Nova Scotia

Former government lawyer suing Premier Stephen McNeil and Diana Whalen

A former Nova Scotia Justice Department lawyer says Premier Stephen McNeil and former justice minister Diana Whalen "cynically" sacrificed his reputation for political purposes and effectively ended his career.

Alex Cameron alleges defamation, abuse of power and constructive dismissal

Premier Stephen McNeil and former Nova Scotia justice minister Diana Whalen in a 2017 file photo. (CBC)

A former Nova Scotia Justice Department lawyer says Premier Stephen McNeil and former justice minister Diana Whalen "cynically" sacrificed his reputation for political purposes and effectively ended his career.

The allegation is contained in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Alex Cameron in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

The move comes two months after the release of affidavits related to the matter, which the province unsuccessfully tried to keep private.

Cameron was the province's lawyer on an appeal file in 2016, which centred on whether the government had sufficiently consulted with the Sipekne'Katik First Nation about a proposed natural gas storage project Alton Gas wants to build along the Shubenacadie River.

Things went sideways for the government and Cameron when a brief he was including as part of his arguments was made public. It suggested consultation only applies to "unconquered people," and that a band's submission to the Crown in 1760 negated its claim of sovereignty.

'Unconquered people' fallout

The firestorm of criticism that followed resulted in McNeil and Whalen both disavowing the argument, saying they were unaware of it and that it wasn't their view. Not long after that, Cameron was removed from the file and the brief was withdrawn.

In his lawsuit, Cameron alleges his actions were all approved by senior government officials and that everyone, up to and including McNeil, was aware of what was happening.

McNeil and Whalen have previously denied that allegation and multiple senior government officials have filed affidavits disputing Cameron's account of events.

In the lawsuit, Cameron said the response and comments from McNeil and Whalen and subsequent media coverage at the time defamed him and that the two politicians "feigned to have no knowledge of the arguments."

They abused their public offices by "cynically sacrificing [Cameron's] reputation for political purposes," the lawsuit alleges.

The result was serious harm to Cameron, according to the documents. He retired on April 30, 2017, because the "cumulative effect" of McNeil and Whalen's actions made it intolerable for him to keep working.

"The plaintiff says the defendants' conduct repudiated the essential terms of his employment contract and constituted constructive dismissal."

Personal reputation ruined

The documents say Cameron's professional and personal reputation was ruined and that a one-time offer he received from a third party to provide legal services upon retirement was withdrawn following the negative publicity.

Cameron is seeking reimbursement for that loss or damages for the loss of income on account of his "wrongful and constructive dismissal." He is also seeking general damages, aggravated damages, punitive damages and legal costs.

A spokesperson for the premier declined comment. Whalen could not be reached for comment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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