Today’s Morning File is by Philip Moscovitch, while Tim is in court for the Assoun hearing (see Item #2).
1. Shelburne School for Boys
Writes Stephen Kimber:
Was the government’s compensation program [in response to sexual abuse at the Shelburne School for Boys] crafted out of a well-intentioned desire to allow victims to tell their story “without a public spectacle” that would re-victimize them? Or in a desperate attempt to keep the public from ever learning the real story behind the abuse of children in care?
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2. Assoun case
Tim Bousquet wrote this item.
This morning at Supreme Court, Justice James Chipman will preside over a hearing on an application filed by the Halifax Examiner, the CBC, and the Canadian Press to have the court file in the Glen Assoun case un-sealed. We expect to prevail.
The primary court document I’m interested in is the Criminal Conviction Review Group’s (CCRG) submission to the federal Justice Minister; this document spells out why the CCRG concluded that Assoun was “factually innocent” of the murder for which he spent 16-plus years in prison. We know the general outlines of how they came to that conclusion, and one point jumps out at me — that the Halifax police withheld evidence that would have cleared Assoun.
Today, I’ll be court for the hearing in the morning. If all goes as expected, Justice Chipman will rule in our favour and the court documents should become available immediately. I’ll then spend as much time as is necessary to fully report on them. I expect this will be an explosive story — watch for my reporting later today.
The Examiner could not have part of this legal effort were it not for the support of readers. Readers’ contributions directly to the legal fund are covering about half our costs in the Assoun matter.
I’m not terribly worried about the unmet costs — the Examiner has enough in reserves to cover it, although of course that means less money for other projects. Still, if you would like to contribute to the legal fund, please contact Iris.
On the CBC website, Blair Rhodes has a good overview of the background for this hearing, and the arguments on both sides. You can read it here.
3. Policing the Radical Imagination
Late last week, a couple of people pointed me to this Alex Khasnabish Facebook post, in which he describes how the Radical Imagination Film and Discussion Series he has hosted at the Halifax Public Library is coming to an end after more than four years. The reason? Khasnabish had programmed two films about police and racial profiling — and the library insisted that he feature someone from the police department as a speaker during the event.
When I first heard about this I was completely appalled, and planned on writing about it at some length for the Examiner this morning. On Friday Khasnabish, who chairs the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Mount Saint Vincent University, appeared on CBC Radio’s afternoon program, Mainstreet. I tuned in, wondering if there was some other side to the story, or if the library was going to dispute his version of events.
Rather than sending someone to be interviewed, the library released a statement that seemed to me to just make matters worse:
The Library recommended that a representative from the Halifax Regional Police, or the Halifax Regional Municipality be invited to join the conversation as part of the presentation…
The Library is always grateful to have the opportunity to make Library space available for programs that invite civil discourse on diverse and controversial topics. Our aim, when planning Library-partnered programs, is to create space for many perspectives and to give community members the opportunity to participate in constructive exploration of the issues. As a safe and welcoming public space, it is important to facilitate open and uncensored community conversations around the issues of policing, injustice, and violence.
Using the language of creating “a safe and welcoming public space” to insist that police should provide their perspective on profiling — a subject they have fallen down on horribly over the last several months — is absurd. Maybe even disgusting. It’s not like the police are lacking outlets to get their point of view across.
What does the library’s own policy say about controversial programs? One of the tabs open in my browser right now is a proposal I’m writing for a program. Before doing the proposal, I read the policy. It says:
Programs are developed to respond to emerging community interests and reflect our community, as well as to sustain demonstrated interests and demand. They complement other Library services by providing an opportunity to highlight collections, promote services, and share knowledge and expertise.
The Library upholds the principle of intellectual freedom and supports the rights of individuals to read, speak, view and exchange differing points of view on any subject. To accomplish this, the Library may present controversial programs in order to ensure public access to all sides of an issue.
On Friday, Nicole Munro of The Chronicle Herald wrote about the issue. The paper ran her piece under the ridiculous headline: “Man refuses to let police officer speak, loses program partnership with Halifax Public Libraries.”
Khasnabish has written a longer piece for The Examiner, going into more background about the series, and about the library’s response to his fall programming:
I received an email from the programming manager at the Central Branch Library, Hilary Skov-Nielsen, informing me that while the library welcomed critical discussion of current issues, the screenings of Profiled and Trouble 18: ACAB would only proceed if they included representatives of the Halifax Police Department as featured speakers. I was informed unequivocally that if I wasn’t willing to allow this my programming would have to be reconsidered.
In the age of free speech wars, this was all conveyed politely but absolutely firmly and framed in the language of civil discourse and inclusivity.
4. de Adder
— Michael de Adder (@deAdder) June 26, 2019
Long-time cartoonist Michael de Adder’s contract has been cancelled by Brunswick News, the Irving-owned company that has a stranglehold on media in New Brunswick.
de Adder says it’s because of the cartoon above. Brunswick news calls that a “false narrative” and hey, it’s just coincidence that they haven’t wanted to run any of de Adder’s cartoons about Trump, or that they suddenly ended their 17-year relationship with him soon after he submitted this one.
Emma Davie gets into the story for CBC, placing it in the context of other recent blows to editorial cartooning:
Editorial influence over cartoonists is not just a trend in Canada.
Starting this month, the New York Times will stop running daily political cartoons in its international edition altogether.
Last year, staff cartoonist Rob Rogers was fired from his job at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his depictions of Trump.
“I think it’s really a terrible thing for a newspaper to start getting involved in micromanaging the cartoonists,” said Rogers… “The president is dictating very negative attacks on the media. He’s calling us the enemy of the people. And I believe that that is something that a newspaper publisher should be fighting against.”
In addition to Davie’s examples, I’ll point out that the US-based The Nib, an excellent source of often brilliant and hard-hitting cartoons, was recently cut loose by its parent company and is fighting to survive.
And, whether de Adder got the Irving axe as a result of his recent, perfectly aimed darts directed at Trump or not, the fact remains the New Brunswick papers appear to broach no criticism of Trump, and one can only speculate as to the reasons.
Irving’s vast industrial holdings — including the Halifax shipyard — are international in reach and the United States would be among the corporate giant’s most vital markets.
You can’t blame a corporation for protecting its economic interests, until that protection becomes censorship of legitimate comment in its newspapers. Once you’re there, the company’s financial interests are in direct conflict with the purpose of the newspapers — to inform without fear or favour, to hold those in power accountable, and to provoke readers to think critically about the world they live in.
Brunswick News can hire or fire whoever it wants. It can run political cartoons or Family Circus. You might think de Adder is a genius, or you might think he’s a misogynist hack (an accusation some levelled after some of his cartoons about the SNC-Lavalin affair and Jody Wilson-Raybould’s firing as justice minister). This is not censorship. It’s people with a platform deciding who they want on that platform. The wider issue, of course, is the decreasing number of outlets for dissent.
5. Trying to save another right whale
Six right whales have died so far this year. On Saturday, a Coast Guard crew spotted another of the whales in trouble — entangled in fishing gear.
In this morning’s Chronicle Herald, Aaron Beswick writes about the challenges in protecting the whales, and about the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, who are on standby to try and rescue the entangled creature:
“The hurry up is done, now it’s the waiting,” said Moira Brown, research scientist attached to the team.
On Saturday afternoon, a right whale with rope wrapped around the base of its tail was spotted 64 kilometres northeast of Miscou Island by the crew of a coast guard vessel. Brown’s team was waiting for the whale, which was swimming despite the entanglement, to be spotted by one of the planes out looking for it.
If the whale was spotted again the team planned to hit the road, driving seven-and-a-half hours to Shippegan, N.B. The attempted rescue was tentatively scheduled for Tuesday morning if the whale could be found within a reasonable distance from land and sea conditions were favourable.
As they waited, the team reviewed pictures taken from the coast guard ship of the entanglement and discussed strategy. Saving these giants is dangerous.
I’ve linked to it before, but Chelsea Murray’s long-form piece for The Deep on the late Joe Howlett and the dangers of rescuing entangled whales, is worth reading:
As a fisherman, Joe knew that the way these creatures were snared, year after year, was a by-product of his own livelihood. (A few years ago, gear from a boat he worked on actually turned up on a right whale off Daytona Beach.) Joe rescued whales first and foremost because he felt that he owed it to the ocean. He was driven by a desire to give back. But not unlike the whalers of old, he thrilled to the open ocean and the rush of adrenaline that comes with sidling up to a giant, some of the largest animals ever to have lived. For more than 1,000 years, humans have been climbing into tiny boats for the chance to slay a whale. Joe was a member of the first generation to do the same thing to save them.
We may think of whaling as part of a distant past, but in Blandford, just across St. Margaret’s Bay from where I write this, a whaling station started up in the mid-1960s, and the province and federal government each put money into whaling as a way to revitalize rural economies. This article on local history complains about the whaling industry being “crushed by government intervention.”
Last fall, Halifax Magazine ran a piece by Michael Cosgrove on the whaling station, featuring an interview with Gaby d’Entremont, the province’s first and only local whale gunner (the others were Americans or Norwegians):
“We had no training,” recalls the 84-year-old fisherman. “We just learned day by day”… “You have to shoot a whale in the right place,” d’Entremont says. “It’s a small target.” He draws a tidy outline of a small whale, circling an area behind the fin, and adding an arrow pointing to the spot. “That’s where the heart and liver is.”
Long weekend, rainy weather, end of school, people away — for whatever reason, I’m not seeing much out there.
Before the Radical Imagination film series story blew up, I actually had planned to write about libraries in this space today. The story has been covered by CBC, Halifax Today, and the Chronicle Herald and the Nova Scotia Advocate republished Alex Khasnabish’s Facebook post.
Lots of people, including library-loving writers (like me) posted their concerns on Twitter.
I think this story has gained so much attention because people love their libraries, feel a sense of belonging and ownership, and are passionate about defending them.
Now, I’m a former chair of the Halifax Public Libraries board, so I may be biased. OK, I am biased. But there is a reason people get upset when libraries make ill-informed decisions like making patrons go through airport-style security screenings or insisting on police presence at events. Or get upset when libraries cut services, or face budget reductions. (I still feel guilty about our decision to end the bookmobile — a service to which many, many users were attached.)
People get upset because libraries provide services we simply can’t get anywhere else, and they provide them for free.
Every so often some tech bro who clearly has no idea how a library works starts musing about how maybe there should be a Netflix for books (there is: the library), but wait, one that has multiple copies available (the library), or has other services too, like providing access to streaming (the library does this) or maybe also…. you get the idea. Or just screw it — we don’t need the library anyway, because we have Amazon.
Two weeks ago, I walked into my local library branch, in Tantallon, to pick up some items I had on hold. Just ahead of me was an elderly woman accompanied by a driver from the local Bay Rides service. She walked slowly, with a cane, and held a box of Timbits. When she got to the desk, the clerk on duty told her that the staff member who normally helps her had gone home sick, “but there is someone else who can help you with your computer time. She’s just on lunch now, but if you wait a few minutes, she’ll help you when she gets back.” The woman thanked her, and handed over her box of Timbits as a gift to the library. (Apparently she does this a couple of times a week.) While she was waiting, another member of the library staff went over and chatted with her for a couple of minutes.
Needless to say, Amazon will not provide this service.
Amazon will also not partner with the John Howard Society to hold a book club for people being held in Burnside at the Central Nova Correctional Facility. The Society had a piece on the launch of the book club in its summer-fall 2017 newsletter:
In partnership with Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility and Alderney Gate Public Library, and funded by Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, we developed and implemented the Page Turners Book Club for inmates at CNSCF. This volunteer-driven program started in August and groups have enjoyed great discussions…
Page Turners facilitates book clubs for male inmates, offering two different reading levels (basic and advanced) and weekly meetings. The first books chosen were The Giver by Lois Lowry and The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant. The second cycles began in September with two new novels and groups of inmates!
Last week, during its annual staff and volunteer appreciation ceremony, the library honoured employee Shawn Gregory, who helps run the program. Prisons have a long history of preventing and restricting access to books, so programs like this are refreshing and important. (Teen Vogue ran a good piece last year called How the State, Prisons, and Guards Keep Books from Incarcerated People.)
One of the things that struck me when I was on the library board was how the people making decisions about libraries are often clueless about them. Let’s just say we put a lot of effort into getting our message out to deputy ministers and the like.
A lot of us love libraries. It’s no surprise we get upset when we want them to do better.
No public meetings.
North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm, Sackville Heights Community Centre) — WSP Canada wants to amend the development agreement for its project at the corner of Southgate Drive and the Bedford Highway.
No public meetings this week.
Community Garden (Tuesday, 12pm, Henry Street behind the Computer Science Building) — volunteers wanted. All fresh produce donated to the Loaded Ladle’s free meals program for students. Info and sign-up sheet here.
In the harbour
06:30: Insignia, cruise ship with up to 800 passengers, arrives at Pier 31 from Sydney, on a 22-day cruise from Southampton, England to Miami, Florida
07:00: Queen Mary 2, cruise ship, with up to 2,620 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from New York, on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
11:30: Hoegh London sails for sea
14:00: Celebrity Summit, cruise ship with up to 2,100 passengers, sails from Pier 20 for Bar Harbor, on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
16:30: Insignia sails for Saint John
18:30: Queen Mary 2 sails for Boston
Hardly anyone in the neighbourhood set off Canada Day fireworks. The dogs appreciated it.
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