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PICTOU – A 64-year-old Pictou Landing man has been acquitted of mischief and breach of probation charges involving a damaged road sign.
Spectators and potential witnesses for the accused cheered and clapped Tuesday in Pictou Provincial Court when Judge Del Atwood told Alexander James MacKenzie he was free to go because the Crown failed to provide evidence that identified him as the accused in the case.
MacKenzie, pleaded not guilty and represented himself on the charges relating to an alleged incident Sept. 14 on Pictou Landing Road.
Crown Attorney Bill Gorman called two witnesses: Pictou Landing First Nations Chief Andrea Paul and RCMP Const. Jason Green.
Paul testified that she was driving to her home in Fisher’s Grant, Pictou Landing First Nations, around 10 a.m. on Sept. 14 when she saw a white truck parked beside the road. She said she slowed down to see if the person was involved in an accident or needed assistance when she spotted a man with ropes near a provincial road sign.
“I was going to ask if he needed help, thinking a car got ditched there and realized it was Mr. MacKenzie, so I kept going,” she said.
She said she doesn’t personally know MacKenzie, but knew he had grandchildren in the First Nations community. She also pointed to him in court sitting at the counsellor’s table.
On Sept. 15, she said, she was reading comments from people on Facebook who were upset that the Pictou Landing road sign was removed and placed at the entrance to Boat Harbour.
She said she drove to Boat Harbour with a friend and pushed the damaged sign into a ditch because its location was upsetting her community.
“The sign was sitting there and a lot people were outraged,” she said. “I saw it, knocked it down because Pictou Landing isn’t in Boat Harbour.”
Paul said she reported the incident to RCMP the next day and gave a statement to police.
MacKenzie was arrested for mischief and when officers did a background check on prior convictions, it was noticed he was still on probation from a March 12, 2012, conviction that involved the theft of a ballot box. The officer also charged him with breach of probation.
After the Crown rested its case, Judge Del Atwood said he was concerned that the Crown did not properly identify MacKenzie as the accused.
Atwood pointed out that Paul stated during her testimony that she didn't know MacKenzie and there was no evidence that she was asked to identify him in a police lineup.
“Ms. Paul gave very clear evidence that she didn’t know Mr. MacKenzie before, never talked to him before and there as no evidence on how she knew him before. There was no physical description of Mr. MacKenzie provided so the identification is circumstantial under which the individual knows the accused,” Atwood said.
Gorman argued that Paul said she didn’t know him, but recognized him and she identified him in court to which the judge pointed out that MacKenzie is the only other man sitting on counsellor’s table.
After a brief recess, Atwood acquitted MacKenzie on both charges, but made it clear to the cheering crowd in the courtroom that the ruling doesn’t mean that damaging roads signs is acceptable behaviour.
“This should not be taken as recognition of approval of any anything done to road signs,” he said, adding that if people have problems with signs, complaints should be directed to the proper traffic authority or MLA.
MacKenzie left the courtroom with his smiling supporters who he said were there to testify on his behalf that the road sign in question was placed in the wrong location along the Pictou Landing Road.