Premier Rankin dodges drunk driving questions, court records detail 2005 crash

·4 min read
Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin speaks at a news conference on July 7. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)
Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin speaks at a news conference on July 7. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin repeatedly dodged questions from reporters Wednesday about whether he was drunk when he flipped his car and was arrested and charged for impaired driving in 2005.

"As I said Monday, I want to reiterate that I'm very, very sorry for my actions as someone that was very young," he said at a news conference Wednesday. "It's regrettable that I have to relive that experience right now."

Rankin disclosed publicly Monday at a COVID-19 briefing that he was convicted of impaired driving in 2003, when he was 20. He also said he was charged in a second incident in 2005. He said in that case he was found "innocent," although court records note he was initially found guilty but the conviction was later overturned on appeal.

Court records offer more details of what happened around 6 a.m. on July 25, 2005, when the white Subaru Rankin was driving took a hard turn around a bend on Kearney Lake Road in Halifax and flipped into a ditch.

At Rankin's 2006 trial, witness James Pentecost, a construction worker, testified he saw the crash. It was light out, and the road was clear and dry at the time, he said. He was talking to a 911 operator when a man emerged from the passenger side of the wrecked Subaru appearing "groggy."

Pentecost said it was hard to tell whether the driver was impaired or in shock, but he said he could smell alcohol on the man's breath. "It was noticeable," he said.

The details come from documents that were released to CBC Wednesday afternoon by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. The documents were requested Monday evening, several hours after Rankin addressed the two sets of impaired driving charges.

The court was not able to make the documents available all day Tuesday.

Rankin was found guilty of impaired driving following the 2006 trial. He was sentenced to 14 days of jail time, although it's not clear if he served any time behind bars. The conviction was later overturned on appeal. The charge was dismissed on retrial.

A bar stamp on his hand

Rankin's disclosure on Monday was the first time the 38-year-old premier had divulged the impaired driving charges in a public forum, although he said it was well known among family and friends. Rankin said he had previously disclosed the charges to the Liberal Party and to former premier Stephen McNeil.

In testimony at Rankin's 2006 trial, Pentecost said the driver of the crashed Subaru claimed there was a deer in the road, and he had swerved to avoid it. Pentecost, who had been approaching from the opposite direction, said he had not seen a deer.

Const. Bridgette Dunlap, then a 14-year veteran of the Halifax Regional Police, responded to the scene on Kearney Lake Road where she said she found Rankin being treated in an ambulance by a paramedic.

"He was thick tongued and … he was slurring at times," Dunlap testified.

She said he had a bar stamp on his right hand and smelled of alcohol.

"I had asked him if he had been out last night and was he drinking," Dunlap said.

At that point during her testimony, Rankin's defence lawyer, Stan MacDonald, interrupted to contest the relevance of Dunlap's conversation with Rankin. After the interruption, Dunlap did not say how Rankin responded.

Once Rankin was cleared by the paramedic, Dunlap arrested him, read him his rights and a breathalyzer demand, and brought him to the back of her police vehicle. Dunlap said Rankin said he understood his rights, and he wanted to speak to a lawyer.

Rankin was taken to the police station in downtown Halifax and given two breathalyzer tests. According to Dunlap, the first reading was 0.115 and the second was 0.15 — almost twice the legal limit.

At trial, police submitted a photocopy of the document that showed the breathalyzer results, who took the test and who administered it, but because it wasn't the original, the judge threw it out as evidence. The judge found Rankin guilty of a charge of impaired driving, but acquitted him on a second charge of driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.

Rankin's 'innocent' claim

On Monday, Rankin said he disclosed the 2003 and 2005 incidents after questions were raised from within his office. Those questions originated from allnovascotia.com reporter Brian Flinn, who had requested an interview with the premier earlier Monday.

Rankin pleaded guilty to the 2003 charge, was fined $1,200 and had his licence suspended for a year.

On Monday, Rankin said he'd been found "innocent" in the 2005 case. When asked about that characterization on Wednesday, he said, "Well, we have a court of law that determines the outcome in this province."

Courts do not declare innocence.

"I make no excuses for the kind of lifestyle that I lived when I was in my early 20s, so I want to be clear about that," he said. "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 in my 30s."

He divulged that he will become a father for the first time in November.

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