Nova Scotia

Records in 'unconquered peoples' lawsuit should be unsealed: Appeal Court

A former government lawyer, Alex Cameron, wants to use internal government communications in his lawsuit against the province alleging defamation, constructive dismissal and violation of his charter rights. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has sided with allowing him to use those documents.

Ruling says it would be unfair for province to use solicitor-client privilege while 'impugning' former lawyer

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has ruled that former Nova Scotia Justice Department lawyer Alex Cameron can use provincial documents as part of his own constructive dismissal lawsuit. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia government has failed in its bid to keep documents relating to a controversial energy project secret.

A former government lawyer, Alex Cameron, wants to use internal government communications in his lawsuit against the province alleging defamation, constructive dismissal and violation of his charter rights.

Cameron was the lawyer assigned to defend the government against allegations it had failed to properly consult with the Sipekne'katik First Nation before the government approved a proposal to allow natural gas to be stored in underground caverns in Alton.

In his arguments, which sparked public outcry, Cameron said the province only had a duty to consult "unconquered peoples" and that did not apply in this case.

Both Premier Stephen McNeil and then attorney general Diana Whalen repudiated Cameron's arguments and said no one had instructed him to make them. He was removed from the file and retired shortly afterwards.

A Mi'kmaq camp is seen on the shores of the Shubenacadie River in Fort Ellis, N.S., on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. Indigenous protesters set up the camp to oppose a plan to create large underground caverns to store natural gas. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

But following his retirement, Cameron launched his lawsuit against his former employers.

The province responded by saying internal government communications were protected by solicitor-client privilege and could not form part of Cameron's lawsuit. He appealed and last summer, a justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court agreed with him and ordered that the communications be released so they could become part of Cameron's legal arguments. However, the province appealed that decision and so the documents have remained sealed.

On Thursday, a three-member panel of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal released a decision that upheld the lower court ruling in Cameron's favour.

"It would be manifestly unfair to allow the Province to hide behind solicitor client privilege while at the same time impugning the conduct of its solicitor," Justice David Farrar wrote on behalf of the appeal panel.

'My position has never changed,' says premier

McNeil was asked about the Appeal Court ruling following Thursday's cabinet meeting.

"My position has never changed," he said.

"At no time did I have any indication that that was the argument."

McNeil could not say whether the province will appeal this latest decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. The government has 30 days to make that decision.