Stock Transportation calls witnesses in UARB hearing

Originally published in The Signal  on Feb. 13, 2018. 

The general manager of Stock Transportation says her company has made significant changes after being found guilty of charter-bus violations last year.

Amber Glavin appeared as a witness Tuesday before the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

She said the violations are “not the norm,” and employees who “would’ve felt helpless” are now more aware of safety features and the company’s whistleblowing policy.

Stock Transportation runs about 500 buses for the Halifax Regional School Board, the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial and the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board.

The three-day review board hearing will determine whether Stock will keep its licences to drive for the school boards. The company’s charter bus division was found guilty last year of a series of violations. 

Some of those violations included asking employees to work beyond legal work hours and falsifying log books. 

Glavin replaced former general manager Troy Phinney in August. At Monday’s hearing, the new management team blamed him for the transgressions.

‘More honest approach’

Two other witnesses, John Cook and Terry Preeper, who testified Tuesday said Stock Transportation has been improving under the new leadership.

Cook, an employee relations officer for the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said they now have a “more honest approach” with Stock management. 

“When I took over the locals, Mr. Phinney would have been the primary point of contact with the employer for the union,” said Cook. “He was initially unresponsive.”

Cook oversees unionized drivers and mechanics who work at Stock Transportation, and helps to negotiate with the company when employees are concerned about safety. 

Preeper, an inspector with the Motor Carrier Division of the Department of Transportation, said since Phinney’s departure, he’s been happy with Stock and the Motor Carrier Division’s relationship.

“They’ve made quite a few changes,” said Preeper. “Amber is very collaborative.”

Preeper, along with a colleague, is responsible for the safety inspections of the Stock Transportation fleet. Every six months the buses are inspected and either approved as safe for driving or marked unsafe. 

The hearing process will continue on Wednesday. 

Dawna Ring, the presiding board member, said she is “looking forward to having a real exchange” on the final day of proceedings.

Man charged in third sexual assault

Originally published in The Signal on Feb. 9, 2018. 

A Halifax man is facing sexual assault charges in relation to three separate incidents involving three different women. 

In a statement released Thursday, Halifax Regional Police said 34-year-old Mathew Albert Percy “has been charged twice in the last two months with sexual assault.” 

Percy appeared in Halifax provincial court on Thursday to face a charge of sexual assault causing bodily harm relating to a complaint from a few years ago. Police said a woman reported she was attacked by a man she knew in a LeMarchant Street home in December 2014.

Police investigated at the time, but the case was closed in early 2015 without charges being filed. 

The case was reopened on Jan. 18. Police laid charges on Wednesday.

Percy is also accused of two other sexual assaults. One allegedly occurred last fall on Sept. 15 in a Saint Mary’s University dormitory. In the other, a woman told police she was sexually assaulted by a man she knew at a home in the Armdale area on Sept. 3.

Percy was arrested in December; he was charged with sexual assault, choking to overcome resistance and voyeurism relating to the Sept. 3 incident. Police allege he videotaped the incident.

Percy remains in police custody awaiting further court appearances.

Halifax man sentenced for 2016 killing of friend

Originally published in The Signal on Jan. 31, 2016. 

A Halifax man has been sentenced to nine years in prison for killing a friend during an argument in 2016.

Benjamin Joshua Gillis, 27, was sentenced Wednesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax as the family of Blaine Clothier looked on.

“I recognize my faults,” Gillis told the court, adding that he wants to change.

Gillis and Clothier got into an argument at an apartment on Autumn Drive in Halifax on March 2, 2016. It ended when Gillis stabbed Clothier in the lower abdomen with a kitchen knife, killing him, before leaving the scene. He was arrested the same day. 

Gillis was charged with second-degree murder, but earlier this month he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. 

During the sentencing hearing, defence lawyer Peter Planetta argued that since Gillis is a “relatively youthful offender,” there should be attempts to rehabilitate him. He told the court that Gillis has expressed remorse and “accepted responsibility” for his actions by pleading guilty. 

Crown attorney Christine Driscoll said that Clothier, 27, was unarmed, and the attack was a “senseless, unprovoked act of violence that ended a young man’s life.” 

Driscoll noted Gillis’ past criminal record, which includes four violent crimes, as “lengthy” and “ongoing.”

‘Big heart’

The sentencing hearing also included victim impact statements from the victim’s mother, Cheri Clothier; his aunt, Tracey Clothier; and his brother, Dillon Fitzgerald. 

“My brother had a big heart,” Fitzgerald told the court. “My niece now has to grow up without her father.”

Cheri Clothier said that Gillis’ actions were “brutal” and “senseless.” She held up a picture of her son and his daughter for the court to look at after she finished her statement. 

In handing down the sentence, Justice Peter Rosinski said he considered Gillis’ “substantial and sustained criminal record,” but also that rehabilitation for Gillis should not be forgotten.

Gillis has been in custody since March 2016 and the time he has already served in prison will count towards his nine-year sentence. He has 2,237 days total remaining before his sentence is completed.

Gillis was also ordered to attend mandatory substance abuse and mental health counselling.

Outside the courtroom, Planetta said he was satisfied with the sentence.

“We requested a sentence of seven years and the Crown requested a sentence of 13 years, so not too much to be disappointed in there,” he told reporters.

Halifax schools closed after overnight snowfall

Originally published in The Signal on Jan. 30, 2018. 

All schools in the Halifax Regional School Board are closed Tuesday after an overnight snowfall. 

Road conditions were messy Tuesday morning. 

Dalhousie University's Halifax campuses and the University of King's College reopened at 11:30 a.m., while Saint Mary's University, Mount Saint Vincent University, and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design reopened at noon. 

Nova Scotia Community College Metro campuses are closed for the day.

The Halifax Regional Municipality is advising people to be careful as they walk and drive.

Halifax Transit was operating on a snow plan on Tuesday morning, but most routes are back to their normal service.

Some recreation programs were delayed. The HRM is advising people to call their local facilities for more updates and information.

Solid waste collection is still scheduled, although the HRM says that delays should be expected.

An overnight parking ban will be in place from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Wednesday so that crews can continue to clear the roads and sidewalks.

There is continued snow and ice in the forecast for the rest of the day.

Halifax Christian Academy, Halifax Grammar, and Sacred Heart are also closed.

Other schools and services around the province have been affected by the snowfall. Schools in Chignecto-Central, Cape-Breton Victoria, Annapolis Valley, and Strait Regional districts are closed as well.

Jaime Battiste awarded Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers

Originally published in The Signal on Jan. 27, 2018. 

Jaime Battiste may have won a prestigious award for his volunteerism, but he is the first to say that he is only one of many incredible Mi’kmaq activists.   

“There’s so many people within my community that are outstanding volunteers,” said Battiste, 38, from the Potlotek First Nation. “I think I might just be one of the more visible people.”

Battiste, who grew up in Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton, was given the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers by Lt.-Gov. Arthur J. LeBlanc on Thursday at Government House. The medal recognizes activists and volunteers from a wide range of fields.  

Battiste is a legal scholar, advocate and activist. Since graduating from Dalhousie Law School in 2004, he has worked as an assistant professor of Mi’kmaq studies at Cape Breton University and served as legal adviser to the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. 

Battiste is also the treaty education lead, working for the Mi’kmaq Kina’matnewey. He has published papers and has given talks on the evolution of Indigenous treaty rights and laws.

Battiste’s interest in this kind of work started at a young age. His parents, Marie Battiste and James Henderson, were both awarded National Aboriginal Achievement Awards — Marie Battiste in 2008 for her work in education and Henderson in 2006 for law and justice. 

“People look at my achievement, but they don’t always look at the supports I’ve had in my life,” he said. “From a very young age there were a lot of expectations placed on me.”

Through his mother, Battiste learned about the hardships the Mi’kmaq were facing. He studied at Cape Breton University and then at Dalhousie Law School, knowing that furthering his education would expand his ability to advocate for Mi’kmaq people. 

In his work, Battiste has contributed to the preservation and understanding of Mi’kmaq culture and heritage. He played a role in the pardoning of Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Gabriel Sylliboy who was convicted in 1927 for a violation of the Lands and Forests Act. Sylliboy was pardoned last February.

Battiste is hopeful his work will continue to make an impact. He said that people have been very receptive of the treaty education he has been doing. 

“Over the past two years we have a federal and provincial government that gets the need for reconciliation,” he said.

Although he is busy with his work and advocacy, Battiste enjoys playing music with his band, 2nd Generation, and spending time with his son. Battiste also coaches his son’s football team.

Battiste said he encourages young people to get involved in their communities. 

“Getting to be a part of youth advocacy at a very young age teaches you how you can be successful in advocating for yourself and advocating for others,” he said.

Medical centre for veterans proposed for Burnside

Originally published in The Signal on Jan. 24, 2018. 

A medical centre for veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses and injuries has been proposed for Burnside.

Sgt. Roland Lawless, Lt-Col. John F. Harrison, along with Valerie Mitchell-Veinotte, the executive director of the Royal Canadian Legion of Nova Scotia and Nunavut Command, pitched the centre to the standing committee on veterans affairs on Tuesday.  

“We’re desperately trying to look after veterans,” said Harrison. “More and more of those guys and girls are suffering from a thing called PTSD.” 

Lawless, Harrison and Mitchell-Veinotte said a designated centre would give veterans a place to go where they feel understood and heard.

“We have no firm place to take somebody when they’re in distress,” said Lawless, who also suffers from PTSD.

The proposed location for the centre is the bottom floor of the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Burnside. Lawless said that this location would be accessible for people travelling from rural or outlying communities. 

It would function as a “multi-faceted clinic,” said Lawless. Doctors — some of whom would be former military doctors — would treat both mental and physical illnesses. 

Mitchell-Veinotte said the centre would “minimize the need to explain and re-explain” veterans’ experiences. They would be treated by professionals who are specifically trained and familiar with those experiences. 

Lawless has been pushing for this kind of medical centre for years. Lawless’ proposal from last year had the centre based out of Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Building in Halifax. The proposed location was changed so that patients wouldn’t have to go into the city itself to get treatment. 

The members of the standing committee were largely in favour of the idea.

Karla McFarlane, MLA for Pictou West, said if the proposal doesn’t move forward it would be “a betrayal against the men and women who sacrifice their lives to protect ours.”

Ben Jessome, MLA for Hammonds Plains-Lucasville, said it would need to be established whether or not veterans would be willing to travel across the province to get to the centre. 

The proposal did not include an estimated price for the project.

“What we’re missing at this stage is for either level of government to step up and say we will take this model, we will assign dollars to it, we will tell you that this model is workable,” said Mitchell-Veinotte. 

“We need your (government) help to move the initiative forward. We’ve provided everything we can provide at this stage.”

Standing Committee members agreed funding needed to be split between federal and provincial governments, but no concrete decisions were made on Tuesday.

The proposal is expected to be brought up again during the next Standing Committee on Veteran Affairs meeting in February.

Dalhousie track captain overcomes injury to make a run for nationals

Originally published in The Signal on Jan. 23, 2018. 

When asked what her greatest accomplishment is, 22-year-old Dalhousie runner Michelle Reddy says it’s coming back from a near career-ending injury. 

At Saturday’s Nova Scotia Indoor Championships, Reddy finished in second place in the 1500m event, just over a second behind the winner Maggie Smith. She said it wasn’t the result that she hoped for, but her coach and teammates found her performance impressive considering what she’s been through.

“I was pretty happy just to be able to come back for my last year and compete,” said Reddy.

Reddy is the captain of the Dalhousie Tigers track and field team. She has been running since elementary school and trains relentlessly. She works out six days a week, often twice a day. 

Last year, Reddy suffered a broken navicular — a bone on the inside of the foot. It required surgery and took her a long time to recover. She was unable to compete for the whole season.

“Most people would quit after having to take a year off,” Reddy said. “Running is all fitness-based; it’s all endurance, so you really have to put in the hours. It’s not a skill set you can keep up without a lot of training. I spent a year not being able to run and that obviously affected my fitness.”

According to her coach, Rich Lehman, it’s a nightmare injury for a runner, especially one as accomplished as Reddy. Before her injury, she was ranked first in Canadian Interuniversity Sports in the 600m event and was a top cross-country runner. 

“The retirement stats are probably high on that injury,” said Lehman, who has been coaching Michelle since she started at Dalhousie in 2013.

“What I don’t think a lot of people know about the injury … is that the navicular doesn’t heal, really, so she’s running in pain now. She’s feeling it every step she takes.”

It’s tough to tell that from watching her run. Her stride is confident, her face calm. Reddy and Smith pulled away from their competitors early in the Indoor Championship race and remained in front the rest of the time. 

Reddy’s apparent ease is the result of a tough rehabilitation regimen. She did pool and bike workouts to get back in shape.

Reddy’s comeback is not only important for her, but also her teammates. She also competes on the school’s cross-country team. 

“She works extremely hard and it’s something that she really enjoys,” said Melanie McKenna, a 24-year-old law student and one of Reddy’s cross-country teammates. “When you have a hard workout it’s not a negative for her; it’s a challenge.”

Reddy’s coaches and teammates can all attest to how hard she worked to come back and how integral she is to the Dalhousie team. 

“I have learned more from her than she probably has from me,” Lehman said. “I’m much better at what I do because she’s here.”

To Reddy, the commitment is worth it. She has been running since elementary school and she loves the sport.

“You can really see your goals and improvements,” she said. “You can see your times.”

Reddy’s goal for this season is to finish in the top five at nationals, which will be held in Windsor, Ont., in early March. Her coach says it is a “very realistic goal.”