1. Assoun evidence
Last night, I wrote about “the long and absurdly strange journey I’ve taken to access what should be readily available public records” — the evidence presented at trial in 1999 to convict Glen Assoun of the murder of Brenda Way.
Court evidence is typically public. But in the case of Assoun’s conviction — now recognized as a wrongful conviction, as he’s been fully exonerated — the Halifax police department has squirrelled the evidence away and refuses to let anyone access it.
I’ve been trying to access the evidence since 2015, but I’m especially frustrated now. In response to a Freedom of Information request I filed asking for the evidence, city lawyer Duncan Read sent my lawyer an email on August 22 of this year agreeing that “It is not disputed that your client is entitled to all exhibits and evidence from the original trial.” Read asked for some clarification from me about which exhibits I was looking for — which I was happy to provide. I even offered to pay to have old analog evidence (VHS video tapes and cassette audio tapes) converted to more user-friendly digital formats.
But then, on October 11, Halifax police Superintendent Colleen M. Kelly wrote to me to say that my Freedom of Information request for the 1999 trial evidence is denied. I wrote last night:
I don’t know how we got from city lawyer Duncan Read telling my lawyer on August 22 that “It is not disputed that your client is entitled to all exhibits and evidence from the original trial” to Superintendent Kelly disputing exactly that on October 11. But I can speculate that in those seven weeks people in positions of power became freaked out by where my reporting was going, and want to shut it down.
If required, I could unpack and refute in detail Superintendent Kelly’s justifications for denying the request, but the basic response is this: court evidence is always public; moreover, this particular evidence in the Assoun case would have been public in 1999, and given the extraordinary circumstances of a wrongful conviction, it’s even more important that the evidence be public now. There’s no legal justification for sealing it after-the-fact.
Speaking of which, where my reporting is going is this: I’m being hired by the CBC to create a six-part podcast series, part of the network’s “Uncovered” series, about the wrongful conviction of Assoun.
That’s been my not-so-secret project over the last couple of months, and it’s going to keep me busy for many months more. (My reporting hasn’t stopped since 2014 — that’s why I went to Toronto earlier this month — but my first official day with the CBC is Monday.)
I’m excited about the project. It’s an important story that needs a broader national audience, and the reporting requires me to acquire new skills. I’m working with some fantastic people here in Halifax — Janice Evans, Nancy Hunter, and Tina Pittaway — and have access to CBC experts and resources who can help the project along.
Of course now I have to juggle my responsibilities at the Halifax Examiner with my work on the podcast. With the help of the Examiner’s fantastic freelancers, I think I’m getting the time management side of that down, but there remains the financial worry.
In the end, the podcast is a slight financial gain — I’ll get paid a bit more than the increased amount the Examiner will pay out to freelancers to cover my time. But in the meanwhile, for the first time in its five-year history the Examiner is going into debt. This makes it more difficult to do things like, for instance, hire a lawyer to sic on the Halifax police department.
All of which to say, if you value the Halifax Examiner, and if you’d like to assist in getting the full Glen Assoun story told, this would be an excellent time to subscribe.
2. Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness
The Nova Scotia Nature Trust issued the following release last night
The Nova Scotia Nature Trust announced a 2.1 million dollar campaign today, to save an ecologically rich 232 hectare urban wildland. Securing the “Blue Mountain Wilderness Connector” will fill a critical gap in the wilderness and protect the heart of the beloved Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes from development. The land deal will help to preserve an important wildlife corridor, and treasured hiking and canoeing paradise, just minutes from downtown Halifax.
The 232 hectare (575 acre) property is located within an area known as the Blue Mountain – Birch Coves Lakes, a vast expanse of undeveloped wildlands between Hammonds Plains, Timberlea, and Halifax. It is one of the last, large, intact areas of urban wildlands in Halifax. The lands encompass a mosaic of extensive forests, bogs and wetlands rich in biodiversity, rocky barrens and hills, sparkling rivers and 3 pristine headwater lakes. The diverse habitats support over 150 species of birds including loons, osprey and woodpeckers, and many sensitive and at-risk species like Canada Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Common Nighthawk. The area is popular for hikers, paddlers, birdwatchers and anglers.
While final boundaries and type of protected area are still to be determined for the broader Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes area, the Nature Trust, community groups, the Municipality and the Province all share a common vision of a large protected urban wildland, bringing together multiple parcels of government-owned and private lands in some form of protection. Many of these parcels are not yet protected, and face the increasing threat of urban development.
The first big step towards fulfilling the urban wildland vision was the Province’s designation of two large Crown land blocks as Wilderness Area in 2009 and 2015, protecting 1767 hectares (4366 acres). Then in 2018 and 2019, the Municipality purchased and added 210 hectares (519 acres) of private lands. Neither the Province nor the Municipality was actively pursuing the Blue Mountain Wilderness Connector property, and citizens and community groups were growing increasingly concerned about threats to this central and highly strategic property. So, the Nature Trust stepped in to help.
The land purchase will fill the worrisome large gap between the existing protected sections of the wildlands, creating a contiguous 12 kilometer corridor important for wildlife, including the endangered Mainland moose. This corridor was identified as a priority greenspace to provide landscape ‘connectivity’ in the City’s Green Network Plan. In all, 2209 hectares (5460 acres) will have been protected by the Nature Trust, the Province and the Municipality once this latest addition is complete.
The owners of the property, Robin Wilber and Bill Fenton, responded favourably to the Nature Trust’s encouragement to add their lands to the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness. They recognized that while forestry and urban development are important, some places, like their lands, are just so unique and so strategic for conservation, that they are truly irreplaceable.
The landowners agreed to forgo potential development, instead selling their land to the Nature Trust, to add to the growing protected area. They generously agreed to donate a sizable part of the land’s value as a charitable gift. The remainder will be purchased by the Nature Trust.
This is excellent news, and it adds substantially to the integrity of the wilderness, as well the potential of the wilderness park. Now, the only major obstacle is that Highway 113 corridor, cutting right through the heart of the wilderness. It’s time to abort the planning for that roadway.
3. Booze at Dal
Dalhousie University has suspended the liquor licences at all Dalhousie Student Union facilities.
Power was out yesterday at Dal, and the university closed early. Maybe someone will address DSU’s non-compliance with the alcohol policy today.
In the meanwhile, the University Pub is open, albeit non-accessible, so not really open at all.
Stephen Archibald can find delight in anything, even scaffolding. (Only Archibald could write “I also notice good scaffold, so this sent me on a quick search of my photos, that yielded a couple of scaffold images.”) But he muses about Halifax’s uninspired scaffolding:
Regularly buildings in Halifax get wrapped in boring white. Imagine if the scaffold on City Hall in 2011 had an image of an old growth forest or Dalhousie College, the building that was once stood in that exact location.
And neither here nor there, but that photo demonstrates that Dawn Sloane was right about the Fallen Peace Officers memorial — it destroyed the architectural character of Grand Parade, and either should have never been built in the first place or set on one edge of the square.
The cenotaph likewise interrupted the “grand” sweep from City Hall to St. Paul’s Church, but it at least left enough space in the square to give one a sense of space.
The Fallen Peace Officers memorial makes the whole place too busy, it interrupts the eye, and indeed interrupts the crowds that still try to assemble for such events as the New Years Eve concert or political protests like the student strike. It first amuses me, then saddens me, to watch as each year the concert organizers try to figure out where best to put the stage; in the end, they seem to realize that it’s just impossible to get a good view of anything in Grand Parade anymore.
A perfectly useful public space was ruined because no politician had the backbone to stand with Sloane against a garish intrusion into our civic architecture.
No public meetings.
Legislature sits (Friday, 9am, Province House)
Noon Hour Piano Recital (Friday, 11;45am, Room 406, Dal Arts Centre) — students of Peter Allen will perform.
Si in Ligand Design: Novel Structure and Reactivity Involving Transition Metal silyl Pincer Complexes (Friday, 1:15pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Laura Turculet will talk.
“Mid Way Betwixt Slaves and Men”: Mary Ann Shadd Cary and the Race Politics of Becoming Provincial Freeman in 1850s Canada West (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1107, Marion McCain Building) — Melissa Shaw from Queen’s University will talk.
What is Sports Journalism in the Age of Simulation? (Friday, 2pm, in the theatre named after a bank, in the building named after a grocery store) — Brian Kennedy from Pasadena City College will talk. More info here.
Mount Saint Vincent
Overcoming white supremacy through teaching with narrative disclosure (Friday, 7pm, Multi-purpose Room, Rosaria Student Centre) — Stephen D. Brookfield from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis – St. Paul, Minnesota will talk.
In the harbour
06:00: Celebrity Summit, cruise ship with up to 2,100 passengers, arrives at Pier 31 from Sydney, on a 14-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
06:00: Jennifer Schepers, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
08:30: Atlantic Sun, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
09:30: Veendam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Bar Harbor
10:15: AIDAdiva, cruise ship with up to 2,050 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Bar Harbor, on a 10-day cruise from New York to Montreal
16:00: ZIM Vancouver, container ship, arrives at HalTerm from Valencia, Spain
18:00: Celebrity Summit sails for New York
19:30: BW Raven, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Sept-Iles, Quebec
19:30: AIDAdiva sails for Quebec City
As a demonstration of my newly acquired time management skills, I have to cut today’s Morning File a bit short because I have a 10am meeting. I had a bunch more to write about, sigh.