Mark Furey isn’t in a conflict, Donald Trump won by a landslide and other tales from the alternate universe

My question. Is there a problem with the province’s Conflict of Interest Act? Or with Justice Kennedy’s interpretation of it?

Justice Minister Mark Furey. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

So, let me see if I have this straight. Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey, a 32-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, had no conflict of interest, real or perceived, while overseeing the provincial government’s response to Canada’s worst mass murder in history. This is so, despite the reality RCMP actions — and inactions — before, during and after April’s Portapique shooting spree are at the heart of an ongoing public inquiry, an inquiry which Furey did his best for as long as he possibly could to avoid even calling.

Fair enough. And, in this same alternate universe, Donald Trump won the US presidential election “by a landslide.”

On November 30, Joseph P. Kennedy, the retired chief justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court who serves as the province’s conflict of interest commissioner, officially dismissed an official complaint into the matter from Tory opposition leader Tim Houston.

In arguing that the Justice Minister was in “a real or reasonably perceived conflict of interest,” Houston cited not only Furey’s employment history — during his three-plus decades in the RCMP, he spent a year-and-a-half as a policing consultant to the then-provincial justice minister, advising on exactly the sort of rural policing policies being questioned at Portapique, and another two years as the district commander of a rural Nova Scotia district similar to the one involved in the mass shooting — but also:

  • the fact Furey is currently in charge of the administration of justice in the province, including overseeing the operation of the RCMP;
  • the fact Furey could be a “compellable” witness at a public inquiry;
  • and the fact the government of which Furey is a member has been named in a class-action suit by families of the shooter’s 22 victims.

Not to forget, of course, that ex-RCMP officer Furey — along with federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, yet another ex-police officer — aggressively resisted calls for a full public inquiry into the shooting until public outrage finally forced them to abandon their untenable plan for a carefully constructed and constricted under-the-carpet “review” of those “events.”

And let’s not to forget either that it then took Ottawa and the province another three months before they even appointed a final commissioner so the public inquiry could finally begin its work.

And let’s remember too that Tim Houston is far from the only person to make the case that a deeply conflicted Furey should step aside.

“Both levels of government can’t take back that they proposed a failed review process and they can’t take back that it took so long to get the commission going and ready to operate,” Wayne MacKay, a retired Dalhousie University law professor and constitutional law expert, told the Chronicle Herald last month, “but they can still change this one component, which is to make it absolutely beyond a doubt that there will be no bias brought to the process by Minister Furey… The whole thing is about optics and it’s vital that people have confidence in the process as being legitimate and pursuing the truth without bias and interference. That’s the objective.”

Agreed Rob Pineo, the lawyer representing the families of the victims: “I think minister Furey should have done the honourable thing and removed himself from the process at the outset, but certainly I think the premier should have removed him from that position.”

Instead, Justice Kennedy swept all of those concerns aside in a letter that does not appear to have even been published on the government website. “I acknowledge that there has been public concern expressed as to minister Furey’s participation in the process that created the inquiry, based largely because of his former association with the RCMP,” Kennedy wrote, ignoring the reality of Furey’s actual actions. Kennedy still managed to conclude: “The evidence produced does not satisfy me that there is any contravention or perceived contravention of the [Conflict of Interest] Act.”

My question. Is there a problem with the province’s Conflict of Interest Act? Or with Justice Kennedy’s interpretation of it?

This isn’t the first time — as Furey himself has crowed — that the commissioner has cleared him of serious conflict-of-interest complaints.

You may remember the Glen Assoun case. If you don’t, you should check out Examiner editor Tim Bousquet’s shocking five-year investigation into Assoun’s wrongful conviction and/or listen to Dead Wrong, his compelling eight-episode CBC podcast retelling of the story.

Assoun spent almost 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, kept there for the last decade before he was finally exonerated in large part because the RCMP destroyed evidence about other suspects that could have led to his freedom.

Even after that bombshell revelation, Justice Minister Furey refused to condemn police malfeasance in the case. He declined to comment at all.

Conflict of interest? “Simply having been a member of the RCMP at relevant times does not create a real conflict,” Kennedy wrote in that get-out-of-this-mess-of-your-own-making letter. Which, once again, seemed to miss the essence of the complaint. Or what Furey did. And has continued to do.

It has been almost two years since Assoun was finally exonerated and “Mark Furey has yet to make inquiries to find out why someone within the Halifax RCMP deleted a large number of computer files and removed boxes of physical evidence that might have prevented Glen Assoun from being wrongfully imprisoned for 17 years for the murder of Brenda Way. ” Furey also hasn’t apologized to Assoun for what happened to him. And he hasn’t announced a final compensation package for a 64-year-old man with a weak heart and fragile health.

A conflict of interest? Mark Furey’s actions speak for themselves.

***

I now return you to your regularly scheduled alternate universe programming where a wronged Justice Minister Mark Furey is responding in an op-ed in the Chronicle Herald to complaints he was in a conflict in his response to Portapique (with a few real-world annotations).

“The surviving victims and families deserve answers — and the public inquiry (which the minister didn’t want to call) will work to provide those and to set out recommendations to both Nova Scotia and Canada so this tragic loss is never repeated. This a joint federal and provincial public inquiry with a broad, published mandate (which he hoped his review would avoid). The inquiry commissioners have begun their work (no thanks to the minister), independent of government and police…

The review and then the joint public inquiry came together very quickly. In fact, quicker than most. (Not even close. “On May 15, 1992 — six days after the Westray tragedy — then-Premier Donald Cameron appointed Judge Peter Richard to conduct a full public inquiry into what caused the explosion.”) All levels of government worked together and are united and focused on keeping the needs of the families at the forefront (which is why the minister refused to recuse himself as the families requested). But it is the commissioners who are conducting the inquiry — independent of me, my office and government. (Here’s hoping…)

A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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