Nova Scotia premier responds to new questions about drunk-driving charge in 2005

·4 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's premier deflected several questions Wednesday regarding drunk-driving charges he faced in 2005, saying he was sorry for bad decisions he made as a young man when alcohol was a big part of his life.

Iain Rankin confirmed for the first time Monday he had been convicted of impaired driving in 2003 when he was 20 years old, and he also revealed he faced impaired-driving charges in 2005 but was eventually cleared of those allegations.

During a news conference Wednesday, the 38-year-old premier did not answer when reporters repeatedly asked if he had been drinking or was drunk on July 25, 2005, when a breathalyzer test in the Halifax suburb of Bedford led to charges.

Instead, he apologized for his actions and mentioned the 2003 conviction. He briefly referred to the second case, saying the matter had been dismissed in court.

"As someone who was very young, it's regrettable that I have to relive that experience right now," he said. "I thought it was important to tell all Nova Scotians at the same time about the (2003) charge I have on my record. I've always been forthcoming about that charge. In 2005, I had something that was dismissed in court."

In the first case, Rankin was convicted on Sept. 5, 2003, of driving with a blood-alcohol content in excess of 0.08. He was fined $1,200 and banned from driving for a year.

In 2005, he was again charged with driving over the legal blood-alcohol limit and he faced a separate impaired-driving charge. He was found guilty on the impaired-driving charge and was sentenced to 14 days in weekend custody and banned from driving for two years.

But the conviction was overturned on appeal, and a new trial was ordered on Jan. 9, 2007. The charge was dismissed on April 19, 2007, when the Crown offered no evidence to support its case. The province's Public Prosecution Service said in an email it would be improper to say why the case was dropped.

On Wednesday, as speculation mounted about an imminent provincial election call, Rankin was repeatedly pressed to explain whether he was intoxicated before his 2005 arrest.

"I made some bad decisions in my early 20s," he said.

"I'm 38 right now, and I think that this office needs to have someone that has integrity and honesty, and I've done that … I regret that alcohol was a big part of my life in my early 20s. I've moved on and I've lived a more safe lifestyle since (I was) in my 30s. I'm about to become a father in November."

When asked if he would follow Saskatchewan's lead and require all Liberal candidates to publicly disclose any previous criminal convictions, Rankin said he would consider it.

In July 2020, the governing Saskatchewan Party revealed that six of its candidates running in the fall election had previous convictions for drunk driving. Four of them were members of the legislature, including Premier Scott Moe. And the province's New Democrats disclosed that five of their candidates also had impaired-driving convictions, and one was convicted of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Rankin said he had previously disclosed his run-ins with the law to the Nova Scotia Liberal party. On Monday, he said he decided to publicly disclose those details because his office had received inquiries that morning about both cases. "Obviously, there was a record of my past, and it was known," he said Wednesday. "It's just more broadly known now."

Meanwhile, the province's Opposition Progressive Conservatives released a statement Wednesday saying Rankin's apology has left many questions unanswered. "Rankin stated that he has never hidden this part of his past, but it is clear that he has not been forthcoming with the public," the statement said.

The Tories are asking the premier to confirm reports alleging he failed two breathalyzer tests on July 25, 2005, and they called on him to release documents he disclosed to the Liberal party when he was nominated as a candidate, joined cabinet and ran for the party's leadership, which he won in February.

"Iain Rankin staged his apology at a COVID-19 briefing to limit the number of questions he would need to answer about his record," the Tories said.

"There are many questions outstanding that Nova Scotians deserve to be answered, anything short goes to Rankin's trustworthiness and poor judgment."

On another front, Rankin said he was willing to work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to combat impaired driving. "I'll do whatever I can do to work with MADD to ensure that we prevent those kind of things from happening in this province," he said.

On Tuesday, the CEO of MADD Canada said Rankin's apologies for his impaired-driving conviction must be followed up with action. Andrew Murie said Rankin should follow the examples of Saskatchewan's Moe and former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, both of whom responded to revelations about drunk-driving charges by taking a leadership role on the file.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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