Paris mans up


What exactly happened between Percy Paris and Keith Colwell outside the MLAs’ washroom in Province House last Thursday night? Was it a “scuffle” (CBC, Global), an “alleged scuffle” (Metro, Globe and Mail), an “altercation” (Chronicle-Herald), an “incident” (CTV, Yarmouth Vanguard), a “bizarre incident” (CBC), a “fight” (Yahoo), a “kerfuffle” (also Yahoo), or even a “brawl” (SunNews).

“Brawl” seems way over the top, and to my ear, a term tinged with racism in this context. “Scuffle” and “altercation” seem about right.

“I guess there would be some physical contact,” said Inverness Conservative MLA Allan MacMaster, the one uninvolved eye-witness who has spoken about what took place. “I encouraged them to relax. I know things have been getting heated.”

Angry over criticism that his government was not doing enough to atone for past abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children, Paris apparently grabbed Colwell by the lapels and perhaps shoved him against a wall. Colwell admits he was unhurt, but said “I felt I was assaulted.” He also alleged Paris threatened him.

Colwell complained to the HRM Police, and the following day he told the House of Assembly, “I was assaulted and threatened by the minister of economic and rural development and tourism. This improper behaviour by the minister was quite clearly an execution of a threat and intimidation, an attempt to prevent me from performing my function as a legislator, elected representative for my constituents and member of this assembly.”

For his part, Paris told reporters he had briefly “lost his cool,” and the two men had “an animated exchange outside of the House.”

“I think most people that know me would say that Percy Paris is pretty cool most of the time,” he said “I regret that I lost my cool for a few seconds.”

Upon learning that Colwell called the police, Paris voluntarily went to the station and made a statement, after which he was charged with simple assault and uttering threats. By telephone from police headquarters, he resigned his cabinet posts.

We may learn a few more details once this gets to court, but it seems safe to reach a few conclusions:

  • A minor but unbecoming altercation occurred between the two MLAs in which Paris got physical with Colwell for a few seconds. As assaults go, it was at the extreme low end of the spectrum.
  • Colwell called the police and, the following day in the House, called the incident an act of “intimidation” and “an attempt to prevent me from performing my function as a legislator.” As reactions go, it was at the high end of the spectrum.

Others will disagree, but I would put Colwell’s behaviour somewhere between “overreaction” and “milking it.” In contrast, Paris manned up by, one, expressing regret for losing his cool, two, voluntarily giving police a statement that led them to lay minor charges against him; and three, resigning his cabinet posts.

Legislative debates should never get physical. But let’s keep this in perspective.