'Bear jams' causing safety concerns on Cabot Trail

Along with the classic scenery, those travelling along the Cabot Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands this summer are seeing more black bears.

“We’ve had a significant increase in the amount of bear sightings,” said Erich Muntz, the visitor safety co-ordinator for the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

That’s meant an increase in what have become known as ‘bear jams.’ They are traffic jams caused by bear activity.

“We have people slowing down, traffic piling up and a bear in the middle,” he said.

It’s not new, but Muntz said it has been happening more frequently this year.

He cautions those who see a bear to slow down and put on their four-way flashers. But they shouldn’t stop and they shouldn’t get out of the vehicle.

“Sometimes we have situations where people are actually getting out of their vehicle, approaching the bear, and several of our bears have young cubs, so there is potential for some conflict there,” said Muntz.

A black bear gets close to a vehicle on the Baie Verte Peninsula, N.L. Similar close encounters have been reported in Cape Breton this year. (Submitted by Brad Perry)

Traffic has slowed to a standstill frequently over the past few weeks because of the bears travelling through. ​Muntz said the bears are along the side of the road looking for fresh fruit and ants.

He said it’s been a daily event for a few days now and it can take up to 45 minutes for the bears to move along so traffic can flow again.

“Absolutely do not feed wildlife,” he said. “It’s actually an offence in the national park and there’s a fairly stiff fine associated with it. So slow down, enjoy that view and keep rolling on through.”

He said there have been some close calls but no accidents.

Safety first

The close calls include people slamming on their brakes or approaching bears who had cubs close by.

“That can be quite serious and significant,” said Muntz.

He said he knows seeing a black bear is a thrill for many, but safety needs to be a priority.

“The Cabot Trail is an iconic landscape and it’s an amazing opportunity to see wildlife in their natural environment here,” said Muntz. “But at the same time we have to recognize it’s a highway. There’s people travelling at good speeds and we don’t want to harm the bear or people.

“We can manage people a lot easier than we can bears so it’s important for people to do their best to help us wherever they can.”

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The secret life of 'one of the most prolific sexual abusers in Canadian history'

The pedophile priest at the centre of a Nova Scotia class-action lawsuit was one of the worst child abusers in this country’s history, the lawyer filing the notice of action says.

George Epoch died in 1986 with his name publicly unblemished. But John McKiggan of the Halifax law firm McKiggan Hebert said the Jesuit Fathers of Upper Canada paid more than 100 victims of Epoch’s abuse in Ontario alone over the next decade.

“He’s likely one of the most prolific sexual abusers in Canadian history,” McKiggan said.

McKiggan filed a notice of action to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Halifax-Yarmouth Thursday, informing them he was filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of one of Epoch’s alleged victims in Nova Scotia. The diocese said it condemns all sexual abuse and makes “a sincere attempt to do the right thing by way of the victims and achieve an appropriate and fair settlement for established claims.”

McKiggan expects more claimants to come forward. The Ontario abuse happened in the 1970s and 1980s; the Nova Scotia allegation dates to the early 1960s.

‘He was an evil man’

Mark Handelman is a health-law lawyer with Whaley Estate Litigation in Toronto. In 1994, he worked with Epoch’s victims from his time as priest on the Cape Croker and Saugeen First Nations in Ontario. Cape Croker is now called the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation

“I learned he was an evil man who abused children,” Handelman said Friday. “He was the priest. He had as much trust as any other priest, and in my view more, because of the vulnerable population he served.”

News reports from 1994 noted that while he was alive, Epoch was viewed in the general public as a wonderful Christian who doted on children, especially the altar boys.

He was known to be generous, offering money to those in need and sheltering kids in times of trouble.

But victims later revealed that he plied them with cigarettes and candy and offered them his own bed. The boys reported waking up to find the naked priest on top of them.

His earliest Ontario victims were becoming adults as the big man lay dying of a chronic heart condition. They began to speak the truth about him, and those voices increased after he died in 1986 on Manitoulin Island.  

Boys often fled dangerous home situations to the apparent safety Epoch offered at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Cape Croker, Ont. (Google Streetview)​​

Handelman said the way Epoch chose his victims deepened the damage. Epoch was pastor at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Cape Croker between 1972 and 1983. He often abused boys who were fleeing violent homes and seeking safety in his arms.  

“Imagine your father getting violent when he gets drunk and being sent for safety by your mother to a priest that you’re supposed to be able to trust as a man of God — and instead of being trustworthy, he is an abuser,” Handelman said.

“It’s particularly upsetting because most frequently these children were sent to Father Epoch because their parents were all victims of the residential school system.”

Victims devastated by abuse

Handelman said many of Epoch’s Ontario victims lived in poverty and came from unstable homes, increasing the damage he caused as he targeted the most vulnerable.

Many forever lost trust in the church, fell out of school, and did worse in life than they would have if he had helped them, he said. At least one took his own life, leaving behind a grieving family.

Handelman said many of the victims didn’t want to tell him what had happened in any detail, but, for most, the attacks were repeated over a long period of time.

“It’s clear that the Jesuits and the church protected Father Epoch instead of their congregants and the members of the church and that is an absolute heartbreak,” he said. “I wonder between the 60s and the 90s, where he had other victims along the way? The church protected him and many dozens of people paid that price.”

Handelman said his files on Epoch were shredded years ago.  “I wish I could shred the memories that he brings back,” he said.

He remembers something one of his clients said when discussing the settlement. Some people in the Jesuit organization had expressed concerns about the amount of money going to the victims.

“He looked at me and said the Pope has a big hat. Let him take a collection in the Vatican. And if he has to, he can sell some art.”

George Epoch stands in the quad of Loyolla College in this 1957 photo. (Submitted by Dorio Lucich)

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What is identity theft? Warning signs – How to protect yourself

What is identity theft? Identity theft refers to the preparatory stage of acquiring and collecting someone else’s personal information for criminal purposes. Identity theft techniques can range from unsophisticated, such as dumpster diving and mail theft, to more elaborate schemes, such as phishing, job scams, loan scams, service scams, tax scams, bank investigator scams, and …

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Five hospitals in Nova Scotia to have emergency room closures this weekend

Five emergency departments in the province will be closing their doors for parts of the Natal Day long weekend.

Hospitals in Middle Musquodoboit, Lunenburg, Tatamagouche, Pugwash, and Shelburne will have closures over the next three days.

  • In Pugwash, the North Cumberland Collaborative Emergency Centre will closed Monday from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
  • In Lunenburg, the Fishermen’s Memorial Hospital emergency department will be closed from Saturday at 7:30 a.m. until Sunday at 7:30 a.m.
  • In Tatamagouche, the Lillian Fraser Memorial Hospital Collaborative Emergency Centre will be closed overnight in August and September.
  • In Middle Musquodoboit, Musquodoboit Valley Memorial Hospital’s collaborative emergency centre is closed and will reopen Saturday at 8 a.m.
  • In Shelburne, the Roseway Hospital emergency department is closed and will reopen on Saturday at 8 a.m. It will close again Saturday at 6 p.m. and reopen on Monday at 8 a.m. It will close again on Monday at 6 p.m. and reopen on Tuesday at 7 a.m.

Emergency room closures are not new to Nova Scotia.

The 38 emergency departments across the province have a total of 313,538 scheduled open hours each year.

report last year showed a total of 25,124.5 hours of closure for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, running from April until the end of March.

Though emergency room closures are not new, Shelburne Mayor Karen Mattatall said closures over the long weekend could mean a potentially dangerous situation for people in rural areas.

“It’s highly likely the risks increase over the long weekend,” said Mattatall. “It is terrifying to think that somebody’s health and life might be at risk.”

Kristen Lipscombe, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said in an email that temporary emergency department closures may occur when doctors, nurses or paramedics are unavailable.

“If coverage isn’t found, a temporary closure may be unavoidable,” said Lipscombe.

The nearest emergency rooms to Shelburne are in Liverpool and Yarmouth and both are between 45 minutes to an hour away.

“Sometimes I’m just left with the sense the decision-makers really aren’t thinking about it in terms of people’s lives,” said Mattatall. “People can die when they don’t have access to the services that they need.”

Mattatall said this is the longest closure she can remember happening in Shelburne.

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MLAs return to Province House on Sept. 6

Not long after students across the province return to school, Nova Scotia’s MLAs will return to Province House.

It was announced on Friday the legislature will be recalled Sept. 6.

The first session of the 63rd general assembly will be prorogued at 11 a.m. that day and the second session will open following that at 2 p.m., with a throne speech read by Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc.

This will mark the earliest start of a full fall session at Province House. The previous earliest date was Sept. 13, 1993 when John Savage when premier.

Premier Stephen McNeil opened the 2014 fall session with a throne speech on Sept. 25 of that year.

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Oysters recalled due to Salmonella

The Great Little Harbour Seafood Company Ltd. is recalling Oysters from the marketplace due to possiblecontamination. Consumers should not consume the recalled products.  If you think you became sick from consuming a recalled product, call your doctor. Check to see if you have recalled products in your home. Recalled products should be thrown out or …

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Former SMU groundskeeper accused of 4 sex assaults faces renewed cross-examination

A former Saint Mary’s University groundskeeper accused of a series of sexual assaults testified Friday he is respectful of women, despite graphic texts sent to friends describing sex acts and a woman’s genitals and breasts.

Matthew Percy, 35, returned to Halifax provincial court to face continued cross-examination in his trial related to one of four women he is accused of sexually assaulting.

Percy is charged with sexually assaulting a Saint Mary’s University student in September 2017. He is also accused of secretly filming the two and faces a charge of voyeurism.

The woman has told the court Percy forced her to have sex at his Halifax apartment, and filmed it without her knowledge. Percy has said the sex was consensual, and the woman agreed to the video. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In his previous testimony, Percy said he is respectful of women. But Crown attorney Rick Woodburn challenged that testimony on Friday morning, referencing a crude text message Percy sent to a friend.

“Does that sound like something someone who respects women would say?” Woodburn asked.

Percy shrugged off the comments as “the way guys talk” and asked, “What are you getting at?”

Judge Bill Digby asked Percy to answer the question and Percy said, “You can’t narrow down my respect for women off of one text message.”

Woodburn responded, “Oh, all right. Let’s try another one then.”

Percy faces a series of charges involving four different women. They include two counts of sexual assault causing bodily harm, two counts of sexual assault, two counts of voyeurism, two counts of choking, and one of assault.

The charges involving the fourth woman were laid earlier this week for an incident alleged to have happened in 2013. Percy made his first court appearance on those charges on Friday morning. He remains in custody.

The alleged incidents happened at different times and are being dealt with in separate trials. The identities of the women are protected by a publication ban.

The trial involving a second woman will begin on Aug. 27. Percy is also expected to make his election and pleas for the new charges at that time.

Kept video of sex with victim

On Friday morning, Woodburn asked Percy why he deleted messages between himself and the woman in the September 2017 incident, but kept the video he recorded.

“Just to have it,” Percy replied, adding the woman agreed to the video. He denied he used the video for sexual gratification or as “a trophy.”

When asked why he took the video in the first place, Percy said, “It arouses me.”

The accused and the Crown got into a verbal tussle several times during Friday’s cross-examination with Percy asking Woodburn, “Have you never had sex before? People talk during sex.”

Finally, after one testy exchange, the judge admonished: “Will one of you stop interrupting the other or we’re going to go all day.”

Victim shown video

The woman, 22, testified in June that she met Percy on the university campus, where she was a student and he was a groundskeeper at the time.

She told court she had about three casual conversations with Percy from the time she met him in the spring of 2017 until the night of the alleged incident.

On that night, they met at a downtown bar. She said she drank more alcohol than usual and wanted to go home but when the two were in a taxi together, Percy told the driver to take them to his place.

She said she also told Percy she did not want to have sex with him but he forced himself on her. At one point, she said she “just wanted to get out of there alive.”

The woman testified she did not know he was recording the incident and broke down when the video was played in court with Percy and others in the courtroom. She said the video made her feel “violated,” “disgusted” and “embarrassed.”

Percy said on Friday the video is “clearly evident” that the sex was consensual.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Aug. 15.

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Boats, motors and now docks?

Halifax District RCMP is investigating after an aluminum dock consisting of 7 sections measuring 5’x12’, were stolen from Fletchers Lake in Fall River. Sometime between 5 p.m. on July 27 and noon on July 29, suspects removed the 7 sections of dock, valued at over $17,000. The dock was located in the water near Fletchers …

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