Nova Scotia premier accuses union of divisiveness after assault on officer

Premier Stephen McNeil speaks at an afternoon press briefing in Halifax on Thursday, July 9, 2020.
Premier Stephen McNeil speaks at an afternoon press briefing in Halifax on Thursday, July 9, 2020. Government of Nova Scotia

A Nova Scotia man has been charged with assaulting a peace officer near a border crossing – leading Premier Stephen McNeil to accuse the officer’s union of playing politics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said the RCMP were called to assist at the Fort Lawrence crossing near the border with New Brunswick just before 8 p.m. Wednesday. She said a man from East Amherst has been charged with assaulting a peace officer and breach of conditions.

Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said the incident happened during a routine vehicle inspection, and it’s left the officer shaken.

MacLean said the driver objected to the inspection and tried to choke the male officer, who used his radio to call for help from some nearby conservation officers. Those officers helped detain the alleged assailant before the police arrived, he said in an interview Thursday.

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The officer, MacLean said, “is very lucky that there were conservation officers nearby.” He said vehicle compliance officers have raised concerns about safety in the past because they work alone and are equipped only with radios.

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During a COVID-19 news conference Thursday, Nova Scotia’s premier said the incident is concerning and thanked public servants for their efforts as the province reopens its borders to Atlantic Canada.

But when asked what his government would do to improve safety for peace officers, McNeil accused the union of distracting from wider efforts to recover from the pandemic. “To me the union has looked at every opportunity to complain and looked to divide,” the premier said.

“I will not allow some people to try to divide our province as we continue to work our way through dealing with COVID and reopen our economy.”

Atlantic Bubble Travel Tips
Atlantic Bubble Travel Tips

McNeil said law enforcement agencies will be placed at the border if needed, but said some groups are bringing up past issues while the province tries to move forward.

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The premier said the province reported no new cases of COVID-19 and one additional recovery from the illness.

MacLean said the premier’s outburst reflects a bad attitude towards unions and their safety demands.

He noted that his union had not raised the pandemic when discussing Wednesday’s incident, and said the inspection happening at the time was not related to the pandemic or to border controls.

“It’s unfortunate that (McNeil) gets that way because we’re speaking out on bonafide issues that are ones of safety,” MacLean said. “We’re going to continue to advocate.”

READ MORE: No new cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia on Tuesday

He said the union’s duty is to stand up for members at a time when safety at work is paramount, and said it’s unfortunate the premier interprets safety concerns as sources of division.

“Lost in all of this are the heroes that he (McNeil) says are out there doing all the work, and I’ll tell you, it’s tough times,” MacLean said.