Monday, November 30, 2015

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Not-So-Secret Lies and Ugly Truths

This Time It's Personal

Did the Halifax municipal prosecutor lie in August when she declined a deal to let Brindi go to the US in return for me to withdraw my appeal?  

After a winter like no other - six to eight inches of solid ice for months and record snows that drove everyone a bit mad here - I ended up spending the summer recovering from surgery for ovarian cancer. It was a double-whammy procedure to remove a large malignant tumour on my ovary, as well as certain lady parts I wasn't too happy about losing. I held my breath until the biopsies came back, and by August the coast was clear and I was able to get around on my own. But I was still far too dazed and worn to tackle yet more court documents. I can't help feeling they're what made me sick in the first place, frankly.

Brindi in distress, ca. 30 minutes after seizure, Sept. 24, 2010.
(Imagine if your best friend was put on death row, and their life depended entirely on you, and your ability to fake a language known only to members of a private club. Your friend will die unless you find the right combination of signs and sounds to convince a judge to listen to you instead of the club member in the room - the prosecutor, a native speaker. Then imagine having to do this over and over, year after year, to keep your friend alive, as they grow sick and old. You know you will never speak the language yet you have no choice. You can never see your friend; and after a time, no one will tell you if they are even alive. That's more or less my life.)

I was at the point that I could not tolerate it anymore. So I asked a kind relative I haven’t seen in decades to call HRM solicitor Katherine Salsman on my behalf and ask once more if she would agree to mediation. When she said no, he went ahead and made an offer to adopt Brindi, suggesting that in return I might be persuaded to drop my appeal. 

She declined his offer as "too complicated" - and then said to my amazement that HRM had a family all picked out to adopt Brindi.

It was earth-shattering news considering that she had refused to go to mediation! Frankly, I haven't been able - physically or emotionally - to talk about it since then, much less function at anything remotely like full capacity. It made no sense and yet it said everything!

For about five years, this woman ignored many many other calls and letters offering adoption, and my own pleas for a similar deal. Everyone from PETA to Morgan Fairchild to the director of the Cesar Milan Foundation was unable to even get her or anybody on the phone, not even a call back. I could only assume the difference now was that my relative happens to be a lawyer, and a partner no less. In any case, judging from her response, she was perfectly happy to chat away like old chums. And more.

First, she told him she’d reply in a week after consulting with her "team" ("Team? What team?" I asked). Then she added that if HRM did accept, their condition would be that Brindi never comes back to me. He made no objection; it was the start of a process, and he understands that I have no interest in moving down to his or any state. He told me he knows and agrees that such a deal wouldn't be the fairest or most just outcome. But it would put an end to my misery and Brindi's suffering in the best way possible at that point. For my part, if I must allow anybody to have Brindi, I'd be thrilled if it were him. On the flip side, I could not think of anything HRM could object to about him as a prospective "adopter" for Brindi.

Let me just interject here that when he told me about the call afterwards, I just about hit the floor. Not only because the call happened at all, which was pretty massive. No; in a way I figured she would talk to a fellow lawyer, this accomplished senior lawyer. What struck me so hard was that Ms. Salsman did not mention a thing to him about compliance with HRM's muzzle order, an escape-proof enclosure, or training. "Are you sure?" I kept asking him.

The muzzle in particular was a knotty and contentious issue that Ms. Salsman harped on endlessly about at trial, even insisting Brindi has to be muzzled even when inside an enclosure. I say harped in terms of quantity, not quality. It worked with the judge, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary: on two occasions, Brindi chose not to attack a person or persons kicking her. She'd barely ever scratched a dog. Sure, there were a handful of incidents with dogs, but the very number of harmless incidents is the opposite of proof she should be killed (noting that HRM lacks any legal standard for this). Muzzling her at all, let alone in a pen, is absurd, if not dangerous. And saying that does not mean I don't take my dog's behaviour seriously. If that were true, I would not have consulted a trainer for advice, or even apologize to people, as I did when anything happened - and I did much more than that, which Ms. Salsman knows very well. And I met the court requirement to do training before her release. Then I continued - training a dog out of a territorial issue is best done when they have territory to guard, rather than when they are in a kennel. And she was doing great.

In fact, since 2008, HRM had been deaf to my repeated offers of the same three measures, muzzle compliance, specialized training, and an "escape proof" enclosure - a dog run that I went ahead and built in the hopes they would agree to let her go - plus a fourth offer to pay fines, as alternatives to killing Brindi. Things changed in 2010 once a judge, declining HRM's request for a new Order to Destroy - the whole reason HRM put me on trial - imposed fines and set the rest as court conditions. Naturally I was more than willing to meet them. But HRM seized her at the first opportunity - a set-up, as many said. At the time, I didn't think so. All these years later it's hard not to agree.

The worst injury ever resulting from an incident with Brindi! 
On the right shoulder - not typically where a dog would bite.  
HRM says this is a deep puncture wound. Another scrape of 
similar size showed up below the left shoulder. No visible teeth 
imprints. HRM claimed the dog, Lucy, was still depressed about 
these wounds two months later! Yet they submitted a vet report 
from two weeks after the incident, describing Lucy as having a 
"bright demeanour". Nobody said anything about the impact on 
Brindi to be seized again and shoved into a windowless metal box... 
(For HRM, the muzzle order (whose non-Brindi-related origins I have elsewhere) was simply a pretext for declaring Brindi dangerous, although at the same time the AC officer said he was not deeming her dangerous... and the law doesn't require seizing and killing a dangerous dog either... sigh. In any case, HRM never managed to convince a judge to issue a kill order outright.)

So forgive me if I appear indiscreet here, but I could not help noticing these key conditions had apparently vanished, replaced by just one - that I never get Brindi back. Could there be any doubt that a. HRM was never truly concerned about Brindi vis a vis public safety, any more than it was concerned about any other dog; and b. the whole enterprise had little if anything to do with Brindi, but everything about me, i.e., punishing me?

There, I said it. Extra punishment because I had dared to ask them to please not kill my dog; because when they refused to let her be assessed, I had to get a court order; they forced me into court even after the positive results and blocked them from the judge; he (predictably) quashed the operative part of the law; and they don't like when that happens, so they refused to return her; and the rest is history. Back to our story.

Ms. Salsman sent my family member a reply right on time one week later. "The long and the short of it," she wrote, startling me with a friendly tone I guess she evidently reserves for colleagues, is that allowing him to adopt Brindi would be "too complicated". ? All you need to get a dog across the border is a recent health certificate. (And Brindi was so well-behaved, the last time we did this, they didn't ask for papers. They even let me take her inside while they processed my papers!)

She then added the startling information that the city had vetted a family who wanted to adopt Brindi.

WOW. WOW. WOW. WOW. !!!!!  A 180 degree about face in HRM’s position. But she hadn't mentioned any family in the initial conversation. Hard to imagine one showed up and was vetted in just four weekdays. So it was rather suspicious right off the bat.

Let's review. HRM was adamant about putting her down for eight years and it had ignored the SPCA’s views and five positive behavioural assessments. Though HRM had no evidence or expert opinion to contest these things, in 2010 she was deaf to my offers of guilty pleas in exchange for adoption, insisting she could get a judge to put her down. (For some reason people don't believe me on this and insist on blaming me for the years Brindi's been locked up. They're welcome to see the memos, I have nothing to hide!) Even after the 2012 ruling Ms. Salsman declined to state one way or the other what HRM would do with Brindi which is the reason I have been appealing.

The next thing that was unnervingly suspicious was a caveat that the family wished to remain anonymous (even to me), due to the "notoriety of the case". Hmmm. Once again, no mention of muzzling, etc. etc.

Months passed. No further word on the family or any deal. I had to reschedule the appeal - my health is not good, I was trying desperately to find counsel, working to pay bills, and also wearing myself out painting windows in the hopes I'd get them in before winter. I am falling behind and it was not until last week, I asked Ms. Salsman for "continuous disclosure" of a list of various items, including info on Brindi’s state of health which HRM has withheld for three years, and any info relating to adoption offers HRM had considered.

Her answer came back in the shape of a very formal legal argument asserting such things are not relevant to the appeal, supported by case law about “adducing fresh evidence” and structured legal arguments that a motion before the court asking for this information would fail.

So...? I am just as confused as anybody. After all, the deal was contingent on my agreement to drop the appeal, so concealing info from me was pointless. All I know is she essentially confirmed one thing: that she had told my kind cousin a big fat lie. Simple logic says there could not have been a "family"; there wasn't one before the call, and there is not one now, or she'd say so.

My head continues to spin around at the unavoidable and ugly reality of this lie. Wiser friends, with less enfeebled brains, keep asking the unwelcome yet pertinent question: is Brindi even alive? I don't know, I avoid thinking about it. HRM won't tell me, and I can't get a judge to make them. I have to think she is, though I'm sure she isn't well.

Even so... if she is alive, would HRM really refuse my cousin's offer just because it can?? Would it keep paying to keep her caged 23 hours a day rather than cut its legal and pound costs and be done with it, just to keep torturing me? 

Such questions demand italics because even after all my experiences with this place, I still find it all impossible to absorb. This year's maneuver is beyond the beyond the pale. I am a cancer patient. I am broke. They have no reason to do this.  It still shocks me and sends my brain into tremors. Even though rationally speaking, it shouldn't surprise me, it still does, it gets right into the heart and shatters it all over again. Not after her rebuttal to my exasperated explanation to a Supreme Court justice that there had never been a reason to take up the court's time in the first place. Trying not to forget anything, I listed how at every juncture, I'd offered reasonable alternatives, and HRM said no. Her answer still gets to me like nothing else, it's over a year old, but forever seared into my brain, and it still cuts deep: "Even if what she says were true," she said, "why should we abandon our position?"

Really, why? How about, it has zero merit, could that be a reason?

So what happens if Brindi is dead? If I don't succeed with this appeal, I will never even know for certain.

I do know there is no "if" about one thing: what is happening to me, and by extension Brindi, is nothing short of psychological warfare waged on the municipal level. A city. Where, as an architect and scholar of modern architecture and urban planning history I had always felt safe from harm.

Sad to say, the -sad- ugly truth of the matter is that this lie, secret or not, seems all too consistent with HRM’s previous tactics - and by far the cruelest. I will never understand why.


I just want to be able to resume living my life. I do not want to be in court against anyone. I treasured my privacy and my area. I had just begun to lay down a tiny, long-awaited stakehold. I chose my part of HRM carefully and prudently, a small heritage cottage in need of major repairs. Next door is a spacious waterfront park with two ballfields, a clubhouse, and a trail. People often use it to exercise their dogs, as I do. It is on land a family of the community had donated - the Smith family. It was their home, and the home for many years of the local Canada Post. Half my kitchen was once part of the postal system in fact. Now it's waiting to be anchored into the garage below and joined by a second-story deck.

With approval from the Heritage Advisory Board, the two-car garage below was being built in natural stone-clad concrete to my HRM-permitted design, to include an engineered retaining wall angled 90 degrees to create a front terrace. It creates a solid base for the home without disturbing its original siting, other than raising it one stair riser. A sloped path leads from the driveway back up to the deck above. Another narrow deck connects through French doors to the living room. Landscaping included a new driveway with large turnaround, all properly drained toward the southwestern pond basin, a level lower yard for growing food and herbs. And space for a future windmill, with power-generating solar panels as well, and a ducted heat pump system for A/C. New roof, new windows, new laundry area and big room in the basement.
Nobody ever asks me about these things. They're much more interesting than you'd think. And they just might convince people that I take things seriously all right, some might say too seriously.

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