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Colchester County activist who intimidated Samson given discharge

Michel Samson was provincial energy minister in 2016 when an environmental activist made intimidating comments on Facebook and in phone calls to his office. FILE
Michel Samson was provincial energy minister in 2016 when an environmental activist made intimidating comments on Facebook and in phone calls to his office. FILE - The Chronicle Herald

A Colchester County environmental activist has been given a conditional discharge for intimidating Michel Samson when he wasprovincial energy minister.

Douglas Addison Neil, 56, made various comments on Facebook and in phone calls to Samson’s office that were perceived by the minister as threatening.

Neil pleaded guilty to the intimidation charge in December and was sentenced Thursday in Halifax provincial court.

“You crossed a line,” Judge Gregory Lenehan told the Bible Hill man.

If Neil successfully completes a year of probation, he will be discharged and will not have a conviction for the offence.

The judge also granted the Crown’s request for a five-year firearms prohibition, saying it will provide Samson, his family and the public “some sense of security.”

Neil opposes the Liberal government’s controversial decisions to allow a tidal turbine to be installed in the Minas Basin and natural gas to be stored in underground caverns near Alton, Colchester County.

In Facebook posts in 2016, Neil said Samson and Premier Stephen McNeil would be kidnapped on Christmas Eve and held until the turbine was removed.

Neil also mentioned going to Samson’s home church to preach to the congregation about the minister’s decisions.

Government security contacted police in December 2016 with concerns for the safety of Samson and his family.

Lenehan said most people who go into politics feel they can make a difference and contribute something to the community “They do not deserve to be subjected to such intimidating comments, such personal attacks on them,” the judge told Neil. “It’s completely uncalled for.”

Neil and his lawyer, Aileen Furey, both told the court he never intended to act on his words and was only looking for attention and action from the government.

“I agree that it’s not acceptable behaviour,” Neil said. “My intent was not to be taken seriously.”

Lenehan said Neil ran the risk of “inciting a lynch mob.”

“I realize that in hindsight you realize that you made a big mistake in choosing the words that you did and the forum in which you did this,” the judge said. “You wanted to get attention, but being charged with criminal offences wasn’t the attention you wanted. I accept that.”

Samson, who was MLA for Cape Breton-Richmond until he was defeated in the May 2017 provincial election, sent the prosecutor some comments that were read out loud in court.

He said that during his 19 years in elected office he was the subject of criticism but was never threatened before this, especially with kidnapping.

Samson said he felt uneasy as he attended church with his family on Christmas Eve and watched for anybody who looked out of place.

“No cabinet minister, elected official, civil servant or judge should ever be subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation or fear for their security,” he said.

“It is my hope that a strong message will be sent during sentencing that will act as a deterrent for Mr. Neil and all others who mistakenly believe this is acceptable behaviour.”

Lawyers agreed that a year’s probation was warranted, but Crown attorney Eric

Taylor recommended a suspended sentence while Furey sought a conditional discharge. “In the Crown’s view, jail is certainly not required to deter Mr. Neil and others,” Taylor said.

“A rehabilitative sentence would be more protective of the public, would provide Mr. Neil with some tools to help handle his anger, handle his enthusiasm when dealing with environmental issues, and would help him understand the wrongfulness of his actions and the consequences.”

Lenehan said the main question was whether a conditional discharge would be contrary to the public interest.

“When I first looked at this, I was not inclined to consider a discharge, because I do believe that our public officials should be well protected,” he said. “But then I determined that whether it’s a discharge or a suspended sentence, it doesn’t protect our public officials any better one way or the other.

“In the circumstances, I am convinced that it would not be contrary to the public interest to grant a discharge.”

While on probation, Neil cannot have any weapons and must take part in counselling for anger management. The judge also ordered him not to have any contact with Samson or his former executive assistant, Nadine Landry, and to stay away from their residences and workplaces.

Lenehan also suggested that Neil delete the Facebook posts that led to the charges. “I’m not ordering it, but it’s advisable,” he said.

Charges of criminal harassment and uttering threats were dismissed.

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