1. Jails lose crime investigation evidence
“On Tuesday, I attended Dartmouth Provincial Court for the preliminary inquiry into the murder of Nadia Gonzalez,” writes El Jones:
Samanda Ritch and Calvin Sparks are charged with first degree murder.
But before the inquiry could start, there were two issues. The first was that Sparks’ lawyer, James Giacomantonio, had to remove himself from the case due to an ethical conflict (which he specified had nothing to do with Sparks). The second, more disturbing issue, was that Sparks’ disclosure (the evidence to be used against him by the crown) had been lost.
Jones goes on to detail the Kafkaesque bureaucratic snafus that led to the evidence being lost, then notes:
The sensitive information has been missing for over a month, and no one has any idea where it is. The documents include crime scene photos, names of witnesses, video of statements to the police, and other evidence. The privacy of every person named in those files has been compromised.
Jones also raises the issue of jail accountability:
Beyond the immediate issue of what happened to this evidence, I think there’s an issue of broader importance here. As Tim reported on with the recent habeas applications by prisoners at Burnside, when prisoners make allegations against the institution, they are always at a disadvantage. Despite repeated evidence of failure to disclose reports, coverups in cases of deaths in custody, failure to follow procedures and file paperwork correctly, and a consistent lack of transparency, each new incident that is revealed is treated as surprising and as a singular mistake.
Prisoners allege that they receive privileged mail that has been opened. Defence lawyers have repeatedly complained that they are not given access to their clients when they call provincial jails. Prisoners who attempt to challenge the conditions of confinement in the courts find those conditions conveniently lifted so their applications become moot, then reinstated once the threat of legal action is past.
What is surprising is not that disclosure was lost, but that despite a glaring lack of accountability, jails will continue to receive benefit of the doubt.
Yesterday, the province announced it was proceeding with a P3 model (public-private partnership) for the redevelopment of the QE2 Hospital:
Funding for construction to expand the Halifax Infirmary site and develop the community outpatient centre in Bayers Lake will be through a public-private-partnership (P3) using the design-build-finance-maintain model. A request for qualifications will be issued this fall for a partner to do the design build, finance and maintenance of the project over a 30-year period.
CBC reporters Jean Laroche and Michael Gorman have more details:
The Nova Scotia government has decided to partner with a private company to replace three aging buildings at the QEII hospital complex in Halifax, part of a $2-billion redevelopment of the Maritime region’s major hospital system.
Premier Stephen McNeil revealed for the first time that, while it will be a while before the project has an exact cost, it’s estimated that all the work — including what’s already been completed — will cost about $2 billion.
“We have not built something like this in our province in a very long time, if ever.”
It’s one of the key reasons the government opted to go with the P3 model, said McNeil. The government believes it gives the greatest certainty for work to be done on budget and as ordered.
While all health-care services will be delivered publicly, the private partner will be tasked with maintaining the buildings and delivering them back to the province in 30 years in the same condition as the day they open, said McNeil.
The premier said P3 also gives the government more flexibility for continuing with the rest of its capital plan for projects such as schools and roads.
The province will pay 50% of the cost of the project when it reaches “substantial completion” then pay the balance in regular payments to the private partner over the course of the 30-year agreement.
P3 financing does not have a good track record in Nova Scotia. As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote:
The Nova Scotia government is entering a period of decision-making over the future of 39 public-private partnership (P3) schools across the province. Over the next few years, the province must decide whether to purchase the schools, renew the leases or surrender the buildings to the developers. Since the earliest days of the program in the 1990s, the P3s schools have been controversial. Cost overruns, massive private profits, mismanagement, and problems with the construction and management of the schools have all been reported.
In general, the P3 schools program was a failure; while the buildings are viewed as satisfactory, they cost tens of millions of dollars more than the traditional procurement system. This result could have been avoided if the government had used ap- propriate evidence-based decision making processes prior to committing to the P3 approach. The government would be well-advised to learn from this situation and to enhance their efforts to make decisions based on evidence rather than political motivation. There were also considerable problems with the procurement process in general that could be improved.
In Ontario, P3 financing has also failed:
The Nova Scotia Health Coalition says the profit private companies have made in Ontario building hospitals would be better spent providing front-line health care for patients. Chris Parsons of the Coalition points to a 2014 report by Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk. She found that between 2005 and 2014, it cost Ontario taxpayers an extra $8 billion to pay private companies to finance and build hospitals, court houses, and jails than if the government had put up the money.
Moreover, as Jennifer Henderson reported earlier this year, a study that was used to justify the P3 financing for the Nova Scotia hospitals has not been made public, so we have no idea if the McNeil government “used ap- propriate evidence-based decision making processes”:
The provincial government is paying Deloitte half a million dollars to recommend whether the Province should use some type of a public-private-partnership (P3) to finance, build, and maintain two new outpatient centres.
Laroche and Gorman report that:
The province has repeatedly refused to release that [Deloitte] report. McNeil says the report will be released once the private partner is chosen, since revealing it now could negatively impact the competitive process and resulting negotiations.
On the face of it, paying private companies to construct and maintain provincial buildings will cost more than if the government built and maintained them — the private companies require a profit return the government doesn’t need. But governments (both in Ontario and now in Nova Scotia) argue that the P3 financing is valuable because it makes sure that the buildings are constructed on time and on budget. As Henderson reported:
In other words, it all comes down to the ability of governments to manage the work that needs to be done — something that so far has failed to inspire much confidence in Nova Scotians, considering a replacement for the VG hospital site is now years overdue, as well as being a complex project with dozens of moving parts and a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Lack of expertise — or “capacity” — may explain why the McNeil government is contracting out the planning job to replace the VG Hospital.
But that doesn’t let the politicians off the hook when it comes to deciding whether it’s a better deal for taxpayers to pay the money upfront (the government can borrow at a lower rate of interest than companies can) or stretch out payments over 30 years (with interest) to a private developer.
I will return to this in more detail in the future.
3. Nail gun
“A man has been arrested after a construction worker in Nova Scotia’s Pictou County alleged harassment by a colleague escalated last month from racist name calling to being purposely shot in the back with a nail gun,” reports Mairin Prentiss for the CBC:
Nhlanhla Dlamini, 21, said he was working at the site of a new home in Abercrombie when his co-worker pulled back the safety on the air-powered tool, aimed it at him, and waited for him to turn and run before firing.
RCMP said Wednesday that a 43-year-old man was arrested Sept. 27 and is facing a charge of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. They have not released the man’s name.
A lawyer for Dlamini’s employer, P.Q. Properties Ltd., has vigorously maintained the Sept. 19 nail-gun shooting was an accident, dismissing the police investigation as “ridiculous.”
On the day of the incident, Dlamini, who is black, said his co-worker accused him of working too slowly before threatening him with the nail gun.
“He turned around and pulled the safety on the gun, and points at me and says, ‘I’ll show you how to speed up,’” Dlamini said in an interview with CBC News.
“I just looked at him and I was just like, ‘What are you doing that for?’ And he just smiled.
“And when he smiled about it, I just turned around and started running. And that’s when he shot the air nail and it hit me in the back.”
His lung was punctured with a 3½-inch framing nail, he said.
Taryn Grant at StarMetro Halifax spoke with Dlamini’s mother, Stacey Dlamini:
Her son took a 3.5-inch nail to the back, by her account, and fell to the ground. She said the alleged shooter “ripped out” the nail and threw it away before their employer, Paul Quinn, and a few other coworkers gathered around.
Stacey maintains that her son was intentionally targeted and attacked.
She said that during the three weeks her son worked for Quinn, the co-worker who allegedly shot Nhlanhla had taken to calling him a nickname that “rhymes with the N-word” and had joked about how every white person deserves to own a Black person. She said the alleged shooter also bullied her son by trying to knock him off balance when he was carrying loads of plywood and on one occasion stapled his coat to a set of stairs.
4. Weed prices
Through its “StatsCannabis” app, Stats Canada is tracking the retail price of cannabis as legalization approaches. The agency warns that the data is “subject to potential statistical bias because the sample is self-selected.”
Even so, yesterday Stats Canada published its survey results of weed prices for the third quarter of 2018:
The price of dried cannabis reported increased 1.3%, from $7.10 per gram in the second quarter to $7.20 per gram in the third quarter. The third quarter price was based upon 1,277 submissions anonymously submitted by Canadians to the StatsCannabis website, up from 859 submissions in the second quarter. Higher prices were primarily reported in Ontario, up 5.8% to $7.49 per gram. Individuals in British Columbia reported the largest decline in the average price, down 7.5% from the second quarter to $7.04 per gram.
5. Everyone act quaint
“Potential new berths for cruise ships are being explored at Purdy’s Wharf in Halifax and Alderney Landing in Dartmouth, N.S.,” reports Steve Silva for Global:
“This is all very preliminary right now,” said Lane Farguson, manager of media relations and communications for the Halifax Port Authority, on Thursday.
Last year, there were 173 cruise ship visits with 292,000 crew members and guests — a record — he said. About 200 visits and more than 300,000 people are expected this year.
To facilitate future growth, there will eventually be a need for another berth, Farguson said.
Actually, there were only about 30 ships that came a bunch of times each. This year, for example, the Veendam is calling in Halifax 16 times; the Maasdam 15 times; the Adventure of the Seas nine times.
I have no idea what the future of the cruise industry holds. Maybe Farguson is right, and the increases in tourists will continue forever. Or maybe the space port becomes a reality and Americans start going to the moon instead of to Atlantic Canada. Who knows?
One things for certain, however: the justification for using public money to build new cruise ship berths will be based on very flimsy data, including spend-per-passenger figures provided by the cruise industry itself, and other questionable economic impact calculations.
Today, there will be 5,000 or so cruise ship tourists wandering around downtown, so everyone act quaint; wear your kilts, play your pipes, salt your cod, a few drunken brawls on the boardwalk for good measure. We wouldn’t want to disappoint.
Innocence Canada, the group that works to free and support people who have been wrongfully convicted, has honoured me with the Tracey Tyler Award, for my work on the Glen Assoun conviction.
Tracey Tyler was a reporter with the Toronto Star, who died of cancer at 50 years old in 2012. Tyler focused on the court reporting, and especially on opening the courts to the public (via her Justice Reporter newsletter), and on wrongful convictions. As Kirk Makin, then Tyler’s competitor at the Globe & Mail, said:
“In the late 1980s, Tracey announced in effect that wrongful convictions were destined to become the criminal justice issue of our time. Her editors, her bosses and (editor and later publisher) John Honderich listened,” Makin said. “In no small part, the ever-lengthening list of exonerees in this country owe their dramatic turns in fortune to the resources provided and the pressure exerted by the Toronto Star.”
Makin convinced Innocence Canada to name the reporting award for Tyler.
Makin retired as a reporter few years ago, and is now the co-president of Innocence Canada. The other co-president is Ron Dalton, himself an exoneree.
I was truly honoured to be given the award. Flabbergasted, really.
It was presented at Innocence Canada’s annual Wrongful Conviction Day Wednesday. It was both the 25th anniversary of the creation of Innocence Canada, and the fifth anniversary of the Tracey Tyler Award.
The event was held in the Ontario Law Society’s Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto. The prime focus of the evening was rightly on the exonerees, who wore T-shirts reading “It happened to me… it could happen to you.” In Canada, 22 people are now legally recognized as having been wrongfully convicted, although there are certainly many, many more. About half of them showed up Wednesday, including O’Neil Blackett, whose conviction was overturned Monday; Blackett was one of the victims of disgraced Sick Kids pathologist Charles Smith.
When it was my time at the podium, I gave a garbled version of this acceptance speech:
Thank you Innocence Canada for this award, and thank you for the hard work that you do.
I saw some of that work first-hand in the Glen Assoun case. Glen was wrongfully convicted in 1999 for the murder of a woman named Brenda Way, in Dartmouth Nova Scotia, just a few blocks from my home. I believe he was framed for the murder, and the case has all the hallmarks of wrongful convictions: tunnel vision by investigators, not one but two jailhouse snitches, and bad science — a murder weapon, a knife, that was predicted by a psychic and supposedly discovered by the victim’s sister at the murder scene many months later, was presented as evidence at trial, even though there was no physical evidence connecting it to either the murder or to Assoun. And the trial was a farce, surreal, really; Glen ended up spending 16 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
The entire Innocence Canada organization worked on Glen’s behalf, but especially so Sean MacDonald, who besides the many thousands of hours of legal work, also talked to Glen just about every day on the phone for years on end. The dedication is amazing, and more than a little inspiring.
Innocence Canada was successful in getting Glen Assoun released from prison in November 2014, four years ago next month. But Glen still has not been exonerated, and the Justice Department seems to have shelved his case. He lives in a kind of legal Limbo, neither guilty nor not guilty. He wears an electronic bracelet [I found out later in the evening it has recently been removed], is under house arrest. He must report to the police every week. Among other restrictions, he cannot drink alcohol, and must report to the police every time he interacts with a woman.… I called Glen’s situation a legal limbo, but for him it’s been a living hell. He survived prison for 16 years, but four years in this hell has led to a mental health crisis. And still the Justice Department won’t act on his file.
We must, I must, continue to work on the Glen Assoun file. Justice demands it.
Thank you again for the honour, and for your work.
Besides the bestowing of the Tracey Tyler Award, the evening also included the delivery of the Rubin Hurricane Carter Champion of Justice Award to Marlys Edwardh and the inauguration of the Donald Marshall, Jr. Award, given to Marshall posthumously.
There were musical performances by saxophonist Carson Freeman, singer-songwriter Dave Moran, and gospel singer Michelle Adams.
After the formal event, I joined the exonerees and Innocence Canada staffers and board members for dinner and drinks at the Jack Astors a couple of blocks away. It was truly an amazing collection of people.
The exonerees are a varied lot, from different backgrounds and ranging across the class, race, and education spectrums. But they each have a simple dignity about them, and it was interesting to watch them talk with each other.
These are men and women who have been through hell, and yet they don’t let that experience define them. “After the Inquiry, my lawyers said, ‘What are you going to do now?’” Tom Sophonow told me. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You’ve been doing nothing but working on this case for 20 years, you have to let it go.’” And so Sophonow bought a deteriorating historic house in British Columbia, and has been continually renovating it. He scrolled through his iPhone photos, showing me the detailed woodwork he is responsible for. It was stunning.
As Makin said, wrongful convictions are the justice issue of our time.
No public meetings.
Legislature sits (Friday, 9am, Province House)
Galois Irreducible Polynomials (Friday, 3pm, Room 227, Chase Building) — Abdullah Al-Shaghay will speak. His abstract:
We will introduce the definition of the Galois Irreducible Polynomials and discuss some of their interesting properties. No prior knowledge is required.
The Pradyumnābhyudaya of Ravivarman: Krishna’s Son Pradyumna on the Sanskrit Stage (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Chris Austin will speak.
SMU Indigenous Blanket Exercise (Friday, 10am, Saint Mary’s Art Gallery) — sign up here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mount Saint Vincent
Spiritualism, Telegraphs, and Other Victorian Obsessions (Friday, 2pm, Keshen Goodman Library) — Karen MacFarlane will speak.
In the harbour
05:00: Brotonne Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Fos Sur Mer, France
05:30: YM Modesty, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
07:00: Viking Sea, cruise ship with up to 928 passengers,arrives at Pier 20 from Boston (on an 11-day cruise from New York to Montreal)
07:30: Celebrity Summit, cruise ship with up to 2,100 passengers, arrives at Pier 31 from Sydney (on a 14-day round-trip cruise out of New York)
07:45: Queen Mary 2, cruise ship, with up to 2,620 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Sydney (on a seven-day cruise from Quebec City to New York)
09:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
11:00: a “french naval unit,” presumably a submarine, arrives at Shearwater
15:00: Brotonne Bridge sails for New York
15:30: Delhi Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
16:30: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
17:30: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Mariel, Cuba
17:30: Queen Mary 2 sails for New York
17:45: Viking Sea sails for Gaspé
18:00: Celebrity Summit sails for New York
21:00: YM Moderation, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
21:30: YM Modesty sails for New York
My various planes nearly crashed a thousand times each, including while descending into Toronto through a cloud composed of small boulders, but I somehow managed to survive. Back to real work today.
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