News

1. Multi-generational violence in the mass murderer’s family

The Wortman family tree, recreated from a graphic produced by the Mass Casualty Commission / Brian Corbett

This item contains detailed accounts of violence.

Tim Bousquet lays out his latest story, based on documents from the Mass Casualty Commission, right in the first paragraph. And it’s pretty chilling:

The man who murdered 22 people in Nova Scotia on April 18/19, 2020 came from a Moncton-area family that experienced multi-generational violence. Parents beat their spouses and their children. Children in turned beat their father, one stabbing a father, nearly killing him. Neighbours and passersby were beaten senseless for perceived slights. Pets were tortured and murdered.

The violence goes back at least three generations:

The violence in the Wortman family dates back to at least George Wortman, GW’s great-grandfather, “a tyrant who brutalized his family,” according to George’s grandson (and GW’s uncle) Neil Wortman. Neil Wortman’s interview with police investigators is one of dozens of new documents made public by the Mass Casualty Commission today.

George Wortman so traumatized his children that after he died, they refused to mention his name, said Neil. All of George’s children in turn became violent, treating their own spouses and children as George had treated his, and the violence was returned in kind.

Bousquet looks at the family dynamics in some detail. The story includes a particularly fascinating section on Jeff Samuelson, the killer’s biological brother, who is grateful he was adopted by other parents, and was horrified when he finally met his biological family:

Samuelson quickly disliked both his father and his brother:

“The old man [Paul] is as dark as [GW],” Samuelson told police investigators after the murders. “The apples don’t fall far from the tree. Thank God this apple fell in a different country because this could have been me up there, you know, if I had grew [sic] up in an environment like [GW] did.”

GW “was produced by Paul,” said Samuelson. “It’s the carbon copy. Paul is just as dark, you know — wife beating, control, control, control, manipulate.”

“I look like the guy,” said Samuelson, referring to his brother, GW. “Some of our mannerisms are — our wiring would be the same. I always say we got wired at the same factory, but I went down a different assembly line.”

Bousquet has more stories on the mass murderer and his history of violence coming today. Check back.

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2. Former Protestant Orphan’s Home residents sue

The fence outside Veith House commemorates the former Halifax Protestant Orphans’ Home building that was destroyed in the Halifax Explosion. Photo: Zane Woodford

This item refers to the abuse of children.

Zane Woodford reports on a lawsuit filed by five people who say they were abused as children, at the Halifax Protestant Orphans’ Home. Their statements of claim name the Attorney General of Nova Scotia and the Halifax Children’s Foundation as defendants. The foundation was formed in 1971, a year after Orphans’ Home shut down, and currently owns Veith House in the North End of Halifax.

Woodford speaks with three of the plaintiffs, including Tim Day, who moved away from Nova Scotia with a foster family, but returned in 2013:

Day said he feels what happened at the home has been buried, and he was affected by revelations about other institutions, like the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. It’s time to dig into what happened at the Halifax Protestant Orphans’ Home, he said, and he too believes he’s owed an apology…

Day said he was physically abused at the home.

“There was a matron that would spank you with the paddle. They’d spank you with straps. And often times if they had a baton they would whack you with the baton,” he said.

To add insult, he said those weapons were actually meant to be toys for the children.

“The batons were, as well as the paddles, those were donations. Those were toys that were donated for the children and taken out of storage and used to punish them instead. Like, the batons were for the girls for majorettes. They never got those. The paddles were [for] paddle ball. Never got those, got to feel that stuff,” he said.

“There was no compassion for our emotional state, nor was there anyone there to discuss it.”

The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for physical and emotional abuse. The orphanage was in large part funded by the provincial government, with funding based on the number of children in its care.  Woodford quotes from journalist Lois Legge’s book on the orphanage, Wounded Hearts: Memories of the Halifax Protestant Orphans’ Home:

The [1966 agency] review [panel] found that the orphanage didn’t provide any professional services for children or parents; that children slept in “large impersonal dormitories;” and that the playroom was “enormous but appeared bare except for a television placed high on a wall.” It suggested that the institution was unable “to provide sufficient attention to meet the emotional needs of each child.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Liam O’Reilly of Wagners law firm.

Remember when building orphanages overseas or “working” at them for a short period was a popular voluntourism activity for Westerners? More orphanages are not great! As this blog post on the ethics of orphanages and voluntourism notes, “a successful orphanage is an empty one.”

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3. Halifax reveals South End bike plan options

Rendering of Morris Street, with bike lane.

For a couple of years now, some Schmidtville residents have railed against what they referred to as they city’s plan to cut down “up to 48 trees” for bike lanes. Trouble was, there was no actual plan at the time ⁠— just a bunch of options being floated in early meetings.

Well, now there is a proposed plan (consultations on it are to come) and it does involve cutting down six trees on Morris Street, Zane Woodford reports:

To get from Lower Water Street to University Avenue, the municipality has already decided it’s using Morris Street, calling the design 1A. Confusingly, there’s no 1B shown to the public for consideration at this stage.

Morris Street would be converted to one way (east), with a two-way bike lane on the north side of the street. Parking spots and loading zones would stay on the south side of the street, with a net loss of five parking spaces from the north side. Transit routes and stops would be moved to parallel streets (Spring Garden Road and South Street).

The municipality would also remove six of the 55 existing street trees — including two mature American elms, classified as “high-value” trees. In this design, and the others, the municipality would replace the trees with new ones either on that street or nearby.

The point of these bike lanes is to complete a project now several years overdue, to connect different parts of the bike network. Woodford walks us through the various options and what they entail, and includes information on how the public can provide feedback.

This story is for subscribers only. You can subscribe here.

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4. Dal thinks it doesn’t need to wait for a permit to demolish a house whose heritage status is pending

The house at 1245 Edward St. on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Photo: Zane Woodford

Last July, Dalhousie University bought a house at 1245 Edward St. in Halifax, intending to tear it down. Since then, 5,700 people have signed a petition against the demolition, and a group led by local resident Peggy Walt applied for heritage status for the building.

Zane Woodford reports that the Heritage Advisory Committee is set to meet on July 27. Meanwhile, Walt says, Dal is moving forward with demolition, despite being fined by the municipality for not having a demolition permit:

Walt says the university has started demolishing the property without [a permit] on Friday, and the municipality has posted a violation notice.

“Demolition must not begin until an approved permit is in place,” assistant building official Daniel Campagna wrote on the notice, dated July 8…

Walt wants HRM to deny the demolition permit on the grounds of “workplace safety arrangements or safety of surrounding property and persons.”

“I believe contravention of both of these safety concerns were at play. Workers told us on Friday they were doing asbestos abatement, yet neighbours were not notified of this, workers were not wearing protective clothing and doors and windows were not covered with plastic sheeting. 311 said they were unable to do anything as all inspectors weren’t working on the weekend, something the demolition company was no doubt aware of,” Walt wrote.

She also wants council to expedite the heritage registration process and call an emergency meeting of the Heritage Advisory Committee.

Click here to read Woodford’s story.

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Examiner Book Club: Wonder World, by K.R. Byggdin

K. R. Byggdin. Photo: Contributed

I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk lately, and it took a fictional character called Isaac Funk to help me get out of it.

Funk is the memorable narrator of Halifax resident K. R. Byggdin’s first novel, Wonder World, recently published by Great Plains Publications. (Byggdin is currently on a summer contract with the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia; I serve on the WFNS board, but my responsibilities are unconnected with Byggdin’s employment, and we had never spoken before I interviewed them for this story.)

Wonder World opens with Isaac living in a dismal North End apartment in Halifax, a city that’s “never quite felt like home… No one sticks around here long enough to become your friend.” It’s very different from the predominantly Mennonite community of Newfield, in southeastern Manitoba where Isaac grew up ⁠— and from which he was essentially banished after having been caught kissing a boy. When Isaac’s father calls to say his Opa Willie has died, and left him an inheritance that has both significant emotional and financial value, Isaac ditches his apartment and roomies (“I’ve taken to calling them Bud and the Dude because I can’t remember their actual names”) to reluctantly head back to Newfield, after a decade on the East Coast.

At first, Isaac bristles at finding everything unchanged in his hometown, but Byggdin said in an interview that, as a reader, “You start to realize this is really just Isaac saying that to himself, because that’s more comfortable than thinking about what has changed, and where are the possibilities for connection and belonging? He’s been hurt by this community in the past, and so it’s difficult for him to think about how there might be positive aspects of the community.”

The cover of Wonder World

“One of the things that motivated me to write the book was the lack of stories we have about queer and trans characters in small-town Canada,” Byggdin said. “We often make those assumptions that if you’re queer, trans, you have to grow up and go elsewhere. You have to go to Toronto or to Vancouver to be your authentic self. Not that there’s anything wrong with moving away from your small-town community, but I didn’t want that to feel like it was just the default. And so part of writing the book was, yeah, how can we explore narratives of queer and trans belonging ⁠— belonging for these folks inside the communities that they’re from, rather than having to move away.”

Ultimately, for Byggdin, that means recognizing that communities aren’t monolithic. In the book, Isaac’s perception of his community starts to change when he learns about a long-standing group called the Triple L Society : “the Lesbian Literary and Libations Society,” which has grown to welcome people who are “Two-Spirit, bi, trans… we have poker nights, hiking trips, stuff all over the southeast… Not all of us fit into big city life. Don’t want to, either,” one of the members explains.

Byggdin said, “I wanted to write a journey where by the end of the book [Isaac] finds a way to belong in the community, but also at the same time does not have to give up or hide his queer identity. And that was really important for me ⁠— that both of those elements of who he is allow him to to be fully present in the community. And that’s also part of why it was so important for me to write this group, the Triple L Society, to show that there have always been 2SLGBTQ+ folks in southeastern Manitoba. Maybe their narratives aren’t talked about or their stories aren’t shared, or families maybe are not proud of these folks, and so don’t pass it on to the next generation. But there is the sense that we have always been in these communities, and we always will be. So instead of trying to write narratives that only separate, I wanted to write a narrative that draws in Mennonite communities and queerness into one, to show that we have always been here and we’re going to continue to be here. And it’s not an us-versus-them conversation. Just us, because we’re part of these communities.”

I tore through Wonder World in a couple of days, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I appreciated the way it captured the complexity of emotions and relationships, the details about small-town Mennonite life in Newfield, and the growth of the main character. Isaac can’t wait to get the hell out of the place he grew up, and avoids all contact for a decade. But he doesn’t love his new life in Halifax, and his community and family are more a part of him than he would care to admit.

Byggdin is not from a Mennonite family, but grew up in a Mennonite community very much like Isaac’s. They told me, “I kind of make the joke that I’m Mennonite by osmosis, you know? I grew up in a small Mennonite town, going to a Mennonite church, eating Mennonite food, having friends that were Mennonite… So yeah, it’s definitely was a dominant cultural presence in my life.”

Unlike Isaac, Byggdin says they are happy in Halifax, but when they return home to visit, they pack an extra suitcase to bring back all the foods you can’t find here, along with a bunch of cut-rate finds from the Mennonite Central Committee thrift store.

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Noticed: The Uber Files: The inside story of how “ride share” took over the world

The Uber app. Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

A trove of Uber documents leaked to British newspaper The Guardian and shared with a consortium of journalists has been generating headlines around the world. The files document all sorts of malfeasance in Uber’s push to become a global transportation company. Sorry, I mean a technology company that simply brings people with a car to share together with riders.

CBC News says the files “contain 124,000 records, including 83,000 emails, iMessages and Whatsapp exchanges between Uber’s most senior executives as well as memos, presentations and invoices. The records, spanning from 2013 to 2017, shed light on a period when Uber was aggressively expanding and operating illegally by ignoring taxi regulations in many cities around the world, including in Canada.”

The files were leaked by Mark MacGann, a former high-level lobbyist for the company.

The CBC story does a bit of a city-by-city roundup on how Uber “worked with” supposedly independent writers on op-eds favouring the company, and lobbied politicians to promote the company, even though it was breaking the law.

Ottawa:

On Oct. 4, 2014, John Baird, the federal minister of foreign affairs in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet, complained on Twitter and Facebook of having waited 75 minutes for a cab in Ottawa. He publicly called on the city to allow Uber, which had started operating illegally in the capital.

A few days later, Uber’s policy team claimed to have “secured the foreign minister of Canada as a public endorser,” according to a leaked internal memo.

Toronto:

The City of Toronto decided to pursue an injunction against Uber for allegedly violating its taxi and limousine regulations.

The same day, mayor-elect John Tory issued a media release criticizing the city’s decision, saying: “Uber is a technology whose time has come, and which is here to stay.”

A leaked internal memo suggests that Uber’s policy team had “worked to secure [the] extremely positive response” from Tory.

Edmonton:

When UberX launched in December 2014, an internal memo sent to policy and communications staff noted: “Policy secured the popular former three-term mayor Bill Smith as our Rider Zero, a favourable op-ed in the Edmonton Journal by well-known Edmonton businessman Chris LaBossiere and friend of the current mayor, favourable tweets from Uber-supportive Edmonton city councillor Michael Walters and met with the deputy chief of staff to the mayor (second formal meeting to date) where it was confirmed that the mayor ‘is there’ with respect to ridesharing.”

And on and on and on.

Again, from the CBC story:

In an internal email from 2014, Uber’s head of global communications at the time, Nairi Hourdajian, wrote “sometimes we have problems because, well, we’re just f–king illegal.”

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists summarizes what they’ve learned from the Uber files here. Findings include illegal lobbying, working to gut worker protections, tax avoidance, and an embrace of violence:

Our investigation found that the onetime Silicon Valley startup held undisclosed meetings with politicians to ask for favors, including dropping probes and changing policies on workers’ rights; that the company used Russian oligarchs as conduits to the Kremlin; and that it discussed the public relations benefits of violence against its drivers as it engaged in international power struggles with taxi drivers and legislators opposed to its expansion…

To spread its message, Uber with the help of an advisory firm compiled lists of more than 1,850 “stakeholders,” sitting and former public officials, think tanks and citizens groups, it intended to influence in 29 countries as well as European Union institutions, the documents show.

Uber also recruited a battalion of former public officials, including many former aides to President Barack Obama. They appealed to public officials to drop probes, change policies on workers’ rights, draft new taxi laws and relax background checks on drivers.

Company executives had private meetings with at least 6 world leaders, one vice president and three deputy prime ministers, including then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In all, the new records reveal more than 100 meetings between Uber executives and public officials from 2014 to 2016, including 12 with representatives of the European Commission that haven’t been publicly disclosed.

Uber also paid academics handsomely for “independent” research.

From The Guardian:

Uber paid high-profile academics in Europe and the US hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce reports that could be used as part of the company’s lobbying campaign

One of the first deals sealed by Uber with top academics was with Prof Alan Krueger at Princeton University in the US in 2015. Krueger had been Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser… He was paid about $100,000 for a study that was widely quoted in support of Uber as a creator of good jobs precisely because it operated outside the rules.

In France, Uber paid Prof Augustin Landier of the Toulouse School of Economics a €100,000 consulting fee:

Landier agreed to produce a report that he described in emails to Uber’s policy and communications team as “actionable for direct PR to prove Uber’s positive economic role”…

Uber executives noted that although the price was high, it was worth it, especially if they worked on the report’s messages “to ensure it’s not presented in a potentially negative light”…

An Uber policy team member wrote at the time that “a quantified validation of the new type of work Uber creates in Europe, especially when conducted by an economist of Landier’s renowned stature, would help us tremendously”.

In return for the consultancy fee, Landier also wanted to produce a separate unpaid study using Uber data. The leak shows Uber executives were concerned that would mean “we lose editorial control”, but a senior staffer concluded: “We see low risk here because we can work with Landier on framing the study and we also decide what data we share with him.”

On the one hand, is anyone shocked? Uber clearly didn’t give a shit about legality from day one. That was a key component of its “disrupting” transportation ⁠— including trying to gut public transit. On the other, can we step back for a minute and think about how absurd the Uber situation was? Here was a company that decided fuck it, we’re going to run a cab company without paying any attention to the rules, and politicians, economists, and pundits ⁠— even those not directly in the company’s pocket ⁠— fell all over themselves to write about how progressive this was.

Two years ago, as Uber and other similar companies were close to getting approval to operate in Halifax, I wrote a piece for the Morning File called “How breathless tech writing helped bring us the gig economy.” I cited writer Sam Harnett, then covering tech and labour for a San Francisco radio station. The swoon over Uber and similar companies, he wrote:

lasted for years and helped pave the way for a handful of companies that represent a tiny fraction of the economy to have an outsized impact on law, mainstream corporate practices, and the way we think about work. The content generated by swooning pundits and journalists made it seem like these companies were ushering in not only an inevitable future, but a desirable one. They helped convince the public and regulators that these businesses were different from existing corporations – that they were startups with innovative technology platforms designed to disrupt established firms by efficiently connecting consumers to independent, empowered gig workers. This was not only false, it was the exact rhetorical cover these companies needed to succeed…

Politicians quickly began to repeat the innovation-disruption rhetoric honed by tech media, and doing so offered an easy way to both burnish their own brands as cutting-edge lawmakers and to connect with constituents who appreciated the new services. In San Francisco, former Mayor Ed Lee declared July 15, 2013 Lyft Day, and the city’s Deputy Innovation Officer (itself a title informed by the innovation-disruption rhetoric) presented the proclamation to Lyft.

Have we learned anything from all this? Unlikely, as the wave of politicians wanting to make this place or that the world’s leading crypto jurisdiction attests.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall and online) – agenda here

Wednesday

Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, virtual meeting) — agenda here

District Boundary Resident Review Panel (Wednesday, 3:30pm, City Hall) — agenda here

Province

Tuesday

Standing Committee on Health (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House) — Innovation Hub with Dr. Gail Tomblin Murphy, Vice President, Research, Innovation & Discovery and Chief Nurse Executive, Nova Scotia Health Authority


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

PhD defence, Psychology and Neuroscience (Tuesday, 9am,  Room 3107 Mona Campbell Building or online ) — Ioan Tiberiu Mahu will defend “Personality, Motives, and Substance Use Among Opioid Agonist Therapy Clients”

Wednesday

PhD defence, Schulich School of Law (Wednesday, 10am, online ) — Oladiwura A. Eyitayo-Oyesode will defend “Fostering Implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Africa: Prospects of Revenue Generation Under the Tax Treaties Signed by Nigeria, Tanzania, and Botswana.”

PhD defence, Physiology and Biophysics (Wednesday, 1:30pm, online ) — Kirishani Kesavan will defend “Endothelial Characteristics of Cardiac Resident Stem Cell Antigen-1+ and c-kit+ cells.”

Speak to the Power of Truth: Black Queer and Trans Lives Also Matter (Wednesday, 6:30pm, online) — Discussion of Black queer and trans activism, inclusion, systemic and continued discrimination and harassment, and transformative change.


In the harbour

We don’t have the ship listings today. Our apologies.


Footnotes

K. R. Byggdin and fellow writer Andrew Unger will be speaking about “the charms and challenges associated with setting a novel in small town Canada” on July 20, at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia. The discussion is moderated by Jane Doucet, and the event is free.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. To make a long story short, Uber is a taxi company that won’t respect the laws and rules in place to regulate taxis. Calling it anything else is disingenuous.

  2. So how much did Matt Whitman and those of similar ilk on Council and senior staff get paid by Uber. Or were they just lobbying for some well compensated “consultancy” work?