News

1. Northern Pulp Mill’s missing environmental data

The #nopipe land & sea rally at Northern Pulp Mill. Photo courtesy Gerard James Halfyard

“If Premier Stephen McNeil is wavering on the Northern Pulp / Paper Excellence file, entertaining notions on amending the Boat Harbour Act so that effluent from the Pictou County pulp mill can continue to flow into the lagoon after January 31, 2020, he would do well to put off any decision until he has taken the time to read a new study by three researchers from Dalhousie University, published last week in the Marine Pollution Bulletin,” writes Joan Baxter:

Jessica Romo, Meenakshi Chaudhary, and Tony R. Walker, of Dalhousie University’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies (Romo is additionally an employee of GHD, the firm hired to oversee the remediation of Boat Harbor), have done us lay-mortals a huge favour. They went through more than 200 government reports and eight peer-reviewed articles in their search for data on how pulp effluent has been affecting life in aquatic systems in Boat Harbour, Pictou Harbour, and the Northumberland Strait.

They aimed in part to identify gaps that might frustrate the establishment of a “baseline” for comparing changes over time.

They found plenty of gaps, concluding that the reports and studies provide inadequate data. This is how they put it in their measured, understated, and scientific way:

Selection of species, contaminants of concern and sampling locations were ad hoc and often inconsistent with environmental effects monitoring requirements under Canadian federal Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations.

I’m going to take the liberty of interpreting that statement in much more direct and far less diplomatic prose. Basically, the researchers found that the data that should have been collected over the years to provide a clear picture of how contaminants in the pulp effluent have been affecting the health of aquatic life — data the federal government should have been monitoring closely for coherence and compliance with its own laws — turns out to be grossly inadequate as a baseline for any future environmental assessments. In short, it’s all a confusing hodgepodge of partial and missing data, in a hodgepodge of studies.

Click here to read “Northern Pulp Mill’s missing environmental data.”

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2. Yarmouth to nowhere ferry

“Nova Scotia Transportation Minister Lloyd returned from Washington last week bubbling over with optimism for a summer season — albeit much, much shorter — for the Yarmouth-Bar Harbor tourist ferry,” writes Stephen Kimber. “Don’t hold your breath. But do hold on to your wallet.”

Click here to read “Don’t worry. Be happy. That’s only your tax dollars you see sinking.”

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3. The Assoun wrongful conviction: the McNeil connection

Glen Assoun. Photo: Halifax Examiner

I’m waiting anxiously to learn more details about Glen Assoun’s wrongful conviction for the murder of Brenda Way, and we’ll get full documentation on Friday.

The conviction will no doubt prove to be a fascinating story all in itself. But beyond that, we’ll also learn Friday about the cover up of the wrongful conviction — that is, the police malfeasance in the case.

Jerome Kennedy. Photo: St. John’s Telegram

Here’s what we know already. A very good lawyer from Newfoundland, a guy by the name of Jerome Kennedy, came to Halifax in 2006 to represent Assoun on his appeal. (Kennedy had previously championed another man, Ron Dalton, who had been wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife, and had gotten Dalton exonerated.) Assoun had no money, and was generally despised, but Kennedy saw merit in Assoun’s claims of innocence, so represented him.

Kennedy hired an investigator, a retired RCMP investigator turned private investigator named Fred Fitzsimmons, and Fitzsimmons dug up lots and lots of information that called into question Assoun’s conviction.

I’m not sure what or how it happened, but during the course of the appeal, the information Fitzsimmons dug up was run by Halifax police investigators, who did their own follow-up. I have no reason to believe the police investigators slacked on this, and indeed, we now know they took it further: they identified the person who actually killed Brenda Way. That is, they knew that Glen Assoun was in fact innocent of the crime.

However [wait a second on this], that information was not conveyed to Fitzsimmons, Kennedy, Assoun, or anyone else. Kennedy lost the appeal, and Assoun rotted in prison for another eight years.

Kennedy was so upset about the loss that he wrote a memo to the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, an organization that now goes by the name Innocence Canada. I described what happened next in Part 3 of the Dead Wrong series:

The [appellant court] judges ruled against Kennedy and refused to send Glen’s case back to trial.

Kennedy then decided to leave his law practice and get into politics.

“But before he went into politics, Jerome was diligent enough to put together a full memo on Glen’s case,” Sean MacDonald told me. “And that memo sat in AIDWYC, in a box. And then one day I just happened to be at the office, and I picked it up and started leafing through it sort of casually at first, and as I read every paragraph, paragraph after paragraph, it was sort of like a Grisham turn-pager. So I took it, and sunk my teeth in it — that was nine years ago. I’m so happy Jerome wrote that memo, because that’s what grabbed me.”

Moments before he was fully exonerated in March, Glen Assoun was told by Sean MacDonald: “It’s over.” The two embraced in tears. Left to right: Phil Campbell, Glen Assoun, Sean MacDonald, Amanda Assoun.

Sean MacDonald was born and raised in Halifax, became a Bay Street lawyer, and then ditched that career to concentrate mostly on wrongful conviction cases. MacDonald championed Assoun’s case, and Assoun would not now be free were it not for MacDonald.

Fast forward to March 2019, and Assoun was finally fully exonerated. Thanks to statements made in court by MacDonald’s Innocence Canada colleague, Phil Campbell, we learned about the police wrongdoing I mentioned above.

After Assoun’s exoneration, the Halifax Examiner, the CBC, and the Canadian Press filed an application with the court to get the documentation of that police wrongdoing made public. However, the Halifax police opposed our application, first obtaining intervener status in the case and then arguing in court that none of the police documents related to the Brenda Way murder should be released — that is, the details of the police wrongdoing would be sealed for 99 years, effectively covering up the cover up.

Thankfully, the media won our case last Monday when Justice James Chipman indicated he would rule in our favour this Friday, and on that day all the documentation will become public.

But let’s consider the police who may have been involved in this sequence of events.

Chris McNeil. Photo: CBC

Back in 2006, the deputy chief of police in charge of investigations was Chris McNeil. I can’t say with certainty that Chris McNeil knew about the information that would have exonerated Assoun, but it seems unlikely that such explosive information would not have been sent up the chain of command — this was, after all, information that would have demonstrated that the department’s investigation of the Brenda Way murder went terribly awry and resulted in the wrongful conviction of Assoun. Would low-level police investigators have taken it upon themselves to squelch that information and refuse to turn it over to Kennedy? Perhaps. Or perhaps someone else — then-chief Frank Beazley, for instance — made the final call. Still, while I can’t now prove it, I suspect that Chris McNeil was involved in that decision.

Now let’s return to the last few months. As I reported Thursday, I asked the city’s communication department how the decision was made to oppose the media organizations’ application to unseal the court file in the Assoun case. I was told:

The decision to intervene was made by Halifax Regional Police, in consultation with our legal services team, ultimately all under the authority of the CAO.

Robin McNeil. Photo: HRPD

So that decision was made soon after Assoun’s March 2 exoneration. The man who probably initiated but definitely approved the court action aimed at frustrating the media’s move to unseal the court records was then-acting Chief of Police Robin McNeil.

Stephen McNeil. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Chris McNeil and Robin McNeil are brothers. And there’s a third brother: Premier Stephen McNeil. One dot, two dots, three dots…. hmmm, let’s draw a line.

Sure, it’s a small province, and the McNeil family is dominant in the Halifax police force. Maybe the dots don’t necessarily connect.

But once in the past a McNeil brother was accused of improperly trying to cover up alleged wrongdoing by another McNeil brother. That was when Chris McNeil was accused of perjury involving an investigation into his younger brother Anthony’s involvement in a lie-detector firm that had been given a no-bid contract by the Halifax Fire Department. Ultimately, Chris McNeil was not charged, and he soon after retired from the force.

I tried at the time to attend the Police Review Board’s hearing for Chris McNeil, but I wasn’t allowed in. So I can’t speak further to the allegations in that case.

4. Irving worker dies

Irving Shipyard. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“A contractor’s employee that sustained life threatening injuries during work at Irving Shipyard has passed away, according to multiple sources,” reports Matthew Moore for Halifax Today. “Unifor Local 1 confirmed Trevor O’Neil passed away Friday night.”

According to a police release, police responded to an “industrial accident” at the Shipyard just before 7pm on Tuesday, July 2. According to the union, O’Neil was injured when a “highly pressurized cover [hit] his head from a sandblasting unit, then [he] fell several feet to the ground.”

The Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Halifax Regional Police are investigating.

5. Developments

“Three big developments for peninsular Halifax, comprising more than 250 housing units, are headed to regional council for public hearings and final decisions this week,” reports Zane Woodford for Star Halifax:

Council is scheduled to hold a special meeting Wednesday night to consider the three developments, on Wellington St., at the corner of South Park St. and Victoria Rd., and between Bayers Rd. and Young St.

I was struck by Woodford’s reporting on the second proposal, at South Park Street and Victoria Road:

The building doesn’t confirm to current rules and municipal staff wrote that it doesn’t align with the Centre Plan, but that it does align with council’s general “planning principles.” Staff recommended council approve the development.

That didn’t take long.

6. Mainland Moose

“The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq hopes to recruit more people to help save struggling mainland moose populations in Nova Scotia,” reports Alex Cooke for the CBC:

The confederacy recently released a video [above] about the program that was screened at Cineplex theatres throughout the month of May.

Cooke explains what you should do if you see one of the creatures.

7. Brown-nosing the dead

Chris Cline. Photo: Jamel Toppin / Forbes

Chris Cline died, and so the world might have a 0.002% better chance of staving off cataclysmic climate change.

I don’t agree with the adage that one should not speak ill of the dead — when I die, please, describe me warts and all; it will speak to my full humanity — but I kind of understand that people don’t want to jump right on the downside while the body is still warm.

Still, news coverage of Cline’s death has been an exercise in looking the other way. Take, for instance, this headline from CTV: “U.S. coal baron Chris Cline remembered across the Maritimes as a generous, humble man.”

The article, written by reporter Ryan MacDonald, contains such mawkish dreck as this:

Cline got his start as an underground miner at the age of 22 in West Virginia. People from there are also remembering Cline as a man who gave back millions of dollars in his home state in acts of philanthropy.

“Sometimes they say, ‘Money makes a man,’ but with Mr. Cline, it was he who made the money,” said Sara McDowell, who worked with Cline through non-profit. “But he stayed true to his roots. He was truly a humble human being. Very kind, very generous.”

Please.

If we’re throwing out adages, how ’bout this one: behind every great fortune is a great crime.

No one becomes a billionaire by being humble or generous. That’s just stupid.

In Cline’s case, the great crime was climate change denial, while a lesser but still significant crime was a slipshod safety record for his mines. After Cline bought the Donkin mine, I wrote:

[T]he Donkin operation is operated by Kameron Coal, which is a subsidiary of The Cline Group, controlled by American billionaire Chris Cline.

Cline is the predictable piece of work: a climate change denier and an all-around horrible person.

“The Wisconsin Resource Council cites Devon Cupery, a producer of the Al Jazeera documentary, Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff, who says Cline’s coal mines in West Virginia and Illinois have been cited for over 8,000 federal safety violations since 2004,” reports Of the 8,000, over 2,300 were ‘significant and substantial’ violations with the potential for injury, illness and death.”

Soon after mining was restarted at Donkin, Global News reported that “a top official, helping to open the new Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton, has resigned from the project after questions were raised by media regarding his involvement in a 2010 U.S. mining disaster that killed 29 miners.”:

After months of investigating management behind the Donkin Project, 16×9 learned that former Performance Coal Company President Chris Blanchard was part of a team working to help set up the Donkin project.

Blanchard was the president of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia leading up to one of deadliest mining explosions in recent U.S. history.

Blanchard’s former boss, the CEO of Massey Energy Don Blankenship, was sentenced April 6, 2016 to one year in federal prison for conspiring to willfully violate mine health and safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine.

Blanchard cut a deal with West Virginia prosecutors and was given immunity to testify against his former boss.

In its decision, the court cited Blanchard’s testimony describing a culture of pushing production over safety at Upper Big Branch and an “understanding” that “it was more profitable to violate safety standards and pay the resulting fines than to reduce production.”

During his testimony, Blanchard denied breaking the law, but admitted his company was cited for hundreds of violations, most of which were preventable.

Donkin is a disaster waiting to happen.


Government

City

Monday

No public meetings.

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.

Province

Monday

No public meetings.

Tuesday

Health (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House) — the committee will be asking folks from the Nova Scotia Health Authority about investments in orthopaedics, because there’s no greater health care concern now facing Nova Scotia.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

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

05:00: Northern Guard, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
05:30: Morning Cecilie, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
08:00: 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
10:00: MOL Paradise, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
10:30: George Washington Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
15:30: Northern Guard, container ship, sails for Rotterdam
15:30: Graceful Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Baltimore
16:30: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 31 for Palm Beach, Florida
16:30: Morning Cecilie sails for sea
17:45: Zaandam sails for Sydney

Where are the Canadian military ships?



Footnotes

Thanks to Suzanne Rent, Philip Moscovitch, and Erica Butler for filling in last week. We’ll be having more guest writers later this week and next as I follow the Assoun case.


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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. The Wellington street proposal also has the staff stamp of approval. Why….it violates the current planning principles as well as the proposed planning regime currently under consideration by council. It appears Wellington Street is again the precursor of what is to come ….rules meant to be broken. Does this mean that after years of consultation the proposed and endorsed new height and massing rules of the CP are meaningless. What can communities expect under the new regime ….definitely not the certainty promised. We were promised rules …..not buzz words like generally aligned and reasonably consistent. Again only the developer wins , not the people and not the city.