Nova Scotia

Merlin Nunn, former N.S. Supreme Court justice, dies at 89

Former Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice Merlin Nunn has died at age 89.

Nunn was known for public inquiry into the country's youth criminal justice system

Merlin Nunn, former Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice, has died. (CBC)

Former Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice Merlin Nunn has died. He was 89.

Nunn was the province's conflict of interest commissioner until he retired in 2018.

"Justice Nunn was a formidable jurist whose passing will touch many in this province's legal community," Deborah Smith, the current chief justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, said in a release from the Nova Scotia Judiciary.

"Whether it was his thoughtful and well-reasoned decisions in the courtroom or the countless hours he committed to the Inquiry into a local teacher's death, Justice Nunn served Nova Scotians with passion and integrity."

Merlin Nunn was a retired justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. (Nova Scotia Judiciary)

He was known for a public inquiry into the country's youth criminal justice system, the Nunn Commission of Inquiry, which investigated a fatal crash in October 2004.

Theresa McEvoy, a 52-year-old mother and teaching assistant, was killed after then 16-year-old Archie Billard was joyriding in a stolen car went through a red light in Halifax.

Nunn was tasked with looking at the circumstances surrounding the young offender, who was released from custody just days before the crash.

After speaking to dozens of witnesses, Nunn determined that the court in Windsor should not have have released the teen from custody while he was still facing charges in Halifax.

Nunn made 34 recommendations for change in the youth justice system, the education sector and for services of at-risk children and youth in the province, including a suggested change to make it easier for judges to detain youths awaiting trial.

'He will be greatly missed'

Born in Sydney, N.S., Nunn held degrees from St. Francis Xavier University, Dalhousie University and a graduate degree in law from Harvard University.

He was admitted to the Nova Scotia bar in 1958. He went on to join the Halifax firm Rutledge, MacKeigan & Downie and stayed there for 22 years.

During that time, he served as chairman of the Nova Scotia Government Employee Labour Relations Board. In 1973, he was appointed Queen's Counsel.

In 1981, Nunn was appointed to the trial division of the Supreme Court and elected supernumerary status in September 1997. He retired in 2005.

"I know I speak on behalf of all his former judicial colleagues when I say that Justice Nunn will be greatly missed," Smith said in the release. "Our thoughts and condolences are with his friends and loved ones during this difficult time."

The release says Nunn was "deeply involved in his community," serving on the board of directors for the Home of the Guardian Angel, the Convent of the Sacred Heart private school and the Northcliffe Senior Citizens Corporation.

Counselling politicians

In his 21 years as Nova Scotia's conflict of interest commissioner, Nunn reviewed complaints and also counselled politicians and public service members of whether or not they were in a conflict, or could become caught in one. 

But he also came under fire for not always publicly sharing his findings and his lack of record keeping.

"I'm not a fan of transparency in this particular situation. You're giving advice to people in their jobs and it's all very private," Nunn told the legislature's human resources committee in 2016.

Premier Stephen McNeil stood by Nunn at the time, saying he trusted his judgment about how the office operates.