Nova Scotia

'Unconquered people' lawyer plans to sue McNeil for defamation

The lawyer who submitted a legal brief implying that members of a First Nation band are a conquered people plans to sue Stephen McNeil, Diana Whalen and the attorney general's office for defamation, abuse of public office, constitutional violation and constructive dismissal.

Alex Cameron's lawsuit to allege Stephen McNeil, Diana Whalen abused public office, violated constitution

Members of the Sipekne'katik band placed a flag on the Shubenacadie River in protest against the Alton Gas project. (Robert Short/CBC)

A former government lawyer in Nova Scotia who presented a controversial legal brief in court implying that the Mi'kmaq are a conquered people plans to sue Premier Stephen McNeil, Justice Minister Diana Whalen and the attorney general's office.

Alex Cameron filed a notice of application for a publication ban in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on May 5 in preparation for a planned lawsuit — just days after he retired from the Justice Department. 

According to Cameron's affidavit, he intends to sue McNeil, Whalen and the attorney general's office for defamation, abuse of public office, constitutional violation and constructive dismissal.

Solicitor-client privilege a concern

Cameron's lawyer, Bruce Outhouse, said he could not elaborate on any allegations contained in his client's affidavit.

Cameron plans to ask for a publication ban because, as a former Justice Department lawyer, the court case could raise issues that would normally be kept confidential under solicitor-client privilege. 

The department declined to comment on the planned lawsuit as "this will be a matter before the court," a department spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC News.

'Unconquered people' brief controversial

Former Nova Scotia Justice Department lawyer Alex Cameron plans to sue the attorney general's office, Stephen McNeil and Diana Whalen. (CBC)

Cameron was acting as a lawyer on behalf of the government last year in a case that pitted the province against the Sipekne'Katik First Nation.

The band had appealed the province's approval of Alton Gas's plan to store natural gas in salt caverns near the Shubenacadie River, saying the government had not appropriately consulted with the First Nation.

During the case, Cameron presented a brief that said the Crown was only obliged to consult with "unconquered people," and that a band's submission to the Crown in 1760 negated its claim of sovereignty, meaning the government did not have a constitutional duty to consult.

After the brief was presented, McNeil apologized for it and the defence was later removed. 

'Continued employment intolerable'

Cameron was also removed from the case. He retired from the Justice Department on April 30.

His affidavit says he retired "because the respondents' conduct towards me, including public statements, rendered continued employment intolerable."

Outhouse said he hoped the publication ban application would be heard May 23.

Leaders respond

McNeil defended his government's position on consultations with First Nations during a campaign stop Monday ahead of the May 30 provincial election. 

"My voice on this is part of the public record," the Liberal leader told reporters. 

"I believe the province of Nova Scotia has a duty to consult. Under my leadership, I continue to practise that and we will continue to make sure that all the development we do follows that process of our responsibility to consult."

McNeil added that he was not aware that Cameron had left his job.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said there hasn't been enough accountability from the Liberals on the issue.

"It defies credibility to believe that a case as sensitive as that would not have been signed off on by at least the minister of [justice], if not the premier's office," Baillie said Monday.

Gary Burrill, the leader of the New Democratic Party, said the Liberals didn't even know about the "unconquered people" defence until the NDP brought it up in the legislature. 

"After we told them ... they were a considerable time before they realized what a serious matter it was and then dealt with it," Burrill said. "I think it has been a shameful chapter for them."