1. Racism costs City Hall $600,000
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission issued this press release yesterday:
The chair of an independent human rights board of inquiry into the matter of Y.Z. v. Halifax Regional Municipality issued her decision on remedy today, May 15.
Lynn Connors found discrimination had occurred and issued her decision on the matter in May 2018. The report found that Y.Z. was subjected to discriminatory treatment on the basis of race and colour by his employer, the Halifax Regional Municipality. A remedy hearing was then held in June 2018.
The complainant is identified only as Y.Z. due to a publication ban on his identity that is still in place. At the time of discrimination, Y.Z. was employed as a Metro Transit mechanic.
In her decision on remedy, Ms. Connors describes the intention of awarding damages in cases where discrimination has taken place.
“Boards of inquiry may award damages for the harm and injury to a complainant’s dignity and self-respect and to recognize the humiliation suffered as a result of discrimination or harassment,” said Ms. Connors.
Her report highlights the effect discrimination has had on Y.Z. and those around him and a summary of damages to be awarded.
Damages awarded include:
— $105,650 in general damages to Y.Z.
— $33,015 to Y.Z.’s wife in general damages
— $21,675 to Y.Z. for the cost of future care
— $433,077 to Y.Z. for past and future lost income
I laid out the background of the case in May 2018.
2. CBRM travel and Freedom of Information
“Acting on a tip from a reader, who seemed to think that CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke, his executive assistant Mark Bettens and (the now former) economic development manager John Phelan were doing an unusual amount of traveling on the public dime last fall, I sent a request under Section XX of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to the CBRM for travel expenses for the three, from 1 November 2018 up to and including the date of my application, 11 April 2019,” writes Mary Campbell in the Cape Breton Spectator.
Campbell has good reason to want into such travel documentation. In February 2018 she detailed Sydney Mayor Cecil Clarke’s trip to China, which was supposedly in service of making business connections related to the proposed container terminal, and found that Clarke, Bettens, Phelan, and CAO Marie Walsh had spent $25,395.38 on the trip, which gave me the excuse to put together this cool graphic:
Campbell gets into what details of the trip were in the documents — flying business class, staying at a Five-Star Hotel, and the remarkable fact that the trip was cut short by a day because, in Walsh’s words, “everyone left earlier than anticipated as our business was done.” Muses Campbell: “Reading this it occurred to me, for the first time, that perhaps they actually did go to China with no itinerary: if you don’t know what you’re doing in Beijing, it’s hard to know how long it will take you to do it.”
Getting back to Campbell’s most recent request for documentation of municipal travel, she was hit with a bill of $390 to cover staff time to put together the documentation.
This is, obviously, outrageous. As Campbell writes:
When elected officials and municipal employees travel on the public dime, the public has the right to know where they went, why they went and how much they spent.
The “staff time” charge, notes Campbell, is a dodge, because the municipality already assembles travel information in accordance with provincial legislation. She continues:
I made a great big noisy fuss about this — I sent a Mueller-esque (read: snitty) reply to the Municipal Clerk and cc’ed the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) of Nova Scotia and Michael Karanicolas of the Right to Know Coalition to Nova Scotia for good measure.
I also asked the OIPC for an official review of the fee the CBRM wants to charge, but it can take (literally) years to get a decision from the OIPC and the CBRM is under no obligation to comply with that decision when it finally comes down.
All of which makes charging outrageous fees for information a brilliant way to avoid transparency and accountability if avoiding transparency and accountability is what you’re about. So if the CBRM insists on charging this unreasonable fee, I may ask for donations to cover it. (You can let me know what you think of that idea by emailing me.)
What the CBRM can’t control is the stink rising from its refusal to release basic expense information. Maybe Clarke incurred no travel expenses other than those found in his online reports. Maybe Bettens and Phelan didn’t even leave the CBRM during the period I’m inquiring about.
But charging me $390 for information about their travel and expenses makes it look like they spent four months in Disneyland.
And that’s not a good look for any municipality.
Campbell and I discussed this over email yesterday afternoon. She told me she’s already appealed the fees to the privacy commissioner, although that appeal could take years and the municipality could ignore the privacy commissioner’s ruling in any event. In the meanwhile, we agreed to pay for the $390 processing fee out of the joint Spectator/Examiner fund for investigative journalism, which is the money we collect through joint subscriptions.
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3. That damn Boer War monument
The city this morning issued a Request for Proposals for detailed design drawings to repair that damn Boer War monument in the Public Gardens.
Halifax has not one, but two Boer War memorials. There’s one outside Province House, and then a second in the Public Gardens.
I wrote about the Province House monstrosity last year:
The Boer War exemplified everything horrible about humanity, about imperialism, about the British Empire, about Canada, about Halifax, and about the boys and men who fought it. It was shameless slaughter conducted by vile people for despicable reasons.
The statue is a festering boil on the grounds of Province House and on the reputations of everyone employed there. I say keep the cars around long enough that one of them indadvertently knocks the damn thing down, or at least the collective soot from the vehicles dirties the thing beyond recognition.
The next day, El Jones elaborated at length about the Boer War, under this headline:
White-washing the Boer War
In 1901, Lord Alfred Milner was “lamenting” the “fact that the death rate among young children in the [Boer War concentration] camps was still not dropping. ‘The theory that, all the weakly children being dead, the rate would fall off is not so far borne out by the facts,’ Milner wrote. ‘The strong ones must be dying now and they will all be dead by the spring of 1903.’” On October 14, 1901 the cornerstone for the Boer War monument was laid at Province House.
This morning, the city issued a tender offer for “rehabilitation” of that second Boer War memorial, the one in the Public Gardens; this one:
Can I just note that this memorial is, well, schlock? Here’s how it’s described in a city staff report:
This classic Victorian style garden fountain is complete with symmetrical base with classic figures of cherubs and a central, upper bowl. The top, central figure is that of a Canadian Mounted Rifleman soldier…
Water is designed to spout from the cherubs’ conch shells and from the secondary shaft lilies.
Before we even get to what the statue is celebrating, we ought to blow the thing to smithereens simply on artistic grounds.
The report goes on to say that the memorial has been falling apart since at least 1981, when Clarke Ellis, “a NSCAD technician” was hired to repair the thing:
His treatment proposal indicates four areas of ‘repair’ including superficial repair of the concrete base, repair and re-casting of missing/damaged iron mouldings and other elements, removal and repair of the four cherubs and repairs to the iron basin. There is no record indicating they type of paints Mr. Ellis employed. His partial 1981 report for the Boer War Fountain suggests that he used “paint used on ship’s hulls.” The final colour scheme was a slightly copper/metallic finish with light green overtones. It reads as glossy but not shiny in photographs.
Photographs taken at the time of repairs show much damage to the cherubs and evidence of port part repairs. The overall surface appeared to be quite corroded.
City staff occasionally splash some paint on the thing, and every year they bleed the lines for the winter, when, incidentally, “the coins are swept out” (no word on who keeps the money).
Still, “the Boer War Fountain does not require extensive restoration at this time,” reads the report. “The cherubs do require immediate attention…”
Fuck the cherubs.
I say blow the damn thing up.
4. Emera and climate change
“Members of international environmental group the Sierra Club took their fight across borders Wednesday as members of the Tampa Bay, FL., chapter gathered outside Nova Scotia energy giant Emera’s annual general meeting,” reports Julia-Simone Rutgers for Star Halifax:
They were there to demand more decisive action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on coal and natural gas.
Kent Bailey, chair of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Sierra Club, was joined by at least a half dozen Floridians who travelled to Halifax to demand Emera and its shareholders walk back on a plan to spend $853 million making changes to a Florida coal plant.
“Of the 10 cities in the world most threatened by climate change, five are in the United States, two are in Florida, and Tampa Bay is one of them — we are at ground zero for climate impacts of every kind,” said Bailey in an interview outside the Halifax Convention Centre Wednesday.
“To act as if it makes no difference, to act as if there is an alternative to doing everything possible to stop carbon pollution immediately, is an insult to both the spirit and the body of our grandchildren.”
Bailey and other members of the Sierra Club are raising concerns about a project spearheaded by Emera subsidiary Tampa Electric, which services over 725,000 customers in the West Central Florida region.
5. HMCS Toronto
The Halifax-based HCMS Toronto will be visiting Split, Croatia next week, reports Daniela Rogulj at Total Croatia News.
“HMCS Toronto is due to return to Halifax in June, with HMCS Halifax set to replace it as the next ship on Op REASSURANCE,” says the Navy Times.
I visited Croatia in 2006, spending a week in Dubrovnik and then taking the ferry up to Split before heading across to Italy. Croatia was then still reeling from the War of Independence of the 1990s. Dubrovnik had polished up the main street and tourism was reviving, albeit one of the main attractions was a tour of bombing sites. Split was lovely, with a popular waterfront promenade lined with restaurants and bars, but was an edgier town; off the main drag there was a lot of swastikas, Nazi and other right-wing postering and graffiti, so much that it was disturbing. It was perhaps a precursor to the now-established prominence of right-wing authoritarian movements and regimes across the Balkans, and indeed, the world.
While stuck on a plane recently, I happened to watch the film Minority Report for, I dunno, the eighth time or something.
I can’t definitively credit typically mawkish director Stephen Spielberg or science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, whose short story of the same name (which I haven’t read) is the basis for the film, but Minority Report was almost Nostradamus-like in its ability to predict the future, now current, world. My guess is that Spielberg was certainly responsible for the sappy ending of the film, and Dick was the source of its darker and more interesting elements.
I’ve commented before on the ubiquitous advertising aspect of the film, but on my recent viewing, two other things jumped out at me.
The first was a plot line explaining the existence of the precogs. Scientist Iris Hineman, the creator of the precog program, explains that the precogs are the children of parents who were addicted to a synthetic heroin called Neuroin (Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton, is also addicted to the drug). Basically, Dick was predicting Oxycodone and other synthetic opioids that are now ravaging North America.
The second plot line that caught my attention was the bureaucratic nature of the precog investigations. I can’t find a video clip of it this morning, but in the film it’s not as simple as Anderton getting the precog’s little wooden ball and chasing down the person about to commit the crime. There’s an intermediate step of judicial oversight that gives cover to the whole thing. Here are the lines from the script:
Remote witnesses are plugged in.
This will be case number 1108. Morning, detectives.
Case number 1108, previsualized by the Pre-Cogs… …recorded on holosphere by Precrime’s Q-stacks.
My fellow witnesses are Dr. Katherine James and Chief Justice Frank Pollard.
Will the witness preview and validate?
Affirmative. I will validate.
It’s the “fellow witnesses” bit that was unnerving, as it struck me as exactly how things work in the real world: human rights violations of all sorts — drone assassinations in foreign countries, the operation of the Guantanamo Bay prison, seizures of property, no-fly lists, right on down to city police departments’ use of predictive analytic software and street checks — are given the gloss of democratic processes and judicial oversight.
I tried to explain my worry about such things yesterday when I was on the Sheldon MacLeod Show, but said it badly; undoubtedly I’ll say it badly again here. But I’ll give it another shot all the same.
The most obvious violations of civil rights are just the leading edge of a broader attack on everyone’s freedom. State surveillance, detention, and imprisonment is introduced against hated minorities as a precursor for their broader application.
The prime current example is the Chinese government’s use of security cameras, spies, facial recognition software, databases, and the like to identify, track, intimidate, and arrest Uighurs and other Muslims in western China. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims, perhaps as many as two million, have been placed in concentration camps.
The Uighurs are a hated minority in China, and no one much in the rest of the world cares about Muslims either, at least not so much as to disrupt trade or diplomatic relations. And so the Chinese surveillance state faces no opposition domestically or internationally. It is now a common, everyday experience for Muslims to be stopped on the street by police, have their photos taken, their fingerprints collected, the information placed in databases that can track their every move, build networks of association, and so forth.
But the oppression of the Muslims is “a new form of governance by surveillance,” explains the New York Times; this governance by surveillance was first tested on the Muslims but is now being rolled out across China and even being spread to other authoritarian regimes around the world. The goal is to identify, track, and control everyone, not just the hated minority. Cameras are popping up everywhere, which photograph people and put the images into facial recognition software, and onto the databases….
These technologies have long been present in some form, but the Chinese have amped up the level of sophistication by orders of magnitude. And the technology is coming to the west.
Oh, but we’ll have controls in place to make sure the technology isn’t abused, the usual sorts will assure us.
I’m not so sure. Police forces in Canada are already using StingRays which can capture people’s cellphone locations and then track them, apparently without a warrant. Cops in Toronto, Halifax, and elsewhere have randomly stopped people on the street, collected their information and placed it in databases for future use, and even though they’ve been called out on it, the police agencies have no intention on stopping the practices.
The attitude among much of the public seems to be well, the surveillance state and its related technology is only used against lefty protestors and black people, so it’s nothing to concern ourselves with, or that we’ll somehow have democratic controls over it.
Sure, fellow witnesses Dr. Katherine James and Chief Justice Frank Pollard will protect us.
Community Planning & Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — staff is recommending that the committee decline a request from the Bus Stop Theatre for $500,000 in funding to purchase its building. But the staff report continues with a long discussion about how the Bus Stop might achieve its goal.
Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm, City Hall) — no action items on the agenda.
Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm, City Hall) — a discussion about how young people learn about elections.
Public Information Meeting – Case 21863 (Thursday, 7pm, Sackville Heights Community Centre) — Walid Jreige wants to build some townhouses in Sackville.
No public meetings.
No public meetings for the rest of the week.
No events we know about today or Friday.
In the harbour
02:30: Elka Eleftheria, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for Saint John
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
06:00: Ef Ava, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
06:00: Jennifer Schepers, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
08:00: Grande New York, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for sea
10:00: YM Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
10:30: YM Movement, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
11:30: Ef Ava sails for Portland
13:00: Fram, cruise ship, sails from Pier 24 for Baddeck
17:30: Jennifer Schepers sails for Kingston, Jamaica
21:30: YM Express, container ship, sails for Rotterdam
I know no one else much cares about this, but I find it unseemly that the publicly owned Macdonald Bridge is festooned with banners promoting the private commercial enterprise of the Memorial Cup.
I’m still working on stuff. You probably won’t hear from me until next week some time; guest writers for Morning File in the meanwhile.
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