News

1. Investigating cops, and non-investigating cops

Glen Assoun. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Yesterday, at the post-cabinet scrum with reporters, Justice Minister Mark Furey told me that the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) has agreed to investigate police action related to the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun.

Last month, SIRT Director Felix Cacchione told me that in his opinion the Assoun case lay outside SIRT’s mandate because the events happened before the creation of SIRT, so yesterday’s announcement from Furey is an important reversal. I haven’t yet been able to ask Cacchione about it, but Blair Rhodes at the CBC did:

On Thursday, Cacchione said he’s changed his mind.

“Given that the matter was referred by the minister, given the nature of the case itself, the fact that a wrongful conviction occurred or may have occurred, and the public interest in this case to ensure that it’s completely and transparently investigated, we moved from our initial position that we don’t normally take cases that have occurred prior to the inception of SIRT,” he said.

This means that police are being criminally investigated for their involvement in Assoun’s wrongful conviction, albeit that criminal investigation is being conducted by SIRT’s investigators, some of whom are simply cops on loan from the very police departments being investigated.

Furey did not provide any more information about the SIRT investigation, so I don’t know if SIRT is looking solely at the destruction of evidence in 2005 — evidence held in the RCMP Viclas office that may have cleared Assoun and should have been, but wasn’t, disclosed to Assoun’s lawyer — or if SIRT is additionally looking at the Halifax Regional Police Department investigation that led to Assoun’s conviction in 1999. Justice for Assoun demands that SIRT look at both.

I’ve written substantially about the destruction of evidence. See for example here and here, and episodes 6 and 7 in the Uncover: Dead Wrong podcast.

But while I have written about the faults with the police investigation into the murder of Brenda Way (see here), I haven’t spelled out the most egregious police acts during that period. I’ll do that in a Dead Wrong Extra just as soon as I can. (I ambitiously thought I could do it this morning, but there are a lot of court transcripts to dig through.)

So SIRT has lots to investigate.

Christine Jessop

Late yesterday afternoon, news broke that Toronto police have solved the murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop in 1984.

After Christine’s murder, the Durham Regional Police Service charged Guy Paul Morin for the crime, but a jury found him not guilty. The crown appealed that verdict and the court ruled that Morin could be tried again, and he was convicted in 1990. The case against Morin had many of the hallmarks of wrongful convictions — tunnel vision, junk science, jailhouse snitches, unreliable witnesses, among others — and he was convicted and sent to prison.

But a group of lawyers came to Morin’s defence, and he was eventually fully exonerated. Those lawyers went on to form a group called the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC), which recently has changed its name to Innocence Canada. Innocence Canada lawyers successfully got Glen Assoun exonerated last year.

Even though Morin was exonerated, Christine Jessop’s murder remained unsolved. Importantly, however, the murder investigation was handed over to the Toronto Police Service — an agency not involved in the wrongful conviction of Morin. Yesterday, the Toronto police explained that:

As for how her killer was identified, [deputy chief] Ramer explained DNA sample taken from evidence, sent to a lab in the U.S. with a cutting-edge technology not widely available, and eventually produced [Calvin] Hoover’s name through a process involving genetic genealogy.

Ontario’s Centre for Forensic Sciences has a number of samples, some known and unknown, Ramer said.

The sample obtained from Jessop’s underwear was an unknown sample. When Hoover’s name was produced through the work of the U.S. lab, the centre, which happened to have a sample corresponding to Hoover, compared the two samples and found them to be a match.

Calvin Hoover was a neighbour to the Jessop home. He committed suicide in 2015.

So a 36-year-old cold case was solved because an independent police investigation kept looking into it.

Brenda Way

Which brings us to the murder of Brenda Way. Now that Glen Assoun has been fully exonerated, Brenda’s murder remains an unsolved 25-year-old cold case. But there’s no indication that any police are reinvestigating the murder. Halifax police have not added Brenda’s name to their major unsolved case page, and neither has the province.

That’s because both the RCMP and the Halifax Regional Police Department simply want the unsolved murder to go away. They’re more concerned about being embarrassed by — or criminally charged because of —  Assoun’s wrongful conviction than they are about finding a murderer.

Is it possible to find and convict the person or people who killed Brenda Way after all these 25 years? Remember that Christine Jessop’s murder has been solved after an even longer period.

Unlike in Christine’s case, there’s no physical evidence, no DNA, to help solve Brenda’s murder. There is, however, good evidence implicating serial killer Michael McGray and perhaps an accomplice. But I don’t want to fall into the same tunnel vision trap that caused Halifax police to zero in on Glen Assoun to the exclusion of all other potential suspects, and there are plenty of other suspects in the Brenda Way case — a veritable rogues’ gallery of violent men who were hovering around Brenda and North Dartmouth at the time of her murder.

So far as a Brenda Way murder investigation goes, Halifax police and the RCMP are irreparably compromised and discredited. They should have nothing to do with it. What’s required is an independent investigation, conducted by people who have no previous connection whatsoever to the case.

As Justice Minister, Furey should direct that an outside agency be brought in to investigate the murder of Brenda Way.

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2. Policing review is public

The cover page of the recently released Policing Resource Review.

“They had nothing to hide, but they hid it anyway,” reports Zane Woodford:

Following months of requests from the Halifax Examiner, the municipality has made a consultant’s report into police resources public. And while the report is somewhat heavily-redacted, it contains nothing to justify keeping the entire document under wraps.

Click here to read “Declassified: Redacted Halifax policing review finally made public.”

For me, the ViCLAS recommendations are most interesting, but I don’t have time to get into it this morning.

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3. COVID

Once again yesterday, Nova Scotia Health announced no new cases of COVID-19 were discovered in the province, and the number of known active cases has decreased to three. (Still, however, one person remains in ICU.)

In perhaps even better news, New Brunswick also announced no new cases yesterday. On Wednesday, both Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang said that the two recent outbreaks in New Brunswick have been contained, and yesterday’s zero new case announcement suggests that’s true. Strang said it was safe for Nova Scotians to travel to New Brunswick, and even to Moncton and Campbellton, the sites of the outbreaks; there is no current plan to close the provincial border.

In other COVID-related news, Nova Scotia has now activated the COVID Alert App (you can download it here). Here’s the government of Canada’s video explainer of the app:

Also yesterday, the provincial government announced a deal with PRAXES Medical Group to test travellers who would not otherwise be tested at the provincial lab:

COVID-19 testing for essential work or travel purposes is being expanded in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Health has reached an agreement with PRAXES Medical Group to support COVID-19 testing for people who require proof that they do not have the COVID-19 virus for work or travel.

PRAXES will begin COVID-19 testing, at a cost of $250 plus HST, beginning October 15. Testing will only be provided for:

  • Urgent, work-related travel that requires a negative COVID-19 test before departure.
  • Students or migrant workers who require a negative COVID-19 test before returning to their home countries.
  • Travel to visit a vulnerable, ill or elderly relative, attend a funeral or for other events on compassionate grounds when required by other provinces or countries.

PRAXES will not provide COVID-19 testing for non-essential travel or business-related purposes including vacations or business travel when virtual meetings are possible.

To request this service please contact https://praxes.ca/covidtest at least five days prior to your travel date. Those determined eligible will receive a link to book an appointment online within one business day.

Testing is available at the PRAXES location in Dartmouth and will be available in other areas across Nova Scotia at a later date. Test results will be available within 36 to 60 hours, depending on the number of tests being processed by Nova Scotia Health’s laboratory.

It appears that in terms of COVID risk, Nova Scotia is currently one of the safest places on the planet, although as New Brunswick has demonstrated, that could change on a dime, so we should all continue to practice distancing, mask-wearing, and the rest.

And of course there are still lots of other non-COVID risks out there — I’m worried that while I’m obsessing with distancing myself from people on the sidewalks this winter, I’m going to slip on the ice and break my head. But I’m telling myself I just need to get through the winter, and if all goes well, life will return to something like normal in the spring.

As they say: stay safe.

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4. Rebranding

One of the political parties put in a Freedom of Information request for the costs of rebranding the former Department of Natural Resources into the Department of Lands & Forestry. A non-answer came back:

The department did not proceed with the wholesale rebranding outlined in the estimates from 2018-07108-DNR. The approach is to replace signage as needed which is why many offices, vehicles and park signs still are branded as Natural Resources. There was no budget allocation for the name change and expenditures have been managed within existing resources.

Well, OK. But costs aside, these sorts of rebrandings are annoying. They’re PR moves, such that every successive government is saying, here’s what we really care about, unlike those nincompoops before us. And so the Department of Health becomes the Department of Health and Wellness. The Department of Labour becomes the Department of Labour and Advanced Education. The Department of Education becomes the Department of Education and Early Childhood Education. And on and on.

It’s even worse at universities. The old Department of Civil Engineering was perfectly descriptive, but someone decided that they could lure some of that Shell, Inc. money if they renamed it the Department of Civil and Resource Engineering. And whoever thought the name Department of Finance, Information Systems, and Management Science was a good idea?

Everything is a damn sell.

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Views

1. Liberal leadership

Richard Starr surveys the Liberal leadership race:

In alphabetical order we have Randy Delorey, the Health minister whose tenure has coincided with what has been described as a health care crisis, topped off by 57 deaths in nursing homes overseen by his department.

Then there is Labi Kousoulis, lately the Labour minister in a notoriously anti-labour government, and the post-secondary education boss who did nothing as university tuition fees in Nova Scotia became the highest in the country.

Finally, there is Iain Rankin minister of Lands and Forestry who wants to be seen as the environment candidate but will first have to deal with a record that includes permitting tire burning for fuel, and constant criticism from environmentalists over clear cutting on crown land.

Whichever one of the three wins, the attack lines from the opposition write themselves.

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Ask Us Anything

We’re gearing up for the annual Halifax Examiner November subscription drive. In past years, the subscription drive culminated with a subscriber party, but that’s just not a good idea during the pandemic. We’ll double up next year, hopefully.

But this year, we’re going to put together an “Ask Us Anything” session, where readers can ask us whatever they want about the Examiner and our work. (If you don’t know what an Ask Me Anything is, read here.) Philip Moscovitch has agreed to host and produce a podcast, collating questions from readers.

Feel free to ask any of us at the Examiner, well, anything. Perhaps you want to ask me something about the Glen Assoun case, or the sausage-making that goes into producing the Examiner. Maybe you want to ask Zane Woodford about covering city politicians. Or ask Joan Baxter about her gold obsession. Or whoever about whatever.

You can email your questions to Philip at philip@halifaxexaminer.ca; you get extra points for sending a voice memo so we can hear your voice in the podcast. I’m leaving this up to Philip; we won’t hear or read the questions before he brings them to us to answer.

Thanks much!

Oh, and you don’t have to wait until November to subscribe. We’ll take your money anytime, even right now.

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Government

No meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Concord Floral (Friday, 7:30pm) — Ann-Marie Kerr directs Jordan Tannihill’s play in the Fountain School’s first online show of the season. Matinee and audience talk-back Saturday at 2pm. More info here.

Strength of the Human Spirit: COVID19 Isolation, Loneliness & Societal Change (Saturday, 12pm) — Zoom presentation and workshop with Terry Waite, humanitarian kidnapped and held in solitary confinement for nearly five years. More info here.

Saint Mary’s

Evaluating sources (Friday, 12pm) — Learn how to evaluate search results, articles, websites, and more. Info and webinar link here.


In the harbour

05:00: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
06:00: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from the Sable Island field
10:30: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
12:30: Atlantic Kestrel moves to Irving Oil
15:30: ZIM Qingdao sails for New York
18:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
21:30: Atlantic Sky sails for Liverpool, England


Footnotes

I’m off to court this morning. The battle over search warrants in the mass murder investigation continues. There’s a chance I’ll have some news on that front later today, but I just don’t know yet. I do know I’m getting quite frustrated; this is taking a lot of my time and a lot of the Examiner’s money, for what appear to be diminishing returns.

Just thinking of this year. In January, I went to Florida to interview Dave Moore for the Dead Wrong podcast. Later that month I went twice to Virginia, once to say good-bye to my mom, and then to bury her. That was a huge personal loss. Then, in a rapid haze: the pandemic strikes, Black Lives Matter protests explode, the mass murders, continuing to produce the podcast, repeated police incidents, ongoing court battles, Indigenous fishers attacked, municipal elections, all in the shadow of the Trump mess and climate change… I’m probably missing a few things, and it’s no wonder I’m worn out.

Please subscribe, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

Tim Bousquet

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

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13 Comments

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  1. Reading the list of people in the liberal party leadership race invokes in me an overwhelming, and conflicting, emotional response of unfathomable sadness and tremendous anger.

    I should probably get a life coach.

  2. “This means that police are being criminally investigated for their involvement in Assoun’s wrongful conviction, albeit that criminal investigation is being conducted by SIRT’s investigators, some of whom are simply cops on loan from the very police departments being investigated.”

    SIRT is using the B.C. Independent Investigations Office for this review.

  3. Cacchione’s comment yesterday provides further proof that he is nothing but a placeholder whose puppet strings are pulled by politicians. This entire matter is a complete travesty and a black abyss of incompetence and wrong doing.

    That said, as long as the current cast of characters (MacNeil, Cacchione, Fury et all) are running the show the sad reality is those matters will never truly be independently and fully investigated nor will Brenda Way’s real killer be subject to the punishment deserved for that horrible act. This is a sad situation for not the Way family but the people of Nova Scotia.

  4. The Perrivale + Taylor report as posted is not searchable.
    If HRM saves money from changes in how HRP operates will that result in the province reducing the annual
    subsidy to HRM policing ? The subsidy of $3.8 million a year has been in place for more than a decade and funds 42 sworn officers. Eliminating or reducing the subsidy would free up money for the province to spend on social spending such as housing and combatting substance addiction. Or higher wages for staff in Long Term Care.

  5. Like you, I’m a bit worried about navigating icy sidewalks to maintain social distance…….a broken bone (hip, especially) would like cause me more problems than catching a virus…..but I would prefer to have to deal with neither.

  6. “…wrongful conviction…may have occurred…”.

    Am I the only person without any confidence in SIRT’s ability to investigate this matter honestly?

  7. Former police officers should be barred from serving as Minister of Justice. The 3 parties appointed former police officers PC – Murray Scott; NDP – Ross Landry; Liberal – Mark Furey. Murray Scott is seeking to become Warden of Cumberland County in the October 17 municipal election.

    1. Former police officers should be barred from serving as Minister of Justice.
      Absolutely. A no brainer!

    2. Actually Murray Scott is running to become Mayor of Cumberland County as the County has switched from have the Warden chosen by and from among the Councillors to an elected Mayor.

  8. The cost of the NS Government’s final re-brand of the Department of Lands & Forestry will be cheaper- Department of Lands & Tree (as in last one standing)