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Judge says, “Someone is absolutely lying.”

David and Ricky Hallet


FROM SOUTHCOASTTODAY.CA: The acrimony and suspicion surrounding the expansion of open pen net aquaculture in Shelburne County emerged in a provincial courtroom Wednesday when Cooke Aquaculture’s provincial manager of saltwater operations came to court asking Justice Jim Burrill to impose a peace bond on two lobster fishermen from Jordan Bay.

Jeff Nickerson had filed complaints with the court in which he swore that he felt in fear of the fishermen for himself, his wife, his children and his home. He applied for a peace bond against the brothers and they appeared opposing the bond and defending their reputation in the community.

There were a dozen people in the court room gallery, including Nickerson and defendants Ricky and David Hallet, who have fished out of Jordan Bay for more than seventy-five years between them.

The lengthy hearing saw the introduction of an RCMP report, testimony from Nickerson and the Hallets, plus character witnesses for the brothers.

Nickerson swore under oath that the Hallets had exhibited a recent pattern of threats and intimidation towards him, including tailing him to the local wharf, shaking thier fists at him, giving him “the finger”, blocking his exit from the road near David’s home, telling him to “go f— yourself” and vows to burn his house down if his employers proceeds to place the planned industrial-sized salmon farms in Bay where they fish, saying, “we know where you live.”

Nickerson also told the RCMP and the court that he received anonymous telephone threats about the house-burning from “someone with an eastern Shelburne County accent.”

The brothers both testified that the incidents Nickerson was alleging never took place, that they never blocked the road, never made threats, had no idea where he lived and neither knew his phone number.

They testified that, although they had been vocal opponents of the fish farms they say are almost certain to damage or destroy the vulnerable lobster nursery in the bay, they have always comported themselves in a civilized and respectful manner.

Nickerson was represented in court by litigator Scott Campbell and a colleague from Halifax blue-chip firm Stewart-McKelvey and the brothers by Alexander Pink from Yarmouth.

In cross examination, Nickerson was questioned as to why, if he was so fearful, he waited four days to insist on meeting with the RCMP to file a report on the threats. He responded that, although he made several calls during Easter weekend, his impatience kept him from waiting until the end of the RCMP voicemail message to speak directly with an officer.

Nickerson also testified that, although he was aware of opposition to the fish farms among local residents and that his job was to inform communities about the benefits aquaculture, he had never tried to convince any local fishermen to support Cooke’s projects in the area.

Justice Burrill interrupted the testimony once to remind Campbell that Cooke CEO Glenn Cooke’s insistence that his firm increase security at Nickerson’s home should have lessened the threat, not increased it, as was being suggested by the lawyer.

In trying to attack the credibility of Nickerson’s testimony about who had made threats and when, Pink led his clients through testimony that swore that Ricky Hallet had never worn or owned a plaid shirt and that David had never owned or worn jeans, as was asserted in the police report.

In cross examination, Campbell presented a news story clip which showed Ricky in a plaid shirt, which Hallet then described as a jacket, not a shirt. Other news photos on the internet show both brothers in plaid shirts and David in what appear to be jeans.

It was also pointed out in testimony that, despite claiming to be very fearful of harm from the Hallets, Nickerson had come back to the exact location where the alleged threats were made no fewer than ten times after the incident. Nickerson testified that his job required him to be there.

The two character witnesses describe the pair as family-centred, talented and important members of the local community.  They were described as having strong values, never being unkind and being prone to be very clear on where they stand on any issue.

Robert Smith testified that he had never seen nor heard of either brother exhibit any violence in the thirty-five years he’d known them. Campbell asked him whether he had been with them every minute of those years. Smith replied, “We’re not married, if that’s what you mean.”

When asked what he his impressions were of the accusations levied by Nickerson against the pair, he said, “It’s hogwash!”

The Hallets have been among a province-wide group of community activists who have campaigned for the provincial government to apply rational scientific standards to the development of the fin fish aquaculture industry in the province. The brothers are known among that group as two of the most passionate, informed and eloquent speakers and authors on the subject.

After the final arguments, and after a time in his chambers, Burrill returned to the courtroom. In a lengthy explanation of the difficulty he had in reaching a verdict, he explained that the law in place was based upon the realistic fear someone had about harm which might come their way from others and that the standard was a “balance of probability” that evidence pointed in one way or the other.

The justice described the three parties involved as “absolutely credible”, but as their versions were so utterly disparate, only one could be true.

He was convinced, he said, that “one side is absolutely lying”. “But I can’t determine which side.”

In the end, because he could not determine the required “probability” of evidence, he denied Nickerson’s claim for the peace bond against the brothers.

Within ten days, the large salmon cages in Jordan Bay within sight of David Hallet’s home are expected to be stocked with up to one million baby salmon, or smolts.