1. Court of Appeal lambastes custody ruling

Associate Chief Justice Lawrence O’Neil. Photo: Nova Scotia Barristers Society
Associate Chief Justice Lawrence O’Neil. Photo: Nova Scotia Barristers Society

In November 2017, I reported that:

In August [2017], Lawrence O’Neil, the Associate Chief Justice of the Family Court, awarded custody of a five-year-old boy to the child’s father, who has a history of domestic violence, even though the father had previously signed away his right to custody.

After the Examiner wrote about the case, the story was picked up by Huffington Post reporter Zi-Ann Lum, who interviewed the mother for her piece “Nowhere to Turn: A secretive government service was supposed to protect an abused mom. A judge undid it all.

Two weeks ago, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal overturned O’Neil’s ruling with an oral decision. No reporters were present, but Lum learned of the decision and interviewed both the mother and the father for another article published by Huffington Post, “Arrest Warrant Tossed For Halifax Mom Who Fled Domestic Abuse.”

Yesterday, the courts published a written version of the earlier oral decision which overturned O’Neil’s ruling and quashed an arrest warrant he had issued for the child’s mother. The decision of the three-judge appeal panel was written by Justice David P.S. Farrar.

The ruling is noteworthy in its strong condemnation of O’Neil.

“The problem with the trial judge’s conclusion is there was absolutely no evidence before him on the best interests of the child,” wrote Farrar.

Particularly vexing to Farrar was O’Neil’s bizarre view that three different police agencies and Legal Aid were colluding to, in effect, lie to the court. Farrar wrote:

Not only is the judge calling into question the motives of [the mother] but also those of Legal Aid and the various police forces. All of this without any evidence before him that there was any kind of collusion between these agencies.

Farrar’s ruling makes clear that O’Neil ignored significant evidence that the mother was seeking refuge as an abused woman:

As a result of [the mother’s] call to victim services, the QPP contacted the Halifax Regional Police. They found there were a number of complaints from 2012 to 2015 and even charges. As a result of their inquiries, QPP was satisfied that her safety was in jeopardy and placed her under protection.

It was clearly explained to the judge that the QPP had a protocol when faced with this type of complaint, it followed the protocol and came to the conclusion that [the mother’s] safety was in jeopardy.

Any attempts by the police forces to explain why they conducted themselves in the way they did was ignored or not accepted by the judge.

There can be no other conclusion but that the manner in which this matter proceeded resulted in a substantial wrong or miscarriage of justice.

Another particularly ugly aspect of this case was that O’Neil allowed testimony from the father about a psychological assessment of the mother, but that assessment wasn’t entered as evidence:

In fact, at the April 11, 2017 court appearance, [the father] had the psychological assessment with him but did not want to put it into evidence. For good reason, as it is not particularly complimentary of him.

[The father] was indicating that he had the report but he was not asking that it be entered into evidence. In fact, quite appropriately, he said that he did not think the court would accept it.

Not only did the judge accept it, he relied on it in making his decision.

The judge was also selective in the parts of the report which he used in his decision. For example, in his decision, he finds that [the mother] was threatening or planning to commit suicide triggering the CFSA proceedings in 2014 (¶11). The report actually says that [the mother] denied any intention to commit suicide. A medical assessment done at that time highlighted that there was no intent to commit suicide.

You can read the entire decision here.

O’Neil has a controversial history:

A former Legal Aid worker, Lawrence O’Neil was the Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament representing Cape Breton Highlands – Canso from 1984 to 1988. He used that position to rail against women’s right to abortion. “In 1985,” reported the Canadian Press, “O’Neil moved to introduce a bill to amend the Criminal Code to require that every unborn child be represented by legal counsel at therapeutic abortion committees across the country.” In 1988, he told the House that “It appears that there is widespread acceptance of the notion that a mother should have the right to control her body. There is no such right.”

O’Neil was appointed to the bench by Stephen Harper in 2007.

The ruling in the recent child custody case was not the first time Justice O’Neil has taken extraordinary steps to protect the rights of a father. In August, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal strongly rebuked O’Neil for his “entirely hypothetical” concern for a biological father involved in an otherwise straightforward adoption case.

In that case, the adoption of a young child in the care of the Department of Community Services was delayed by months because O’Neill wondered if the father had been given proper notice, but the father didn’t have custody of the child, and the Court of Appeal ruled, he had no right to such notice in any event. Justice Cindy Bourgeois, who authored the decision, wrote that the delay was a “patent injustice” to the adoptive parents.

Lawyer Jennifer Taylor wrote about the adoption case here.

OK, if you’ve made it this far, I’m going to subject you to another pitch for subscriptions. The reporting for this story took a lot of resources. Additionally, for the last month or so the Examiner has been spending a lot of money — for our FOIPOP search warrant story, for Joan Baxter’s “Fool’s Gold” series, for Linda Pannozzo’s BP investigation, and for a few other projects I can’t now go into. This would be an excellent time to subscribe.

2. Smart meters

A smart electricity meter with dollar amount. Photo is a promo image from Rainforest Automation.

The Utility and Review Board (UARB) has approved Nova Scotia Power Inc.’s (NSPI) application to replace 26,269 traditional meters across the province with so-called “smart meters.” As Jennifer Henderson explained in January:

There’s little doubt that Advanced Metering Infrastructure meters (AMI) represent a step forward. The current meters are decades old. The meters NS Power wants to buy are equipped with digital technology that uses a wireless network to permit remote two-way communication between the meter at your home and the power company.

On stormy mornings, for instance, the meter will automatically “ping” and tell the company when and where power is out. Currently the company depends on customers to telephone the Customer Care Centre and report outages. By digital standards, this is a quaint custom. NS Power estimates only 20 per cent of its “powerless” customers dial in their local outage — perhaps because phone service also frequently goes down during “weather events.”

In its application to replace 26,269 meters beginning in 2019, the company is promising faster outage restoration times. Crews will no longer have to drive around to visually inspect whether your power is back on; a soon-to-be-installed wireless network will relay that information directly to the office.

NS Power estimates it will save 10 per cent on overtime costs associated with storm damage (about $11.5 million over the 20-year life of the meters) based on the experience of two utilities in New York State.

But that amount pales in comparison with what the utility will save when it eliminates 72.5 full-time staff positions involved in visiting homes to manually inspect and read the meters and send out bills. NS Power estimates automating the meter reading process will save $57 million over the same 20 years.

In its ruling, the UARB approved a $133,228,952 capital plan for the new meters, with several conditions, including an opt-out provision for customers who want to continue with the old meters.

One concern left outstanding is how “time-of-day” pricing — which is not yet included in the smart meter plan, but could be added at a later day — would affect low-income consumers.

Time-of-day pricing is premised on the idea that NSP can sell power at lower rates at night because there’s less demand: businesses are closed and cooling and heating systems aren’t running at capacity. Time-of-day metering is sold as a way for consumers to take advantage of lower nighttime rates to do laundry, for example, or for businesses to run machinery that isn’t time-sensitive.

But a time-of-day metering scheme necessarily means that daytime rates would go up (in order to keep revenues stable), which might bring hardship on some consumers. As the Affordable Energy Coalition argued in a submission:

If and when time of day pricing is introduced, it must be voluntary as has been stated within the proposal. Options must be designed with consideration of the impacts on low income customers. For instance, a high portion of low income households include people with disabilities who are home during the day, so they must have reasonably priced electricity in the day to ensure they can be well heated and stay healthy.

The UARB agreed that was a consideration, but left it up to NSPI to deal with the issue at a later time:

NSPI is directed to take into account the concerns of low income consumers, as well as small business customers, as it implements AMI and to consider the comments of the AEC and SBA [small business advocate] regarding time-of-day usage tariffs and prepayment plans as they impact on such customers.

3. Conversion therapy

“Two LGBTQ advocacy groups are urging a church to cancel an event taking place at a religious camp in rural Nova Scotia next month, warning it is teaching principles that could put lives at risk,” reports Maggie Rahr for StarMetro Halifax:

Both the Halifax Pride Festival and the Youth Project, a Halifax group that supports queer and transgender youth, are cautioning that two guest speakers booked to appear at the conference apparently encourage LGBTQ people to adopt a heterosexual lifestyle and cisgender presentation, regardless of their feelings and identity.

Rahr goes on to discuss “conversion therapy” and to look at the presenters at the religious camp — Mike Carducci and Danielle Harrison, both of whom reject the term but seem to be promoting the same ideas all the same.

4. Cabot Links

He’s like Robin Hood for Inverness.
He’s like Robin Hood for Inverness.

In another decision published yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Patrick J. Murray rejected Neil Livingston’s application seeking a declaration that land owned by Cabot Links near Inverness Beach is historically a public park.

I’m not surprised by the ruling, which seemed like a long shot on Livingston’s part, but the long and twisted history of the parcels is an interesting read, summarized as follows:

The year 1954 was a particularly difficult one for the Town. The coal mines had to shut down. What had once been a workforce of 761 had been substantially reduced.

When the mines closed in 1958 the lands were turned over to the Town in two (2) parcels. One was the upper parcel near Central Avenue and the other was the lower parcel near the shore and the beach.

There were a number of ways to get to the beach from Town, which many people used on a daily basis. The main access road is Beach Road 1, which that runs from the main street toward the harbour, in an east to west direction. Cars parked along the road, but also at the end of Beach Road 1.

In December 1968 the Utility and Review Board, UARB issued a decision requiring the Town to dissolve. As part of the Board’s Order, the Town would become part of the Municipality of the County of Inverness.

In 1968 the Town deeded the property to the Royal Canadian Legion before dissolution of the Town took effect on December 31, 1968. A year later the Legion deeded the property to the Inverness Development Association, (the “IDA”).

In 1986 the Municipality of the County of Inverness conveyed the land to Cape Bald Packers Limited;

In 1991 a land exchange took place between the IDA and the Municipality whereby the IDA would get the lower half of the coal mining land by Inverness Beach and the Municipality would get the top half near Central Avenue. Also the IDA gave a Quit Claim Deed to Cape Bald dated July 10, 1991;

In 2011, Cape Bald Packers conveyed the land to Cabot Links Development Inc.;

In 2013 and 2104 Cabot mortgaged the land for substantial sums to various lenders, including, the Province of Nova Scotia ($ 8.25 Million) and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency ($ 5.5 million);

There were other conveyances to facilitate the building of the golf course such as the deed from Municipality to the IDA in 2006.

Well, now golf will make everyone in Inverness rich and prosperous forever, amen.

5. Crime connection

Having yesterday twice lambasted the Chronicle Herald for crappy reporting, I must today provide the counter-example of excellent reporting from court reporter Steve Bruce:

A brazen daylight shooting in the parking lot of a Dartmouth strip mall April 23 and a fatal crash on Highway 103 near Upper Tantallon two days later were connected, The Chronicle Herald has learned.

Sources familiar with the shooting investigation say two people involved in the crash were wanted by police for questioning.

Bruce relies not just on his sources but also on search warrant documents, and I’m kicking myself because I put off my trip to the courthouse yesterday to look at exactly those documents.

Bruce has been around for a long time and has developed the kind of expertise that only a beat reporter can have. I have no knowledge of it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the CBC scooped him up, as they’ve poached many of the other excellent Herald reporters.


1. Arch Madness

Photo: Stephen Archibald

“The other day, I was walking on May Street in the North End and noticed this house,” writes Stephen Archibald:

Made me think of The Doors lyric, “break on through to the other side.” A narrow passage (sometimes called a horse walk) pierced the line of row houses to provide access to the backyard, where I doubt there was ever a horse.

This suggested a swell noticing project for your summer, urban rambles. Make a mental inventory of passageways, small and large, through buildings. Agricola Street is a territory, rich in examples, to start your adventure.

And so begins a delightful romp through arches present and past, including a fun examination of a now-disappeared “waterfront arch”:

There was a long crusade to save the last surviving arch that had led to the Plant Steamship Company wharf at the foot of Sackville Street. This photo shows gents gathered in Water Street in September 1904 to look at the recently burned remains of a well known taxidermy shop, next to the noble arch. Those were the days!

Photo: Nova Scotia Archives




Special Community Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 11:30am, City Hall) — the committee is still going on about the Centre Plan, as if it’s a serious policy initiative that will have real-world consequences. Funny shit!

FCM 2018 Conference Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 1pm, City Hall) — now that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention has come and gone, the committee is going to tell Quebec City, the host of the 2019 convention, how to place a Borg in the middle of its city.

Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Wednesday, 5pm, HEMDCC Large Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — the committee is looking at flood risks in HRM and has identified the top 10 sites at risk.

Public Information Meeting (Wednesday, 7pm, Gordon R. Snow Community Centre, Fall River) — Perry Lake Developments wants a “site specific amendment to the River-Lakes Secondary Planning Strategy (SPS) under the Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) for Planning Districts 14 and 17 (Shubenacadie Lakes)” to build  22 townhouses on an extension of Ingram Drive and two three-storey, 60-unit buildings at the end of an extension of Ingram Drive at something called “Opportunity Site C” in Fall River. I wrote extensively about this yesterday.


Port Wallace PPC Meeting (Thursday, 6:30pm, HEMDCC Large Meeting Room 1, Alderney Gate) — as of Tuesday night, there’s no agenda posted, so I dunno.



No public meetings.


Economic Development (Thursday, 10am, One Government Place) — the committee will hear from a gaggle of witnesses talking about “the role of early learning and child care in economic development.”

This annoys me. I mean, does every good thing in the world need to be justified in terms of “economic development”?

We’ve seen this with arts for a couple of generations: it isn’t enough that a culture that values art, music, and literature is simply a better culture — one in which simple enjoyment can be a worthy end in itself, one that truly contemplates the human experience and the mystery of existence, and one that through artistic experience learns humility, tolerance, and respect for the vast diversity of people out there in the world — but instead, arts have to be justified as some sort of economic engine.

Likewise, we can’t commit to helping kids understand the world and function as capable citizens unless it’s framed as a project that bumps the GDP up two points.

Not every damn thing in the world is an economic project. Teaching kids is a great expenditure of public money even if it can’t be justified by the accountants’ spreadsheets.

Our society’s values are completely perverse; it’s a collective sickness, and it’s going to be the end of us, literally.

On campus



Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada information session (Wednesday, 10am, Room C150, Collaborative Health Education Building) — from the event listing:

Dalhousie will host representatives from NSERC, who will lead an information session that will highlight news and developments at NSERC, present an overview of the 2018 Discovery Grants competition results, provide future applicants with some useful tips, and provide an overview of NSERC’s suite of programs. It will also allow researchers to ask NSERC questions directly about their various programs. Presenters: NSERC – Philip Bale, Program Officer for the Physics Evaluation Group (1505) & Rawni Sharp, Team Leader, Environmental Sciences.


BRIC NS Student Seminar Series (Wednesday, 12pm, Room 311, Collaborative Health Education Building) — students who won the 2017 BRIC (Building Research for Integrated Primary Healthcare) student research award will talk about their work.

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Seminar (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — M.Sc. Candidate Pooja Srinivasan will speak on “Entropic effects on proline racemase catalysis”; and PhD candidate Purvi Trivedi will speak on “Nutritional regulation of Transcription Factor EB (TFEB) in the heart.”

CSV2018: The 2nd Symposium of the Canadian Society for Virology (Wednesday, 5pm, Tupper Medical Building) — exactly what it sounds like. If you wanna go, contact:


No public events.

Saint Mary’s


International Conference in Intercultural Studies (Thursday, 8am, at the school of business named after a grocery store) — Daniel Hiebert from the University of British Columbia, Magali Bouchon from Doctors of the World, Michèle Vatz Laaroussi from the Université de Sherbrooke, Marie McAndrew from the Université de Montréal, and Evangelia Tastsoglou from Saint Mary’s University are speakers at the three-day conference on “Immigration, the Dynamics of Identity, and Policies for Managing Diversity.” RSVP to .

In-migration and Out-migration: Atlantic Canada at a Crossroads (Thursday, 1pm, in the theatre named after a bank) — Ather H. Akbari from Saint Mary’s University, James Ted McDonald from the University of New Brunswick, Tony Fang from Memorial University, and Howard Ramos from Dalhousie University will speak. RSVP:

In the harbour

Oceanex Sanderling. Photo: Halifax Examiner

6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
6:30am: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
8:30am: Kommandor Iona, research/survey ship, arrives at Pier 9 from New Bedford, Massachusetts
9:15pm: Grandeur of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 2,446 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John
11:30am: Skogafoss, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
6:30pm: Grandeur of the Seas, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Baltimore
9pm: Paxi, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk


We’ll be publishing the fourth and final instalment of Joan Baxter’s “Fool’s Gold” series at noon today.

And 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

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. All good things, all natural things have, in this neoliberal world, been reduced to economic benefit. Workers, for example, are just another tool – use them up and throw them out. Children are just future tools to make money for the top 1% and if education could be privatized they could make more money on them while they are becoming future tools. You are right Tim, it will be the end of us – literally.

    1. I agree. We have only to look at the results of various elections in the English speaking world to see where the focus on money, without due consideration of what makes life worth having, takes us.

    2. As usual Trump is on the cutting edge.

      Denuclearization would be great for North Korea because they have such beautiful beaches to be exploited for commercial real estate as if there no great good like world peace?

      No doubt there are many vultures willing to move in not dissimilar to the disaster capitalism now happening in Puerto Rico.

  2. How does a judge who makes so many egregious errors in his reasons for judgment become the associate chief justice?

  3. Who could have ever imagined that choosing a judge by way of political reward could go wrong?

    1. It may have been a political reward but O’Neil was voted out in 1988. More likely he was appointed by the Harper government for his views on abortion rather than as a reward for his brief political service – which would be even more disconcerting.