Former PC leader Jamie Baillie was quick to categorically deny — through his spokesperson — that he’d ever assaulted a former aide. But he is still silent — through his spokesperson — about whether he forced her to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
The story had already been published by the time Parker Donham’s email landed in Examiner reporter Jennifer Henderson’s mailbox at 7:10 am on Tuesday, January 23.
Henderson’s piece that day had quoted court documents filed as “part of a constitutional challenge launched by Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin against a Progressive Conservative motion threatening to expel her from the legislature.”
The backstory to all this dates back a year. Or maybe even more. In 2021, Smith-McCrossin was booted out of the Tory caucus for supporting a blockade at the New Brunswick border protesting COVID policy.(In her own affidavit, Smith-McCrossin denied being present or involved in the border blockade, although she did attend a brief protest 50 km away the day before, “expressing displeasure with the effect the border restrictions were having on the lives of my constituents economically.”)*
So, it’s complicated. It always is in Nova Scotia.
In any event, Smith-McCrossin, now an independent MLA, introduced a private member’s bill in March 2023, essentially banning non-disclosure agreements, those behind-closed-doors deals that are often used to silence victims of sexual assault and harassment.
Smith-McCrossin’s motivation, she said, was “personal.” In the House, she talked about her late former constituency assistant, Kaitlin Saxton, who’d also previously worked as a communications officer in the provincial Progressive Conservative caucus office.
Saxton had resigned in 2018 around the same time that then-leader Jamie Baillie was forced to resign because of “allegations of inappropriate behaviour,” including sexual harassment involving a then-unidentified female staff member.
According to Smith-McCrossin, Saxton “was coerced into signing an NDA with the Progressive Conservative caucus” at the time of her resignation. She tabled an unsigned version of the alleged NDA in the House of Assembly.
After which, all hell broke loose. The premier’s office issued a statement:
We can confirm [neither] the caucus nor the PC party ever had an individual sign an NDA with respect to this matter. I can also confirm the document tabled in the legislature by Elizabeth is not a document that was prepared for or by, nor was it entered into by the PC Party, PC Caucus, PC Party President, or PC Party interim leader or current leader.
Hold all those many identities in your head. Who’s missing?
A few days later, Karla McFarlane, the interim PC leader at the time the alleged NDA was signed, introduced her own motion to kick Smith-McCrossin out of the legislative until — and unless — she retracted her description of the “alleged non-disclosure agreement” as being between Saxton and the PC caucus and, oh yes, apologized for ever having suggested as much.
But before McFarlane’s motion could be debated, Premier Tim Houston took the huff out of the issue, declaring a victory known only to him and announcing that McFarlane’s motion wouldn’t go forward.
Except… it has never been withdrawn.
This brings us to Smith-McCrossin’s constitutional challenge, which names both McFarlane and Attorney General Brad Johns.
“At issue,” wrote Henderson in her article, “is the alleged existence of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that Kait Saxton signed.”
Since Saxton isn’t around to speak for herself — she died of a brain hemorrhage in June 2022 at the age of 33 — Smith-McCrossin’s court filings include an affidavit from Saxton’s parents, Mike and Kathy Saxton.
“Allegations contained in the Jan. 16 affidavit from the Saxtons,” Henderson notes carefully,
“reveal more about what they knew (and didn’t know) about their daughter’s troubles.”
Her parents do claim — and say they submitted documents to McCrossin’s lawyer to support the allegation — that Kait hired lawyer John Rafferty, counsel to Burchell McDougall LLP …
… to handle her claims against Jamie Baillie and the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia. I understand that both matters settled. In our possession, we have unsigned minutes of settlement and mutual release between Kait Saxton and Jamie Baillie, which is eight pages long.
Their affidavit also makes other allegations, including this:
While we never learned all the details from Kait, we did eventually learn that she was the victim of some sort of sexual assault and battery by Jamie Baillie.
It is not clear from the affidavit how and from whom the Saxtons learned about the alleged assault, but in her article, Henderson makes the important point that “none of the allegations contained in the recently filed documents have been tested in court.”
OK, that’s the backstory and the front story.
Which brings us to Parker Donham. The virtual ink was barely dry on Henderson’s article when Donham — a former journalist, sometime PR person and blogger — fired off an email with the subject line, “Jamie Baillie – URGENT:”
I have been helping Jamie Baillie respond to the false and defamatory
statements contained in the Saxton’s [sic] affidavit. I’m disappointed that
you made no effort to seek comment from Jamie about such a salacious
statement before publishing. Had you done so, we would have supplied the
“A spokesperson for Mr. Baillie categorically denied the allegation
contained in an affidavit by Michael and Kathryn Saxton. ‘There was
absolutely no assault of any kind,’ the spokesperson said.”
Please insert this high in your story.
Uh… There’s a backstory here too.
Last spring, when that all hell was breaking loose, and every Tory everywhere was denying ever knowing anything about any NDA — what’s an NDA? — one person steadfastly refused to comment.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t asked to comment. In fact, my colleague, Jennifer Henderson, emailed him at the time:
Jennifer Henderson: Did you ever sign any type of non-disclosure agreement with Kait Saxton? And I’m not talking about the unsigned, undated document Ms. Smith-McCrossin produced. I’m talking about whether YOU signed any non-disclosure agreement with Kait.
Coincidentally, I had tried a slightly different tack, asking Baillie, via Messenger, “whether you had any involvement in this matter during or after your time as PC leader?”
Different question. Same answer.
I’m guessing that that’s what Baillie also said to Saltwire reporter John McPhee — and other journalists — who contacted him at the time.
So, it’s perhaps not surprising that Henderson and other reporters didn’t rush to the phones this time seeking yet another non-responsive “I do not make a habit of commenting on matters before the House and will not start now” response to serious questions about Baillie’s personal conduct. (Donham’s response, it should be noted, was added to Henderson’s article — and high in the story.)
That said, and given Donham’s self-described role as Baillie’s spokesperson and given too that Smith-McCrossin’s legal challenge is about the alleged existence of that NDA, I reached out to Donham by email the day after his email to Jennifer:
I’m following up on your spokesperson’s response to the assault allegations about Jamie Baillie with a related question.
Does Mr. Baillie also categorically deny allegations he had any involvement of any sort in any discussions concerning a non-disclosure agreement involving Kait Saxton?
It took close to two days and a reminder email, but Donham finally responded on Thursday, the 26th.
Jamie has said everything he has to say about this, and has nothing to add.
So there you have it.
With luck, Smith-McCrossin’s lawyer will eventually be able to question lawyer John Rafferty about the supposed settlement between Kait Saxton and Baillie and the PCs and whether it included a non-disclosure agreement.
Or question Baillie himself under oath.
That may — or may not — answer an even more important question.
Why did the Houston government back away from its initial support of an April 2022 NDP private member’s bill to restrict the use of such NDAs, which had been modelled on legislation already passed in California as well as a law in Prince Edward Island?
At the time, NDP leader Claudia Chender said she had had “discussions with the department of justice and status of women, and the Houston government is looking at the issue and may introduce legislation in the fall.”
It didn’t happen. Instead, six months later, Tim Houston declared his government’s disinterest, even disdain for anti-NDA legislation. “There’s always individual circumstances as to how [NDAs] come about, how they’re signed, what they mean, what the wording is,” he told reporters. “I’m not aware of situations where people would be forced to enter into these.”
Perhaps that’s because he isn’t listening, or because he doesn’t want to know.
— *Updated Feb 3.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner.
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