1. Brian Johnston

Black man in dark blazer speaks at a podium
Pastor and retired Halifax Police detective, Brian Johnston. Photo: Facebook.

“The municipality denies that a former Halifax Regional Police officer sexually assaulted a teenaged girl in the early 1990s, but admits the same person later complained to police about the officer fathering her child,” reports Zane Woodford:

As the Halifax Examiner reported in January, a plaintiff using the pseudonym X.Y. is suing the municipality and the federal government, alleging she was sexually assaulted by two police officers as a girl in the 1990s.

One of those two was RCMP officer Wayde Marriott. In May, the federal government filed notice of defence denying the claims against him, and further asserting that if he did sexually assault X.Y., “Marriott was acting outside the scope of his duties as an employed officer of the RCMP and was acting as a private citizen.”

The second officer named in the case was Const. Brian Johnston, formerly of Dartmouth Police and then Halifax Regional Police. After the Examiner’s reporting, Johnston stepped aside from his ministerial duties as a preacher at Zion Baptist Church in Truro.

HRM lawyer Karen MacDonald filed a notice of defence in the case in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Tuesday, denying X.Y.’s allegations.

“If Johnston engaged in the actions alleged in […] the Statement of Claim (which is not admitted), HRM states that at all material times Johnston was not acting in the performance of his duties and HRM is not liable for Johnston’s actions,” MacDonald wrote.

MacDonald wrote that X.Y. complained to HRP in November 2009, and “gave an in-person statement to investigators in Professional Standards.”

Click here to read “Halifax denies former Const. Brian Johnston sexually assaulted girl, but admits she complained to police in 2009.”

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2. Friends in high places

The Halifax city skyline is seen at sunset from Dartmouth. In the foreground there's a rocky outcropping with a log and an old tire. There's another rocky outcropping in the mid-ground, the King's Wharf pier.
Dartmouth Cove in August 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“One of the ‘personal friends‘ Premier Tim Houston appointed to look after consolidated Crown corporations is also the owner of a company associated with the application to infill Dartmouth Cove,” reports Zane Woodford:

Houston appointed Tom Hickey, CEO of Atlantic Road Construction and Paving Ltd., to run the newly-created Invest Nova Scotia, to be compensated up to $18,000 a month ($216,000 annually).

Invest Nova Scotia, reporting to Economic Development Minister Susan Corkum-Greek, is taking over the work of Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI) and Innovacorp. It will hand out loans and try to recruit businesses to Nova Scotia.

Hickey was appointed to NSBI’s board in 2015, with a news release touting his business acumen and noting he’s originally from Glace Bay, “where he maintains the head office for Atlantic Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, which services Atlantic Canada.

“Mr. Hickey is also president and CEO of T. Hickey Enterprises, which has been operating since 2001. T. Hickey Enterprises has 13 operating companies under his management. He is also CEO of Atlantic Road Construction and Paving Ltd.”

The CFO of Atlantic Road Construction and Paving Ltd., Bruce Wood, is the owner of 4197847 Nova Scotia Ltd., the company applying to dump slate excavated from construction sites into the Halifax Harbour at Dartmouth Cove, as the Halifax Examiner reported in May.

The plan was to start the infill project August 1, but the federal government has yet to approve the plan, at least according to the project website. As the Examiner reported last month, Transport Canada received nearly 500 public submissions on the project after residents organized in opposition. HRM missed the deadline, but later submitted this letter registering its concerns with the proposal.

Copied on that letter is Tom Hickey.

Click here to read “One of Premier Tim Houston’s ‘friends’ tapped to run Crown corp wants to infill Dartmouth Cove.”

Unique Solutions

Another of Houston’s friends is Wayne Crawley, who was chosen to run Build Nova Scotia, which is the new crown corporation that consolidates Nova Scotia Lands and Develop Nova Scotia, the former Waterfront Development, which will be directly involved with the Dartmouth Cove infilling project, should it proceed, but of course it will.

Crawley is a former Emera exec who has been associated with a Who’s Who of Maritime businesses — Scanway, Sports & Entertainment Atlantic, Moore Executive Suite, Healthy Berries, among others — and various investment vehicles. Along the way, he helped reposition some struggling businesses, for example by overseeing the successful sale of the Halifax-based online gambling firm, Karma Gaming.

In 2013, Crawley was brought in as Chief Operating Officer of Unique Solutions, a company that was started by Tanya Shaw “to provide custom sewing patterns tailored to fit its customers,” which  sounds like a perfectly reasonable business for a Costume Studies grad, and if she had left it at that, she probably would’ve had a lifetime of hard but rewarding work.

But as I’ve reported on extensively, Unique Solutions soon morphed into a tech company by acquiring “body scan” technology, and if you slap a “tech” label on a company in Nova Scotia, you will attract government financing — in this case $5.6 million from Nova Scotia Business, Inc between 2003 and 2009.

Along the way, Shaw created Unique CEDC, a CEDIF, or “community economic development investment fund,” a financial instrument the provincial government created in 1999 to encourage Nova Scotia investors to keep their investment dollars in-province. (Another CEDIF was the Seaport Market; I’m not sure there’s ever been a successful CEDIF.) Shaw’s CEDIF attracted about $2 million in private investment money, but she failed to file the required reports, which brought on sanctions from the regulator, which is how I was able to look under the hood of the associated company, Unique Solutions.

What I learned was that Unique Solutions was a steaming pile of poo.

Philadelphia Inquirer fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington took her turn in the My Best Fit body scanner at King of Prussia Mall in 2010, with Unique Solutions’ chief technical officer Bob Kutnick and CEO Tanya Shaw. Photo:

By 2013, a rollout of Unique Solutions body scan kiosks in U.S. malls had utterly failed, and the company was in freefall. That’s when Crawley was brought in. He explains his role with the company: “Entering as COO at a time requiring comprehensive restructuring, the successful outcome of this work had the organization repositioned, significantly restructured and refinanced for a business model pivot.”

That’s a lot of business babble that means Crawley’s job was to get something — anything — of value out of the company. He managed to bring on Bruce Terry, who had worked as CFO of McCain Foods, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Sobeys, and attracted the attention of a former Yahoo exec named Tuoc Luong.

Under Crawley’s watch, Unique Solutions closed up operations, and Nova Scotia Business, Inc (that is, Nova Scotian citizens) lost its entire $5.6 million investment. Terry and Luong ended up with the patent for body scanning technology and started a company called Bodidata, which is based in St. Petersburg, Florida and appears to be floating around on the money of speculative investors, but not making much if any actual profit.

I don’t blame Crawley for Unique Solutions’ failure — the damage was done long before he came on board. Rather, I would look at the players at Nova Scotia Business, Inc, who at best were naively credulous about the company, and at worst were playing loose with public money because of their personal biases. For example, NSBI’s Director of Venture Capital, Peter MacNeil, who oversaw the investment in Unique Solutions, ended up marrying Shaw.

Don’t worry. Business failure shouldn’t permanently ruin anyone’s life, and MacNeil and Shaw are doing just fine. They now operate the Petite Rivière General Store and the Osprey’s Nest pub. They also run a real estate firm called Atlantic Breezes, which is selling off 30 oceanfront lots.

Sandpiper Ventures

a bird walking on a beach

Since we’re looking at people with friends in high places, let’s remember Sandpiper Ventures, a women-run venture capital fund that was handed $5 million in public money by former premier Stephen McNeil, just as he was leaving office, no questions asked, no oversight, no nothing — Sandpiper doesn’t have to return any profits to the province or even report back to the provincial government what it’s doing with our money. Nor does Sandpiper acknowledge the $5 million contribution of public money on its website.

Sandpiper has six founding partners:
• Amy Risley, owner of Skinfix and spouse of billionaire John Risley
• Karen Hutt, former President and CEO of Nova Scotia Power, and current Executive Vice-President of Strategy and Business Development at Emera
• Sarah Young, former managing Partner at NATIONAL Public Relations, the PR firm that is cozy with Liberal governments across the country, and currently the “engagement officer” at the Mass Casualty Commission, whatever that means (she’s never engaged with me)
• Cathy Bennett, a former Liberal Party MLA in Newfoundland and a board member of Marathon Gold, which is developing the Valentine Mine in Newfoundland
• Chère Chapman, CEO of DGI Clinical, a biotech firm in Halifax that got a bunch of Innovacorp money
• Nicole LeBlanc, formerly of Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet (Google) company that was going to take over our cities before we wised up to that scam, and the chair of the board of Innovacorp before Houston did away with that board this week.

When I see Chère Chapman and Nicole LeBlanc are palling around together at Sandpiper, I can’t help but recall the relationship of Tanya Shaw and Peter MacNeil.

It’s hard to track exactly what Sandpiper has done with $5 million of our money, but I’ve been able to piece together the following from Sandpiper’s press releases and the business press.

On May 27, 2021 (two months after it received the money), Sandpiper invested $1,100,020 into Halifax-based DeNova, an aquaculture firm that also got $2.6 million in federal money through the Ocean Supercluster program.

In July, 2021, Sandpiper put a half a million dollars into Halifax-based Coloursmith Labs Inc., a company that produces contact lenses.

In October 2021, Sandpiper was one of five investors who put a total of $1.05 million into Newfoundland-based Swiftsure Innovations, a company that sells safety equipment for hospital ventilators. The other four investors were Threshold Impact, Pluto Investments, Pelorus Capital, and Killick Capital; I can’t determine each independent investment amount.

Also in October, 2021, Sandpiper and Mavan Capital invested a total of $2.7 million into Fable, a Vancouver-based dinnerware company. Again, I’m unable to determine the amount of each individual investment. But consider that the press release announcing the province’s gift to Sandpiper explained that:

“If our daughters have an idea, there should be resources available to them, just as it is to our sons,” said Premier Stephen McNeil…

The province’s contribution to Sandpiper is expected to be a catalyst for others. It will also help further develop Nova Scotia’s technology and digital start-up ecosystem.

Sandpiper Ventures focuses on initiatives developed and led by women and supports other ideas that drive growth and innovation in the Atlantic region.

However, at least some of Nova Scotia’s public money isn’t going towards “innovation in the Atlantic region,” but rather to shill plates and bowls in Vancouver.

Likewise, also in October 2021, Sandpiper was one of four investors (including Brightspark Ventures, Golden Ventures, and Conexus Venture Capital) that put a total of $6.4 million into Callia, a Winnipeg-based flower delivery company.

In January of this year, Sandpiper got back to investing in local companies by buying a half-million stake in Halifax-based Begin AI, a company started by Al Shikh at Volta Labs, which sells “personalization” software that companies use to collect customers’ data.

In July, Sandpiper was one of six investors placing a total of $16.2 million into Saint John-based ProcedureFlow, a “cloud-based knowledge management software company” that sells training material to other businesses. The other investors were the Canadian Business Growth Fund, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Innovatia Inc, Build Ventures, and the BDC Capital’s Women in Technology Venture Fund.

That’s all I can determine with the information available to me.

So that’s where the money supposedly helping “our daughters” went.

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3. Birchtown cemetery

A portion of a map from 1884 that shows rivers, roads, and communities.
A portion of a geological survey map from 1884 that shows Birchtown in Guysborough County. Photo: Nova Scotia Archives

“The name Birchtown is often associated with the community just outside of Shelburne that was was the largest settlement of Black Loyalists in North America,” reports Suzanne Rent:

But another community named Birchtown, this one in Guysborough County, has a historical society there looking up stories of its past and with a goal of restoring its now grown over cemetery. 

Chris Cook is the president of the Guysborough Historical Society, which runs the Old Court House Museum and visitor information in Guysborough. With the work of Jennifer Desmond and Steve Wright, the society is researching the history of the former community that was once located in a remote part of Guysborough County. 

Cook said they are in very early days to say what exactly will happen with the site where the group has been discovering gravesites. 

“We’re working to bring some attention back to the site and with the historical society we’re going to come up with the plan of what we’d like to see become of it,” Cook said. “Obviously, we want to work with other community partners, what have you. The interest is there from all parties that I can see.” 

Cook said there’s very little known about Birchtown, which was located not far from Manchester. Besides the cemetery, there are some old cellars, wells, and foundations in the area. Cook said Birchtown shows up on an 1876 provincial map as a settled “coloured” community. That map shows a number of buildings. The community shows up again in a geological survey map from 1884. Cook said they know by 1890 the community had a Baptist church. And according to 1890-91 census, there were about 90 to 100 people living in the area.  

“I can say with pretty good certainty they were all African Nova Scotians,” Cook said. “We can say for certainty the community was there in 1875 and it was probably there a couple decades before that.” 

Click here to read “Historical society hopes to restore cemetery in former Black community in Guysborough County.”

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The weekly COVID death count in Nova Scotia since January. Due to a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has just six days.

Five people died from COVID in Nova Scotia during the most recent reporting period, July 19-25.

I won’t have the ages or vaccination status of the deceased until the now-monthly epidemiologic summary is released on August 15.

During the same period, 42 people were hospitalized because of COVID.

Nova Scotia Health reports the COVID hospitalization status as of yesterday:
• in hospital because of COVID: 45 (9 of whom are in ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID: 143
• in hospital who contracted COVID after admission: 72
These figures do not include any children, if any, in the IWK.

Weekly new COVID case count in Nova Scotia since January. The gap reflects a temporary change in testing protocol that makes weekly comparisons meaningless. Due to a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has just six days.

For the same period, there were 1,910 lab-confirmed (PCR test) new cases. This is a slight increase from previous weeks, but I think this number is becoming increasingly less relevant, as many people don’t bother getting PCR tests — for example, a friend tells me that everyone on her rural road has been sick recently, but none of them has travelled the hour-plus to the nearest testing centre; they just ride out the sickness, and it never appears on an official report.

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5. Touquoy

An aerial shot of an open pit mine
This contributed photo shows waste rock being trucked into and levelled at the bottom of the open pit of the Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy gold mine.

Jennifer Henderson attended yesterday’s Question Period, and provides a roundup of everything that happened. I was particular taken by her report on gold mining:

The Australian company that owns the working Touquoy gold mine at Moose River is asking the provincial government for a change to its operating permit so it may continue its open pit operations. It needs that permit soon because the company is running out of room to store the tailings from its current open-pit operation and will need a place to deposit waste from other proposed mines. (Joan Baxter has reported extensively on the company’s operations here in Nova Scotia. You can read her most recent story on Atlantic Gold here).

St Barbara, which owns Atlantic Gold, wants permission to expand the height of what’s called a tailings dam wall. Yesterday, the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) issued a news release expressing concerns about that request and how it will be handled by the Department of Environment.

“The request and its respective review process raises major concerns with regards to safety and lack of transparency,” says Karen McKendry, wilderness outreach coordinator with EAC. “Globally, there are many examples of tailings dams failing. These breaches lead to toxic mining waste spilling out across nearby areas, resulting in the obliteration and contamination of watercourses, groundwater and wildlife, while jeopardizing the health and safety of people.”

In British Columbia eight years ago, the Mount Polley mine tailings pond, which held copper and gold mining waste, breached and spilled an estimated 25 billion litres of mining waste into nearby watercourses. Clean-up efforts are still being completed. McKendry cautions against increasing the risk of a similar disaster in Nova Scotia.

“The tailings dam was not originally engineered to withstand the volume of mining waste now proposed, and the original 2008 environmental assessment for the mine did not evaluate or seek public input on these current plans,” said McKendry. “Nova Scotians need the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to do the right thing and protect Nova Scotians and our nature, and not bow to pressure tactics from the gold mining industry.”

Last May, St Barbara CEO Craig Jetson visited Nova Scotia to meet with Premier Houston and Environment Minister Tim Halman to discuss Atlantic Gold’s operations on the Eastern Shore. During a recent conference call with analysts, CEO Jetson praised Premier Houston as “supportive” and “very encouraging” with respect to the company’s plans for Touquoy and two other open-pit gold mines it wants to develop along the Eastern Shore at Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream. These are currently undergoing a federal environmental assessment while a third mine has been proposed for Cochrane Hill near the St. Mary’s River in Guysborough County.

The Examiner asked the premier if CEO Jetson’s description was accurate; does he feel comfortable supporting gold mining in Nova Scotia?

“I am a supporter of any company that can meet the standards of the province,” Houston said. “We have standards and for those who can meet them, I’m a supporter.”

Readers of the Examiner may recall Atlantic Gold was fined $250,000 earlier this year for failing to meet provincial and federal environmental regulations around the release of silty runoff from its Touquoy site.

St Barbara’s CEO also told those on the recent conference call he felt encouraged by “a more collaborative permitting process” that Nova Scotia has recently put in place. The Examiner asked Environment Minister Tim Halman to explain. Halman told us that while the process hasn’t changed it has been “streamlined” to allow a company to receive more than one permit at a time.

Halman says his department has also hired two people to fill two newly created positions called “business relations officers.” Halman says their purpose is to provide one consistent point of contact for companies seeking information about what they need to do to comply with environmental regulations. In some cases, Halman says they need to explain or educate companies who may be unfamiliar with the landscape here.

Halman noted he has twice in the past year requested more information from St Barbara and that in his job as the environmental regulator, he must remain “neutral” and not express any personal opinion or position on gold mining.

I should note that neither St Barbara nor its subsidiary Atlantic Gold is listed on the provincial registry of lobbyists.

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6. Team Lavender

Valley Regional Hospital nurse educator Nick Swift. Photo: Contributed

“In his 13 years working at Valley Regional Hospital, Nick Swift says this is by far the most challenging time to be in health care,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“Things are pretty stressful at the given moment. We’re dealing with a lot of patient volume and acuity, and it coincides with a lot of staff vacancies. So we’re dealing with more with less, in a sense,” the nurse educator said in an interview.

“I think the stress has mounted over the pandemic and is continuing to grow. We’re at a point now where I would say in my 13 years of working here, this is probably the most pressure-filled environment I’ve ever experienced.”

Health care worker burnout was recognized long before the pandemic, but overcapacity, underlying systemic issues, and the ongoing impact of COVID-19 have exacerbated and highlighted the problem.

At Valley Regional Hospital, an initiative intended to address the spiritual, emotional, and psychological needs of health care workers is making a difference.

While most people have heard of Code Red (fire) and Code Blue (cardiac arrest), the colour lavender has now been added to the mix at the Kentville hospital.

Called Team Lavender, the initiative is based on Code Lavender. First launched in 2008 and developed by the US-based Cleveland Clinic, Code Lavender is described as a crisis intervention tool accessible to health care staff, patients, family members, and volunteers “when a stressful event or series of stressful events occurs in the hospital.”

Click here to read “Valley hospital’s Team Lavender supports spiritual, emotional, psychological needs of health care workers.”

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No meetings

On campus

No events

In the harbour

04:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
05:00: One Hangzhou Bay, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
10:30: Insignia, cruise ship with up to 800 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor, on a 46-day round-trip Arctic and trans-Atlantic cruise out of New York
10:30: CMA CGM T. Roosevelt, container ship (140,000 tonnes), sails from Pier 42 for New York
15:00: IT Infinity, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
16:00: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Portland
16:00: MSC Alyssa, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
19:45: Insignia sails for St. John’s
21:30: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
22:00: Vivienne Sheri D sails for Reykjavik, Iceland

Cape Breton
15:30: Speedway, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
16:30: Front Endurance, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from CLOV offshore platform, Angola
18:30: Paul A. Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at Government Dock (Sydney) from Sept-Iles, Quebec


Long weekend!

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  1. The work uncovering the use of public money is a prime example of journalism…providing information to citizens about matters of public concern, and public funds, which the powerful would prefer to keep hidden.

    How else would I or most citizens ever know of this important information otherwise?

    Generally, business development can be a worthwhile use, even investment, of public funds and resources. However, when human judgement and relationships are involved, and without the cleansing light of openness, transparency, and accountability, the only question about “skimming” or “shrinkage” is, sadly, “how much?”.

    Corruption is inevitable in all human endeavors but it should be preventable, or at least kept to a very low, measurable, and tolerable level.

    Thanks for shining some cleansing light!