1. Feds and province change course, call inquiry
After several days of outrage and demonstrations, including a sizable one in Bridgewater that began at provincial justice minister Mark Furey’s constituency office, the provincial and federal governments announced yesterday that there will be a full public inquiry into the mass murders of April 18 and 19.
On July 23, a letter from Liberal MP Kody Blois (Kings-Hants) said, “The Nova Scotia Federal Liberal Caucus welcomes the announcement of a joint-review [sic] into the Nova Scotia mass shooting.”
Zane Woodford and Yvette d’Entremont trace the route from review to inquiry, as Liberal MP solidarity began to unravel and Furey punted the decision to federal public safety minister Bill Blair.
[Liberal MP Sean] Fraser (Central Nova) publicly stated he only learned his name was being added to a July 23 letter from the Nova Scotia Federal Liberal Caucus just before it went out. That letter, written on King’s-Hants MP Kody Blois’ letterhead, notes that the caucus “welcomes the joint-review” into the mass shooting and “applauds the inclusion” of a feminist analysis.
In an emailed statement sent in response to a request from the Halifax Examiner, Fraser said when he learned the process would be a review, he was “immediately disappointed.” He added that shortly after becoming aware of the details of the review, he saw his name included on the letter welcoming the decision. He said he only became aware of the letter shortly before its publication.
“I expressed my disappointment with the decision and my preference for a public process. I have come to understand that the letter was sent as a result of a serious, albeit innocent, misunderstanding of my views,” Fraser’s statement said.
“I should have been more explicit and unequivocal in my opposition to being included in that letter, and I remain responsible for that.”
Fraser said it’s “obvious” that a comprehensive public inquiry is necessary for the affected families to heal and for communities to feel “any meaningful sense of justice.”
As solidarity among the population grew, it seems the Liberal MPs recognized that toeing the party line was going to have a greater political cost than breaking ranks. There was something pathetic about watching politicians who are, for the most part, dedicated to not rocking the boat slowly realizing that maybe — for once — the fear of miscalculating by taking a stand was perhaps in itself a terrible miscalculation.
I will confess that I often find Maclean’s political writer Paul Wells’s work tiresome, but he is spot-on in his piece on the announcement of the public inquiry and the fumbling that preceded it.
So the Blair-Furey announcement was a shambles, the McNeil presser was a festival of passive aggression, and suddenly it was the weekend. The contempt for the governments’ action was wall-to-wall. Honestly, there’s always somebody happy to defend something any government does, even in Belarus, but not this time. Monday was given over to 22-minute wildcat strikes across Canada and to a #22reasonswhy social-media blitz to pressure the governments.
It worked. Nova Scotia’s nine Liberal MPs had signed, or been presented as having signed, a letter endorsing the fake inquiry on Friday. Tuesday morning the CBC reported that one of them, provincial New Democrat turned federal Liberal Lenore Zann, now said she hadn’t been consulted on the federal response and disagreed with it.
Lenore Zann is the MP for the riding where the murders happened. Bill Blair needs to look around his office, find who decided to ignore Zann, and fire that person. If that person resides in Blair’s mirror my advice is the same.
2. Police who claim to be chasing white man in a Toyota swarm a Black woman in a Dodge Avenger
El Jones reports on the arrest late Monday night of local musician, music promoter, and community advocate Kayla Borden, who was surrounded by officers while driving home from a cousin’s.
Jones quotes Borden’s description of the events:
The lights [on the wagon] were not on, which I thought was weird, so I waited about 10 seconds, and then about 5-6 more cop cars came out of nowhere and swarmed me in the intersection from all directions.
Two white officers approached me. I couldn’t see if they had their guns out or not. They yelled, “Put your hands on the steering wheel.” I was so scared wondering what was going on. After I put my hands on the wheel, the same cop immediately started yelling at me to get out of the car.
I had my window rolled down, and he grabbed open my car door. He pulled me out of the car and told me “You’re under arrest.” They put me in handcuffs. I was asking, “For what?” He told me, “We will see in a minute.”
When Borden went to file a complaint, she was first told there was no record of the incident.
She said the police let her go after telling her,“We were on a high speed chase with a white guy in a Toyota.”
Borden tells Jones, “I drive a Dodge Avenger. And, obviously, I am not a white man.”
Usually, when there is a high-speed chase there is some kind of police release, no?
Anyway, the Halifax Regional Police Code of Ethics makes for interesting reading. An excerpt:
The following list includes but is not limited to inappropriate conduct which will not be tolerated by the Halifax Regional Police:
a. Targeting motorists for traffic stops based on race.
b. Applying discretionary enforcement on the basis of race.
c. Tolerating different degrees of disorder and deviance based on race.
d. Interfering with citizens’ routine activities based on race.
e. Assuming someone is dangerous on the basis of race.
f. Providing different levels of police patrol and protection on the basis of race, or because of unfounded racial fears.
g. Providing different levels of service on the basis of race.
7. Race/ethnicity must never be used as the sole basis for determining articulable cause. Violations of this policy shall result in disciplinary action.
3. Contaminated site cleanup a shambles
Jennifer Henderson reports on acting auditor general Terry Spicer’s report on the province’s approach to managing and cleaning up abandoned mines. And there are a whole lot of them. Henderson writes:
The government of Nova Scotia has a process for identifying potential contaminated sites in the province — 69 of which are abandoned mines — but has no coordinated approach to manage or prioritize their cleanup. That’s one of the troubling conclusions contained in a performance audit released today by acting Auditor General Terry Spicer.
It’s especially troubling given the continued push by gold mining companies to convince the public and government authorities they should be permitted to proceed with further exploration and development…
The lack of a coordinated approach was evident as each department had different processes to identify sites,” said Spicer. “Not all potentially contaminated sites were tracked and historical information was not tracked. At transportation, we found one site had been given a high risk rating for contamination in 2010 but there was no evidence to determine if any cleanup had been completed since that time.” (The Examiner has submitted a request to TIR to identify the site mentioned by the AG).
This story is for subscribers. If you are not already a subscriber, please join their ranks! Subscribe here.
The Mining Association of Nova Scotia would have it that this kind of contamination is all a thing of the past, and that we shouldn’t have any concerns about contamination today, because the mining industry tidies everything up once it’s done.
Their “Not your grandfather’s mining industry” website (ugh), even has a game where you can click to guess which bucolic photo is actually taken on the site of an abandoned mine. (Mute your sound before clicking, because the audio is super-annoying.)
By the way, the Mining Association of Nova Scotia’s Twitter feed is quite something. Recent threads include how mining influenced Picasso’s paintings, and a lengthy explanation of the construction of Florence’s St. Mary of the Flower cathedral, with some very odd choices of hashtags.
4. Final episode of Uncover, Season 7: Dead Wrong is out
This podcast is the culmination of years of research by Bousquet, and it looks at the aftermath of Assoun’s wrongful conviction and the effects it has had not only on him, but on his children. “He’s in his own little room in his head,” Assoun’s son, Glenn Jr., tells Bousquet. “My hope for my dad is to find that sense of happiness again and just be himself.”
After Assoun was freed, for weeks and weeks the story just seemed to hang there. Shrug, move on. I remember asking Bousquet about this. Didn’t it seem strange that an innocent man spent years in prison; that the federal justice minister had a recommendation that a new trial be ordered in his case and that it sat on her desk untouched for 18 months; that we had a story that featured the destruction of evidence that would have exonerated him years ago; and that the collective public response essentially seemed to be…. a shrug?
Bousquet looks at that appalling silence in this episode, and also wonders just how many others may be wrongfully imprisoned after having been convicted in the Nova Scotia justice system.
The CBC website this morning has a feature by Bousquet and Jon Tattrie telling the story covered by the podcast. It’s good, but if you are able, to I encourage you to listen to the podcast itself. It’s really well done, and the audio is incredibly powerful.
I challenge anyone to listen to the courtroom audio of Assoun breaking down in tears when he is finally declared an innocent man, decades after having been wrongfully convicted of murder and not be moved.
5. Northern Pulp paid millions to its parent company. Will there be any money to pay back its obligations to Nova Scotia?
The province has accused Northern Pulp of misappropriating taxpayer funds and misrepresenting its financial state to allow it to funnel more money back to its parent company…
The province put together a negotiation team to look at the company’s books and its claims that it would need $70 million to keep afloat, idle the mill, pay severance and pension requirements to hundreds of laid-off employees and work toward getting a new effluent treatment plant approved.
Those negotiators saw that in 2018, when Northern Pulp had come to the province crying poor and seeking loan payment deferrals worth about $3 million, it had found $59.9 million to pay Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corporation.
The Town of Wolfville’s Healthy Street experiment is over after less than three weeks, and town councillor Mercedes Brian is feeling “demoralized.”
On June 9, Wolfville announced its Stay Healthy Main Street initiative.
The change saw the removal of parking spaces over several blocks of Main Street, and the installation of planters and benches.
Brian brought the original motion for the pilot project to council. Here’s how she described it in an interview yesterday:
I was encouraging all of us to be bold… And then [the staff report] came back looking quite a bit like we saw: a one-way street and parking only on one side, and then the other two lanes were expanded patios. You could walk, you could rollerblade, you could cycle respectfully. And there were lots of planters and benches around. It was quite popular.
Main became a one-way, running west to east, with east-west traffic diverted onto Front Street.
Stay Healthy Main Street would not necessarily be a permanent change. It was a pilot project slated to run until September 30.
Almost immediately, a petition against the initiative went up. Posted by Cayle Eagles, it got nearly 1,500 signatures from people largely worried about congestion and parking.
The petition read:
The town councilwoman of wolfville thinks it would be a good idea to turn main st into a one way street. Being a long time resident of wolfville I know first hand the congestion that already fills the town. They will be getting rid of 33 parking spots in a town that already has no parking thus making it difficult for people who work in the town to park. It will also make it difficult for tractor trailer drivers try to make drop offs at shoppers, independent etc. In turn it will create more traffic in a town that already gets backed up from the four way to the circle k. If you think wolfville should remain a two way street this is the petition to sign .
Some signatories felt everything was fine before so why mess with it, while others describe Wolfville traffic as already horrible, so why make it worse?
Brian said she “did a little test and I found that going 20 K through that diversion on Front added 22 seconds to my trip.”
In a June 29 Chronicle Herald story, Kirk Starratt writes:
[Wolfville mayor Jeff] Cantwell said every model they’ve seen indicates that “there is very likely to be a second wave” of COVID-19 arriving this fall, along with the regular flu season. The Main Street reconfiguration is intended to allow pedestrian traffic to get around town in a safer manner by helping to facilitate social distancing.
Most of the parking spots along one side of the street will be removed although provisions will be made for loading zones for businesses and for Kings Transit bus service. The other side of the one-lane street will have limited parking, including additional accessible spaces for people with mobility issues. Several benches and bicycle corrals will also be added.
“Is it going to be congested? Well, we hope so,” Cantwell said, pointing out that traffic is good for the tills at area businesses.
The July 1 start date for the project was delayed to July 8.
Wolfville Business Development Corporation (WBDC) co-president Lynda Macdonald, director of Main Street’s Harvest Gallery, said the reaction of businesses to the plan is mixed. Some love it and some don’t.
There are those who are willing to give it a try and are waiting to see the results. She said the biggest hurdle will be measuring the success of the pilot in a summer where business is “anything but usual.”
Macdonald said town staff were out the day following implementation to record the initial reactions of businesses to the plan. This is expected to continue over the next couple of months and Macdonald said it will be interesting to see how or if the mood changes.
“I’m a business owner and I’m both excited and curious to see how things go,” Macdonald said in a July 15 email. “These are unprecedented times that demand creativity, open-mindedness, patience and sometimes bold decisions.”
Well, so much for boldness and patience. Today, the town is removing the planters and concrete dividers, after council voted to end the project. Cantwell and Brian were the only ones who voted to keep it. This despite the fact that the city actually added 97 all-day parking spaces to compensate for the loss of 33 along Main Street. But those parking spaces are not right in front of the doors of Main Street businesses.
Peter Herbin spoke at the special council meeting on Monday night, on behalf of the Wolfville Business Development Corporation. The minutes of the meeting summarized his remarks:
40 members at Tuesday’s meeting all indicated financial loss after the project was implemented. The numbers were not year over year. This initiative is creating financial difficulty for businesses. After 3 months of closure due to the pandemic all are trying to get back up and running and make the best of the season in case of a second wave. Traffic camera data is irrelevant – traffic is not the same as a usual summer. Loss of 30 parking spaces is detrimental to businesses. Accessibility is a major concern to our downtown businesses. Bikes travelling on the sidewalk is not safe. The retail sector was not considered when the Town developed this plan.
The Town does not have the infrastructure to support one-way traffic. The project was forced on the businesses with no consultation. Recommend intense communication with all parties if Council wish to pursue this in future. WBDC wants to hear all views of their members so that communication can take place.
Brian said “evidence-based decision-making is my watchword” and that there simply was not enough evidence either way to turf the project so quickly. She didn’t question whether some businesses saw a decline in revenue, but said “correlation is not causation,” especially over such a brief time.
“There could be so many other reasons those sales went down… Just because it happens at the same time doesn’t mean one caused the other. But nobody knew that. Maybe it did cause it. We don’t know,” she said. “And there was a lot of negativity. The people who didn’t like it just kept reinforcing it. So, if you were a business owner and you had customers come in saying, I don’t like this, I’m having a terrible time — I didn’t see a whole lot of businesses say, Oh, how can we help you? Can we make it better next time?… They just really wanted it gone.”
Brian pointed to the town’s Municipal Planning Strategy, which was amended last year.
“In our municipal planning strategy, we have prioritised our modes of transportation. And we all agreed to prioritise walking, biking and cycling first, then transit with the individual car right down at the bottom.”
We’re facing a climate crisis, an ongoing pandemic, a potential economic collapse. We are clearly at a moment that calls for broad structural change. I asked Brian how she felt about that, given how hard it was to make this one relatively small change.
“Oh, it’s very demoralizing. At this point. There will be better days. At this point it’s very demoralizing,” she said. “One of my notes says one hundred percent of communities that re-allocate motor vehicle traffic and parking space to pedestrians experience strong pushback. So I said this is hard. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it. But we should stay the course — which is one of our council values.”
Municipal elections are less than three months away. Brian said she plans to re-offer.
The film uses the folksy vibe we’ve come to know from tourism ads to highlight the far-right German ideologues trying to draw like-minded folks to Cape Breton. My favourite moment is the high-five in the boat.
Special Appeals Standing Committee (11:30am, virtual meeting) — agenda here.
Special Design Review Committee (4:30pm, virtual meeting) — agenda here.
In the harbour
Ship info is on hiatus until Mr. Bousquet gets back from his vacation.
My partner teaches a beach yoga class in the summer. After the class, we usually go for a swim. Yesterday, one of the women in the class headed off after the swim saying she had a conference call coming up with colleagues in Toronto and she’d start off by saying, “I just got out of the ocean.”
Sometimes living here is great.
Feature photo by MaryBeth Clarke.