1. The burning question: why did police fail to alert the public about the killer’s fake cop car?
Two years ago last April, health care workers Heather O’Brien and Kristen Beaton were killed in their cars on the Plains Road near Debert by a gunman posing as a police officer driving a look-a-like RCMP cruiser. Their murders took place just before 10am on Sunday April 19.
According to a document released today by the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC), both women had been following RCMP posts on social media about an active shooter situation in nearby Portapique.
Heather O’Brien had even forwarded a co-worker a photograph of the suspect the RCMP had tweeted and posted to Facebook shortly before 9am.
The tweet at 8:54 read:
51-year-old [killer’s name] is the suspect in our active shooter investigation in #Portapique. There are several victims. He is considered armed and dangerous. If you see him, call 911. DO NOT approach. He’s described as a white man, bald, 6’2-6’3, green eyes. (photo attached)
What neither woman knew (nor victims Tom Bagley and Lillian Campbell, who were gunned down while out walking in Wentworth earlier the same morning) was that the killer was driving a fake police car tricked out to look like a real RCMP vehicle. Had they known that, would they have stayed home? Why wasn’t that information conveyed to the public at the same time as the identity of the suspect who had murdered multiple people the night before and whose whereabouts were still unknown to police?
That last question has dogged Nova Scotians since that Sunday back in April 2020. In her report from the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry this morning, Henderson lays out the Examiner’s most comprehensive look at the communication failures that kept the public in the dark for so long during the deadliest shooting in the modern history of the province.
2. Mass Murder Inquiry: Killer drove slowly through Truro, undetected and unstopped, before taking four more lives
Tim Bousquet has the latest from the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry, and police miscommunication continues to be a theme. He writes:
Through the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020, there was a series of miscommunications and mixed messages between the RCMP and the Truro Police Service such that the killer was able to slowly drive right through the centre of Truro without being noticed or confronted by Truro police.
We know the killer’s route now from video footage of his car captured at different locations in Bible Hill and Truro Sunday morning.
After passing Onslow Belmont Fire Hall at 10:07am — a location with its own story of miscommunication from that morning — the killer took Highway 4 past Bible Hill to Main Street Truro, leaving town at 10:19am.
Truro’s police officers were subject to the same miscommunication that seems to have surrounded every aspect of the response to the mass murder, but they did know by 9am that the killer was driving a fake police car and that he may not be in Portapique. And at 9:43am, following the murder of Lillian Campbell, the RCMP Operations Control Centre called Truro’s dispatcher to warn that the killer had left Wentworth headed toward Truro.
Bousquet breaks down the communication breakdown between the RCMP and the Truro Police Service, and the tragic circumstances that allowed the killer to pass through Truro unnoticed, continuing a rampage that would leave four more people murdered. It includes an extensive timeline that helps us piece together just what went wrong.
3. Courts rule in favour of reopening public path to Silver Sands Beach
Halifax Regional Municipality has won its court battle to reopen a public path to a beach in Cow Bay, Zane Woodford reports.
As the Examiner reported in March, access to Silver Sands Beach has been limited in recent years. The municipal park is only accessible via a path that crosses private property. Access to that path, which was negotiated when HRM bought the beach and its parking lot in 2003, has been limited as coastal erosion has thinned the beach property surrounding it.
In an affidavit filed in court this March, Halifax’s manager of parks policy and planning said property owner Ross Rhyno has been blocking access to the public beach path, or “easement,” building fences and gates that have blocked it on both sides. The affidavit said other obstacles like construction equipment and an outhouse, have further impeded access.
HRM had previously tried to work with Rhyno to reopen the path fully, but that failed. Then, last spring, council voted to direct staff to buy property for new public access to the beach. That never materialized.
So, the municipality opted to take the matter to the courts.
As Rhyno’s lawyer told the Examiner in March, “there is no land to which the right of way applies that is not under water,” and so he argued the path has been rendered invalid.
In a decision dated Friday, Justice Denise Boudreau disagreed.
4. Black Lives Matter and women in golf
Did you know there’s a Black Lives Matter Golf organization? I sure didn’t.
Why does it exist and how did it come to be? I’ll turn to Matthew Byard for some background:
Doug Hill has been golfing for 15 years and is one of the four founding board members of BLMG, which started in 2020 following the deaths of Ahmad Aubrey and George Floyd. Hill said he and other Black golfers at Grandview would pause for a moment of silence before teeing off and would then discuss the Black issues of the day, including anti-Black racism, the killings of Aubrey and Floyd, while they were out on the golf course.
“I wasn’t aware at the time but Grandview is owned by a racialized man, Nawaz Hirji, a Muslim man from Calgary,” Hill said. “So here you have a racialized man owning a golf course in the historical Black community of East Preston where a lot of Black members play, probably the most in Nova Scotia outside of Truro. And so we challenged Grandview to do something about it and they said, ‘Well, let’s have a Black Lives Matter golf tournament.’”
The first tournament in 2020 included 12 experienced Black golfers mentoring 12 Black new golfers for a total of 24 participants. In 2021, the tournament grew to 120 participants.
The group has created a scholarship, clinics for youth, and now a clinic for Black, Indigenous, and women of colour interested in the game.
Byard spoke with some of the 28 women who participated in the first Black Lives Matters Golf clinic for women over the weekend. You can read about that experience, as well as the group and what it hopes to accomplish, in his article published this morning.
5. Shark-smart tips
If I learned anything from Shark Week, it’s this: if you find yourself face-to-face with a shark in its element, punch it in the nose. A handy thing to remember, I thought as a kid, though I filed it high in the easier-said-than-done category.
Turns out, the Discovery Channel duped me. You should go for the eyes or gills. They’re just as sensitive and you avoid the risk of missing and swinging into the jaws.
That’s what Vanessa Schiliro says. Yvette d’Entremont interviewed the marine biology student at Dalhousie who put together some shark-smart tips for Nova Scotians in five-minute video accompanied by a nifty infographic.
“I moved to Halifax about a year and a half ago and I started seeing a lot of media headlines about the fact that there have been increased shark sightings, that they’ve been tracking more sharks in the area,” Schiliro told Yvette d’Entremont. “But I was seeing a potential gap in terms of what do you do if you encounter or see a great white shark.”
6. Profile: first Black Nova Scotian helicopter pilot
“Ardel Smith comes from a long history of Black Canadian aircraft pilots,” writes Matthew Byard. “Smith, who grew up in Cole Harbour and has family ties in North Preston, is the first Black aircraft pilot from Nova Scotia to fly helicopters.”
After a series of stints as a helicopter pilot in Ontario and the Northwest Territories, Smith moved back to Nova Scotia 11 years ago. He currently works as a helicopter pilot for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables.
“The main reason why I wanted to come back to Nova Scotia to work … obviously, because I’m from the province, but to give back to the community,” Smith said. “And to give back to the community. I mean not just my community of North Preston and the Black community, but really the province as a whole.”
Overexposed: put down the camera and enjoy the experience
Warning: the following essay may contain self-indulgent ranting
Do we take too many photos?
It’s not a new question. But it’s one I revisited this weekend when I got stuck in the middle of an argument between my cousin and her husband.
Their son just graduated pre-school on Saturday, and my cousin, who needs no occasion to snap pics of her boy, was in full photographer mode all weekend. At one point, her husband told her (bravely or stupidly) that she took too many photos. Her cloud storage contained so many photos that she’d likely never see most of them again. She needed to enjoy the moment more, he said.
My cousin admitted there might be some truth to that, but countered that she often looked back on her photos and loved reminiscing on the good times that would only fade in her memory.
I tend to side with her husband on this one. But I’m also mildly self-aware that I might just be a technophobic grump sometimes.
Here’s how I see it.
Ever since digital cameras started replacing their finite film predecessors, the number of pics we snap has been limited only by the amount of storage space we have (also seemingly infinite) and the amount of time we have in a day. Phones — and their ever-improving camera quality — have made everyone a potential photographer at any moment.
Putting aside the terrifying prospect that taking and uploading a steady stream of photos might be providing information for facial recognition data banks that could mark the end of privacy and civil society as we know it — what isn’t doing that these days though, am I right? — what’s so bad about taking more photos than we could ever hope to look back on?
There’s some science that suggests we harm our memories by photographing everything, outsourcing our mental snapshots to phone libraries. That might be true, but I don’t feel guilty about writing things down to remember them.
My problem with excessive photography is that it removes a person from life.
When I lived in Lake Louise, I’d see thousands of tourists lineup to the same four viewing points every day, waiting hours to get a perfect photo before returning to their hotels and blocking trails, lakes, and parks for the rest of us. The search for the perfect photo is what I have a grievance with.
Every time I complain to someone that I don’t want my photo taken, I hear some variation of this same point: you complain now, but you’ll be happy I took these photos later.
While it’s true there have been times I’ve been happy we documented an occasion, or my friend got a great candid that captured the moment, I will always take the (very) small pang of regret that comes with forgetting to take out my phone over stopping a conversation or activity to preserve a moment that would have been more precious in its undocumented, ephemeral form. The annoyance that comes with posing a million times is far worse. No comparison.
If you take enough pics in a week to make a flipbook — one that actually resembles a life lived — you need to reflect on why you feel the need to freeze everything in time. Life is fluid. Enjoy the experience and look for the next one; don’t try to capture every single one in a cage.
There are moments that deserve to be captured, sure. But even these can be ruined by overdoing it.
Take wedding photos. It’s nice to have a group shot and some candid pictures from the festivities, but do we really need a bunch of staged sentimental pics full of over-the-shoulder stares and “private” moments between newlyweds? Why remove yourself from the reception for an hour when you can enjoy the party? And do you ever see when guests hold their phones up to take pics during the vows? There’s literally someone being paid to do that right next to you. Just sit back and be a part of the moment you’ve been invited to share.
Maybe it’s just a personal thing.
I prefer the live show to the album.
Photos can preserve times in our lives that will soon be gone. They can mark occasions and, at their best, candidly encapsulate the expressions that make us us. Like all great things, their rarity is an inherent part of their value. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words isn’t worth my time.
When cameras distract us from the present and keep us looking at the past, I get frustrated.
Can you tell I’m frustrated? Can you tell I was part of too many family photos this weekend?
In the past few months, I’ve noticed some changes in my life.
My car has become a statue. My work has become an indirect source of income for my landlord and grocer. And going out for dinner has become more guilt-inducing than pre-marital sex for a devout Catholic teen.
It’s not just me, though. Things are tough all over.
The state of things can be best summed up by the late, great Yogi Berra: a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
When I set out to write this Noticed section, I thought I’d take a look around the country and see the unique ways the rising cost of living was impacting Canadians in different regions. I looked for stories that went beyond gas prices, housing markets, and interest hikes to see how individuals were dealing with a daily life that’s becoming increasingly unaffordable.
I found some distinct problems. A farmer in Ontario feeding his cows potatoes instead of corn to save money. Workers at Newfoundland’s crab processors are in jeopardy of losing work, with production slowing and stopping as consumers have less money to spend on seafood.
But the more I looked around for local news stories on the financial struggles of Canadians, the less variety I found.
Province by province, the impact was pretty uniform.
Gas is high. Use of food banks has exploded. Minimum wage is well below the cost of living — in Every. Single. Province. Rent is unaffordable and homeownership seems unattainable. In fact, if you read a story about housing in any province or territory, you’re sure to find the word “crisis” somewhere in the article. (Substitute the ubiquitous term “food insecurity” for reports on grocery costs).
We are a country of people living above our means, because to live below them would be to shirk the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy.
If I had to pick one thing I noticed from my sift through stories of inflation and cost of living, I’d point you to some news from the north.
First, Nunavut — an isolated territory with a population below 40,000 that needs the majority of goods airlifted in — currently has the cheapest gas in Canada. That’s because the territory bought its annual fuel supply before gas started approaching the cost of milk in the rest of the country. (Milk also might be going up, by the way). It still boggles my mind.
Second, the lowest living wage in the Northwest Territories, as found in an Alternatives North report published in February, is $17.81/hour in Fort Smith, right on the Alberta border. The minimum wage in the territory is $15.20/hour. In Nova Scotia, where the minimum wage is $13.35/hour, the most recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found the lowest living wage in the province (Cape Breton) to be $18.45/hour. In Halifax, the living wage was an estimated $22.05/hour. That report came out in November, those numbers have no doubt risen since then as inflation has exploded.
That’s a bit misleading, I admit. The Northwest Territories report looked at the living wage two adults would have to make individually to support a family of four, so it’s still more expensive to live up North, but still. How much better is it here?
Shouldn’t it be substantially more affordable to live in a place where a population is more densely gathered, resources can be pooled, and goods can be accessed without an airlift? If that’s the case though, how do you explain Toronto and Vancouver?
What’s the point of cities anyway? What advantage do they provide?
A recent report from the think-tank Youthful Cities looked at the affordability of 27 cities across Canada and found none where the average person aged 15 to 29 could cover monthly expenses without running a deficit. Halifax and Moncton were among the five most expensive cities in the country for young people. (If I see one comment saying we should just give up avocado toast and iPhones, I swear to God…).
Why do us young people flock to the cities then? For the dating pool I guess. Might as well split the rent and groceries with someone who can also chip in on the bed.
Everyone’s feeling the pinch right now though. Young and old. Rural and urban. All I can say is, if you enjoy shelter, food, or transportation, I feel for you right now. And I’m right there with you.
Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am) — virtual meeting
Grants Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda
Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting
Community Services (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — Early Childhood Intervention to Provide Support for Families Who Have Children with Disabilities, with representatives from the Department of Community Services, and East Preston Family Resource Centre
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Impact of a Low Wage Economy on Government Revenue and Expenses; with representatives from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternates-NS; Department of Community Services; Department of Labour, Skills, and Immigration; and Minimum Wage Review Committee
Meet SuperNOVA! (Tuesday, 12:30pm) — four in-person and virtual sessions in June
PhD Defence, Law (Tuesday, 1pm) — via video, Ogbu Okanga will defend “Disabusing the ‘charity’ narrative: What inter-national tax equity really means for ‘poor’ countries and how to reframe it”
In the harbour
05:00: MSC Donata, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Valencia, Spain
06:00: ZIM Luanda, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
07:00: Oasis of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 6,431 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from New York, on a five-day round trip cruise. This is the largest cruise ship to ever call in Halifax; to give an indication of its size, the Oasis of the Seas is 226,838 tonnes, while the super-large container ships that call in Halifax top out at just over 150,000 tonnes.
07:00: Eagle, bulker, arrives at anchorage from Gemlik, Turkey
10:00: Eagle sails for sea
15:30: MSC Donata sails for sea
17:30: ZIM Luanda sails for New York
18:00: Oasis of the Seas sails for Saint John
06:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, moves from Pirate Harbour anchorage to Aulds Cove quarry
06:00: SLNC Severn, bulker, moves from Aulds Cove quarry to Pirate Harbour anchorage
19:30: Baie St.Paul, bulker, moves through the causeway north to south, en route from Charlottetown to Halifax
- The last Canadian team bites the dust in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As inevitable as it is heartbreaking.
- My favourite Simon and Garfunkel song is now “Bleecker Street.” It contains the most beautiful lyric they ever wrote: “Thirty dollars pays your rent.”