Provincial documents in 'unconquered peoples' lawsuit should be unsealed: judge

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge has blocked the province from using the principle of solicitor-client privilege to stymie a lawsuit filed against it by a former government lawyer.

Supreme court Justice John D. Murphy ruled Thursday that Premier Stephen McNeil and former Justice Minister Diana Whalen waived solicitor-client protection when they publicly assailed the legal arguments made by government lawyer Alex M. Cameron on the province’s behalf.

Cameron is currently suing the provincial government for defamation and constructive dismissal from his job, which he left in May 2017.

He worked for the justice department in 2016, representing Nova Scotia when it became involved in a court challenge over the Sipekne’katik First Nation’s right to be consulted about the effect that industrial development could have on the surrounding environment.

Former Nova Scotia Justice Department lawyer Alex Cameron has won an interim ruling that could allow him to unseal provincial documents related to his own constructive dismissal lawsuit. (CBC)

‘Unconquered peoples argument’

The Mi’kmaq band opposed Alton Gas’s proposal to store natural gas in underground chambers that would be excavated from salt deposits near the Shubenacadie River.

Cameron, however, advanced the legal argument that the province’s duty to consult only applied to “unconquered peoples.”

In a legal brief he presented to court, Cameron suggested that the Sipekne’katik Band’s submission to the Crown in 1760 negated its claim of sovereignty and negated the government’s constitutional duty to consult.

That argument triggered immediate outrage from Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq leaders and from opposition parties.

The premier and the former justice minister publicly repudiated Cameron’s approach and, within two weeks, the lawyer was removed from the case.

“I believe that brief went way beyond where it needed to go,” McNeil is quoted as saying in documents presented to the court. “I am looking for an explanation from the Justice Department.”

Those same documents later quote McNeil as saying he had “no idea” that Cameron was putting forward that argument.

Sealed documents

After being taken off the case, Cameron continued to work for the Justice Department until retiring in May. Days later, he filed a lawsuit against McNeil, Whelan and the attorney general, alleging defamation, abuse of public office, constitutional violation and constructive dismissal.

Premier Stephen McNeil repudiated the argument submitted by Cameron. (CBC)

The solicitor-client correspondence Cameron submitted to the court in support of his lawsuit is still sealed, and the details are redacted from Thursday’s decision.

But that information could soon become public, because Thursday’s ruling found that the province’s private instructions to its lawyer in the dispute with the Mi’kmaq band are no longer protected.

Province may appeal

The province has 30 days to appeal that decision. The documents will remain sealed until then.

A Justice Department spokesperson told CBC Nova Scotia that the province is considering a challenge to Thursday’s ruling.

Cameron did not immediately respond to a request for comment made through his lawyer Bruce Outhouse.

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Talks between Yarmouth, surrounding municipalities over fire dispatch break off

Negotiations between the Town of Yarmouth and the municipalities that use its fire dispatch service have ended unresolved.

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said that they have failed to reach a “fair and equitable” agreement for sharing the cost of the service. She said the town pays 70 per cent of the cost associated with the four dispatchers.

Fire dispatch provided by the town is contracted out to 24 volunteer fire departments in the region. Each department pays $100 per month.

But those fees only cover $28,800 a year out of a total cost of $260,000. Mood said that cost should be distributed among all municipalities using the service and not put on Yarmouth’s taxpayers.

Alain Muise, Argyle’s chief administrative officer, stated in a press release that users of the service agreed to an increase in funding to “aid the Town in the preservation of this local service.”

But the offer was rejected by the town on the grounds the numbers were not “fair and equitable.”

Muise said Yarmouth should be bearing the brunt of the cost.

“I believe that those that use the service the most and have control over the delivery of that service probably would be in a situation where they have to pay a premium,” he said. “That would be the Town of Yarmouth.”

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood says she is looking for a “fair and equitable” solution to negotiations with municipalities that use Yarmouth’s fire dispatch service. (CBC)

Mood’s original plan to reduce cost was to put the service up for tender and eventually to lay off the four dispatchers. She has since changed her opinion.

Yarmouth sends letter to fire chiefs

“We’re really hoping that we can maintain the service,” she said. “The 24 volunteer fire departments … we know they see tremendous value in continuing dispatch as it is.

“We’re hoping they will look upon our proposal favourably [so] that we can get back to business as usual.”

The Town of Yarmouth sent a letter Thursday morning to the chiefs of all 24 volunteer fire departments offering solutions.

Proposed ideas include dividing dispatch costs by percentage of calls per region. The chiefs have until Sept. 24 to respond.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

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Veteran launches proposed class-action lawsuit over disability benefit formula

A former member of the Canadian Forces is suing the federal government, alleging the formula used to calculate long-term disability payments only takes into account a portion of what he was earning when he was medically discharged. 

A lawyer for former warrant officer Simon Logan filed the notice of motion for the proposed class-action lawsuit in Federal Court in Halifax on July 26.

Logan, who lives in Ontario, served in the army from 1998 until his release in February 2016. His lawsuit says he suffers from a “number of medical conditions” as a result of his military service and he receives a monthly payment for a disability benefit through the insurance plan of the Canadian Forces.

The court documents offer no details of his injuries, and his lawyer wouldn’t elaborate Thursday, saying Logan didn’t want to disclose them publicly.

Logan’s statement of claim argues his disability payment should be calculated based on 75 per cent of his total monthly pay at the time of his release.

It is now calculated based on 75 per cent of his warrant officer salary, which was $6,801 a month when he left the military. But that doesn’t account for the other compensation he received on a monthly basis — including a $3,730 allowance.

The court records don’t detail why he received the allowance, but such payments are made to military personnel who serve in particularly demanding circumstances and operations. For instance, there are submarine, paratroop and rescue specialist allowances. 

“They are aimed at compensating members and their families for working in unique, demanding and potentially high-risk circumstances, which can often take members away from home for extended periods,” the department said in a statement to CBC.

The lawsuit states omitting that allowance resulted in Logan receiving $2,898 less a month in disability benefits. He is asking for arrears payments, damages for mental distress as a result of the payment discrepancy, general damages and costs.

“We would say pay would include your salary and allowances,” said lawyer Daniel Wallace, who is representing Logan. “I’ve always understood pay in what you’re paid, and that’s not what the government is doing for Simon or anyone else.”

The proposed class action applies to any former members of the military who receive long-term disability benefits and or dismemberment benefits. It names as defendants the Crown, the minister of national defence, the chief of defence staff and the Treasury Board.

Wallace said it isn’t yet clear how many veterans might be affected if the class action goes ahead.

Allowances don’t factor into retirement

The allegations haven’t been proven in court and the federal government has yet to file its defence. 

Allowances do not factor into former members’ retirement benefits, the Department of Defence said in a statement. Retirement benefits are calculated based on base pay and not allowances because that extra compensation is “strictly tied to duties that a member is currently performing or expected to resume within 180 days.” 

The long-term disability benefits cited in the lawsuit are paid through the military’s Service Income Security Insurance Plan, which DND said is paid for through contributions from government and service members. The department’s statement said the insurance plan is equivalent to those for public servants and RCMP members.

A certification hearing, where a judge will decide whether the class action should proceed, has been scheduled for April 29 and 30, 2019 in Halifax. 

Wallace was previously co-counsel in a 2013 $887 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit affecting about 7,500 disabled veterans. The case involved a three-decade-long federal government practice of clawing back the military pensions of injured soldiers by the amount of disability payments they received.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

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Birch Cove Beach Closed to Swimming

The Halifax Regional Municipality is advising residents Birch Cove Beach in Dartmouth is closed to swimming until further notice due to high bacteria levels in the water. Birch Cove Beach is a supervised beach. Municipal staff regularly test the water quality at all supervised and four unsupervised municipal beaches during the summer months. Recent test …

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Police warn public of high-risk sex offender's move to Halifax

Halifax Regional Police are notifying the public about a high-risk sex offender recently released from prison after completing his sentence on child pornography charges.

Donald Duane Bartlett, 49, is moving to the Halifax area.

In a news release, police said Bartlett has been released from a federal prison after completing a sentence for distribution of child pornography, printing/publishing child pornography, possession of child pornography and counselling another person to commit an indictable offence that was not committed.

Bartlett’s criminal record also includes past crimes for sexual offences against children.

In an interview, police spokeswoman Const. Alicia Joseph could not say whether any of these crimes were committed in Halifax or whether Bartlett has family ties here.

“We issue this type of notification in regards to a high-risk offender when there is a protocol in place in particular and they’re on certain conditions,” Joseph said.

“As part of the release, Bartlett has been sentenced to a long-term (supervision) order and has been placed under a number of strict conditions regarding interaction with children under the age of 16.”

Under strict conditions

He cannot attend a public park, public swimming area, daycare centre or other places where children under the age of 16 are present.

He is not to have any contact with anyone under the age of 16 unless he is under the supervision of a person approved by the court. He can only use the internet under conditions set by the court.

Bartlett is described as a white male, five-foot-eight and 218 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

Anyone who sees Bartlett breaching his conditions is asked to contact police or Crime Stoppers.

Police say that any form of vigilante activity against Bartlett will not be tolerated.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

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Environment minister happy 'so far' with Nova Scotia Power spill cleanup

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Margaret Miller says she is satisfied with steps Nova Scotia Power has taken following the oil spill at its Tufts Cove generating plant, summing up cleanup efforts in Halifax harbour as “so far, so good.”

A Nova Scotia Power employee discovered the spill a week ago during a routine inspection. The company estimates about 5,000 litres of oil spilled into the harbour from a hole in a pipe.

The cleanup could take months, but Miller made it clear Thursday what she expected from cleanup crews.

“Right now our concern is about cleaning up the site, making sure that there are no long-lasting impacts, that the site remains pristine,” she told reporters.

Environment Minister Margaret Miller. (CBC)

Miller repeatedly deflected questions about how the spill might have occurred, whether the company properly maintained the pipe and if it could have detected the spill sooner.

“My main concern is the environment of Nova Scotia, making sure the environment is protected,” she said. “Ideally, of course, you would have caught something like that right away.

“I can’t speak for what happened during their process. I just know where we are now is that we’re cleaning up the site.

“We’re making sure that it becomes a pristine site again.”

Nova Scotia Power has hired a company to clean up the mess and an engineer to oversee the work on its behalf. Miller said her department would inspect the site once the cleanup is complete.

“Our inspectors will be on site to make sure that we’re happy with what’s happened.”

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Hantsport residents tell province to fix dam instead of raising road

As a washed-out dam in Hantsport, N.S., slowly changes the face of the land in the area, hundreds of residents turned out to a public meeting Wednesday evening to tell the province they are not satisfied with its handling of the matter. 

An old aboiteau or dam across the mouth of the Halfway River washed out late last year, and now water from the Bay of Fundy is able to travel upriver during each high tide. The tidal flow is bringing silt and saltwater to an area that has been farmland for decades.

Jane Davis, a resident of the area, said hundreds of people turned out for the standing-room-only meeting because they are concerned about the rapid change in the environment along the river. 

“Quite devastating when you come off the highway and you’re surrounded by green, and all of a sudden you’re straight onto dead trees,” she said. 

“As one property owner said, when people are coming into town and looking at properties in Hantsport this is the first thing they see. They’re wondering what is happening here, and why would I want to live here?” 

The remaining wooden structure of the Hantsport aboiteau is not restricting the movement of tidal water. (Steve Berry/CBC)

The province is locked in a legal dispute with the Windsor and Hantsport Railway, an American-owned company that once ran a railway over the top of the aboiteau. The railway has been defunct for roughly 10 years and the section of track that ran across the aboiteau has been removed. 

The province says it is the railway company’s responsibility to repair the aboiteau. The owner of the railway has disputed this in court, and the matter is ongoing. 

In addition to the changes to the land, residents say they are worried about the safety of the Highway 1 bridge, which crosses the Halfway River near its mouth. Highway 101 also crosses the river about two kilometres further upstream. 

At the public meeting, the deputy minister of transportation and infrastructure, Paul LaFleche, spoke with residents about possible solutions, including raising the Highway 1 roadbed.

“One of the things he said was, ‘OK, who wants to raise the road?'” Davis said. “And the whole room just shouted at him, ‘No. No, no, no. We don’t want you to raise the road. That won’t fix the issue.'”

Jane Davis lives in Hantsport and is a board member of the Hantsport Memorial Community Centre. (Steve Berry/CBC)

The minister of transportation and infrastructure, Lloyd Hines, said Thursday the province is monitoring the situation but so far engineers have not found any change around the bridges. 

“We’re monitoring it constantly to make sure there’s integrity in the infrastructure, to make sure that it’s functional in the area. We will take whatever measures are required to ensure that there’s safety for the community,” he said. “If there was erosion of the highway, obviously that would be a concern for us.” 

Hines said his department is not sure of the extent of the environmental change, but intends to “protect those values first, and to sort the other things out later.” 

However, Hines said he is not sure at this point how the province will mitigate the environmental changes to the land. 

Graham Day, who formerly was legal counsel for Canadian Pacific Ltd. and has had a home in Hantsport for more than 40 years, said he has never seen so many citizens turn out for a public meeting.

“The bottom line is the government has not done much — if anything,” he said.

“The railway itself will never operate again, short of spending many millions and millions of dollars. The line is deteriorated. There’s other areas of damage. But they have not impacted the environment the way the aboiteau has.”

The transportation minister said repairing or replacing the aboiteau is an option, but that will depend on the outcome of the court case. 

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