07/04/2013 04:05 EDT | Updated 09/02/2013 05:12 EDT

Percy Paris Assault: Former N.S. Cabinet Minister's Case Sent To Adult Diversion

HALIFAX - The case of a former Nova Scotia cabinet minister charged with assaulting another politician inside a washroom at the provincial legislature has been diverted for resolution outside the court system.

Crown attorney Denise Smith, appearing Thursday in provincial court in Halifax, said the accused, former economic development minister Percy Paris, should have his case dealt with through the adult diversion program.

Provincial court Judge Michael Sherar agreed, setting the matter over to Oct. 24.

Paris did not appear in court Thursday. His lawyer, Elizabeth Buckle, confirmed he was willing to participate in the program.

Liberal Keith Colwell alleges he was assaulted by Paris on May 9 as the two were arguing in a washroom next to the legislative chamber. Paris resigned from cabinet a few hours later when Halifax police charged him with assault and uttering threats. Both men are 65 years old.

Colwell said he's owed an apology.

"This whole incident looks badly for any MLA," he said in an interview. "We're supposed to be setting the standard for the rest of the province, especially a cabinet minister."

Colwell, who is also a former cabinet minister, said he couldn't comment on what happened in the washroom because the charges could resurface in court if Paris fails to follow through with the program.

"It's a privilege to be an MLA and a cabinet minister," Colwell said. "The province is touting this anti-bullying stuff and then, at the same time, they're not following through themselves."

Paris, who describes himself as the only member of the legislature of African descent, told reporters that debate in the house that day concerning the province's black community had irritated him.

"There were a lot of things that were said today that don't set well with me," he said at the time.

He said he had a "heated exchange" with Colwell while the two were near the doorway of the washroom.

"Things reached a point where I lost my composure for a few brief seconds," Paris said at the time, declining to describe what happened.

He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

On Thursday, Premier Darrell Dexter said he intends to put Paris back in cabinet.

"I'm looking forward to having him back," Dexter said. "He's been a valuable member of our team."

Paris, first elected in 2006, remains the NDP member for the Halifax-area riding of Waverley-Fall River-Beaverbank.

Outside the Halifax courtroom, Smith said the diversion program is open to those charged with minor criminal offences, but only if they haven't been charged with other offences in the previous two years.

She said by taking part in the program, the accused must accept responsibility for the offence.

"If you didn't accept responsibility for the offence, if you felt you weren't guilty of it, then you would go through the court system and have your charge tried in a trial before a judge," Smith said outside the court.

"Accepting responsibility means acknowledging that the offence has occurred and that the person who is alleged to have committed it has committed it."

Smith said the diversion program has been around since 1996 and is often used to settle less-serious cases, and she stressed that the politicians involved were not receiving special treatment.

Under the terms of the program, the victim has the option of taking part in a mediation hearing with Correctional officials. To complete the program, the accused could be asked to issue a written apology, take part in community service work, offer financial compensation or get counselling.

If Paris meets the requirements, the criminal charges against him will be withdrawn and he will have no criminal record.

Smith said Paris is expected to complete the program before the next court date in October, but more time could be allotted if he fails to do so.

Meanwhile, the legislature's internal affairs committee has been asked to take a deeper look at Paris's conduct.

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