1. Forest health
Linda Pannozzo writes:
Instead of improving the state of the province’s forests, the Nova Scotia government conducts a survey about improving The State of the Forest reporting. The Halifax Examiner takes the survey.
Pannozzo methodically walks us through why it’s wrong to repeatedly ask the public to take part in surveys about what they think about the forests, and along the way she explains in detail how the reports back to the public about forests are designed to confuse, not enlighten:
Over the last 15 years or so, the department has changed definitions and shifted some of its data sources, which might not sound like a big deal, but what that does is create breaks in the time series, which makes the detection and reporting of long term trends in crucial indicators of forest condition and sustainable harvest levels impossible.
I’ll point to a couple glaring examples here.
Let’s take forest age class for instance. Reporting on the age of the forests is something the department has been doing since the 1950s in “forest inventory” reports. The historical trend clearly shows that the province’s forests are getting much younger, and old forests are disappearing.
But two things happened in the early 2000s. The department created a break in what was a very long time series by using a different data set to report on this crucial indicator of forest condition. They also stopped making the data that had been used for more than five decades available to the public. The result can be seen in both the 2008 and 2016 SOF reports.
In 2008, SOF did not report a historical trend for forest age, it reported forest age classes over a four-year period beginning in 1998. And, instead of using the data which had been used for decades to report on age class, it turned to Permanent Sample Plot data (PSP), which historically had never been used to report on this indicator. The result was that the PSP data showed the existence of a significantly higher proportion of mature and old forests than the previous data did.
In addition, indicators reported in 2008 were no longer reported in 2016: in 2008 annual harvest allocations and annual stumpage revenue were reported, but neither were updated in 2016.
By 2016 there was also a new “technical” definition in place for clearcutting, one that is not aligned with the National Forestry Database (NFD), making it difficult to square the department’s claims with what’s presented in the national database.
For instance, in the 2017 SOF report update, the department applied its new definition back in time to 1990, which had the following effects: a) it highly exaggerated the decline in clearcutting over that time period, and b) it underreports the incidence of clearcutting as a harvest practice because it does not include certain even-aged management practices, such as shelterwood as a form of clearcutting. 3
By removing this type of even-aged management from the umbrella term “clearcut,” the government is just playing with semantics, in an attempt to make its track record on public land appear better.
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And as if to prove the point, just this morning retired Dalhousie University biology professor David Patriquin reports:
Clearcutting on Crown lands continues unabated… L&F just issued its summary of the latest Harvest Plan Map Viewer update (these are mailed to subscribers): 32 parcels/830 hectares most of it Variable Retention (clearcuts) and Shelterwood (typically 1st stage in a 2-stage clearcut), NO Irregular Shelterwood as recommended by Lahey. Seems the mills are hungry and want to tie up as much of the Crown land wood supply as they can the easiest way they can harvest it just in case the Lahey Recommendations come into effect a year or two from now. At least that’s the way it looks.
2. Police secrecy
“In response to a freedom of information request, Halifax is refusing to release a review of policing in the municipality tabled at regional council earlier this year,” reports Zane Woodford:
In January, council voted to accept some of the recommendations in a report by B.C. consulting firm perivale + taylor. Halifax paid nearly $200,000 for the review, designed to provide the city with recommendations to address gaps in service and save money.
[I]n June, the Examiner filed a freedom of information request with Halifax Regional Police, asking for a copy. A month later, police told us the municipality has the document, not them.
In late-July, the municipality’s freedom of information office received our request: “A copy of the Police Service Review by Perivale & Taylor, tabled at Halifax Regional Council on Jan. 14, 2020.”
On Monday, more than two weeks after the 30-day deadline in which the municipality has to respond, the request was denied in a letter from municipal access and privacy officer Nancy Dempsey.
The Examiner will appeal the denial to the FOIPOP Review Office, which if history is any judge, will take a couple of years to process our appeal.
Nova Scotia hasn’t detected a new case of COVID-19 since Sunday, September 6. All the past week we’ve returned to the daily reports of “no new cases” that we experienced through much of the summer, and as of yesterday the number of known active cases in the province was just 1 (and that person is not hospitalized). If all goes well, we’ll soon be hearing reports of zero new cases and zero active cases. This is very good news.
The caveats: to a considerable degree, the virus spreads asymptomatically, so it could be out in the community right now and we’re simply unaware of it. The virus could also reenter the province, as it has many times via travellers from outside the Atlantic Bubble, and if not immediately detected could quickly spread in the community. That’s why we’re urged to continue all the precautionary actions — physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, etc.
The fear of asymptomatic spread and/or reintroduction of the disease is at the heart of the anguish over school reopening. With packed schools and relaxed rules over physical distancing, the disease could erupt with a new fury.
With a couple of publicized exceptions that thankfully didn’t result in uncontrollable community outbreaks, travellers are mostly self-isolating as required. Mostly. But I’m bombarded with anecdotal stories about travellers who have not self-isolated: the students bragging about not isolating while at the Public Gardens, the large wedding of the daughter of a Halifax developer that ignored physical distancing rules and had out-of-province guests, and repeated accounts of travellers stopping at the grocery store or restaurant on their way to self-isolation. I can’t verify all of these stories, but I know that some of them are true, and just from the sheer number of them, it seems likely that the self-isolation is being disregarded with regularity.
It’s not fair to those of us who have meticulously followed the rules to see them flouted by the careless and self-entitled.
Still, even as it is violated by the irresponsible, so far the self-isolation requirement for travellers seems to be working. Nova Scotia and the rest of the Atlantic Bubble is now being referred to as “the New Zealand of North America.” New Zealand should be a cautionary tale, however: after going 100 days with no new cases, a couple of weeks ago the country saw over 100 new cases, although it is doing a very good job of controlling that outbreak and yesterday there were just three new cases. (And why can’t we get government transparency on the state of the virus like this?)
In yesterday’s New York Times, writer Tomás Pueyo took a deep dive into the statistical evidence for what he calls “fences”:
Measures like masks, testing, contact tracing, isolations, quarantines are still necessary, but one approach has not been emphasized enough: the fence. Countries that quickly closed their borders or carefully monitored anyone coming in have been most successful in slowing infections.
Some countries use fences to block outsiders from crossing their borders. Some countries limit travel within their borders. As the United States considers relaxing some border controls and European countries reimpose travel restrictions, they need to realize that these fences are necessary to control the virus — and if they are enforced, they’ll be effective.
Pueyo looks at the success of Taiwan, South Korea, and to a lesser degree Japan and Iceland in controlling the disease, which he attributes foremost to their travel restrictions, and the Times brought their graphics department into the exercise to create some fantastic data journalism. Pueyo continues:
What about other countries?
For months, most European Union countries banned travel inside their borders and from their E.U. neighbors. Most of these countries got their epidemics under control.
But at the beginning of July, borders between these countries reopened. And now, the E.U. is suffering the beginning of its second wave.
He looks at the spread in US states, and in particular compares Alaska and Hawaii:
Alaska applied a hammer when it had around 100 cases. At the end of March, it required all travelers entering the state to self-quarantine, and notably banned internal travel for all but essential work or critical personal needs.
Cases plummeted. Alaska started reopening by the end of April.
The state fully reopened in May. But although officials threatened quarantine violators with up to $25,000 in fines and prison time, the rule was not enforced. Cases started growing, with infections coming in on seafood boats and overtaking food-processing plants and then communities. The prevalence jumped from four active cases per 100,000 people at the end of May to over 200 at the end of July.
Initially, Hawaii followed an approach similar to Alaska’s. It also issued a shelter-in-place mandate at the end of March, when there were few cases. People flying into the state were required to quarantine. Violators faced fines of up to $5,000 or a prison term of up to one year.
But Hawaii did what Alaska did not: enforce its quarantine. On arrival, visitors had to identify their hotel, and the authorities called the hotel to make sure guests abided by the lockdown. Sometimes, the government called visitors or checked their social media. Hotel employees and Hawaii residents also alerted the authorities about violators. Nearly 200 people have been arrested for breaking quarantine.
Unfortunately, this system was much weaker than in places like Taiwan or South Korea, and eventually enough cases entered Oahu to spur an outbreak in August.
In the end, it wasn’t enough to hold back the tide.
That could be because, in the end, only an estimated 40 percent of Hawaii’s visitors fully respected the state’s measures for their two full weeks of quarantine, based on analysis of anonymized cell phone records of travelers provided by Cuebiq. Hawaii’s quarantine is not airtight.
Other states have asked travelers to self-quarantine voluntarily or have threatened them with fines. In those states, visitors appear to be mostly ignoring the rules.
No country has been able to control the virus without a fence. Fences are not enough to stop the virus on their own, but they’re a necessary part of the solution. European countries and U.S. states had hoped otherwise. They were deluded. They opened their arms to their neighbors too soon and got infected in the hug.
They need to realize that not every country or state is effectively fighting the virus. Why should their citizens sacrifice so much for so long, with lockdowns and business closures, only to waste their efforts when their neighbors visit?
And as long as states fail to control their borders, the coronavirus will come back.
I think if there’s one lesson from this pandemic, it’s that had the world simply locked down early on, the virus may have not only been controlled but perhaps even eliminated entirely. If in March, had all those worried travellers sheltered in place for a few weeks instead of fleeing home, perhaps wide swaths of the planet would have been spared from the disease. That’s perhaps a lesson for the future should there be another pandemic.
For now, at the very least, the evidence shows that strong travel restrictions and quarantine or self-isolation requirements work to slow the spread of the disease and make it easier to have successful contact tracing and controls.
Sure, it’s an annoyance. I have family in the United States who I very much miss and would like to see in person, but I recognize the risks are just too great to travel to see them. With good fortune, maybe there will be an effective vaccine by late next summer and we can have our biennial family reunion with the cousins in the fall. In the meantime, it’s lots of phone calls.
And self-isolation can be difficult but it’s not the end of the world, while for some people, catching the disease actually is the end of the world. So, we self-isolate after travel.
Premier Stephen McNeil has repeatedly said that he wants to reopen Nova Scotia to the rest of Canada, even if that means “going it alone” without the rest of the Atlantic Bubble. McNeil is very concerned about the local tourism industry, and let’s not downplay the travel restriction’s hit to both the people working in the industry and the overall provincial economy: people have lost their livelihoods, there are bankruptcies and secondary health effects because of the restrictions. We should do everything we can to help people weather the storm, to bridge the disruptions.
That said, with schools reopened and people heading indoors as the weather changes — both of which create significantly increased risks for spreading the virus — this is not the right time to do away with the self-isolation requirement for travellers.
“New documents show the former warden for the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth went on a verbal tirade and beat on walls because he disagreed with a decision to have a committee meet virtually rather than in person,” reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:
In June, Leland Anthony was placed on a paid leave of absence until the end of the council term in October. That followed an internal review based on the municipality’s code of conduct and violence in the workplace policy.
In a complaint filed by Deputy Warden John Cunningham to the municipality’s CAO and solicitor in March following a meeting of the regional emergency management organization committee, Cunningham … writes that he and Anthony were in an office together attempting to join the meeting, which was being held via Zoom, in keeping with public health guidelines.
They had difficulty joining the call, and when they finally did Cunningham writes that Anthony had an outburst.
“Immediately after connecting, the warden went on a 30 second rant about how displeased he was about meeting via zoom/phone. He specifically referred to the attending members as ‘stupid’ and punctuated with ‘you can all go to hell’ before he left the room.”
Cunningham said Anthony then left the room and “beat on the walls and yelled profanities for another couple of minutes.”
In an interview on Monday, Cunningham said staff in the building came running upstairs because they were concerned the warden was meeting with the CAO at the time.
“They came up to see if she was alright,” he said.
5. The King
In the Cape Breton Spectator, Mary Campbell does some important reporting on the cruise ship industry in Sydney and the CBRM municipal elections, and you should subscribe in order to read both. But then she gets to The King:
For reasons I’m not sure I can adequately explain, I decided to read a two-volume biography of Elvis Presley this summer and mid-way through the first volume (the happy one, the “making” of Elvis) I ran across this passage which made me laugh and satisfied my reporter’s love of a local angle. It’s from a chapter called “The World Turned Upside Down,” which covers the period from March-May 1956 ( Elvis’ rise was so meteoric, telling the story in three-month increments makes sense.)
Elvis has just returned to his hometown of Memphis after performing, for the first time, in Las Vegas and he stops by the local newspaper office:
“Man, I really like Vegas,” he announced. “I’m going back there first chance I get.” He was nettled at a report that a Halifax radio station had given all of its Elvis Presley records away in hopes that it would hear no more. “I didn’t know that there were any radio stations in Nova Scotia” was his first reaction, reported the newspaper.
Ouch. Dissed by the King himself.
Elvis only played Canada twice — a show in Toronto and a show in Ottawa in 1957 — so I’ve illustrated this item with a photo of an Elvis who has played Nova Scotia, Elvis impersonator Thane Dunn of Moncton.
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6. Epic Stream
An RCMP release this morning:
The Nova Scotia RCMP has charged two people in relation to Operation Hotwire, a federal investigation into piracy of copyrighted television programming.
In June 2019, Nova Scotia RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime (FSOC) began an investigation following a complaint from a telecommunications company that an individual was streaming large amounts of its television programming through Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) for profit. The telecommunications company filed the complaint after it conducted a lengthy internal investigation into the matter.
On August 14, 2019 Nova Scotia RCMP FSOC, with the support of investigators from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, searched a home on Shore Drive in Bedford. Through the search, investigators seized electronic equipment and financial documents. A 35-year old man from Bedford was arrested at the home without incident. The man was later released from police custody.
On August 13, 2020, the Nova Scotia RCMP FSOC filed court documents related to charges against two individuals in Bedford and on September 3, a Restraint Order and Special Search Warrant was issued. On September 9, 14 properties were restrained, including two houses and 12 plots of land, and two vehicles were seized.
The 15-month investigation was assisted by the RCMP’s federal partners, including the Forensic Accounting Management Group (FAMG) and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).
The Nova Scotia RCMP FSOC laid 25 copyright related charges against the following people. The charges were laid September 1.
Riad Thomeh, 36, from Bedford has been charged with:
- Possession of a Device to Obtain Use of Telecommunication Facility or Service
- Laundering the Proceeds of Crime
- Possession of Property Obtained by Crime x18
- Distribute Copyrighted Material – Copyright Act
- Re-transmit Encrypted Programming Signal – Radiocommunication Act
- Decode Encrypted Programming Signal – Radiocommunication Act
Kayla Thomeh, 33, from Bedford, has been charged with:
- Laundering the Proceeds of Crime
- Possession of Property Obtained by Crime
Three companies operated by Riad and Kayla Thomeh are also facing 44 charges, including Possession of a Device to Obtain Use of Telecommunication Facility or Service, Laundering the Proceeds of Crime and Possession of Property Obtained by Crime, as well as charges under the Copyright Act and the Radiocommunication Act.
Infringement of Canada’s Copyright Act is a federal offence. Maximum penalties are a five-year sentence, a $1M fine or both.
Riad Thomeh operates something called Epic Stream TV, which is described as follows:
You get access to several hundred channels from primarily USA, Canada and UK. On top of that, there are a lot of sports channels to make sure you don’t miss your team’s game. The channels are of varying quality, all the way up to HD. All the streams looked surprisingly good and streamed very reliably.
Epic Stream charges up to $85 for the channels.
A Google search for “Epic Stream” results in the following message:
In response to multiple complaints that we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 2 results from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaints that caused the removals at LumenDatabase.org: Complaint, Complaint.
The complaints come from the DFL German Football League and the Union of European Football Associations.
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda and info here.
Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — the committee is going to get out its giant rubber stamps and slap them around like nobody’s business for the new building that will replace the old convent at North and Oxford Streets.
No Public meetings.
Loss of function of transcription factor EB (TFEB) remodels (Wednesday, 4pm) — Purvi Tredi will speak. Contact [email protected] to receive the link to the online seminar.
In the harbour
Teaser: I’m thinking about making a couple of significant additions to the Examiner. What that means for now is I stay up half the night and fret about money.