Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Busy first year for chief C.B. Crown

An article published in yesterday's edition of The Chronicle Herald:

MacRury headed inquiry into jail cell death of mentally ill man


Dan MacRury [pictured] spent most of his first year as chief Crown attorney for the Cape Breton region juggling his new job with his responsibilities as counsel for the Howard Hyde inquiry.

The inquiry into the death of the mentally ill man while in custody was one of the province’s longest fatality probes.

But MacRury said he is used to tackling more than one job at a time. He will be the incoming vice-chairman for the criminal justice section of the Canadian Bar Association, and treasurer of the Nova Scotia branch.

He has also sat as president of the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia and the Canadian Criminal Justice Association. And in his spare time, he goes fly-fishing and makes pasta.

He recently sat down with The Chronicle Herald to talk about his 24-year career shortly after he won the Canadian Bar Association’s 2010 John Tait Award of Excellence.

Q: What sparked your interest in public prosecution?

A: I’ve been involved in public service pretty well my entire career. First, I was at (Nova Scotia) Legal Aid and then moved over to the Crown.

I think it was sort of natural for me because public service and volunteerism are sort of virtues of my family. My entire family works as public servants.

My father worked as a hospital administrator and a city councillor here in Sydney. My mother was a nurse in detox. Both sisters work in health care, and in fact, I married a public servant. My wife’s a public servant.

It’s certainly something that was instilled in my family as being very important, to give back to your community and try to make a difference, and that’s really what I’ve been trying to do throughout my career.

Q: So what was it initially that interested you about law?

A: I had a very good professor who was sort of a mentor and went on to be a senator. John. B. Stewart was my professor at St. F.X., and he was somebody that always encouraged people to go into law, and I guess that was where my interest was tweaked at that point in time.

And certainly as a lawyer, I’ve had some great opportunities. I’ve been involved as a defence counsel in two murders and as a Crown in seven murder cases. I’ve appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada three times, one being the (John Robin) Sharpe case that dealt with the constitutionality of the (child) pornography provisions of the Criminal Code.

And I was a legal adviser in 2002 to the G7 finance ministers conference in terms of the law and its relation on lawful assembly and protests.

Q: Recently, you were the counsel for the Howard Hyde inquiry regarding the death of a man with schizophrenia who died 30 hours after he was Tasered while in police custody in Halifax. Can you tell us about that?

A: The Hyde inquiry, of course, was the longest fatality inquiry in Nova Scotia history, and that dealt with issues of how the mentally ill are dealt with by the criminal justice system and the mental health system. We’re now awaiting Judge (Anne) Derrick’s report and certainly hoping that there will be recommendations in relation to those areas as well.

One thing that I’ve found both as a legal aid lawyer and as Crown over the last 20 years is that, really, there are too many people that suffer from mental illness that are being dealt with by the criminal justice system instead of the mental health system. That’s something that I always felt was important to try to improve if we can.

Q: What do you remember about your first case?

A: When I first started out in New Glasgow (as a lawyer with Nova Scotia Legal Aid), you dealt with a lot of people, and you realize that people don’t choose, and don’t have control over some of the circumstances (that affect criminal behaviour), whether it’s poverty or substance abuse. So a lot of times what you found as a legal aid lawyer is that people are just looking for help.

I guess one case that sort of stuck out in my mind is I represented a young man who had been institutionalized for most of his life, and disabled. It certainly brought home to me that sentencing sometimes has to be flexible because it was a serious offence that he was charged with and the jails couldn’t cope with him. We were able to speak with (the) correctional services (division of) Nova Scotia at the time and we were able to have him transferred to a hospital setting, which was more appropriate for him. He was able then to get at rehabilitative programs, and it was the only time he’d been involved in the criminal justice system that he was able to get programs to assist him. Certainly, that was very rewarding from my point of view. What we find is that when things aren’t as simple, you have to be a little innovative in terms of coming up with solutions to problems.

Q: You said that you’ve prosecuted seven murder cases.

A: One I got parachuted into. I think what you learn in this business is things happen on short notice. I had a vacation booked for New York City, and a colleague became very ill. With two weeks to go, I ended up being involved in the case in Halifax (R. vs. Assoun). And that was a long case where the accused fired three lawyers and was then self-represented, which was certainly a challenge.

I was involved in another case (R. vs. Tran) that was simultaneous translation in Vietnamese. In fact, while I was dealing with the Tran case . . . at the same time we were prosecuting another case called Simpson, which was somebody on a Cuban vessel that murdered somebody in Halifax Harbour. So, literally, we were going to jury on one case, and then up at the provincial court starting the other case, which was translated in Spanish.

The challenge in the case in the gentleman from Cuba is that all the witnesses were in Cuba and so we had to deal with Foreign Affairs to try to get them back in the country to testify . . . so it wasn’t your standard subpoenas. Certainly, that was a challenge, but an exciting case as well."


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