News

1. Commission to review RCMP handling of sexual assault complaints from Susie Butlin

Susie Butlin

Three days after the RCMP rebuffed her fears in September 2017, Susie Butlin was murdered by the man who sexually assaulted her. On Tuesday, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) “initiated a complaint and public interest investigation into the RCMP’s handling of the sexual assault and subsequent death” of Butlin.

Butlin, who was 58, had complained to the RCMP in Bible Hill weeks before her death that her neighbour in Bayhead had sexually assaulted her months prior, and was still harassing and threatening her. Instead of responding seriously to the complaint, it would seem the police felt Butlin was harassing them. According to Butlin’s sister in the subsequent murder trial, the RCMP told Butlin to go home, saying she was being a “public nuisance.”

“In one of her final calls with her childhood friend, Suzanne Davis, Butlin said she was sure Duggan would kill her before her next court date,” Joan Baxter writes in her Tuesday report on the upcoming CRCC investigation. “Tragically, that is exactly what happened.”

Baxter wrote about the police response to Butlin’s complaints, and her murder, in two articles back in 2020 (here and here). She also made reference to the case in last week’s article on Brenda Forbes, the woman who told the Mass Casualty Commission that a 2013 call she placed to RCMP (also in Bible Hill) had gone unheeded. That call, Forbes said, reported a case of domestic abuse against Lisa Banfield, perpetrated by the man who would kill 22 Nova Scotians in the mass murder of April 2020.

That shooting indirectly spurred the new CRCC investigation surrounding Butlin’s death. It triggered Butlin’s friend Suzanne Davis to go public with her story and demand police do more to protect women from violent men. Information from Davis features heavily in Baxter’s 2020 reporting on the Butlin case, and those articles spurred retired RCMP officer Cathy Mansfield to file a complaint with CRCC.

“I am so sick of seeing women being treated this way by the very people whose job it is to protect and serve,” Mansfield wrote in a message to the Examiner after news broke about the investigation Tuesday.

“The police are the last people who should be dismissing women’s calls for help and instead suggesting that the woman is the problem. That attitude gets women killed. Police are supposed to protect, not harm, and any of them who don’t see it this way is in the wrong profession. Women like Susan Butlin are losing their lives every day because of misogynist attitudes towards them and it must change now.”

Click here to read Baxter’s article.

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2. Premier rejects recommended pay raises for MLAs

Premier Tim Houston wrote to Speaker Keith Bain asking to reconvene the legislature so the government can table amendments that will prevent an increase to MLA salaries recommended by an independent panel.

An independent panel released a review Tuesday morning recommending a pay raise for MLAs, something that hasn’t happened since 2013. The recommendation: bump legislators’ annual base salary from $89,234.90 to $100,480.91.

As Jennifer Henderson reports, Premier Tim Houston isn’t interested in those raises.

“When inflation is at a 40-year high, gas prices are at historic levels, and many hard-working Nova Scotians are struggling to make ends meet, it is not the time to increase the pay of MLAs,” Houston said in a news release yesterday. “As soon as I learned about the proposed raise, I took immediate action to stop it.”

Houston requested Speaker Keith Bain reconvene the provincial legislature so the recommended raise — which doesn’t call for any change to the premier’s salary — can be rejected. Yesterday it was announced province house will resume business on July 26.

So the province’s leader recognizes it’s a bad look to raise government salaries while so many are struggling. Now my question is, will he also look at raising the minimum wage in Nova Scotia? Maybe to something that people can live on?

Last fall, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimated a living wage in Halifax was $22.05/hour. Since that time, minimum wage increased to $13.35/hour. But the cost of living, here and around the world, has doubtlessly increased, too.

Houston’s announcement will likely stave off serious political backlash, but it won’t ease any financial stress for Nova Scotians.

Henderson has the full report on Tim Houston’s promise to keep MLA salaries stagnant here.

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3. Feds announce spending for net-zero buildings and active living in Antigonish County

From left, Michelle Thompson, Antigonish MLA, Sean Fraser Central Nova MP, Owen McCarron, Antigonish County warden, Laurie Boucher, mayor of Antigonish. Photo: Facebook

The federal government is spending close to $9.6 million on two major projects in Antigonish.

As Jennifer Henderson reports: “One project includes retrofitting community buildings in the area to make them more energy efficient, while the second project is building an ‘active living corridor’ to encourage more people to get out biking and walking.”

As part of the net-zero building project, nine community centres, arenas, and curling clubs in Havre Boucher, St. Joseph, St. Andrews, Arisaig, Lochaber, and Keppoch Mountain will receive federal and provincial funding for retrofits. Upgrades will include new heating systems, more efficient lighting, and solar panels on each building.

Alongside the federal funding, the municipality will contribute $2 million to the project.

As for the “active living corridor,” it’ll run five kilometres from Addington Forks Road to Beech Hill in Antigonish County. It’s expected to cost $18-million and be completed by 2026.

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser was on hand at Tuesday’s announcement of the projects in Antigonish. Henderson deviated from the day’s topic to ask Fraser, whose previous job in the Trudeau government was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment, about federal aid to help Nova Scotian ratepayers with the $2 billion cost of closing coal-fired generating stations in this province, which could present a 10% rate hike for ratepayers.

Click here to read what Fraser had to say, and to get all the details about the announcement in Antigonish.

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4. Africa Festival of Arts and Culture returns to Halifax Thursday

(Circa 2014) Members of the Africa Festival of Arts and Culture Society (AFACS). Photo: AFACS / Facebook.

“Afrifest, the Africa Festival of Arts and Culture, returns to Halifax this week, and for the first time the event will take place over four days,” reports Matthew Byard.

In its 13th year, Afrifest features music and dance performances, as well as African food and vendors, and will run Thursday to Sunday at Sackville Landing on the Halifax Waterfront.

Byard looks at what’s on the agenda for the weekend, but he also speaks with George Mbamalu, the festival’s founder. Mbamalu came to Halifax from Nigeria in the 1980s to study at Dalhousie and never left. He talks about how the festival got started in 2010, and what other projects he’s working on to discuss and promote “inclusion and diversity from personal experience.”

You can read the full story here.

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5. Halifax Harbour and Chocolate Lake: look but don’t swim

A screenshot from a Tik Tok video that shows two people taking a swim from the bottom of the stairs into the Halifax Harbour.

Were you looking to go for a swim in Halifax Harbour today? No? Well, I’ve got good news for you then. You shouldn’t, even if you wanted to.

Halifax Water is urging Haligonians to stay out of the harbour, and be wary of activities like boating that might put you in contact with the water, after an emergency pump failure let wastewater flow into the harbour on Tuesday. Though it doesn’t say when it might be safe to swim in the harbour again — some would say it wasn’t before. Halifax Water posted an announcement on its website saying “crews are planning emergency repairs while a replacement pump is sourced.”

So, stay at the top of the Queen’s Marque stairs for the time being.

If you’d like to cool off at Chocolate Lake instead, you’ll be disappointed. Halifax Regional Municipality is advising against swimming there due to high bacteria levels. In a news release late Tuesday afternoon, HRM said bacteria levels exceed Health Canada swimming guidelines.

“High bacteria levels can be caused by a number of factors, including dogs, birds, wildlife, and high temperatures,” the releases reads. “Staff will continue testing the water until bacteria levels return to safe levels. The municipality will advise residents when the beach reopens.”

In the meantime, might I suggest a trip to the Annapolis Valley to enjoy one of our fine swimmin’ holes. Don’t ask me how to find Three Pools, though. If it gets overcrowded with city folk all is lost.

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A part of our built heritage

A City of Halifax plaque designating the Old Presbyterian Manse, or Stoddard House, on Barrington Street a Registered Heritage Property. Photo: Wikkimedia Commons

Alongside reporting on this province’s desperate need for new housing stock — especially, legitimately affordable housing stock — the Examiner has consistently covered proposals to preserve what we already have.

Recent work from Zane Woodford and Matthew Byard look at two different community efforts to preserve historic houses on Halifax’s peninsula.

One in the North End, where Nova Scotia’s first Black physician cared for Halifax Explosion survivors, that could be threatened by rezoning.

And another in the South End, where Dalhousie University has tried to expedite the demolition of a 19th-century house on Edward Street to create new student housing, leading the Heritage Advisory Committee to hold an early meeting where it recommended heritage registration, and protection, for the property.

PLANifax, the non-profit that creates weekly videos on planning, design, and community development in the municipality, is also looking at heritage buildings. On Monday, the group produced a video about the different approaches to preserving heritage buildings here in Halifax.

It all got me thinking about the value of heritage buildings in a housing crisis.

The video looks at how development pressures are threatening unregistered heritage properties in Halifax. According to the 2021 census, Halifax has the fastest-growing downtown in Canada. With a growing population, low vacancy rate, and increasing affordability crisis, there’s an obvious need for development on the peninsula. All those cranes aren’t standing around for nothing.

New developments have been replacing a lot of old buildings.

A 2019 report to Halifax’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee found since 2009 the city had lost 33 potential heritage buildings, with 71 more under threat. Last summer, Saltwire reported about half of those 104 buildings were gone.

The “Skittles” row of buildings on Queen and Birmingham Streets behind Spring Garden, which PLANifax uses as a case study, could soon be among those lost treasures.

The buildings at 1520, 1526, 1528, and 1530 Queen St. in March 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford

The small row of colourful houses add a lot of small city flavour to the area, but council voted in 2020 not to register them as heritage properties. They were too small for a rapidly growing area. That decisions likely clears the way for their demolition and redevelopment as mid or high rises that will be rented out in a real estate hot spot.

The video considers two ways other buildings like this can be protected.

The “Skittles” rows aren’t part of one of the three heritage conservation districts in town. Those districts offer the most protection to the city’s architectural heritage.

It’s essentially heritage zoning that ensures buildings in one area of the city aren’t altered or redeveloped easily. They also offer financial incentives for owners to restore and preserve heritage properties. This blanket protection maintains the character of these neighbourhoods even as the downtown grows. But we can’t keep creating these districts. The three we have are all in the downtown area already, so we’re running out of space to freeze in time there. Heritage conservation districts have to be limited lest a city become an unchanging, glass covered exhibit. If an unregistered property isn’t already in one, tough luck.

So the video presents another option. And it uses Victoria Hall on Gottingen Street to illustrate it.

Victoria Hall. Photo courtesy Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia

Developer Joseph Arab wanted to build a new 19-storey apartment building in an empty lot behind the 19th-century heritage building, but zoning there only allowed him to build four storeys. Halifax ultimately approved the new apartment building, capping it at 13 storeys, in exchange for restoration work on the aging heritage property.

That might seem like a decent compromise. You could definitely debate it is. Halifax gets more housing and private money to preserve its heritage, and a developer gets to build more than would otherwise be permissible. But it also puts a modern 13-storey building in a strange spot. It will tower over the much prettier Victoria Hall and be surrounded by small town houses on residential Creighton Street.

A rendering of the revised 13-storey proposal for the property behind Victoria Hall on Gottingen Street. Photo: HRM/Fathom Studio
An architectural rendering showing the building design from Creighton Street. — HRM/Fathom Studio

For that kind of potential eyesore, you’d think guaranteed affordable housing would be part of the compromise. No such luck, though. (Four of the 100 proposed rooms have been promised as “affordable” rentals for 15 years). I don’t understand how a developer could be allowed to build all those extra units and put up a building so incongruous with the rest of the neighbourhood without being mandated to make it easier to afford to live there. The deal’s a little too sweet on the development side.

Whatever your thoughts, it’s a compromise that isn’t possible for a lot of potential heritage buildings, including those on Queen and Birmingham. There’s no empty lot behind them on which to build new developments and the wooden structures wouldn’t support upward construction, which would likely destroy their character anyway.

Those classic rows of colourful houses seem destined for redevelopment. Another part of Halifax’s small city charm will likely be lost. Probably to unaffordable high rises.

With limited geographical space on the peninsula, and a dire need for more housing, it might seem silly to worry about preserving heritage buildings right now. It remains important, though. Condos and high rises add housing stock and help increase population density, but too many can’t afford to live in them and they sap the soul and character from a city.

When we decide not to protect potential heritage properties, we should seriously consider what will replace them. How much affordable, or deeply affordable, housing will new developments guarantee in exchange for demolishing buildings of historical or architectural importance? What do we gain from the new when we lose the old? And, if we do keep the old, how does it benefit people living in the community? All questions we should be asking.

If Dalhousie, for instance, were to commit to an affordable apartment unit that would cheaply house 30 or 40 students, I might be more on board with them replacing the beautiful late-Victorian house on Edward Street that Zane Woodford’s been writing about. But they’ve been vague about their plans, with the exception of their desire to tear it down and start fresh. So, I don’t see what the improvement will be.

The Heritage Advisory Committee evaluates potential heritage properties based on six criteria. If a building scores at least 50 out of a hundred potential points, based on those criteria, it’s eligible to be registered for preservation. I’ve always thought it strange how those points are handed out.

The age of the building can award a building a potential 25 points. Yet the property’s relationship to the surrounding area — does it complement the adjacent architecture, benefit the community, or add to its heritage, character, or vibrancy — can only score you 10 points.

Maybe a building’s relevance and benefit to the community should be the biggest consideration, for heritage properties and new builds alike. Old buildings should give a neighbourhood character and be accessible to everyone. New buildings should do the same, and if they replace unregistered heritage buildings, part of them should be affordable to everyone.

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Noticed: Mind-bending mental health

Magic Mushrooms could help with mental illness. Photo: Cannabis Pictures/Wikimedia Commons

Some people use drugs to distract from their problems. But could they be used to deal with them?

Fellow Morning Filer Philip Moscovitch has a piece this week in Unravel on psychedelic drugs, and how some Halifax therapists want the federal government to let them use drugs like ketamine to treat depression.

“It’s a marvellous drug,” says anesthesiologist Dr. Grayson Lloyd about ketamine in the article. “I still find amazing things about the drug every time I use it.”

“The need (for psychedelic treatments) is massive,” he says. “There are going to be other clinics that open in Halifax. It’s only a matter of time, and I think that’s a win for everybody, really — more patients get this kind of therapy and are supported in their health goals. I think it’s really, really important.”

Does that sound wacky?

It’s not just Lloyd, who works out of Valley Regional Hospital and, it should be noted, co-owns a ketamine infusion clinic in Halifax. More and more doctors are finding amazing things about ketamine and other psychedelic drugs these days.

As Moscovitch notes, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, along with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, co-hosted a global summit in May to examine psychedelic-assisted therapies and medicine.

At this point, you might be asking: is this legal? Well, not exactly. Ketamine is only legal in Canada for anesthetic use. Though a qualified physician can use it off-label to treat depression or PTSD. Other drugs, like psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), MDMA, and LSD, have more limited access.

Now some doctors are calling on the feds to loosen up a little. They don’t want to get their patients high. They want to help them open up. They say using these drugs along with therapy aids in self-discovery.

There are still concerns. Drugs don’t work for all patients, and doctors who prescribe them have to be able to lead their patients through potentially dangerous trips. Commercialization and expense could also become a factor if psychedelics become a legal form of treatment.

If you’re skeptical, it’s worth a read. The treatment need more research, but some doctors are hopeful these drugs could seriously improve care for PTSD and depression. Moscovitch speaks with Lloyd, as well as a therapist and a Halifax-based filmmaker who made an influential documentary about LSD and research about its effectiveness as a treatment for addictions and mental illness for the National Film Board.

Check it out along with Moscovitch’s article. They might just expand your mind.

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Government

City

Wednesday

License Appeal Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — agenda here

Virtual Public Information Meeting (Wednesday, 6pm, online) — Case 23408 Application by Stephen Adams ConsultingServices to rezone the property at 378 Shore Drive, Bedford

Thursday

Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm, Power House Youth Centre, 1606 Bell Rd.) — agenda here

Province

No meetings


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
11:00: Gotland, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 27 from Loviisa, Finland
12:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
15:00: Conti Contessa, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41

Cape Breton
15:00: CSL Argosy, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
20:30: Advantage Start, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
21:30: SFL Trinity, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York


Footnotes

My world’s on fire. How ’bout yours?

A little frivolous but relevant pop music to distract you from the news of the world, and get you through the hump day:


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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. The city has given EVERYTHING developers have wanted for years just as government has abdicated so many necessities to the profit driven private sector (Nova Scotia Power anyone?)

    This housing crisis has been brought about by this abdication. Look at the vacant lot on the corner of Cunard and Robie. It has been vacant for 2 years, a lot that once held 7 affordable, heritage worthy, low rise houses. The developer, Fares, has been able to sit on this property even though there was a development agreement with the city, public consultations and a growing housing crisis.

    Government needs to get control back over the “free” market because there are many people paying the price for rich developer and income property investor freedom.

  2. It gives me an uneasy feeling when a small committee of unelected people get to dictate what people are doing with the property that they own, especially when the owner didn’t seek heritage designation and that it can result in large fines to the owner if they don’t adhere to whatever new restrictions apply. It’s a fair bit of power for an unelected committee to yield.

    It would be one thing if some level of government or a non-profit took over the property or paid the added expense of it being a heritage property after designation but it’s quite another when this burden is thrust upon somebody because of the whim of a nosy neighbor or an over zealous councilor or committee member. The committee gets to make decisions and they nor any level of government ever have to bear any burden from their decisions.

    1. Property that they own, chose to purchase, as a public institution that teaches history, architecture, sustainability and law? Some things are worth saving, and that’s one of the reasons for this legislation. And the community will now be looking to the university to do the things you’re suggesting, since their scheme, of bulldozing a perfectly useable building that also is of heritage merit, didn’t pan out.

      1. I don’t consider Dalhousie a “somebody” or “people”|. My comment was clearly in the context of the impacts that this committee has on individuals, not public institutions or corporations.

  3. Neighbours were worried when 1245 Edward Street was sold a year ago by the Sapp family to Dalhousie since it sits next door to the Glengary Apartments which the University owns and which can house up to 40 students at peak capacity. We figured they’d want to tear everything down and put up a big building on our residential street (everything else on the street are single family homes, or homes repurposed as flats/apartments). Their gardeners let slip that they were digging up the gardens as the house would be levelled for a parking lot. This made no sense; it’s not zoned for one, and the City said no way. Why would the university spend $1 million for a gorgeous late Victorian home only to tear it down for something they’re not allowed to do? From what neighbours observed over the last year, the house wasn’t heated or checked on, and probably didn’t have power or water. Sometime during the cold winter, a pipe burst in the attic, we suspect. No-one was checking, a lived in and well-loved home, housing its family, a daycare and international student tenants. It can still be fixed and house many people. The University could put it back on the market or let a community group have it. The large backyard is perfect for redevelopment to house even more people. Neighbours eagerly await the chance to talk about all of these ideas with Dal; so far though, in a year, they’ve refused to meet with us or discuss what their real plans might be. All of this is aside from its heritage value, which heritage experts at the city and the city’s Heritage Advisory Committee have agreed makes it highly worth saving. There’s still time for Dal to do the right thing and find beautiful and creative solutions to repurpose this house which deserves care and respect.