News

1. Witness told police that mass murderer “builds fires and burns bodies, is a sexual predator, and supplies drugs in Portapique and Economy”

Memorial at the Portapique church hall. Photo: Joan Baxter

Tim Bousquet is on vacation, but still reported on documents related to the RCMP’s investigation in the mass murders of April 18/19, which a Nova Scotia judge ordered redacted. And there’s incredibly disturbing new details about the killer the Examiner refers to as GW. All of this new information comes from people who spoke with police on April 19.

As Bousquet reports:

The most stunning revelation comes from one person who spoke with Halifax police. That person told police that the murderer, who the Examiner refers to as GW, “builds fires and burns bodies, is a sexual predator, and supplies drugs in Portapique and Economy, Nova Scotia.”

Moreover, the person said that GW “had smuggled guns and drugs from Maine for years and had a stockpile of guns” and GW “had a bag of 10,000 oxy-contin and 15,000 dilaudid from a reservation in New Brunswick.”

Bousquet wrote a Twitter thread on the new information here. 

All the newly un-redacted documents are here. You can find the previously redacted documents here.

Read Bousquet’s full story here.

2. Protesters decry ‘shocking and paternalistic’ decision to hold review, not inquiry into Nova Scotia mass shooting

Susan Larder and Carol Millett were among about 200 people who attended Monday’s 22 minute event to demand a public inquiry into April’s mass shooting. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Yesterday, Yvette d’Entremont attended the general strike in Victoria Park in Halifax. A group of about 200 protestors gathered to demand a public inquiry into April’s mass killing. The event, called Strike back: Demand an inquiry, was organized by several feminist groups, including Women’s Wellness Within. That group’s founder, Martha Paynter, told d’Entremont the review is “really a minimum response to the largest massacre in Canada in our lifetimes and it’s required to even begin to deal with the trauma this province has experienced.”

Paynter started the event by reading out the names of the 22 victims, as well as the 22 reasons for a public inquiry. As d’Entremont reports:

They included: because 22 people including a pregnant woman were murdered in less than 24 hours and each of those murders were preventable; because the victims’ families asked for a public inquiry and were denied; because the murders are rooted in gender-based violence and misogyny; because only recommendations from a public inquiry can be enforced; because this is the largest mass shooting in Canada in our lifetimes; because the police and the government are public servants and they are accountable to the public; because we deserve to know what happened.

Sheri Lecker, executive director of Adsum for Women and Children, spoke to the crowd, saying, “we like you are very concerned that it appears that for years, red flags, whispers, even outright complaints to police about the perpetrator’s domestic violence and accumulation of guns went unheeded.”

And El Jones closed the event with a powerful poem she wrote on Sunday.

peaceful march to support the victims’ families in their demand for a public inquiry is taking place on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Read d’Entremont’s full story here.

In the Nova Scotia Advocate, Judy Haiven wrote this piece on why it’s time for a public inquiry into the mass murders in April and why a review won’t cut it. Haiven looks at the inquires into bullying, sex discrimination and sexual abuse of officers and other employees and volunteers with the RCMP, including The “Brown Report” which made 49 recommendations to deal with the “culture of policing,” the Public Interest Investigation Report into Issues of Workplace Harassment within the RCMP, and the 2015 Fraser Report, which tracked the failure of the RCMP to effectively deal with workplace harassment.

What stood out to me about Haiven’s article is how she outlined the parallels between the killings by Lionel Desmond in 2017 and the murders by the killer the Examiner refers to as GW. Desmond killed his wife, mother, and daughter in their home in Upper Tracadie. Some of the parallels between the two killings included connections to domestic violence, the killing of women and girls, evidence the murders were planned, and stockpiling of weapons. So many red flags. The difference? A public inquiry was called into the Desmond killings.

3. Nova Scotia therapists can re-open their offices, but don’t expect to see them in person anytime soon

Nick Cardone. Photo contributed.

Therapists across Nova Scotia can get back to traditional in-person visits after being forced to go online in March. The Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology and the Nova Scotia College of Counselling Therapists approved return-to-work guidelines last month, but as Philip Moscovitch reports, not all therapists are keen on getting back to business as usual.

Moscovitch interviews Nick Cardone, whose practice is called Free Range Therapy. Cardone meets with his clients in a place that works best for them. That could mean going for a walk or hike, shooting hoops, or even indoor rock climbing. This sounds very therapeutic. Cardone tells Moscovitch that because his sessions are outdoors, he won’t have to worry about some of the new rules, like sanitizing a waiting room, for example.

I just don’t shake their hand or give high fives or come into close physical contact with them in any way,” he said. “But that’s the beauty of how I do the work. If I go for a hike or a walk, you know, even if it’s a walk on the street or a hike in the woods or something like that, it’s easy to maintain distances.

Still, Moscovitch learns that while in-person visits are possible again, it doesn’t mean they will happen for all clients. One of the first guidelines is determining if an in-person visit is necessary. And that’s not sitting well with some clients. Moscovitch spoke with registered psychologist Daniel Chorney of Dr. Daniel Chorney & Associates, who says his office is open “for a very small number of clients who meet this criteria laid out in the guidelines, who, for whatever reason don’t or can’t benefit from the tele-psychology.” Says Chorney:

Within the guidelines, insisting is not enough to deem it necessary. Unfortunately, we’ve had some people become upset we’re not willing to see them in person. But we have to follow the guidelines. Some people are amazingly understanding and some find it a bit strange. ‘How come I can go to the bar but I can’t see you in your office?’

Good question.

Read Moscovitch’s full story here.

4. Hailing a ride to the next council meeting: New rules to enable Uber and Lyft in Halifax

The Uber app. Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unslpash

Zane Woodford reports that regional council will discuss new rules around ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft operating in the city.

At the end of last week’s council meeting, Coun. Lorelei Nicoll, who is the chair of council’s transportation standing committee, gave notice she’ll move first reading of amendments to the city’s taxi bylaw at the next meeting, on Aug. 18:

Take notice that, at the next meeting of Halifax Regional Council to be held on August 18, 2020, I propose to:

  1. Move First Reading of proposed By-law T-1004, amending By-law T-1000, Respecting the Regulation of Taxis, Accessible Taxis and Limousines, the purpose of which is to include the regulation and licensing of Transportation Network Companies and brokers and the creation of a new appeal committee to hear all appeals relative to licenses issued to brokers, independent brokers and Transportation Network Companies, as well as taxis, accessible taxis and limousines; and
  2. Move amendments to Administrative Order 15, Respecting License, Permit and Processing Fees, the purpose of which is to reflect the above changes in section 6B of Schedule A with the fees pursuant to the newly amended by-law T-1000.

As Woodford reports, the rules are the second stage of the transformation of this industry for the city. A consultant’s report was tabled in February 2019.

The motion in August will also create new committee to hear licence-related appeals. That committee will remove councillors from the decision-making process.

Read Woodford’s full story here.

5. Dead wrong: Episode 8

Episode 8, the final episode of Tim Bousquet’s investigative podcast on the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun, will be out this afternoon. You can find it here.


Views

1. Why people ignore warning signs

A sign on the ferry between Campobello Island to Deer Island, New Brunswick, tells passengers to stay in their vehicles, but not everyone pays attention. Photo: Suzanne Rent

Last week, I was returning home from Campobello Island, New Brunswick, a trip that includes two ferry rides back to the mainland. On the second ferry to Deer Island, there was a sign that said “Please remain in your vehicle.” Of course, passengers got out of their vehicles and took photos. It was, after all, a beautiful day. At first, I thought the sign was to prevent passengers from going overboard, but the sign was quite makeshift, put together with a piece of white cardboard and fastened to the rails with duct tape. And no deckhands told those passengers to get back into their cars. There were other signs asking passengers to respect the two-metre social distancing rule, so I suspect those makeshift signs were related to COVID-19.

Still, I wondered why people didn’t respect the signs and stay in their cars. Did they even see the signs? I counted at least four of them and this ferry wasn’t terribly big. I think about signs and messaging more than I should. We are faced with signs like these everywhere, especially now with COVID-19 signs in stores, and arrows on floors telling us where to walk. Think, too, about all the signs warning about the dangers of the waves at Peggy’s Cove (there are 42 signs out there), yet almost every season someone gets washed into the sea after getting too close to the water. Not everyone sees the signs, or if they do, the warnings don’t register. The first reaction many people have when these tragedies happen is “these sign-ignoring people are idiots.” But I wanted to know what is really going on.

Dr. Steven Smith is a professor of psychology at Saint Mary’s University. He studies group behaviour, behaviour of people within groups, compliance, attitudes, and persuasion. Photo: Contributed.

On Monday, I spoke with Dr. Steven Smith, a professor of psychology and associate vice-president, academic and enrolment management at Saint Mary’s University. Smith studies group behaviour, behaviour of people within groups, compliance, attitudes, and persuasion. Smith says there are several things happening in a person’s mind when they see a warning sign, but it comes down to perception of control and perception of risk. Smith says that at Peggy’s Cove, we know people get washed off the rocks every year and some people die, but most people will still take the risk and head onto the black rocks and toward the water. In comparison, he says, a small number of people worldwide die in plane crashes, but a huge number of people are afraid of flying. Says Smith:

Those two things don’t make a whole lot of sense. Why is something that is obviously a risk be less frightening than something that isn’t a risk? And it comes down to our perception of risk. With plane crashes, there’s something called the availability heuristic (a heuristic is a mental shortcut) and what’s happening there is we’re perceiving risk based on our knowledge of how often people get injured or die. We think of a plane crash — if you look at the statistics, it’s extremely rare. You’re much more likely to die driving to the airport than you are on a plane. But if you think of what people see in the news, or what they hear about, they don’t hear about all the millions of flights that land safely; they hear about the flights that crash. Compounding that, when we fly on a plane, for a few very of us, we’re not in control of that flight. It’s someone else. We lose control and we perceive the risk to be higher.

If you think about your risk of getting into a car accident or getting swept off the rocks, you’re going to base it on your own experience. If your experience is not getting into accidents, not falling off those rocks, you’ll perceive your experience your risk as low. When you hear about people who did fall off the rocks and drown, you can perceive that as their fault. They did something that put themselves at elevated risk — but you don’t do that, so you’re safe.

A woman wading into the water at Peggys Cove, in pre-COVID days. Photo: Peter Richardson.

Smith says that’s why when we hear about these incidents, people’s first response is to call those people stupid. It’s a self-protective mechanism.

Smith is also researching why people confess to crimes they did not commit. He asks his students, a class of about 150, how likely they’d be to confess to a crime they didn’t commit. He says about two or three might put up their hand. Then he tells them by using completely legal strategies, he could get about half the class to confess to a crime they didn’t commit. Then he says if he ramps that up by increasing the pressure and uses illegal strategies, he could get that number of confessions into the 80s.

People have a very bad ability to put themselves in other people’s context. So, they’re not able to look at the situation in Peggy’s Cove and say, ‘Well, that person fell into the ocean because they also were not following this rule and it was also a beautiful day and a wave got them.’ They will look at what’s happening now, their perception of risk, and their ability to blame other people, and they’ll say, ‘The risk to me is lower, so I’ll go ahead and take that risk.’

So how can the messaging on the signs be more effective? Smith says there are two types of messages signs can use: gain-frame and loss-frame.

If you think about trying to get women to get mammograms, if you frame the message as getting regular mammogram increases your lifespan by this amount of time, increases recovery, or cures by this percentage — those are gain-framed. That means by doing the behaviour, you gain something. A loss-frame message is about really avoiding risk. If you say things like not getting a mammogram increases your risk of getting fatal breast cancer by X percentage, what happens is people respond less positively to those messages, generally speaking. There are a lot of subtleties in there, but generally speaking, if you focus on the positives people get from the behaviour they’re more likely to engage in it than by telling them the negatives.

So if I am telling you don’t go on the rocks because you’re going to die, you’re not going to pay attention to that message as much as if I say staying off the rocks saves lives.

When you get a negative message, because that message is inconsistent with what people believe already — or what people want to believe or want to experience — they’re going to tend to avoid or ignore that message.

But Smith says there are people who do respond to messages that are loss-framed, so that may mean using a mix of messages.

As for public health messaging around COVID-19, he says that because Nova Scotia has no active cases of the virus now, that means the messaging works.

Some people will say, ‘Well, we went too far.’ But if we hadn’t gone that far we might be where they are somewhere else. That’s always the challenge of public health and preventative medicine. With preventative medicine, if nothing happens, you’re doing your job right. It’s hard to quantify nothing happening as being a good thing, from a policy perspective.

But that perception of risk and control has been playing out with the pandemic over the last few months. What we’ve heard about the virus often changed, so also did our risk perception.

All we were hearing at the beginning of COVID was about the deaths, how the hospitals were overrun, how horrible it was, and it’s been over four months, so people’s perceptions of things have changed, particularly in Nova Scotia where people are feeling the risk is low — and frankly that’s not unreasonable — so these preventative behaviours are seen as overkill, whereas in reality they are extremely valuable in keeping control over COVID. You’ll only see they’re valuable by nothing happening. And only when something happens will we see we haven’t done enough. Over time, people are perceiving less and less risk. Of course, things are opening up and they are always going to balance your convenience against the risk.

Smith says that’s why some people may not understand why they have to wear masks starting on Friday when their perception of the risk hasn’t changed. That’s why even with the beaches and trails closed months ago, people still went. People perceived the risk of not going out was greater to their mental health than were their chances of being exposed to the virus. Smith says governments need to realize not everyone has access to the same kinds of green spaces and people will take that risk to get out.

When you’re closing the only parks in those areas, particularly when people perceive the risk to be low, there’s going to be a reaction to that. People will feel it’s an unreasonable restriction against their freedom and will rail against it.

Coun. Paul Russell’s speed radar set up on Sackville Drive in May. Photo: Twitter/@SackvillePaul

In 2015, I read Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Ronson wrote primarily about shaming that happens on social media, especially Twitter, but at the end of the book he explored Your Speed, those electronic speed signs that tell drivers how fast they’re going. There is one on the MacKay Bridge and another on the approach to the bridge from Dartmouth. The signs were invented by Scott Kelley, a roadsign manufacturer in Oregon, who told Ronson he didn’t even know why the signs worked. But they did work, and well. Ronson learned that in the areas where the signs were installed to reduce drivers’ speeds, the signs got drivers to slow down by 14% and those drivers stayed driving slower for kilometres after they passed the sign. Ronson references an article by Thomas Goetz, who wrote about the signs in this article in Wired. Goetz wrote:

The signs were curious in a few ways. For one thing, they didn’t tell drivers anything they didn’t already know. There is, after all, a speedometer in every car. If a motorist wanted to know their speed, a glance at the dashboard would do it … And the Your Speed signs came with no punitive follow-up — no police officer standing by ready to write a ticket. This defied decades of law-enforcement dogma, which held that most people obey speed limits only if they face some clear negative consequence for exceeding them.

Ronson learned that social psychologists studied the signs for a decade, and discovered that they work for one reason: feedback loops. Writes Goetz in Wired:

You exhibit some type of behavior (you drive at twenty-seven miles per hour in a twenty-five-mile-an-hour zone). You get instant real-time feedback for it (the sign tells you you’re driving at twenty-seven miles per hour). You decide whether or not to change your behavior as a result of the feedback (you lower your speed to twenty-five miles per hour). You get instant feedback for that decision too (the sign tells you you’re driving at twenty-five miles per hour now, and some signs flash up a smiley-face emoticon to congratulate you). And it all happens in the flash of an eye — in the few moments it takes you to drive past the Your Speed sign.

I pass by these signs often and every time I slow down when I see my speed flashing under what the posted speed limit. Every time. Not that I’m going too fast, mind you. Putting these kinds of signs wouldn’t work everywhere and it’s certainly cost-prohibitive. Could one go up on the rocks at Peggy’s Cove? I don’t know. But they tell us something about how we react to messaging.

Smith, who published a paper with Dr. Robert Strang about 15 years ago on these public health messaging issues, says that public health messaging isn’t a simple process. But he does say that the more the signs and warnings focus on the benefits rather than focusing on the risks, the more people will pay attention. That’s going to be important for COVID-19 and all of us, now and in the coming months.

It’s about celebrating all the things we did well. Don’t frame it as the risk to you but frame it as the benefit of continuing to do what’s been done. This is why we’re successful. We were successful because people were paying attention and people were being careful and now is not the time to let up. If there’s another outbreak, people will snap into line pretty quickly, is my guess. There’s not the same kind of political issue as in the U.S. where people see the mask as a political statement. That’s why Canada has done as well as it has. If we keep things safe people will get tired of it. It’s kind of ironic, and I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t do it, but it’s a challenge with the messaging. The messaging needs to be about continuing to encourage that positive, constructive, behaviour that’s resulting in these positive, constructive outcomes.


Noticed

And speaking of ignoring signs …

I stopped in Oxford on my way home Friday night. Of course, the giant blueberry is there because Oxford is known as the blueberry capital of Canada. I had to take a photo, but I noticed its arms were gone. At least I remember it having arms. I shared my photo on Twitter and heard the arms were taken off because people were climbing all over it. Based on the response to my photo of the blueberry on Twitter, people are really passionate about this roadside attraction.

I contacted Rachel Jones, CAO for the Town of Oxford, who says the arms were taken off last year. (Oh, the blueberry is named Oxley, by the way.) I thought the town owned the berry, but Jones told me it’s actually owned by the Irvings (do they own everything?) So, I called the manager of the Irving station where the blueberry sits and was told yes, the arms were taken down last year (Oxley got a paint job, too). The arms were made of Plexiglass and broke off frequently because people were climbing and hanging off them all the time. There are no plans to give Oxley its arms back.

The sign warning visitors to stay off the berry is still there, though. You can see the back of the sign it in my photo, but I didn’t see the sign when I was taking the photo. I didn’t climb on Oxley either.

But when I got home, I dug up this photo of me hugging it several years ago when it did have arms.

Oxley from several years ago when it did have arms, but didn’t hug me back. Photo: Naomi Gray

Government

City

Tuesday

Special Halifax and West Community Council (6pm, virtual meeting) — agenda here.

Wednesday

Special Appeals Standing Committee (11:30am, virtual meeting) — agenda here.

Province

Tuesday

Human Resources (10am, teleconference) — Agency, board, and commission appointments.

Wednesday

No meetings.


In the harbour

Tim Bousquet writes the round-up of ships in the harbour each day. But because he’s on vacation, we’re skipping this section for this week.


Footnotes

I told Iris the Amazing, the Examiner’s office manager, a couple of weeks ago that Morning File is one of my favourite writing assignments. Morning File allows me to write about observations I make or questions I have (I have a lot of them). Maybe readers think about these things, too. Of course, I also love all the excellent reporting my colleagues do as well. I’m sure you already know, but they work very hard. Tim is on vacation, although I know he’s reading this, but he also really appreciates the work we do. And he pays us on time!

All of this work costs, though. So, if you don’t already, we’d be grateful if you subscribed. You can subscribe here. 

Suzanne Rent

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

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
Cancel reply
  1. Somewhat related to the issue of public health messaging: This article, “The Scourge of Hygiene Theater” in The Atlantic [https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/scourge-hygiene-theater/614599/], looks at how the transmission of COVID-19 is increasingly coming to be understood as primarily airborne, rather than surface-based as originally hypothesized. This has lead, in turn, to the false sense of security–what the author calls “hygiene theater”–resulting in many places (restaurants and bars, schools, gyms, etc.) that should be closed, reopening and trumpeting their exacting surface-scrubbing regimes. Outdoor activities, masks, and hand-washing are far more effective at combatting coronavirus than that (as would remaining closed and providing subsidies), but public health be damned when it gets in the way of profit!

  2. My old design mentor used to say, “if you need a sign, the design has already failed”.

    This when looking at building entrances, paths across green areas, parking lots, whatever.

    His rule doesn’t always apply – barrier free parking stalls come to mind (although the painted stalls are, arguably, not a “sign”). But they do tend to be come a test of sorts as to whether a design is effective. Should we just know where an exit from a building is? When there’s an emergency and we need to get out, do we expect people to stop and study wayfinding? Can not the landscape and site design direct us intuitively to the entrance (like I believe it does at the new Library)?

    A sign will often be an afterthought, an attempt to address a shortcoming of what was built without considering the use, and the subsequent need for instruction to clarify the intent of the design.

    Unfortunately we have some signs that are redundant, and some that are not, but we tend to ignore them equally.

  3. When I was working in the convention business (ha! remember that?) people would be standing beside the directional signage, in front of the directional signage, looking right at the directional signage, and then flag me down to ask where whatever was. Fortunately I like giving directions and would send in them right direction. Always laughing at all that ignored signage. My theory is that people just do not see signs.

    1. Or it could be, and this is my experience, well less than 50% of convention wayfinding signs are helpful for people who don’t already have a mental map.

      Not to scale, not to perspective, one of facility and event room names (carefully making sure that the other signs use the other set of names), no “you are here” blob, not oriented the same direction its facing. Carefully ignoring massive landmarks like fountains or statues while including BS marketing trickery as landmarks. Generally, worse than useless.

      see also: https://xkcd.com/773/

      1. We often get people coming down the ferry ramp asking “is this the ferry to Dartmouth?”, despite already picking which side of the ticket booth they entered by, which waiting area they were in (with the big Dartmouth/Woodside) signs, the big voice announcement booming,”Dartmouth ferry now boarding” and the sign on the ramp indicating which side for Dartmouth or Woodside.

        1. I think the big voice actually says “Alderney ferry now boarding” doesnt it? Hence the confusion about if it is as it SHOULD be: the Dartmouth ferry.