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Pam Frampton: Unsealed documents cast premier in a new light

“Being human is being a lot of things at the same time.” — Matthias Schoenaerts


I was in Courtroom No. 1 at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador this week when Chief Justice Raymond P. Whalen allowed the release of police documents used to get a search warrant during the investigation of Brandon Phillips in the October 2015 shooting death of Larry Wellman in St. John’s.


Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton


Several members of the media were there, hoping for a green light, ready to report the contents at the first opportunity.


Premier Dwight Ball had wanted the information kept sealed, arguing its release could be harmful to his daughter, who had dated Phillips but was innocent of any crime. The document includes a statement Ball gave police which led to Phillips’ identification and arrest.

But Whalen said he had to uphold the overriding principals of our open justice system, and there was no legitimate reason to keep the information under wraps now that Phillips has been convicted and his trial is over.

Only a handful of sentences in the document, perhaps less than one per cent of its contents, are still under injunction; some of the material deemed speculative, other parts too intrusive into Jade Ball’s privacy.

The chief justice made the right call, because even though Ball said he was trying to quash the document’s release to protect his daughter, there were whispers that perhaps he was worried about protecting his political hide, as well — that there was something potentially reputation-damaging in the information.

What it contains, in fact, is Ball’s candid statement to police about his daughter’s and Phillips’ struggles with opioid addiction, Ball’s fears for her health and safety, and a glimpse of the unsavoury world in which she was entangled at the time; a world Ball found himself dragged into — targeted by people involved in the drug trade, with his vehicle damaged, property stolen and his credit card number used to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in charges he did not authorize.

It shows that addiction is the ultimate leveller, affecting families with considerable means and those with very little with the same potentially fatal ferocity.

Ball said he went to police after seeing a security camera capture of the suspect in Wellman’s death and deducing it might be Phillips.
It seems apt that on the very day that Chief Justice Whalen was making the police documents public, the national news was reporting that the number of opioid deaths in Canada was expected to reach 4,000 by the end of this year.

Ball, like any parent who has watched a loved one in the torturous throes of addiction, is surely thankful his daughter is not represented in that grim statistic.

And while it’s understandable that Ball — as a very public figure — might not welcome an airing of a painful family crisis, politically speaking, the release of the information seems to be winning him public support.

Unlike his somewhat stilted political persona, as someone generally uncomfortable when peppered with reporters’ questions, in his statement to police Ball comes across as a warm, steady and caring parent, unwavering in his determination to help his daughter get off drugs and out of the volatile world she was living in.

It shows that addiction is the ultimate leveller, affecting families with considerable means and those with very little with the same potentially fatal ferocity.

Ball may not see anything positive in having his past family problems make the news, but it casts him in a sympathetic light, knowing that he’s faced the same terrible stresses and trials as many other people in the province.

Back in 2015, Ball was leader of the official opposition Liberals, gunning for the premiership. He must have had concerns then and now about how his private problems might affect his political career if people knew he had been dealing with slashed tires and purloined TVs, credit card fraud and drug debts.

Yet here it is out in the open, and the very things the premier sought to bury are the very things that are winning him respect.


Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email Twitter: pam_frampton

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