News

1. “Depraved Predation”: Michael McNutt sentenced to 15 years in prison for abusing 34 boys

Michael Patrick McNutt leaves Dartmouth provincial court on Jan. 24, 2019. — Zane Woodford

Tim Bousquet reports on the sentencing of Michael McNutt, the former teacher, in the sexual abuse of 34 boys in Halifax and Dartmouth over a 19-year period starting in the early 1970s. McNutt was sentenced to 15 years for the crimes. Justice Jamie Campbell of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court described McNutt’s abuse as “depraved predation” and read out loud one of the victim impact statements:

When I was sexually abused by Michael McNutt, as a prepubscent boy, it left me with a feeling that is hard to put in words. I thought I was going insane. I had no sense of myself or my place in the world. It left me feeling extremely alone, numb, and detached from reality.

I never played hockey again. School became about enduring crippling anxiety, and life seemed to lose all the joy. A child has no compass with which to navigate such turmoil. I was not emotionally mature enough to comprehend what had happened and my role in the abuse. I just felt shame and guilt like I was a bad person with a terrible secret.

I struggled with this side every day, especially the next school year, because I was back in his classroom with him as my teacher and homeroom where he had full authority over me and my grades. For the next 40 years, that scared guilty, ashamed child has been locked inside of me. 

I did what most abused children do. I locked him and his terrible secret up in a very dark place inside of me. I hid him away from life and was terrified that somehow someone would realize he is there and my secret would be revealed. I tried very hard to pretend that I was OK and normal and just pushed the scared little boy out of my mind as much as possible.

He would reappear through the years, mostly in situations where I had to trust someone. He would reemerge and fill me with dread because he was scared to get hurt again. I’ve lived with this scared little boy in the shadows of my psyche for decades. He’s permeated all areas of my life. All my relationships, personal and professional, have been tainted by his presence. I have hated him, shamed him, denied him, and even blamed him.

He was just a frightened, sad, lonely little boy.

Your Honour, today I want to welcome that little boy into this court with open arms. I want to embrace him fully. I wanted to tell him it wasn’t his fault. I want to tell him he’s a good, lovely little boy. I want to tell him that he does deserve happiness and a good life. I want to welcome him home. I want him to know that we’ve heard him. We believe him. And now we will work to make it up to him.

Most of all, Your Honour, I want to tell him that I love him very much.

Campbell also addressed the other adults who, as Bousquet writes, “facilitated, ignored, or down-played McNutt’s predation?” Campbell said to the court:

There were others like him [the man who wrote the victim impact statement] and there are others like him today. There are children now enduring pain and adults enduring pain of abuse that took place years ago. That cannot be allowed to go unnoticed. There are questions that will likely be on the minds of many.

How could this happen? How can a man holding various positions of authority abuse 34 unrelated children and adults undetected over a period of two decades?

How? How can this happen?

Click here to read Bousquet’s full story.

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2. Diab, Bernard considering bids for Liberal leadership

Lena Diab and Joanne Bernard

Michael Gorman at CBC reports that at least two women, Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab and former Community Services minister Joanne Bernard, have confirmed they are considering bids for the Liberal leadership party.

Diab was first elected in 2013 and was the province’s first female attorney general. Bernard was also elected in 2013 and served one term, also serving as Community Services minister. She’s currently the CEO and president of Easter Seals Nova Scotia (Disclosure: I work on a research project and one of its partners is Easter Seals Nova Scotia).

Gorman talks to Diab and Bernard, as well as to other women are currently in office or were, including Megan Leslie and Karla MacFarlane, who’s the MLA for Pictou West, about the barriers and harassment women face in politics.

Community Services minister Kelly Regan told CBC last week she hadn’t seriously considered going for the leadership bid and Gorman reports she reaffirmed that position yesterday. Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan tells Gorman she’s also not considering running for the job. CBC also contacted the female leaders at Nova Scotia Business Inc., the Cape Breton Partnership, Events East Group, Develop Nova Scotia, Credit Union Atlantic and the Halifax Partnership and none said they are considering running.

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3. Community council approves “unique,” “unprecedented” proposal with affordable housing

A rendering of Pathos Properties’ Bedford development, looking south on the Bedford Highway. — Paul Skerry and Associates

Halifax and West Community Council approved a “unique” and “unprecedented” proposal on Bedford Highway at a virtual meeting on Tuesday night. As Zane Woodford reports, what makes the proposal by developer Nectarios Stappas’ Pathos Properties Inc. unique is that it’s the first private sector-built, below-market housing to be built off the Halifax peninsula where one-third of the units will rent for less than 30% of market value.

Potential tenants for the discounted units will have to qualify as having low or moderate incomes. Here’s a breakdown of the rents from a 2018 submission.

Credit: HRM/KWR Approvals

Also, 11 of the 55 units will be barrier-free, although it’s unclear if those units have the discounted rent as well.

Woodford writes:

It’s a novel approach for Halifax councillors, who have repeatedly claimed not to be able to do this very thing. That is, they directed staff to draw up an agreement requiring affordable housing in a project where the developer was looking for land-use bylaw amendments, and without the involvement of the provincial government, the developer is going to rent the housing for below market value.

The municipality is doing so using a set of three agreements. The first is a development agreement, used all over the municipality to govern proposals that don’t fit the rules. The second is a density bonusing agreement — common in downtown Halifax and now in the Centre Plan area — to trade extra height for a public benefit. In this case, the benefit is affordable housing.

But the third agreement, a housing agreement, is different. It breaks from the Centre Plan practice of having developers pay cash into an affordable housing fund, and city planner Sean Gillis told the community council on Tuesday that the housing agreement between the developer and Habitat For Humanity is “unique.”

The community council also approved a request to enable an eight-storey development on Joseph Howe Drive by developer Tony Maskine. Maskine now has to apply for a developer agreement that is subject to a public meeting.

Click here to read Woodford’s full story.

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4. Halifax arts reporter, editor fired for bad joke tweet

Halifax Twitter was lit Tuesday after news that Tara Thorne, arts reporter, editor, columnist, and contributor to CBC’s Information Morning, was fired from her CBC gig for tweeting out a joke last week about the Premier Stephen McNeil’s son. Thorne apologized for the tweet, twice. She also deactivated her Twitter account.

Robert Devet at the Nova Scotia Advocate wrote this story on Thorne’s firing:

I am not saying that should have been the end of the story. We always need to be aware of the harm we can inflict, especially if we have a large social media platform, and especially also if the target is an innocent bystander. A more reflective apology would be good.

But I am saying that firing Thorne on the spot for one bad joke tweet is excessive, and the CBC should reconsider, putting in the balance her many years of excellent arts coverage.

How easily Thorne was fired accentuates the precarious existence of freelance journalists in this province. Even after a professional relationship of many years with the CBC it seems you don’t have any rights to due process.

Maggie Rahr shared this Twitter thread about Thorne’s firing.

I’ve been trying to avoid Twitter lately, but from what I could tell most of Halifax Twitter was in support of Thorne. Many people said they didn’t even see the joke or didn’t know what was so bad about it. Even those who didn’t like Thorne’s joke and went after her for it last week, said her firing from CBC was excessive.

I thought the joke was bad, too. But as so many people pointed out, Thorne was probably the biggest supporter of the arts in the city. I followed her on Twitter for her support of women in music, including most recently the lack of female nominees at this year’s East Coast Music Awards. I’m sure Thorne has fans who listened to her on CBC, but who aren’t on Twitter, so they’re left wondering what’s going on.

What Thorne brought to the arts scene in the city and her promotion of the artists themselves far outweighed one bad tweet. And if it doesn’t, many of us could be one bad tweet away from trouble.

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5. Inverness restaurant closes after customer fails to self-isolate

A post from Route 19’s Facebook page.

Route 19 Brewing Tap and Grill in Inverness has shut down temporarily after management learned a customer who came from outside the Atlantic bubble didn’t self-isolate for 14 days.

Tom Ayers at CBC interviewed Stefan Gagliardi, chief beer officer at Route 19, who said they didn’t know if the customer has COVID-19, but they closed down and deep cleaned anyway. Gagliardi says some staff didn’t feel safe working. Gagliardi tells Ayers that patron is not just hurting business.

It’s a family-run business and there’s a lot of people working for us … and everybody that’s sitting at home not working is not collecting a paycheque right now.

I’m sad that people couldn’t follow the rules in such hard times already and that someone was selfish enough to kind of walk out and put everybody else at risk potentially.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Lisa Croteau says RCMP in Inverness investigated on Monday and charged one person with failing to comply with the 14-day self-isolation requirement under the Health Protection Act.

Gagliardi says the company is working with public health on when it can open again, but he says it could be up to 14 days.

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Views

1. What happens when you die

Johanna Lunn is a director, producer, writer, and creator of the When You Die project.

Okay, forgive me for being a buzz kill but I’m going to talk about death and dying. Well, I’m actually going to talk about the When You Die project, which was started in Halifax about five years ago. Yesterday, I spoke with Johanna Lunn, an award-winning producer, director, and writer who created the When You Die project.

The project’s roots are in Lunn’s own experiences with death and grief, starting when she was 19, when over a two-and-a-half year period she lost her mother, her best friend, and had a pedestrian die in her arms after they were hit by a driver (there’s a really good interview with Lunn on that here). Those experiences started Lunn’s own interest in learning more about death and dying, but also our fear of talking about these subjects.

At her first job out of university, Lunn was working as a research assistant for producer who was asked by PBS to put together a proposal on death and dying. She went out and talked to people in nursing homes and worked with other experts on death, but the proposal was turned down because PBS thought the topic was too taboo.

“It always haunted me,” Lunn says. “There’s a story there, but we won’t be telling it now, but it was always hanging in the back of my mind that it would something that would be good.”

Years later, Lunn would get a chance to pitch the idea again and that documentary, which eventually led to the creation of the When You Die project and its website. Lunn says the website is a destination that will help you form questions you didn’t know you had. The website has all kinds of resources and links to the documentary and podcasts. Topics that are covered include mistakes to avoid when making a will, natural burials, and how to prepare children who are visiting someone who is dying.

That documentary that started it all will be released this fall (the trailer is here). It’s called In the Realm of Death and Dreaming and covers what Lunn calls the “sexy side of death.” The documentary includes interviews with scientists, palliative care doctors, death doulas, and other end-of-life experts, and covers topics like deathbed dreams.

Lunn says many of us don’t want to talk about death out of fear.

“That’s a big part of the When You Die project — it’s trying to bring the idea of death and dying forward and saying, ‘Well, this is what it is,’” Lunn says. “It’s introducing you to this process, which is a physical process, an emotional process, and so on. We’re afraid of what we don’t know. When a whole society is afraid of what it doesn’t know, the idea that you might open yourself to it means you’re the weird person out. And we all want to be accepted and part of the society we live in.”

Lunn says her own understanding of death has changed from the time of those experiences at 19 until now, and working on the When You Die project. She says no one knew how to deal with her grief back then because it was so taboo. Now, she says she’s learned grief is not just a process, but the least understood of human emotions.

“I didn’t even know that was an emotion,” Lunn says. “Someone told me it was one of the most important human emotions. When you think about it, in everyday life we have big loss and little loss. Big D death loss is like the crown prince of all the losses. But you lose a job, you lose a relationship. Or dropping your grandmother’s vase and it breaks and it’s done. All these little griefs. This is one of these things they never tell you about when you’re growing up; you’re going to have grief; you’re going to have loss. That whole discovery was huge for me. It’s not that we’re afraid of death. It’s we’re afraid of validating our own losses in day-to-day life.”

Lunn says in this pandemic we’re all faced with mortality in a way we didn’t think about before. She says they seem to be getting more pickup on the website because of COVID-19, but also because they’re also networking and making connections in what she calls the “death-positive world,” which means normalizing the conversations around death and dying.

And we’re all experiencing grief now through this pandemic — from loss of social connections, loss of jobs, and more. Lunn says this is the time we would most benefit from understanding death and loss.

“The entire globe is grieving right now and that’s so enormous and it’s so hard to wrap your head around,” she says.

Lunn says what she’s learned in how to cope with grief is how to validate your experience.

“To say, that hurts, I’m feeling that, and to be gentle with yourself around that loss,” she says.

But there are other ways people cope with death and grieving. Lunn says in the U.K. there was a study that talked with people who grew up in households where they discussed death. But they also talked with those who grew up in households where they never discussed death. The difference? Researchers found that people who grew up in households where death conversations weren’t taboo were funnier than those who grew up in those households where death wasn’t talked about.

“Humour is really valued in getting through a tough time,” Lunn says. “Embracing the conversation around it is one way of lightening up.”

Lunn says they’re working on a series, also called When You Die. The episodes will include some on consciousness; looking at the last chapter of your life, including a look at medical directives; how to plan for dying at home; and creating rituals for after you die to help others grieve. The series will air online and Lunn says they’re working with a distribution consultant.

“Each episode is wanting people to ask questions,” Lunn says. “I have my own personal opinions but I’m trying to put things on the table and say this is what I discovered, what do you think?”

Lunn says talking about death can help us live better lives.

“There are two huge passages in life: One is coming in and the other is going out,” Lunn says. “I want us to really reclaim that as part of our humanity and I believe in doing so we will live more fully. We are alive. If you remember you’re alive and that’s not going to last forever, there’s something to rejoice about in there. The idea that death is a constant companion that helps you to live because this moment may never happen again. It will never happen again. And that’s a real positive.”

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Noticed

My Facebook feed lately has been filled with ads for 50-50 draws. Like just about everything, fundraising events have been affected by COVID-19 and lockdowns, so charities are now moving online to raise money. Some of the jackpots for these draws are huge, like more than six figures. Most of the draws I see are managed by a group called Rafflebox. On Tuesday, I spoke with Matt Broussard, CEO, and Simon Cusack, COO at Rafflebox. The company got its start in 2016 when Broussard was at a live event that was holding a 50-50 draw. When he realized he’d have to wade through crowds and wait in lineups for tickets, he thought of a better way to organize such lotteries and pitched the idea of Rafflebox to Cusack.

“I started talking to Simon about a site where one or two people can sign up, there’s no financial risk, and raise money for their charity,” Broussard says.

The team at Rafflebox. Photo: Contributed

When COVID hit, Rafflebox actually lost about 90% of its clients, most of which were minor sports teams because all the minor sports stopped. They pivoted to groups like animal shelters and food banks. Then they saw a big uptake in similar groups.

“We’ve been doubling our growth month after month since April,” Broussard says.

Pre-COVID, Rafflebox was running about 20 to 25 raffles a month and now they are running about 75 a month. They expect to hit more than 100 raffles and 50-50 draws each month over the coming months.

In dollar figures, Broussard, they are on track to raise about $1.5 million a month for the charities they work with and by the fall that will be more than $2 million. Pre-COVID they were raising anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 a month for the charities.

One of the largest draws is the weekly draw for all the volunteer fire departments across Nova Scotia. That draw started 10 weeks ago with nine volunteer fire departments taking part. Now, there are 102 stations selling tickets every week. The draws went from a jackpot of about $11,000 the first week to jackpots of about $70,000 a week.

Right now, Rafflebox operates in Alberta (where they’re based), Nova Scotia, P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Yukon. They’re in the process of getting approval in Ontario, British Columbia, and Manitoba. They have another platform called Goldrush, which operates in New Brunswick. Their goal is to be certified across the country by the end of the year.

Rafflebox sets up the page, which runs for a month. For some of the smaller organizations, Rafflebox runs Facebook ads for them to help promote the raffle, although many groups use their own marketing and donor lists to get the word out. There is a charge to use the service (they wouldn’t tell me how much), but there are no setup fees. A page for the raffle can be set up for a charity the same day they sign on, as long as the licenses with the provincial lotteries are in order.

“We don’t want to charge signup fees because many times they may not raise as much as they think they would,” Cusack says. “What we’re doing is taking away the barrier of entry for a lot of non-profits and charities.”

What fundraising will look like in a post-COVID world, no one knows, but Broussard and Cusack think Rafflebox will be part of the mix.

“I think when we’re in a post-COVID world, charities will still do their fundraising galas and their traditional fundraising themes, but I think they will still use online platforms like Rafflebox because they see how effective it can be and how easy it is to use,” Broussard says.

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Government

No meetings.


In the harbour

05:00: MOL Motivator, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
06:30: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
06:30: Grande Halifax, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Valencia, Spain
11:00: Grande Halifax sails for sea
11:30: Skogafoss sails for Portland
13:00: Maersk Mobiliser, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
18:00: John J. Carrick, barge, arrives at MacAsphalt from sea
21:30: MOL Motivator sails for Dubai


Footnotes

I’m signing up for horseback riding lessons this fall and meeting with the ranch owner this weekend. I hope this turns out better than that motorcycle course did a few years ago…

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Thank you!




Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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  1. Most of us have no idea of what Tara Thorne posted that apparently caused CBC to fire her so I cannot offer any kind of responsible reaction. I suspect as many state that the punishment far, far exceeded the “crime”.
    Again, this is the CBCs double standard. They kept Amada Lang around way too long, they let Gomeshi get away with depravity, and there are others closer to home who I won’t mention. But, Tara Thorne was a positive voice for the entertainment and arts world. Removing her is not just a sanction against her as an individual, but it does incredible damage to the arts and entertainment world.

  2. We’ll miss hearing Tara Thorne’s voice. Anybody can make a small mistake. She should be rehired!