1. Kimber: Hugh MacKay and our I-know-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing premier
Last week I wondered why Hugh MacKay, already convicted of drunk driving in 2019, was only now being charged for allegedly driving drunk back in 2018.
All I can say about what we’ve learned since then is: holy shit.
In his new column, Stephen Kimber recaps the alarming details of how we got here, including an email describing MacKay driving around hammered while his staff frantically try to get him under control, and digs into a memo showing that MacKay seems to have made a habit of driving while heavily intoxicated. Although premier Stephen McNeil’s chief of staff, Laurie Graham, apparently knew all this, the premier not only claimed he knew nothing, but went on the attack.
Stephen McNeil insists he knew nothing, his chief of staff did nothing wrong, and it’s all the fault of the author of an email or/and the leader of the opposition for failing to go to the police with information Chester-St. Margaret’s MLA Hugh MacKay might have been driving drunk almost a year before he was convicted in another impaired driving incident.
Why is it so hard for our premier to acknowledge mistakes were made, let alone admit he or anyone else in his orbit ever does anything wrong?
2. The lasting and deadly effects of gold mining
Today, the Examiner is publishing Part 1 of a major new series by Joan Baxter on the ongoing effects of historic gold mining in Nova Scotia, and what they mean for proposed mines today. The series is called “Port Wallace gamble: The real estate boom meets Nova Scotia’s toxic mine legacy.”
the toxic legacy from historic gold mines in Nova Scotia, which its citizens will be paying many millions of dollars to try to clean up, and how the contamination at just one of these sites — Montague Mines in HRM — is still affecting lives today, and may also affect a large new residential subdivision that is proposed for nearby Port Wallace, between the Highway 107 extension and Waverley Road.
It’s a complicated mess, with a lot of conflicting interests, some powerful players — the Shaw Group through its subsidiary Clayton Developments, and its president, former HRM Chief Administrative Officer Richard Butts — and different levels of government and public agencies.
Part 1 is called “The making of a toxic mess and the uncalculated costs of previous gold rushes.”
Baxter starts us off in 1578, then quickly walks us through a history of gold rushes in the province and what they have left behind.
If there is little evidence of the wealth from historic gold mining in Nova Scotia, there is plenty of evidence of the mining itself. One very tangible legacy of three gold rushes is three million tonnes of tailings, many of which are laced with dangerous metals.
For many years after mining stopped, the toxic legacy of the tailings in the province was mostly forgotten, or just ignored.
It might have stayed that way had it not been for John Hartlen, a resident of Waverley, a community north of Dartmouth and an important historic gold mining area. In 1976, Hartlen was admitted to the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax suffering from what turned out to be “chronic arsenic intoxication” caused by arsenic contamination in the dug well from which he and his family got their drinking water. The level of arsenic in the water was 500 times the safe level.
The contamination came from historic mine waste rock that was used to line the well.
One of the things I appreciated about this story is the detailed discussion of tailings: what they are, their effects, and how complicated it can be to figure out what to do about them. Baxter’s got recent pictures of kids playing in them.
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3. Rally against open-pen fish farms in Mahone Bay and St. Margaret’s Bay
Check back later today for Linda Pannozzo’s story on a meeting/rally held to oppose proposed salmon farms. Sounds like there was a really interesting lineup of speakers, ranging from local lobster fishermen to Indigenous people who’ve dealt with salmon farms on the West Coast.
4. More openness and transparency
As you may recall, former government lawyer Alex Cameron is suing the province, claiming he was defamed when premier Stephen McNeil distanced himself from a legal argument Cameron made to argue the province did not have a duty to consult the Sipekne’katik First Nation over the Alton Gas project.
Alex Cameron was removed from the case in December 2016 after a public relations firestorm developed from coverage of the matter, in which he argued the province did not have a duty to consult because that requirement only applied to “unconquered people,” which he implied was not the case with Mi’kmaw communities.
The premier and one of his senior officials, however, countered on Thursday they did not know how far Cameron would go and did not support such an argument.
The province went to the Supreme Court of Canada to prevent the release of emails between Cameron and senior government officials. On February 20, the court refused to hear the case. Two Nova Scotia courts had already ruled in Cameron’s favour.
How much did this Supreme Court of Canada adventure cost? The provincial government doesn’t want you to know.
The premier told reporters last July 25 that the figure would be made available that day, but the information was never provided. He later backtracked, saying the fee wouldn’t be disclosed because the matter was before the courts but the amount would be released after the legal matter concluded.
The Chronicle Herald questioned Premier Stephen McNeil about the case at Province House on Friday, but McNeil refused to address the topic…
Rankin talks to retired Dalhousie law professor Wayne MacKay on the government’s claim it can’t release the cost of the legal action because Cameron is still suing the province:
“The rule on commenting on matters before the court has to do with the substance of the issues that are before the court, not matters that are incidental to that, such as the cost of the legal action,” the professor said.
He also points out that this case actually is no longer before the courts, since the SCC dismissed it.
But why let a little detail like that stop “the most open and transparent province in Canada“?
5. Halifax cops admit to using Clearview AI
Over the weekend, Alexander Quon at Global wrote that, oh, guess what? The Halifax police have used Clearview AI facial recognition technology after all.
New York Times reporter Kashmir Hill broke the Clearview story earlier this year, with an investigation called “The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy As We Know It.” If you haven’t read the story, you definitely should. Hill writes:
But without public scrutiny, more than 600 law enforcement agencies have started using Clearview in the past year, according to the company, which declined to provide a list. The computer code underlying its app, analyzed by The New York Times, includes programming language to pair it with augmented-reality glasses; users would potentially be able to identify every person they saw. The tool could identify activists at a protest or an attractive stranger on the subway, revealing not just their names but where they lived, what they did and whom they knew.
And it’s not just law enforcement: Clearview has also licensed the app to at least a handful of companies for security purposes….
While the company was dodging me, it was also monitoring me. At my request, a number of police officers had run my photo through the Clearview app. They soon received phone calls from company representatives asking if they were talking to the media — a sign that Clearview has the ability and, in this case, the appetite to monitor whom law enforcement is searching for.
The Halifax Regional Police had previously denied using Clearview on multiple occasions.
But now they admit those denials are not accurate. Quon writes:
The force now says at least one officer has used facial recognition technology.
“Officers are always looking for emerging investigative tools to advance their investigations,” MacLeod said on Friday.
Police say the officer used the service on a “free trial basis” and conducted only “open source data searches.”
This is the equivalent of saying don’t worry, we just look at metadata. “Open source data searches” are exactly what makes Clearview so troublesome. The app scrapes the open web for photos, scooping them up often in contravention of other sites’ terms of service, and then compiles them into an enormous searchable database.
Quon also quotes privacy lawyer David Fraser:
He urged the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners to institute some kind of oversight over the force.
“I think with any new investigative technique or the implementation of technology, adult supervision is required. That it should not be possible for a single officer to go off on a frolic of their own and use and adopt these sort of technologies,” he told Global News.
The notification did not describe the breach as a hack. David Forscey, the managing director of the no-profit Aspen Cybersecurity Group, said the breach is concerning.
“If you’re a law-enforcement agency, it’s a big deal, because you depend on Clearview as a service provider to have good security, and it seems like they don’t,” Forscey said.
6. The power is out… again
A bunch of schools in the Clare and Weymouth area are closed because of a widespread power outage. The CBC story on this quotes Nova Scotia Power on the cause of the outage. It is my favourite of all Nova Scotia Power causes, and one they use often:
The website says the outages were caused by damage to transmission equipment.
This is like saying “the car crash was caused by vehicles hitting each other.”
No, you did not feel an earthquake last night
This item is written by Tim Bousquet, who is annoyed.
Last night, Halifax police issued a release:
Earthquake-like event felt in Dartmouth
At approximately 8:40 p.m. Halifax Regional Police began receiving several 911 calls from citizens describing their homes shaking and hearing an extremely loud noise that was sustained for several seconds. Halifax Regional Police members and emergency services partners attended the area, spoke to several residents and began looking for the cause. The event was reported as being felt the more strongly near Lake Mic Mac, Waverley Road, Montebello Drive and Caledonia Road, Dartmouth.
At approximately 9:15 p.m. Halifax Regional Police received confirmation from a seismologist with Earthquakes Canada that there was an Earthquake-like event that registered at 2.6 on the Richter scale.
At the time of this release there have been no reports of injuries or damage to property as a result of this event.
Halifax Regional Police have spoken to staff at Earthquakes Canada, Natural Resources Canada who have advised information regarding Earthquakes can be found on their website
http://www.earthquakescanada.nrcan.gc.ca . They have also advised that it is scientifically helpful to them for residents who felt the effects to fill out the “Did you feel it” questionnaire link on their website.
People, you did not feel a magnitude 2.5 earthquake last night. That’s not to say there wasn’t one, just you didn’t feel it.
Earthquakes are measured on the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS), which is a logarithmic scale, which means that with each number it increases, the earthquake increases by a factor of 10. A 5.0 earthquake is 10 times stronger than a 4.0 earthquake, and a 6.0 earthquake is 100 times stronger than a 4.0 earthquake. That 7.2 earthquake that hit off the coast of Eureka, California in 1992 and quite literally knocked me out of bed in Chico, 200 miles away, was nearly 100,000 times stronger than that “earthquake-like event” in Dartmouth last night.
Here’s a helpful chart to gage the relative severity of earthquakes:
9.0 and above — Causes complete devastation and large-scale loss of life.
8.0 — Very few buildings stay up. Bridges fall down. Underground pipes burst. Railroad rails bend. Large rocks move. Smaller objects are tossed into the air. Some objects are swallowed up by the earth.
7.0 — It is hard to keep your balance. The ground cracks. Roads shake. Weak buildings fall down. Other buildings are badly damaged.
6.0 — Pictures can fall off walls. Furniture moves. In some buildings, walls may crack.
5.0 — If you are in a car, it may rock. Glasses and dishes may rattle. Windows may break.
4.0 — Buildings shake a little. It feels like a truck is passing by your house.
3.0 — You may notice this quake if you are sitting still, or upstairs in a house. A hanging object, like a model airplane, may swing.
2.0 — Trees sway. Small ponds ripple. Doors swing slowly. But you can’t tell that an earthquake is to blame.
1.0 — Earthquakes this small happen below ground. You can’t feel them.
Reports of unidentified “booms” have emerged from different places around the world for hundreds of years, and although many of the “boom stories” remain a mystery, others have been explained. Most of the booms that people hear or experience are the result of human activity, such as an explosion, a large vehicle going by, nearby construction, or sometimes a sonic boom, but there have been many reports of booms that cannot be explained by man-made sources. Some of those booms are associated with a variety of interesting natural phenomena, including earthquakes.
In the United States most reports of mysterious booms come from the Northeast and along the East Coast, but there have also been observations along the West Coast. Those on the East Coast have not been directly studied and explained, but we can deduce from observations and measurements in West Coast locations that at least some of the East Coast booms are associated with very small earthquakes. Small shallow earthquakes sometimes produce rumbling sounds or booms that can be heard by people who are very close to them. High-frequency vibrations from the shallow earthquake generate the booming sound; when earthquakes are deeper, those vibrations never reach the surface. Sometimes the earthquakes create booming sounds even when no vibrations are felt.
Having a meteor explode above your head is far more exciting than a 2.5 earthquake!
Philip here: I notice Natural Resources Canada has a table listing earthquakes in our region. There was a 5.2 magnitude quake in 1855, then nothing until 1981. There was a 2.9 in January 2019.
Here’s a story that may sound familiar. An enterprising journalist with a passion for local politics sees a gap in municipal coverage. He has an alt-weekly background and wants to be able to dive deeper into issues, follow his instincts, and bring a perspective that readers generally don’t get from the local print media.
So he decides to start his own local news website and tell the stories he wants to tell. The site catches on, he breaks stories, offers analysis and starts featuring freelance contributions too.
If you’re a long-time Examiner reader, the story may sound familiar. In the video he made when he launched the Examiner, Tim said:
This is going to be true independent journalism… I want it to be the site that people come to and they say, “This is where I find out something I can’t find anywhere else… This is where I’m going to get someone challenging the powers that be, I’m going to get a different story…” We’re given this kind of fake narrative about how things are running the way they’re supposed to run and if you peel that back you see there are all these other stories that are not so pretty.
Since 2014, when the Examiner launched, there have been a whole bunch of journalism sites starting up in cities across the country. I wonder if one day we’ll look back at this era the way we look back at the early days of the alt-weekly explosion. (Some of the first pieces I was ever paid for were written for Montreal’s now-defunct Hour weekly. Ask me about The Life and Cuisine of Elvis Presley sometime.)
One of those sites is The Sprawl, founded by freelancer Jeremy Klaszus in 2017, and based in Calgary. I called up Klaszus on Friday to ask him about how The Sprawl is organized, the publication’s business model, and what role he thinks websites like his (and this one) play in the media landscape.
The Sprawl calls itself “pop-up journalism,” but that description doesn’t reflect a scattershot approach to news. Quite the opposite. Klaszus says, “It’s basically in-depth local civic affairs journalism… we go deep on one issue at a time rather than try to cover everything in the city all the time.”
You can approach The Sprawl thematically, or through individual stories. Browse all the stories on, say, climate action, in one place, or navigate chronologically. The Sprawl also has a regular comics journalism feature called “The Listener,” by Sam Hester.
The site has an 11-part manifesto, which includes, “We do context, not clickbait” and “We question our own assumptions and privilege.”
As someone who particularly despises the idea of “giving voice” to people, I appreciated point 9 of the manifesto:
We strive for inclusiveness that goes beyond tokenism.
The Sprawl is not a “voice for the voiceless.” Instead, we recognize that in Calgary, as elsewhere, some voices are heard more than others. We ask: how can we listen to and amplify diverse local voices, building reciprocal relationships instead of extracting quotes?
Here’s part of how Klaszus is described in his bio on the site:
He grew up in small-town Alberta, attended fundamentalist Christian schools and eagerly subscribed to the right-wing Alberta Report as a teenager. (One of his first email addresses was [email protected] — seriously!) Then he swung the other way: after moving to Calgary, he became a staff writer for the alt-weekly newspaper FFWD (R.I.P.), which once described itself on t-shirts as a purveyor of “leftist commie crap.” At FFWD, Jeremy got his reporting chops and got hooked on municipal politics.
So, where did The Sprawl come from? Well, in the run-up to the 2017 municipal election, Klaszus found himself wishing there was an outlet that would cover the kinds of stories he wanted to see. FFWD had folded, the two dailies, the Herald and Sun, had merged, and “there was just less and less going on in town in terms of media options.”
Klaszus decided to just launch The Sprawl and do five weeks worth of election coverage. He wasn’t going to put up a paywall and wouldn’t ask people to contribute—he just wanted to put something out there, see if people would go for it, and then decide if he wanted to make it a more permanent thing. If he did, he’d ask for money then. Klaszus says:
My rationale was to kind of do proof of concept first. Show, don’t tell… But I had a friend who told me the weekend before I launched it, “You’re crazy. What are you doing? Set up a Patreon page. People will pay for this.”
So he did, and they did, and The Sprawl has been in business ever since.
The Sprawl takes a very different business approach than the Examiner. There are no paywalls and no subscriptions. Instead, the site relies entirely on crowdfunding support (it also got a one-time $100,000 grant through the Digital News Innovation Challenge). Currently, there are over 900 supporters; you can sign up for as little as $5 a month.
I asked Klaszus if the more precarious funding model was stressful, or if he would feel beholden to his supporters. He said he worried in the beginning when people would drop their support, but it doesn’t bother him anymore. In fact, he’d worry if nobody was dropping out:
In the early days, when it was 50 or 100 supporters, when someone cancelled their support I’d think, “Oh, did I do something wrong? Was it this article or that article?” Now it’s over 900 people, so I’m not paying attention to whether one or two people cancel. I’ve grown to realize that’s going to happen. That’s just a normal part of having a business like this. You’re going to do some stuff that does rile up the crowd and rub them the wrong way… If you’re actually doing worthwhile journalism that’s going to happen.
I think [precariousness] is something that’s not really talked about enough when it comes to ventures like this. It’s almost romanticized: Oh yeah, you’re crowdfunded, independently supported by all these people. But it does come with a different kind of pressure. People are rewarding you, you want to reward that support, give people worthwhile stories…. It’s like, I think there is a temptation that you don’t want to get on the wrong side of your supporters, but you can’t let that guide what you’re doing.
The Sprawl doesn’t publish every day. There’s no roundup of local news, no pressure to fill a schedule. Instead, the site is organized around “editions” or themes, each of which includes several stories that roll out for as long as it takes to tell them. The first edition was covering the 2017 election, which, Klaszus says, gave it natural starting and ending points, as well as a narrative arc. Others, like the current edition on urban sprawl, are less well-defined.
Klaszus is The Sprawl’s only employee, though there are people working for the operation on contract.
In addition to the written stories, Klaszus also hosts a more-or-less-monthly podcast called Sprawlcast.
Klaszus says readers have told him they actually appreciate not being inundated with content:
One of the things people have told me is they appreciate how little the Sprawl publishes and that they can keep up with it. Sprawlcast generally comes out once a month. People can keep up with that.
During an edition we may publish two stories a week, then sometimes we go quiet for three weeks at a time, which is part of the design of it. We’ll cover this, then go quiet, work on the next thing and then come back. There are the editions and Sprawlscast and some one-off stuff in the mix.
I asked him where he thought The Sprawl fits in the Calgary media landscape, and the role of small, local news sites generally. He answered with an analogy I hadn’t thought of before, and I liked it:
You see this huge gap in the media landscape, and think, how do I fill it? And you can’t. Realistically you can’t. But the way I thought about it is this: What if you thought of the traditional broadsheet newspaper and the different sections of the newspaper? In Calgary, The Sprawl would be the features section. There’s another website in town called The YYScene that does arts and culture. So, OK, there’s your entertainment section. There’s another site called LiveWire that’s crowdfunded that’s doing more daily news. OK, there’s your daily news section. The future of journalism is more focused and more niche. Ideally, you could replace the Herald, but it’s not realistic.
When I asked Klaszus what stories he was proudest of, he pointed to a series called The Young Zealot, written by Taylor Lambert for the Alberta Election edition. The Sprawl sent Lambert to San Francisco to investigate now-premier Jason Kenney’s activities as an anti-gay activist in the city. Among other things, Kenney actively worked against a domestic partnership law. Lambert writes:
That law would have provided various benefits to same-sex couples who registered as partners — including hospital visitation rights, especially significant during the AIDS crisis that, at its worst, was killing over 1,400 San Franciscans annually.
The Sprawl doesn’t carry any advertising and doesn’t plan to. When I asked Klaszus about it, he described his discomfort with advertising from a practical and philosophical perspective. He said “there’s no real reason” to court advertisers:
As soon as you do that, you need someone to do that side of things. You need somebody to sell ads. When we were getting our website designed, I told our developer, “Don’t make it look like a news website” and I think that’s become core. You’re not going to be interrupted by ads. It’s just: here’s the story. And that helps it stand out in a very noisy landscape. At this point, I look at it and say there’s no real reason to do ads.
He takes a similar approach to attracting more supporters:
It’s always a challenge of capacity. Do you focus on getting more subscribers or the content side?
One of the things I’ve noticed about the Examiner is that subscribers seem to feel a sense of ownership — of being a part of the whole enterprise. Klaszus thinks that’s a key part of The Sprawl too:
The key challenge for journalism right now is how do you get people to pay for news? It’s about building community and it’s about connecting people within a community. It changes the whole thing when there are people invested in what you’re doing. They give their $5 a month and are happy to do that, and proud to do that, and like to connect with others who do that. The Sprawl is a news organization, but more importantly it connects people.
Investment Policy Advisory Committee (Monday, 12pm, City Hall) — the committee will receive the Treasurer’s report.
Grants Committee (Monday, 1pm, City Hall) — the committee will direct the CAO to negotiate a less-than-market lease for the 211 Information and Referral Services Association at the police building in Woodside.
Regional Centre Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — this is the first meeting of the council, which was established by the full city council in December. Councillors will simply approve their meeting schedule.
Law Amendments (Monday, 12pm, Province House) — The following bills will be considered:
Bill No. 220 – Labour Standards Code
Bill No. 221 – Labour Standards Code
Bill No. 223 – University Foundations Act
Bill No. 225 – Elections Act
Bill No. 226 – Companies Act
Bill No. 227 – Legal Aid Act
Bill No. 228 – Housing Nova Scotia Act
Bill No. 230 – Municipal Government Act and Halifax Regional Municipality Charter
Legislature sits (Monday, 4pm, Province House)
No public meetings for the rest of the week.
March Madness at the Dal Bookstore (Monday, 9am, Dal Bookstore, SUB; Jenkins Hall, Truro campus) — until March 15, more info here.
Thesis Defence, Computer Science (Monday, 9am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Dijana Kosmajac will defend “Author Profiling on Short Texts: A Study on Approaches for Sparse and Noisy Data.”
Hierarchical Generalized Additive Models in Ecology (Monday, 12pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Eric Pedersen from Concordia University will talk.
A glimpse into a living population laboratory – the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) (Monday, 12:30pm, Room 409, Centre for Clinical Research ) — Vanessa DeClercq will talk. More info here.
Andrew Schrumm (Monday, 2:30pm, MacRae Library, Agricultural Campus, Truro) — something, something, “RBC Thought Leadership,” and then we stopped reading.
Generous Leadership: Daily practices to bring your best to the moment, whatever the moment (Monday, 3pm, Room 3111, Mona Campbell Building) — Crane Stookey, who is an “executive coach” and then we stopped reading.
A Conversation About Elizabeth Bishop (Monday, 6:30pm, Halifax Central Library) — a panel discussion about the Nova Scotian poet, with Rita Wilson, Emma Fitzgerald, Sandra Barry, Alison Smith, and Alexander Macleod. More info here.
Guitar Recital (Tuesday, 11:45am, MacAloney Room, Dal Arts Centre)
i‑Crimes and Misdemeanours: [Presti]Digit[iz]ation, Analogue Photographs, and their Digital Surrogates (Tuesday, 5:30pm, Room 3089, Rowe Management Building) — Joan M. Schwartz from Queen’s University will talk.
Institutions, under pressure from administrators, from funding sources, and from the user-public, make photographs available online as searchable single items. In the process, meaningful information about the physical and intellectual contexts of creation, circulation, and viewing is sacrificed at the altar of speed, quantity, convenience, and the almighty dollar. In this lecture, I am concerned with troubling changes, subtle and otherwise, brought about by “[presti]digit[iz]ation” — scanning for ease of access, whereby materiality, context, and meaning are lost. Drawing on professional experience as a photo-archivist and scholarly interests as a photographic historian, I critique examples of digitization and description initiatives, with a view to highlighting those instances for which institutions can justly be accused of “iCrimes and Misdemeanours” and encouraging best practices grounded in a deeper understanding of the nature and power of photographs as a form of visual communication, and in a broader appreciation of the critical differences between search and research, content and meaning underpinning access to and use of online images.
More info here.
Greek Culture and Roman Imperialism at a Latin City (Tuesday, 4pm, MM 227) — Jason Farr will talk.
International Education Art Exhibition Live Event (Tuesday, 5pm, , Arts Commons, MM 214) — Students, staff and faculty perform art pieces inspired by their international experiences.
Mount Saint Vincent
Vincent’s Restaurant (Monday, 4:30 – 7pm) — Tourism & Hospitality Management students will make you dinner at this student-run teaching restaurant. Reservations required. For menu options, pricing, and alternate lunch and dinner dates click here.
Vincent’s Restaurant (Tuesday, 4:30 – 7pm) — see above.
In the harbour
00:30: George Washington Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
05:30: Viking Queen, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
16:00: Viking Queen sails for sea
17:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
21:15: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Baltimore
I am enjoying listening to spring training baseball games.