1. Jen Powley: Turn the convention centre into affordable housing
Writer and advocate Jen Powley takes a look at some of the ways the province could solve the issue of affordable housing. Powley talks about how Sydney, HRM, Bridgewater, Kentville, Yarmouth, Truro, and Wolfville could come together and ask the feds for money to build affordable housing, much like Quebec City, Montreal, and Gatineau did. Powley has some good ideas on how the HRM could spend its portion.
Another idea? Turn the convention centre into affordable housing. Powley says:
A repurposed Convention Centre could be arranged like a housing cooperative. The renters could spend a portion of their monthly rent to pay for elevator maintenance, heat, electricity, and other expenses. The oversight could be dealt with by a cooperative board.
Constructing apartments in the building will take time, but this is also an opportunity to create employment. Money that is being spent to keep the convention centre operating and empty could be spent to keep it operating and filled with safe and accessible housing. If HRM can spend $11.1 million bailing out the convention centre it spent $59 million erecting, then it certainly has money to deal with the homelessness crisis.
2. The more things change, the more nothing changes
Stephen Kimber writes about real estate developers who don’t seem to face any consequences, which is not news in Halifax.
Kimber looks back to 1999 when George Ramia had a permit to build a 40-foot building between Cambridge Suites and St. David’s Church. Because the property was on a slope, the building could be four storeys on one side and five on the other. But Ramia went ahead and built it as five and six storeys.
Ramia did apply for a development agreement to add the extra floor, but didn’t wait for permission and work went ahead on the extra floors. The city issued a stop-work order, but Ramia’s crews kept building. The consequences? Kimber writes:
A month and a half later, on June 2, 1999, Halifax city council voted unanimously to legalize Ramia’s illegal extra storey. There were no penalties for flouting the rules. The city’s lawyer told council that, absent forcing the developer to tear down the extra storey, the best the city could expect in court was that the developer might receive a nominal brush-on-the-wrist fine for his transgressions.
Now, in December 2020, Halifax developer George Giannoulis started demolishing Ardmore Hall on North Street so it could be replaced with a seven-storey, 130-unit building. The problem is there was a tenant still living there when the demoliiton started. The tenant challenged his eviction and was waiting for his hearing. But the city didn’t know about the ongoing tenancy process. The city issued a stop-work order. Guess how that’s going?
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3. COVID-19 update: four new cases
Tim Bousquet reports on the four new cases of COVID-19 announced in the province on Sunday. There are now 29 active cases in Nova Scotia. No one is in the hospital.
Bousquet includes graphs for new daily cases and seven-day rolling average and the active caseload, as well as the updated exposures map.
4. Strang and McNeil: Don’t lie to the contact tracers
Zane Woodford reports on Friday’s COVID-19 update when Premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang asked people to tell the truth to contact tracers. Strang said:
It’s been recently brought to my attention that in a few of our ongoing investigations by public health, there are some individuals who have been very deliberately not following the public health regulations, and they have not been truthful and honest about their movements and people they have been in contact with.
I have to say I’m very disappointed by this news. By not following public health orders or disclosing contacts, these individuals are putting other people’s lives unnecessarily at risk.
McNeil said people’s privacy will be protected when they talk with the contact tracers:
We’ve come so far. The private conversations you have with public health will be private between you and public health. Please, please tell them everything, all the contacts that you have. We’ll protect your information at the same time we protect health for Nova Scotians.
Strang also talked about the vaccine rollout, especially for Phase 2, saying more vaccine will arrive in April or May. At that point, the province will move to immunizing only certain groups of people in hospitals and long-term care facilities. Then those in the community will receive the vaccine based on their age.
As Woodford reports, by the end of day Thursday, 7,600 doses of vaccines were administered, 2,200 front-line healthcare workers had received both doses, and all frontline workers and long-term care residents at Northwood’s Halifax campus had received their first dose.
5. Chief William Saulis found
The scallop dragger Chief William Saulis, which disappeared mid December, was found by Underwater Recovery Teams (URTs) on the weekend. In a news release, the RCMP says the boat was found about two kilometres from the shore at Delaps Cove.
Families of the six men who were on board were told the boat was found. The body of Michael Drake was recovered on Dec. 15. The other five men — Aaron Cogswell, Leonard Gabriel, Daniel Forbes, Eugene Francis and Charles Roberts — are still missing.
The release says RCMP are looking at how to search the inside of the boat, but it’s located at about 60 metres, which is too deep for underwater recovery teams.
6. New organ donation program effective today
The province’s new Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act comes into effect today. As Ashley Field with Global reports, Nova Scotia is the first jurisdiction in North America to use such a model, which allows Nova Scotians to donate their organs when they die through presumed or “deemed consent.”
Dr. Stephen Beed, the Medical Director of the Nova Scotia Organ and Tissue Donation Program, tells Global, “this is transformational change and I have every reason to believe that it’s going to be a different system that’s also a better system.”
People can opt-out of the system or register to donate some or all of their organs and tissues. Not registering is considered a deemed consent. You donation decision will be displayed on your health card.
Beed tells Global donations could rise by 30 to 50 per cent within five years.
Organizers of self-help groups seek essential service status
Last week, I called Joe Gibson, the founder and executive director of Freedom Foundation, a non-profit organization in north Dartmouth that helps men in recovery from alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions. I was wondering how people with addictions were coping during the pandemic.
Gibson told me that during the lockdown in the spring last year, two of the staff moved into a house operated by Freedom Foundation, with several residents. When restrictions were announced again in December, the staff there started rotating shifts, staying at the house for four days, returning to their own homes for three.
But Gibson’s concern now is that residents can’t access self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous because of the restrictions around the number of people allowed at those in-person meetings. Under restrictions announced in December, in-person self-help meetings like AA are only permitted to have 10 people. Many of the meetings are now taking place over Zoom, as they were during the spring lockdown, but Gibson and others would like to see a return to in-person meetings with more than 10 people.
It’s my understanding you can go into a licensed establishment or bar and drink with 50 or more people and spend the whole day there, but if you have a drinking problem that night you can’t go to an AA meeting because you’re only allowed 10 people. And, of course, AA is not going to open with 10 people because you’d have to turn too many people away. It’s the same with gambling. You can go to the casino all day and gamble, but if you have a gambling addiction, there’s no place for you to go that night because you’re only allowed 10 people. Now there are a few bingos open where you’re allowed 40 or 50 people in a bingo hall. My concern is why is this happening?
I know I am not the only person inquiring about this. All I want is an answer, but I can’t get an answer. As days go by, lives are at stake here.
Gibson says he’s believes the restrictions on self-help groups are an oversight. He says while some of the self-groups are opening with 10 people, many have decided not to open, so they don’t have to decide who to turn away. A list of local meetings shows that most are taking place online.
After shutting down meetings in the spring, these self-help groups did open up again in the summer and didn’t have the 10-person limit. Gibson connected me with two members of AA who organize local meetings. I changed their names here to keep their anonymity.
Both Robert and Greg told me their groups followed all the public health guidelines when they were allowed to host in-person meetings again in the summer. Robert says at the meetings he organized, they had up to 30 people each time, or about half the capacity of the space they rent. Members wore masks at all times, except when they went to the washroom. They sanitized their hands went they entered the venue. They signed contact tracing sheets, leaving their first names and phone numbers. Those sheets were destroyed after a period of time. Members stayed at the same chair the entire meeting and chairs were spread out six feet apart. Chairs were sanitized after the meetings. Greg says his group followed similar and strict rules and said the meetings ran “smooth as silk.”
While in-person meetings can still happen, and others are still taking place on Zoom, smaller in-person meetings and the technology of Zoom meetings present unique problems for some members. Robert and Greg say many of the self-help groups in the HRM have up to 40 members, so when the meetings fill up with the 10-person limit, that leaves the person chairing the meeting in a difficult spot. Says Robert:
People will say, ‘Well, open it up for 10.’ Okay, let’s say we have 10 people in there and we have a newcomer at the door and they can’t get in because we’re only allowed 10. Or we have someone who has relapsed and they want to come to a meeting to get themselves back on the road again, but we can’t let them in because we already have 10. Who makes that choice?
Greg says the Zoom meetings don’t have the same effect for members. Many of the older members don’t have access to a computer or understand the Zoom technology. But Zoom meetings offer a less-intimate experience that makes these self-help groups not as effective in the recovery process. Says Greg:
If we’re able to get them to a live meeting, we sit with them and talk with them … talk with them before the meeting and after the meeting, and give them suggestions. It’s different when it’s live. It’s a little more humbling when you’re in person. You can hide away if you’re on Zoom.
When we opened up again in June, we had an older gentleman attend the meeting and he’s not computer savvy. He came into the meeting, he was so glad to get to the meeting, he was in tears through the whole meeting. I was in tears myself looking at him.
Like Gibson, Robert and Greg have been making calls and sending emails to find out if the limit on the number of people allowed at these meetings can be increased. In an email to public health, Robert outlines why these in-person meetings are crucial:
As of today, we are allowed to go to the liquor store to buy booze and drugs, restaurants and bars to eat and drink. Casinos are now open along with VLTs in the bars. And bingos are open. Of all of these businesses that are open, AA meetings are safer than any one of them. I am extremely pleased with the control the government and the health department have done for COVID-19. However, during the first wave Dr. Strang and Premier McNeil opened the liquor stores and there is access to cannabis for people who have issues so that it would cut down spousal abuse and [effects on] their mental health. But it appears to me you’re doing everything to enable anyone who wants to drink and do drugs and it’s a known fact that alcohol and drug abuse has increased tremendously during COVID-19, along with many deaths related to this. And yet, you will not allow the same freedom for anyone who wants to do something about their addiction with self-help and save the government healthcare system from people going into detox and being hospitalized and placed in ICU and committing suicide, which has happened over and over. I might add, we do this at no cost to the government or the healthcare system.
Gibson, Robert, and Greg want these self-help meetings declared an essential service. In Alberta, Alcoholics Anonymous in-person meetings are considered an essential service and can operate without limits on capacity and with a number of guidelines. In British Columbia, organizations that support the delivery of healthcare, mental health services, and addiction services are considered essential.
And in Nova Scotia, AA meetings are addressed in this document here on page six:
I don’t think people understand the importance of meetings for people and I question the decision makers that have lumped AA and NA in the same group as Boy Scouts and Brownie meetings. This makes me question do they really know what AA and NA do? This is a unique situation, not only for AA, but for everybody, because we never experienced it before.
In an email, Marla MacInnis, a spokesperson at the Department of Health and Wellness, says self-help meetings like AA must still abide by the 10-person limit. Gibson, Robert, and Greg want to see that changed. Greg points out that if they wanted to hold meetings in a bar, they could. He says for many, these meetings are crucial to their recovery:
They can say you can do Zoom and yes, we can and we’re doing it because it’s all we have. But the thing is we are missing out on too many people who are now going back to using because they can’t get into a meeting or don’t feel comfortable [using Zoom]. They are committing suicides and overdosing.
I can tell you of my own experience, that had it not been for Alcoholics Anonymous I can tell you with all sincerity I would not be alive today.
Last September, I wrote a story about obituaries and how they often tell fascinating stories about people. Well, over the weekend an obituary was making the rounds on social media and it has an important story to tell. Ashleen Louise D’Orsay passed away in Sydney on Jan. 12. She was just 26. You really need to read the entire obituary, which you can find here. Ashleen’s obituary starts with a quote from her favourite poem: “Oh I am a cat, that likes to gallop about doing good.” Ashleen was creative, selfless, and kind, and often sent songs to friends that made her think of them.
The obituary also says Ashleen struggled with illnesses and sometimes found it hard to get help.
And then there’s this paragraph:
Inspired by an opinion piece written by an ER doctor in the paper decrying those with addictions, Ashleen wanted to go to school to help develop a program to combat prejudice and unconscious bias held by those with privilege and in positions of power. In Gaelic, Ashleen’s name means “vision or dream.” Our dream for her now is to carry out this work in her name and welcome support in doing so.
The op-ed that inspired Ashleen was this one written by Dr. Chris Milburn in the Chronicle Herald in November 2019.
Milburn wrote the letter in response to the conviction of two special constables in the death of Corey Rogers and he details his experiences dealing with the “criminal element” on the job. As Phil Moscovitch wrote in this Morning File, Milburn “uses the words ‘criminal’ and ‘criminals’ more than a dozen times: ‘dangerous criminal behaviour,’ ‘violent criminals,’ ‘intoxicated criminals,’ ‘these criminals.'”
Milburn wrote a second op-ed defending himself. Complaints were made to the College of Physicians and Surgeons about Milburn’s letters and other media interviews. The college dismissed the complaint filed by a number of people and organizations.
I reached out to Ashleen’s mother, Colleen, over the weekend to ask her if I could share the obituary here, but I also wanted to know more about how her family was going to continue Ashleen’s vision. Here’s what Colleen wanted to share:
The entire time my daughter lay dying, I couldn’t help but think of the opinion piece written by the head of Emergency Medicine, alluded to in my daughter’s obituary. From that article, it was clear he looked down upon the most vulnerable among us. After his absolution from the medical board, my heart sank to read he felt “vindicated” by the board’s decision. I found myself questioning the impacts of this attitude upon the quality of care my daughter may or may not have received. I kept wondering if they would have sighed a sigh of relief, as there would be one less person taking up their time and medical resources. I worried my daughter wasn’t seen as a person, but as a nuisance or a problem to be frowned upon. Maybe she wasn’t seen as someone who was loved; someone worthy of care. Words have impact and these were the impacts of his words upon me.
Rather than coming from a place of bitterness, however, it is with profound sadness I write these words. Emergency rooms are overburdened and overloaded. Staffing and budgetary constraints, along with a paucity of preventative programming have left health care providers struggling to keep up with seemingly unending demand. This has left many service providers stressed, overworked, and experiencing unhealthy and wholly unmanageable feelings of caregiver burn-out and being overwhelmed. In many ways, I do not blame the doctor for feeling the way he apparently does about his work in the ER. We all have to protect our mental health and professionals are no different. With that said, he focused his frustrations on the wrong segment of the population. Without immediate changes in the way we provide mental health and addictions services and care, people are going to continue to get sicker and sicker. Service providers will continue to suffer as well. Many, like my daughter, will die.
Before her illnesses completely took over, Ashleen had been enrolled in the Social Services Program at NSCC. As mentioned in her obituary, she wanted to develop a program to help professionals recognize unconscious bias and prejudice, along with care-giver burnout. Despite her illness, she did not wish to be a burden or to create further divisions or misgivings. Instead, she wanted to make things better for everyone. We couldn’t agree more. To honour Ashleen’s memory, we as her family invite folks from all walks of life to take a long, hard look at ways in which we can break silos and effectively work together to enact change. Checking in with each other on a community level, as neighbours, and as individuals, can go a long way to make someone feel valued and increase their ability to cope with life’s demands. Kindness is something each one of us has within us to give; the more we give the more we receive, and best part of all, it doesn’t cost a thing. There is work to be done on a systems-level as well. As one social worker posited, some of these changes can be implemented easily and cost-effectively. Small changes, such as allowing NSHA mental health therapists to have control of their own scheduling, ensuring a healthy work environment, and the development/re-implementation of quality mental health and addictions programming can go a long way to make folks feel valued and heard. The most important thing is to start really talking and listening to one another, with a focus on what each one of us can do — no matter how big or how small — to be the change we need to see. No one person can solve this issue on their own, but with humility and the creation of trust and good will from top-down and bottom-up, it can be done.
Colleen says the family are raising funds for the Ally Centre of Cape Breton in Sydney. Click here to learn more.
Board of Police Commissioners (Monday, 12:30pm) — virtual meeting with live webcast
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Tuesday, 10am) —virtual meeting with live audio broadcast
Community Design Advisory Committee (Tuesday, 11:30am) — info here
Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — live webcast; live captioning available
Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, ) — video conference, agenda TBA
Implementing SMART technologies to improve quality of life in continuing care settings (Monday, 12:30pm) — Zoom meeting with Susan Kirkland, from the departments of Community Health and Epidemiology, and Geriatric Medicine, Dalhousie; and Alisa Grigorovich, also from Community Health and Epidemiology, and KITE — Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. Their abstract:
SMART (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) technologies have the potential to improve the quality of life of older adults aging with and aging into disabilities by enhancing their independence, functioning and wellbeing. These technologies can range in complexity and functionality and include smartphones and tablets as well as more complex systems that involve artificial intelligence that enables the user to use their voice to make video calls, search the internet, and operate speakers, thermostats, and other devices. While SMART technologies are increasingly being adopted by older adults living in the community, little research has focused on their implementation within long-term care and home care settings. Current SMART technologies often lack long-term support or personalization and can be labor intensive and costly, which create barriers for their adoption. In care settings, they are rarely incorporated into care plans and organizational structures. In this project, we are exploring the feasibility, usability, sustainability, and scalability of SMART technologies for supporting the independence, autonomy, and well-being of older adults with complex conditions who are long term care and home care clients of Northwood in Halifax.
A tale of isoperimetry and eigenvalues (Monday, 3:30pm) — Alexander Girouard from Université Laval will explain via Zoom that
It has been known since classical antiquity that disks have the largest area among planar figures of prescribed perimeter. Nevertheless, a complete proof was only given around the end of the 19th century! During the 20th century, area and perimeter were replaced by several new analytic and geometric quantities, such as the heat content, torsional rigidity and natural frequencies of vibrations. In this talk, I will survey recent results on isoperimetric bounds for eigenvalues of the Dirichlet-to-Neumann map. This pseudodifferential operator arises naturally in the study of inverse problems that are linked to geophysical and medical imaging. The main question that we will investigate is to find, in various geometric contexts, how large specific eigenvalues can be under isoperimetric constraints. We will see that a vast number of methods can be used, ranging from abstract discretization and expander graphs to homogenization theory, which comes from applied mathematics.
The Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr: Resiliency at Difficult Times While Hoping for a Better Future (Monday, 6pm) — In this online event, panelists Jalana Lewis, Robert Wright, Douglas Ruck, and Lissa Skitolsky will
honour the life and legacy of MLK. His advocacy and the tireless efforts of Civil Rights Activists included protests, but also a message of hope for the future. This MLK day, our panelists will discuss the importance of being resilient during times of difficulty and maintaining hope for a better future.
Moderated by Tiffany Gordon, with entertainment by Emmanuel Solomon.
Stone Duality for Topological Convexity spaces (Tuesday, 2:30pm) — Toby Kennedy will explain via Zoom that
A convexity space is a set X with a chosen family of subsets (called convex subsets) that is closed under arbitrary intersections and directed unions. There is a lot of interest in spaces that have both a convexity space and a topological space structure. In this talk, we will study the category of topological convexity spaces and extend the Stone duality between coframes and topological spaces to a duality between topological convexity spaces and sup-lattices. We will also identify some of the important classes of morphisms in the category of topological convexity spaces, and some of their properties, in preparation for identifying Euclidean spaces as object within the category of Topological Convexity Spaces.
Studies in Materials‑Driven Innovation (Tuesday, 6pm) — Peter Yeadon from the Rhode Island School of Design, and founder of Yeadon Space Agency will talk. Info and registration here.
It’s Never Too late for University (Tuesday, 8pm) — Mature Student Advisor Jennifer Hann will lead this Zoom webinar.
No public events.
Winter Photography (Tuesday, 12pm) — webinar info and registration here
The Librarian Is In: Navigating the Library Catalogue (Tuesday, 3pm) — workshop to learn new strategies for navigating resources and digital collections
In the harbour
07:30: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Savannah, Georgia
09:30: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
15:30: Morning Cornelia, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
16:00: Tropic Lissette sails for San Juan, Puerto Rico
I’m happy to be back!