News

1. The McNeil government and secrecy

Left to right: (front row) Lena Diab, MLA Halifax Armdale: Paula Bond, VP, NS Health Authority; (back row) David Bell, urology specialist; Premier Stephen McNeil. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

“Is Nova Scotia Canada’s most secretive jurisdiction? Or does it just act that way?” asks Stephen Kimber. “Consider a few especially egregious, not-at-all-transparent episodes from just the last week.”

Click here to read “The McNeil government is going for the secrecy gold medal.”

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2. Masons Mountain Nature Reserve

The Masons Mountain Nature Reserve. Photo: NS Environment Protected Areas website
A topographic map shows the proximity of Cambellton to the Masons Mountain Nature Reserve. Source: https://en-ca.topographic-map.com/maps/qui/Nova-Scotia/

Reports Joan Baxter:

The proposed Inverness airport will either encroach on or be very near to the Masons Mountain Nature Reserve, a protected nature reserve. It’s not the kind of place one wants to have commercial jets “screaming in and out,” says the Raymond Plourde, the Ecology Action Centre’s wilderness coordinator.

Click here to read “‘Hands off our protected areas, and lay off our Crown land.’”

3. Much more on the Assoun wrongful conviction

I’ve written two more articles about Glen Assoun’s wrongful conviction.

Dave Moore. Photo: Facebook

And on Sunday, we published a look into how evidence that could have established Assoun’s innocence was kept from his lawyer:

The RCMP’s spin on the Glen Assoun wrongful conviction makes no sense. That is the view of two former RCMP officers who are familiar with the case.

It is now established that in 2004, the RCMP deleted information on a computer database that would have made the case that serial killer Michael McGray — not Glen Assoun — killed Brenda Way in 1995. As a result, Assoun spent another 10 years in prison.

The computer database is called the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS). (For a detailed explanation of ViCLAS, click here.) Starting in about 2001, ViCLAS analyst Dave Moore was searching for other murders that McGray may have committed, besides the six he had already been charged with. It’s that investigation that brought him to the Way murder, and to the information he put into the ViCLAS database.

Specifically, Moore tells the Halifax Examiner that he made 369 entries related to McGray into the ViCLAS database.

In 2004, however, that information was deleted.

But that wasn’t the only information Moore had related to his McGray investigation.

Moore says he made paper backups of each of the 369 entries. Additionally, he did considerable field work, and had 10 notebooks — one notebook for each of 10 witnesses he interviewed in the Assoun case.

Moore also had gigantic flow charts on his office wall. “I had a 5 ft x 4 ft chart on Assoun,” he tells the Examiner. “Over the top was an onion skin of the same size. The onion skin overlay was a timeline of when [McGray] was in any particular place in North America, based on the cashing of his welfare cheques.”

And in a recorded interview obtained by the Examiner, in 2014 Moore told Justice Department lawyer Mark Green that he had collected psychiatric reports and prison records on McGray.

All that information was collected in boxes in Moore’s ViCLAS office, in the Sunnyside Tower in Bedford. But in March 2004, when Moore returned from a short vacation, he found all his entries into the ViCLAS system had been deleted and all the paper records — the paper backups of the ViCLAS entries, the notebooks, the flowcharts, the prison reports, etc. — had been removed from his office. Most of that information is missing to this day, and presumed destroyed.

“All that critical evidence was locked in a four-tier file cabinet,” Moore tells the Examiner. “My office door also had a lock on it and I worked alone in my office. When I returned from holidays, my locks were busted off my cabinet.”

Click here to read “Dave Moore’s work could have cleared Glen Assoun of murder; here’s how and why the RCMP destroyed it.”

Glen Assoun. Photo: Halifax Examiner

And on Friday, we published the first part of my nearly two-hour interview with Assoun:

“Prison was hell,” he repeats. “It was hell to me every day. Every day. Every day was a struggle. And every day it was a fight. I was in danger at all times. Just all times.

“You know, I was tortured in prison.”

Assoun went on to detail an attack by seven guards at the Dorchester Penitentiary.

That attack was in 2003 or 2004. In 2015, Matthew Hines died after a violent interaction with guards in the same prison

Click here to read “‘Prison was hell’: Glen Assoun tells his story.”

I’ll be writing more about our interview soon.

This morning, CBC reporter Blair Rhodes discusses the court testimony of the woman I’ve been calling “Roberta.” Roberta testified that she had been viciously attacked by a man who told her he had killed Brenda Way. She identified that man as Glen Assoun, but has since come to doubt that identification.

I wrote about Roberta last week. She was, I think, a problematic witness from the start, but how police dealt with her before her testimony is even more problematic. I wrote:

The court documents released Friday [July 12] show a more complex version of Roberta’s role as a crown witness against Assoun. In the documents, Justice Department lawyer Mark Green related what Roberta had told Assoun’s lawyers in a videotaped interview in 2010:

[Roberta] stated that before giving her first written statement to police on September 17, 1998, she recalls a series of events and conversations that happened at the Halifax Police Station. She remembers being picked up for public intoxication or prostitution and being locked up. Police officers brought her into an interview room and showed her a video with [Assoun] in it and said to her, “This was him, wasn’t it?” From that point on, she says police officers kept harassing her about [Assoun] being that one that assaulted her and admitted to killing “Pit Bull.” She said the police kept picking her up for insignificant things. She was told that if she didn’t tell the police everything she knew, she would sit in the cell and told she could be charged with withholding evidence. She said that she was not shown pictures of any other suspects.

[Roberta] said that her attacker told her he lived on Jackson Road. A few months prior to the trial in 1999, [Roberta] said she moved to Ontario to try and get away from negative influences in the Halifax area. She said she was arrested in Ontario and incarcerated. After being released, she learned that she had to get on the next plane back to Halifax for [Assoun’s] trial that had been scheduled for early June 1999. She said that police provided her accommodation in the Sheraton Casino Hotel where, known to the police, she did drugs and prostituted herself. As the trial did not go ahead at that time, she returned to Ontario and then came back to Halifax in August 1999 to testify. None of the above was mentioned during [Roberta’s] trial testimony.

If true, Roberta’s claim that police first harassed her to get her to testify against Assoun and then put her up in a hotel and allowed her to use drugs and work as a sex worker so long as she would give that testimony against Assoun demonstrates very problematic behaviour on the part of the police. Had knowledge of that police behaviour been made available to Assoun’s defence lawyer or even to the crown prosecutor, it’s unlikely that Roberta’s evidence would have been allowed at trial.

4. More right whale deaths

Right whales. Photo: NOAA

“Two more North Atlantic right whales have been found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the seventh and eighth whales to be found dead in Canadian waters this year,” reports Sarah Morin for the CBC:

The body of a male right whale was spotted drifting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during an aerial surveillance flight, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada said Friday.

The whale was sighted Thursday afternoon west of Magdalen Island.

And this morning, the CBC reports on a ninth right whale death.

5. Northern Bottlenose Whale

Northern Bottlenose Whales. Females and young males have rounded foreheads. Photo: H. Moors-Murphy

Another endangered whale is the Northern Bottlenose Whale. According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO):

The Scotian Shelf population of Northern Bottlenose Whales is small, with an estimated 143 animals. Current threats to the population include (in no particular order) entanglement, oil and gas activities, acoustic disturbance, contaminants, changes in food supply, and vessel strikes. Anthropogenic (human-caused) noise is of particular concern since Northern Bottlenose Whales rely on sound to carry out their life functions, including foraging, socializing, and navigation. The deep-diving behaviour of these whales may make them especially vulnerable to physiological impacts from acoustic disturbance.

This morning, DFO issued an Advance Contract Award Notice, noting that it intends to give a no-bid $23,700 contract to Dalhousie University’s Marine Gene Probe Lab to conduct low-depth genome resequencing for northern bottlenose whales, as part of a “recovery strategy and an action plan for the population”:

The Marine Gene Probe Lab (MGPL) will prepare biopsy tissue samples for sequencing including DNA extraction, purification, quantification, and quality control for required sequencing standards. DNA from at least 20 individuals will be individually barcoded and prepared for sequencing using Illumina NexteraXT Library Preparation Kits, and sequenced on an Illumina NovaSeq instrument. DNA libraries will be standardized for a target sequencing depth of 10X.

6. Cyclist struck

A police release from Saturday:

At 9:35 a.m. [Saturday] police attended a motor vehicle collision involving a bicycle at the intersection of Mumford Rd. and Chebucto Rd. in Halifax.  The 35 year old male cyclist was struck by the vehicle while turning left in the intersection and was transported to hospital for what are believed to be non-life threatening injuries.

The driver of the vehicle a 74 year old female was treated and released at the scene. 

After investigation the driver of the vehicle was issued a summary offence ticket under section 93(2)(e) for failing to stop at a red light.

7. Trip Advisor and the Yarmouth Ferry

“[Because of the cancellation of the Yarmouth ferry for most if not all of the summer,] the owner of the Lakelawn B&B and Motel in Yarmouth says 80 per cent of his business has been cancelled so far,” reports

He says last winter he worked twice as hard to get early bookings because he was concerned about Bay Ferries’ move from Portland to Bar Harbor. 

“Because of the online trend, bookings are earlier,” he said. “By May or June you’re almost already done with your reservations. The biggest problems are the cancellations and refilling these rooms and the side effect of that is people are complaining about the cancellation fee.”

 The fallout has been a “nightmare” for him, resulting in some bad reviews on TripAdvisor, he says, where the hotel has been rated #1 of six establishments.  

“Just today alone I lost 72 room nights. In the last three hours the phone hasn’t stopped. In total I have lost 844 room nights (as of July 5). It’s just mushroomed from every angle. Last year was the best year, the best year ever,” he said. 

He adds the one thing that’s worse than not having a ferry is having a ferry that keeps cancelling two weeks before sailing.

I wondered about the Trip Advisor thing — surely, travellers can’t fault the owner for the ferry cancellation? — so I went to take a look.

Most of the reviews of the Lakelawn B&B and Motel are positive, and his overall ratings look pretty good to my untrained eye. But there was this exchange between “bj w” from Bangor, Maine and the hotel:

They lie!
They say publicly that their cancellation policy only applies to hotel.com bookings. We booked directly and they charged us $88 for the privilege, when we canceled due to the ferry cancellation out of Bar Harbor. We gave them 1 1/2 and three 1/2 months notice. Yet they charged $88+ dollars, publicly saying it was our fault, that the ferry was in fact operating. Check the website. It is not. Ironically this company, that relies on the ferry business, did not even know about the delays when we called them. They will publish pages worth of responses calling everyone who disagrees with them liar. I have emails that show that we booked directly with them and yet they say publicly we did not. Their favorite phrase is “shame on you.” Note the tone of their responses. You make the decision on who tells the truth here. Lake Lawn Motel, shame on you!
Date of stay: July 2019

Response from lakelawnMotel, Public Relations Manager at Lakelawn B&B Motel

Responded 1 week ago
We are very clear about our cancellation policy. The policy is the same on all websites no matter who you book with. Only those with a good reason and kind people get a bit of a break whenever we can. Demanding and condescending people do not get anywhere with us. You were trying to intimidate the employee who was trying to help you. I listened to your conversation. You threatened him.You called him names AND MADE FUN OF HIS CANADIAN accent. You also did not provide a good reason for cancelling. The ferry is not cancelled for the date you were booked…..Travelers know that all hotels have a cancellation policy and nowhere does it say you cancel for free. You did not book with us either. You did not read the policy and demand to get your way. YOU ARE THE EXAMPLE of a traveler who we do not welcome here. Your threat to our staff on the phone has not gone unnoticed. You have no business booking in advance if you are not willing to pay cancellation once in a while.We all have to do it. Some other hotels charge you the full amount in advance and offers no refund or cancellation. Start reading instead of writing reviews in such a vindictive style. Look at yourself instead of others.
The good thing is that most people are decent and do not act like you do.
Basil Fawlty

Basil Fawlty?

Wikipedia tells me that Basil Fawlty “is the main character of the 1970s British sitcom Fawlty Towers, played by John Cleese. The proprietor of the hotel Fawlty Towers, he is a cynical and snobbish misanthrope who is desperate to belong to a higher social class. His attempts to run the hotel often end in farce.”

Er, OK.


Noticed

Over the weekend, Earth.com’s “Image of the Day” was of Nova Scotia:

Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

“The image was captured on May 7, 2019 by an astronaut onboard the International Space Station (ISS) using a short camera lens to obtain the wide field of view,” writes Chrissy Sexton.

On the same day, the unnamed astronaut (undoubtedly a Russian spy), took a “looking back” photo of Nova Scotia and PEI:

Photo: Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

Government

No public meetings today or Tuesday.


On campus

Dalhousie

Monday

Pop-up Loose Parts Playground (Monday, 11am, beside the playground on Halifax Commons) — aimed at children 2 to 12 years. More info and registration here.

Microearthquake Detection from Template Matching to Machine Learning (Monday, 11:30am, Room 3652, Oceanography Wing, Life Sciences Centre) — Zhigang Peng from the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, will speak. The abstract:

Recent advancements in seismic instrumentations around the world provide an unprecedented opportunity to unravel detailed structures of the Earth’s interior and decipher earthquake processes. While many earthquakes have been routinely picked by seismic network analysts, a significant fraction of them are still missing, especially during intensive earthquake swarms, episodic tremor and slip, or foreshock/aftershock sequences. These missing events could be detected by a template matching method, which uses waveforms of existing events as templates to scan through continuous data for new events with high similarities. In this talk I first report our group’s recent efforts to use this method to systematically detect regular and slow low-frequency microearthquakes along major plate-boundary faults. Our results show that transient stresses on the order of a few kilopascals are capable of triggering fault slip at long-range distances, suggesting that earthquakes and faults are better connected than previously thought. These newly detected events help to better illuminate fault interfaces ruptured during large earthquakes, and how faults relieve stresses in fast and slow slips. Next I discuss how to go beyond template-matching methods and use network-based similarity and machine-learning techniques to pick seismic phases from large continuous waveforms. Unlike other deep learning methods that requires up to millions of accurately picked phases as labels, our method based on convolutional neural networks (CNNs) can be trained a relatively small labeled dataset. In addition, they can be applied to other regions with small modifications, suggesting that machine-learning based methods are more general than template matching methods and have great potential for detecting new seismic events from continuous waveforms.

Tuesday

PhD Defence, Physics and Atmospheric Science (Tuesday, 10am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD Candidate Samuel Baldwin will defend “Structural Variation and Enzymatic Susceptibility of Collagen Fibrils Extracted from Native and Overloaded Tail Tendons​.”

Community Garden (Tuesday, 12pm, Henry Street behind the Computer Science Building) — volunteers wanted. All fresh produce donated to the Loaded Ladle’s free meals program for students. Info and sign-up sheet here.


In the harbour

Monday
05:00: YM Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
07:45: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal
08:30: Decisive, cable layer, sails from Pier 27 for sea
09:30: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Portland
15:00: YM Express sails for Rotterdam
15:00: MOL Paradise, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
15:30: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
17:45: Zaandam sails for Sydney
22:00: Acadian sails for sea

Tuesday
05:30: Toledo, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
09:30: MOL Paradise, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
14:00: Sycara V, superyacht, arrives at Tall Ships Quay from St. John’s
16:00: Toledo sails for sea

Where are the Canadian military ships?



Footnotes

The thunderstorms were cool.


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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. I was hoping Portia Clark would ask the new Police Commission chair Natalie Borden about the Glen Assoun case this morning, but nothing. Disappointing.

  2. I went past the site of that Mumford crash and wondered if a cyclist had been hit. The windshield was smashed on the passenger side.