underlying truth: the forests are gone. What’s left are little jokes of forests, pretend forests.

I think about the Pacific Lumber story when I consider Nova Scotia forests. We’re long past the point of cutting primarily for lumber. Now we’re mostly going after the trees for pulp and biomass. There’s not a whole lot there, and like Hurwitz in California, trees just standing around doing nothing are considered under-utilized assets, so better to cut them down.

Maybe I’ll find a book about Scotland’s disappeared forests.

By the way, over at Forest Notes, Patriquin, er, notes:

Interestingly, just after I made this post, I checked out the link to Zack’s article.. and in the middle of the CH article a short video/ad by Forest Nova Scotia appeared with the message “We are working very hard for a future that is not for us, we are dedicated to making sure there is something here always in the future that will support us”. It was a shortened version of a lengthier video posted on Forest Nova Scotia’s website and on YouTube.

Targeted Advertising? I dunno. It was one of several video-ads that cycled through as I refreshed the webpage (others, e.g.,,

The juxtaposition of the two quite disparate viewpoints on NS forests (Zack’s and that of Forest NS) says something about the challenges facing the Independent Review of Forest Practices and ultimately all Nova Scotians as we seek an inclusive course forward for Nova Scotia’s forests and forestry.




Public Information Meeting – Case 20929 (Wednesday, 10am, Gym, St. Margaret’s Bay Centre, Upper Tantallon) — this is the proposed development Philip Moscovitch reported on for the Examiner. There are three open houses, at 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm, and 6:30pm to 9pm. It’s a small space and there’s great public interest, so people are encouraged to attend the earlier sessions if possible.

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — there’s nothing much on the agenda, but last meeting they added that convention centre report at the last minute when no one was looking.

Cogswell District Open House (Wednesday, 12-2:30pm, 6-8:30pm, Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel) — info here.


Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — Fred Morley, Halifax’s most successful C student, will discuss Airbnb.

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm, City Hall) — no action items on the agenda.

Halifax Peninsula Planning Advisory Committee (HPPAC) Meeting (Thursday, 6:30pm, Harbour Suites A/B, The Westin Nova Scotian) — you’re going to get that Wellington Street development whether you want it or not. Judging by the architectural renderings, they’re going to put all the utility wires underground.



Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Bernie Miller, the deputy minister of the Department of Business, will be asked about “Economic Development and Employment Trends in the Nova Scotia Film Industry.”


No public meetings for the rest of the week.

On campus



Thesis Defence, Biology (Wednesday, 9:30am, room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Ernest Korankye will defend his thesis, “Physiology of Mechanical Stress-Induced Needle Loss in Postharvest Balsam Fir (Abies b​​alsamea L.)”

Thesis Defence, Economics (Wednesday, 2pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Paul Spin will defend his thesis, “Three Essays on the Economics of Health and Well-Being.”

Newfangled Exchange Series (Wednesday, 2:30pm, Room 264, Collaborative Health Education Building) — Andrea Tricco from St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto will speak on “An Introduction to the SPOR Evidence Alliance and the PRISMA Extension to Scoping Reviews.”

Cellular Energy Sensing and Metabolism: Implications for Treating Diabetes(Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Gregory Steinberg from McMaster University will speak.

The Future of Learning: How Will People Learn the Skills they Need for Academe, Work, and Life? (Wednesday, 7:15pm, Potter Auditorium, Rowe Building) — Dan Russell, “Über Tech Lead for Search Quality and User Happiness for Google,” will mouth a bunch of platitudes and nonsense packaged as smart-dude stuff.


Pertussis Resurgent: Why Incidence is Rising and Why the Accepted Explanation is Both Compelling and Wrong (Thursday, 10am, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building Link) — Aaron King from the University of Michigan will speak.

Building Belonging: Embedding Indigenous Content and Ways of Knowing in Learning and Teaching (Wednesday, 10am, Room 307, Student Union Building) —campus leaders Diana Lewis, Margaret Robinson, and Margot Latimer will talk about Indigenizing post-secondary education.

Search Engines (Thursday, 11:30am, Auditorium, Goldberg Computer Science Building) —  Daniel Russell, the “Über Tech Lead for Search Quality and User Happiness for Google,” is still in town. Let’s hope his self-driving car doesn’t run over someone. On Thursday he’s going on about “Search Is Not Yet A Solved Problem For Systems Or Searchers” or some such babble.

Fear of Missing Out, Social Media Engagement, Smartphone Addiction and Distraction: The Role of Mobile Applications-based Interventions (Thursday, 1:30pm, auditorium, Goldberg Computer Science Building) —  Bobby Swar from Concordia University of Edmonton will speak.

Combinatorial Structures Through Algebraic Lenses (Thursday, 2:30pm, Colloquium Room 319) — Tai Ha from Tulane University will speak. His abstract:

We shall discuss an algebraic approach to investigate a number of important invariants and structures in graph theory and integer linear programming. Particularly, we shall focus on how to compute the chromatic numbers, how to recognize the existence of odd cycles in graphs, and how to detect integer linear programming systems with packing and max-flow-min-cut properties.​

Trends in Successful Resuscitation after Cardiac Arrest under Trending Misclassification Error: Estimating Bounds for Partially Verified Data (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 2107, Mona Campbell Building) — Arthur Sweetman from McMaster University will speak.

Sexualized Violence and Trauma-informed Practice Workshop (Thursday, 4pm, Theatre B, Tupper Medical Building) — a workshop from the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre on ways that sexualized violence manifests in communities, the neurobiology of trauma, and the principles of trauma-informed practice and response. If you want to go, email Kelsey Mann at

In the harbour

5am: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
5:30am: Sagittarius Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Zeebrugge, Belgium
6am: AS Felicia, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Kingston, Jamaica
6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
3pm: Sagittarius Leader, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
3pm: YM Movement, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
3:30pm: Atlantic Sun, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
7pm: Lundstrom Tide, supply vessel, moves from Pier 25 to Pier 9
9:30pm: AS Felicia, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea


I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.

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

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  1. the McNeils will all be involved in pot production for sale to government
    when they`re retired, I dare say

  2. Another one of Stephen McNeil’s brothers, Burt McNeil, is police chief of Annapolis Royal.

  3. Good comments on forestry. But one element is left out of the discussion of the difference between the west coast forests and ours. Climate. Much of BC’s forests are temperate rainforests, so their trees grow much larger than ours ever did or could. Even in the interior, which is drier, their trees grow much longer and higher than in NS. In NS the eastern hemlock is our longest living tree with a maximum lifespan of 400 years and maximum height of about 70 ft and diameter at breast height of 48″ according to DNR’s book on trees – Silver Donald Cameron reports that it used to grow to 120 feet. That’s still much shorter than the trees in BC. In BC, the western red cedar grows in rainforest conditions to 180 feet high over 1000 years. Western larch grows in the drier interior up to 240 feet high over 850 years. There are several species that are much longer lasting and bigger than NS’ Acadian forest trees. Don’t get me wrong – NS’ mature forests are magnificent. But they can’t match the West Coast’s due to climate as well as the history of cutting. And I believe your basic point is true that frequent cutting undermines a forest and stunts the growth of its trees. But that’s not the only reason for the difference between the east and west coast forests.

  4. Re: Public Information Meeting – Case 20929

    I attended the meeting held Wednesday April 18th, 10am-noon, Gym, St. Margaret’s Bay Centre, Upper Tantallon.

    Once again we have a public engagement that skims on the facts and talks a lot about how future assessments by various entities will occur, while asking the the public to support the project without having the details of those future assessments. One spokesperson said that it costs big money to do all the assessments up front… really, who would have thought? I will be surprised if they get a modicum level of support from the 3 public engagement sessions today. There are still too many questions that have not been answered to the attending public’s satisfaction.

    This public engagement is just another development process checklist item. Huge concerns exist concerning the load it will place on the local groundwater resources and there is no appetite to have any kind of treated sewage being discharged in the waters of the St Margaret’s Bay, in an area where high nutrient loading is already said to be present.

    Water issues are a shared HRM/NSE’s issue, traffic is a shared HRM/NSTIR issue… NSgov representatives were not present, or at least not standing up to speak if they were there.

    So no big surprise that, the public engagement session did little to satisfy the residents who attended the morning session, hard to make a firm decision without detailed facts…. probably a couple of hundred in attendance with a good number standing up to speak or write feedback comments about all the issues: density, senior accommodation, family accommodation, low rent, height, freshwater, stormwater, sewage, traffic, sidewalks, just to name a few of the topics… I did not hear bike lanes mentioned but it will probably come up sometime today.

    Tonight’s 6:30-9pm session will probably fill the room, so get there early if you are interested in going… or maybe word will get out about the lack of definitive answers and people will just stay home… I hope not, this is one of the few times the public actually gets to stand up and be listened to… whether it does any good remains to be seen. I am a hopeful cynic at this point.

  5. Tim, thanks so much for your forest story. Friends from BC often comment on how small the trees are here, and I tell them that they’re looking at the future of BC. I’ve never seen the cycle of forest destruction described so clearly and precisely, and I’m grateful to you for that.

    Regarding Scotland, George Monbiot’s fine book Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea and Human Life includes a discussion with Alan Watson Featherstone, who is attempting to rebuild the vanished Caledonian forest. It’s a fascinating project, and Featherstone is high on my wish list for (I’ve already interviewed Monbiot.)

    Still on forests: I once asked Dr. Stephen Manley, a very dedicated forest ecologist, if human beings had ever seen a great forest and failed to destroy it. The Black Forest, Sherwood Forest, the cedars of Lebanon — all gone. Steve thought for a moment and said, “The boreal forest of Alberta may the only one left, and we’re working hard on that one.”

    Part of the reason for the relentless destruction of the natural world was identified by Daniel Pauly of UBC, a great fisheries biologist (also a Green Interview) who coined the phrase “shifting baselines” to describe one of the leading causes of all this: we all assume that the world we were born into is the natural state of the world — but in fact we are already living in a pillaged and impoverished landscape. We have no idea what the world used to be like. For example, Manley told me that the original forest canopy in Nova Scotia was 120 feet high; today, he said, we’re lucky to see 60 feet. Those great ships were not built from the little trees that grow here today.

    Your article should be widely read. It’s information that Nova Scotians need to know.

    1. See my comment later regarding the effect of climate on BC’s forests vs. NS forests. The article is accurate as far as I understand, that repeated cutting stunts forest growth. But NS forests could never approach BC trees’ size due to climate.