A Nova Scotia politician has resigned from cabinet after being charged in connection with an alleged assault in the legislature on Thursday.
Percy Alonzo Paris, the former minister of economic and rural development and tourism, is charged with uttering threats and assault. He did not attend the legislature on Friday.
A committee of the Nova Scotia legislature will take a deeper look into the MLA’s conduct after the legislature voted Friday to refer the case to its internal affairs committee.
The legislature was temporarily suspended for an hour on Friday morning after Nova Scotia Liberal MLA Keith Colwell asked that Paris’ actions be investigated.
“You’ve got to be able to go work and be sure that you’re safe…you feel comfortable at work and you can do your work without being intimated,” said Colwell.
Colwell, 65, said he was on his way to the washroom when he said he was assaulted by Paris, also 65.
The alleged incident took place outside the legislative chamber, in an area restricted to MLAs and staff, shortly after 2 p.m.
Colwell called police at approximately 3:30 p.m. to report the incident.
“I feel I was assaulted and that’s not appropriate action,” he told reporters. “I wouldn’t have filed a police report unless I felt I was threatened.”
When asked what had prompted the altercation, Colwell said he had “no idea,” that there were no ongoing disputes between them, and that he was “shocked.”
There are suggestions the dispute started over who truly represents the African-Nova Scotian community of Preston, N.S.
Colwell officially represents the community in the legislature, but Paris has indicated he also speaks for the people in the area.
Paris admitted to reporters that he “lost his cool” and had a “heated exchange” with Colwell.
When asked why he lost his temper, Paris replied:
“There’s been a lot of conversation in the house around the African-Nova Scotian community…I’ve heard some things in the house that certainly don’t sit well with me.”
Colwell raised questions in the house Thursday about a mobile mammography unit, accusing the government of neglecting to ensure it would visit his riding.
He asked the premier to apologize to the people of Preston, saying it was "a black community that's not going to get the service this year because it was left off the government's website."
Paris wouldn't say whether Colwell's questions were the source of his irritation.
He also declined to say whether he assaulted Colwell.
Allan MacMaster, Progressive Conservative MLA for Inverness, witnessed the alleged incident.
“I guess there would be some physical contact…there was close body contact,” he said.
Neither Colwell nor Paris was injured.
Police said Paris was arrested in connection with the incident after arriving at police headquarters on Thursday night.
He was released from custody on a promise to appear in Halifax provincial court on June 18. He has also been ordered not to have any contact with Colwell, except for incidental contact in the workplace.
Halifax Regional Police Const. Pierre Bourdages says the penalty for assault could be up to six months, or $5,000, while the penalty for uttering threats could be up to 18 months.
Dexter announces changes to provincial cabinet
Premier Darrell Dexter released a statement Thursday night saying Paris had resigned as minister of economic and rural development and tourism.
"Mr. Paris offered his resignation this evening and I have accepted it," Dexter. "Percy has been a valued member of my team. He has made important contributions to the province. He has been a champion for African-Nova Scotians in the cabinet and caucus. However, Percy must now focus on dealing with the allegations made against him."
Paris will continue to serve as the MLA for Waverly-Fall River-Beaverbank.
Dexter made changes to his cabinet Friday after Paris’ resignation.
Backbencher and former finance minister Graham Steele will take over as economic and rural development minister.
“When the premier calls and asks you to help, you say ‘yes,’” said Steele.
Steele announced in May 2012 that he wouldn’t run in the next provincial election. He said his new appointment won’t change his mind, but he will fill in for now.
Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald becomes the minister of African Nova Scotian affairs, a portfolio that Paris also held.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Rick Grant and The Canadian Press