News

1. Police board to launch limited independent review of August 18 actions

A Halifax Regional Police officer during the August 18, 2021 encampment clearances in Halifax. Photo: Zane Woodford

“Halifax’s Board of Police Commissioners is moving ahead with an independent civilian review of the police actions of August 18, 2021,” Zane Woodford reports.

The board had considered launching such a review last fall, but was waiting on a legal opinion to determine if it had the authority to do so. Woodford writes:

Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board, said the opinion opens the door to a limited review.

“The board doesn’t have the authority to investigate, in the whole, the incidents of August 18 but we do have the authority to investigate aspects related to governance, oversight and policy,” Smith said.

Coun. Becky Kent read from the opinion, which Commissioner Carole McDougall attributed to lawyer Dennis James.

“It’s my opinion that the Board of Police Commissioners does have the authority to create an independent civilian review committee as defined in the motion, of which the review cannot include a review of police conduct or individual officer conduct,” Kent read.

Woodford’s story also covers other items on the agenda at yesterday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting, including Halifax Regional Police chief Dan Kinsella’s promise to actually make some police policies publicly available online, and a recommendation that the police participate in a review of sexual assault investigations.

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2. QEII redevelopment delayed by “market conditions”

The Victoria Building at the Victoria General site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre in July, 2021. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Michael Gorman of CBC reports that the tender for redeveloping the Halifax Infirmary ⁠— a major part of the QEII project ⁠— has been delayed. Gorman writes:

“Due to current market conditions, we have been requested to extend the financial close of the [Halifax Infirmary expansion project] by several months and are working toward that extension,” a statement to CBC News attributed to officials with the departments of Health and Public Works reads…

It’s difficult to know what constitutes market conditions, as per the government’s statement, but internal documents obtained by CBC show Nova Scotia’s booming population — particularly in the Halifax area — has created concerns that the plans for the infirmary need to be revisited.

The documents are from an internal presentation in February for officials connected to the redevelopment. They show the anticipated population growth of the province is already outpacing projections from 2015 when planning for major hospital redevelopment projects across the province started to take shape.

It makes sense to pause a massive project if it becomes apparent that as planned it will likely be inadequate as soon as it opens. (Designers of the Bayers Road multi-use lane take note.) What I don’t understand is the need for secrecy here. You need to delay the project? Fine! What’s wrong with telling us why?

And don’t get me started on the business language that continues to infect public service and projects. Is an increased population a “market condition” for a hospital? Apparently, because the internal documents Gorman refers to also call for “business cases” for the potential addition of programs and services to the project.

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3. Sure, let’s start mining coal again

A protester holds a sign reading, “No more coal, no more oil, keep those fossils, in the soil #landback, at the School Strike for Climate Change in Halifax on Sept. 24, 2021.  Photo: Zane Woodford

In the Chronicle Herald, David Jala writes about “coal’s last chance” and the potential re-opening of the Donkin mine, now that the price of coal has gone through the roof:

Production at the mine started in 2017 but was stopped in March 2020 due to geological concerns underground. It was reported that as many as 14 roof falls have occurred at the Donkin mine. However, all of the mining equipment remains on-site and the mine has not been sealed. A small workforce is employed to keep the shafts ventilated and dry while idle.

George Karaphillis, outgoing dean of Cape Breton University’s business school, tells Jala it makes sense to reopen the mine:

“Nobody is investing in coal mines because coal is looked at as a dying industry that was not supposed to be needed anymore, but it turns out that the demand is growing every year,” said Karaphillis.

“The thing about coal and fossil fuels is that they are reliable and dependable sources of energy. There is no waiting for the wind to blow or the sun to shine.

“And the mine owners have already made the capital investment so it wouldn’t take much money to re-open.

You will not be surprised to learn that Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator has some rather snide snarky* thoughts about all this. She writes:

Did you know that fluctuations in the market price of coal have a direct impact on the geological conditions in coal mines?

When the price of coal rises, these conditions magically improve.

The mine was shut down and considered unsafe when coal was cheap. But now that it’s expensive?

It’s a generally accepted fact that when coal hits over $300 US, coal seams stabilize, rockfalls cease and governmental stop-work spontaneously self-destruct.

What’s more, while emissions themselves remain, concern over emissions and all thoughts of climate change vanish into thin air.

Conversely, though, when coal prices drop, geological conditions deteriorate, so keep an eye on the price of coal, particularly coking coal, which soared to dizzying heights in March but has fallen 30% since.

* Campbell clarifies here use of language.

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.

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4. Throwing shade

Photo: Giorgio Trovato/Unsplash

How do you steal $45,000 worth of sunglasses from the mall?

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Views

Time is a social construct

This train runs on time. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

On Saturday night, we invited a very small group of people over for an outdoor gathering: snacks and a bonfire, to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It was an extremely low-key surprise party. The friend celebrating her birthday was invited for 15 minutes later than everyone else.

I’m going to pause here to share a few salient facts. I was born and raised in Montreal, and lived there until I was 30. My mother is Greek, and my father, who lived his entire life in Montreal, was of eastern European Jewish extraction. My partner was born in the Maritimes, but lived in Montreal for more than a decade, including during some of her formative years.

Our first set of guests were invited for 7:30pm. I fully expected them to come somewhere between 7:45pm and 8pm. Definitely not before 7:45.

At 7:25, as I was starting to prep the snacks, I heard cars in the driveway. What? The guests were here now? Why? What the hell were they thinking, arriving early?

I vividly remember my mother’s horror when some American relatives showed up not just on time, but early. My mother was still vacuuming when they pulled into the driveway. She went on about how rude this was for years.

On Saturday night, I wasn’t vacuuming. We already had chairs and a table near the firepit, so we got the fire going and waited for our guest of honour, the birthday celebrant.

A salient fact about her: she was born and raised in Montreal and is also half Jewish. Half an hour after the time we’d told her to come, she still hadn’t arrived. Now this was more in line with what I was expecting.

Having the guests arrive earlier than I expected wasn’t a problem, but it did strike me that I still haven’t fully assimilated local expectations around time.  That view was confirmed when I went on Twitter and wrote this:

More than two decades in Nova Scotia, and I’m still shocked when people turn up at the time they were invited for.

Some people replied to this with bafflement. Of course people turn up at the time they were invited. Why wouldn’t they? A few said they had no idea anybody would consider this weird. Some said if you’re not five minutes early, you’re late (in one case, 10 minutes late). And then there were the judgmental scolds. One of them replied with this:

It’s a show of respect. If you show up late, it means you can’t be bothered to leave on time or that the occasion isn’t all that important to you compared to what you were doing before you showed up.

And, because it’s Nova Scotia, someone had to point out that being late is a come from away thing:

We’re all strong believers in Vince Lombardi’s thoughts on promptness. Also we respect and value other people’s time. Fashionably late is a ‘come from away’ term.

(I believe Vince Lombardi was a football coach; I have no idea what his thoughts on promptness were, nor do I care to find out.)

Social constructs and assumptions are fascinating, because we rarely stop to consider them unless we are encountered with cultures that have different ones. Time is one of these. To the punctuality-at-all costs types, being late is disrespectful. Saying you expect people at a certain time and not actually expecting them to arrive at that time seems absurd. But if you come from a culture where perceptions of time are more fluid, and where the value of punctuality doesn’t outweigh the relative importance of an appointment, you might see things differently.

A 2019 paper in the journal Cross-Cultural Research refers to “event time” and “clock time” cultures:

In clock time cultures, activities are scheduled and determined by the clock (“It is 6 o’clock, it is time to eat”). These cultures have also been referred to as monochronic cultures, in which one activity is scheduled after another… Time is a resource, something that is fixed, as if it were material… Business and achievement are likely to be more important than social considerations in a clock time culture… One illustrative example regarding lateness specifically comes from Germany, where “arriving too late” appears as number 6 in the list of top 10 of topics people dream about most frequently.

Event time is different:

In contrast, event time cultures depend on how social events shape the beginning, duration, and ending of activities (“Now that we met in the street, let’s eat”). This type of culture may be seen as polychronic, in which people use time less purposefully than monochronic, with frequent switching between activities, and combining social and work activities. In particular, social obligations and maintaining relations without offending anyone weigh heavily and coming across as friendly, rather than professional and efficient, is important. Although the clock is used, a more elastic idea of time use is present than in clock time cultures.

You can see how this can cause some friction for people working in multinational organizations. In an article from the Harvard Business Review, Andy Molinsky describes an American manager frustrated with Italian colleagues:

He was frustrated by his Italian colleagues, who were regularly late for meetings. As a result he ended up padding his schedule, adding in an hour of “slack” time, just to take into account their tardiness. This was particularly frustrating for the manager because it meant he ultimately had less time to schedule other activities and often, as a result, ended up working late to make up for missed time.

Molinsky continues:

And it’s not just Americans and Italians; I’ve heard similar stories from Germans frustrated with the lack of timeliness from their Indian and Brazilian colleagues. I myself have MBA students from all over the world who often mimic the cultural norms of their countries in terms of arriving to class: the German and Swiss students arrive 10 minutes before the appointed time, and my Brazilian students saunter in well after the bell has sounded. And just the other day, I heard a story about a Japanese firm who was so frustrated with their American counterparts because of their lack of punctuality with a deadline that the conflict threatened the entire working relationship. In this case, the deliverable was only 15 minutes late.

Sometimes lateness is used as a way to project power. Remember how Stephen McNeil would turn up late for just about every single COVID-19 briefing? He was letting those pesky reporters know that their time was not important. This wasn’t a cultural thing, like, say scheduled bus times might be.

In a 2005 story, LA Times staff writer Jane Engle notes differences between Italy and Switzerland:

In Switzerland, the land of watches, trains really do run like clockwork.

“If I’m 30 seconds late, the train is gone,” said Michelle Kranz, who commutes daily into Lucerne, where she works for the tourist board.

Step across the border, and you’re in a different universe.

Italy has two rail schedules: the one printed in the brochure and another, flashing updates, on a board in the station. The first may be a fantasy; the second, reality.

I’ve experienced this contrast myself. I can remember waiting for a streetcar in Zurich, seeing that it was scheduled to arrive in 30 seconds, and figuring it would be late since it was nowhere in sight. Twenty-nine seconds later, it pulled up to the stop. A second later, we were boarding.

By contrast, last month on the Greek island of Syros, we checked the bus schedule online, saw there was a 2:05 bus for the town we wanted to visit, and headed down to the station. A bus pulled in at 2:05, but it was dropping people off and then parking. Another bus came after that, and then a third. The bus to where we wanted to go arrived closer to 2:30. If that happened here, I would be irritated as hell. In Syros? Not so much. Pretty much what I expected, in fact.

Of course, cultures are not monolithic, they can change, and individuals within a culture may not like or follow the norm themselves. But stepping outside those norms can take a lot of work. If you live in an event time culture but you expect people to be punctual, you’d better make that clear, and expect to make it clear over and over again.

One Greek cultural norm is to say no when you’re offered something, regardless of whether you actually want it or not. My suspicion is that this grows out of a combination of pride and a history of poverty: nobody wants to be seen as needing something, or wants to be in a position of creating obligation. So this little dance happens: I offer, you say no, I offer again, you politely decline, I offer a third time, you say yes.

My mother hates this. She moved back to Greece after spending nearly 50 years in Canada, and she’s told all her friends and relatives that if they want something they should just say yes, because she’s not going to keep asking. And if she says no, she means no, and you don’t need to offer again. She says people eventually got this, but it took a long time.

When we first lived in Nova Scotia, I was perpetually late. One of my kids recently said he doesn’t think he ever arrived at a birthday party on time once during his childhood. (I think he may be exaggerating.) I realized that coming at the time you are invited is a social norm here, and I don’t want to be rude. But somehow I still don’t have the expectation that guests will arrive at the invited time.

And to the person who wrote “I would have been waiting outside for 15 minutes until the invited time“? You’re not being invited back.

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Noticed

Vuk Dragojevic, the creator of The Quarantine Hotline is photographed by a payphone, in Toronto, Thursday, July 8, 2021. (Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail).

Vuk Dragojevic is a 37-year-old Toronto-based photographer and documentary maker with a passion for street photography. But the early pandemic made that impossible — or at least not particularly satisfying.

“Once a week, I would do four or five hours [of photography] out in the street, so that kind of became almost like a weekly therapy session for me,” Dragojevic told me in an interview. “And when the pandemic hit, I found I was really missing that engagement with public space, people, strangers.”

So he set up a voicemail hotline, and peppered Toronto (and, to a lesser extent, Hamilton, Guelph, and Montreal) with posters for something called The Quarantine Hotline  that said, “Leave me a voicemail.” Close to a thousand people did, and Dragojevic has collected many of those calls in a five-part audio series called The Quarantine Hotline.

One of Vuk Dragojevic’s posters, as seen in Toronto in September 2021. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Dragojevic came up with the idea in part as a way to maintain contact with people. Originally, before he made up the posters, he saw the project as being primarily for friends and family. His social group: “What’s everyone doing? How’s everyone feeling?” But, he said, as it became clear the pandemic and its disruptions were going to last longer than a few weeks, he decided to expand the project, asking strangers to call.

The posters were an invitation to participate in “a pandemic audio time capsule:”

Share your thoughts and observations about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Have a story to tell? Itching to get something off your chest?

What’s on your mind?

Anything goes.

Call and leave me a voicemail. The line is free, anonymous, and open 24/7.

Going out postering “became another kind of weekly ritual for me,” Dragojevic said. “Going out in public space and engaging with the street again.”

Like street photography, it also allowed him to engage, albeit at a distance, with people he might not otherwise encounter. “I was shocked at the kinds of people this was reaching… People I never would have come across in regular life. We are much more stuck in these social bubbles than we would like to admit,” he said.

The hotline episodes were released over the last few weeks, with the final one dropping a few days ago. Dragojevic has divided the calls into thematic and loosely chronological chapters called Bored and Scared, Eating Bad Soup, Vaccine, Lovesick, and Just Another Day. He’s also made the project accessible, with captions on the screen for those who cannot hear the voicemails.

Bored and Scared really captures the sense of the early pandemic — the feelings of confusion, fear, and in some cases anger. (“Pandemic, my ass.”) One artist calls in and says he’s never sold more art in his life. People are home, they have extra money, and they want something beautiful to look at. A young woman who has been homeless for a long time said she was moved out of a shelter and into a hotel room, and it was the first time in her life she had her own bathroom.

Many people, understandably, are confused, scared, not sure what to do.

Here’s one of the calls:

So… I’m really bored um…and scared because I don’t know what’s happening in the world. I stopped watching the news, so I don’t even know the numbers anymore. I don’t know what people are planning to do. I just like sit at home and just take one day at a time. Also, it’s weird because I literally haven’t seen anyone for a long time. I‘ve been forgetting how to interact with people, and, the weird part is that I don’t even wanna go out of the house, like… I’m kind of happy to stay in. Like, I know I should be like wanting to go out and have fun but I don’t want to. Like, I hate everyone. The longer I stay in, the more I hate people. I thought I would be sad, and I’m not and I hate everyone, so this is kind of nice. Yeah. That’s it. Thanks.

Chapter 3 opens with a particularly memorable call about someone’s motivation to get vaccinated:

OK, I know that I’m supposed to want my vaccine so that I… you know, I’m contributing to herd immunity and, like, protecting all those people that can’t be protected or don’t have good immune systems. Like, I know that the faster all of us get our vaccines, the faster the pandemic will be over. I know that there should be, like all of these good reasons to want a vaccine, but, I just… I just wanna be fucked. I just want to have sex. And I just, fucking…hit me up with that good juice so that I can get juiced.

Many of the calls are thoughtful. Some are deranged. Some are from callers upset about their deranged friends and family. A not insignificant number are pranks. Dragojevic said, “It was tempting to make a whole episode on pranksters… The cutting room floor is just full of pranksters. And I’m OK with that. It’s funny, but you get the sense that this wasn’t serious for everyone. It’s a little bit generational, I found. Some people took it seriously, some took it as a joke.”

There are several repeat callers in the project. One guy is being kept awake by a vibrating sound, and develops all kinds of theories to account for it:

My other suspicion was perhaps a secret government underground lair, uh… housing a large generator similar to that in, like, Stranger Things.

Eventually, he figures it out, and the answer is completely prosaic:

So I found out what that humming sound was, where it was coming from. That, that… wroom… wrooom… wroooom… Yeah, it was a… it’s a vent on the side of the house and the cap fell off. Come to think of it, it did kind of sound like, like a didgeridoo or something. Yeah. Whomppp… whooomp… whoooooo…

Dragojevic said:

He called many, many, many times, and through him and other calls you get the sense this is quite cathartic and therapeutic for people, even if they don’t know exactly what they are contributing to. There is some catharsis there for them. It did become this mystery, and every night I would get a call with the latest on the mystery… And after this whole conspiratorial thing, it’s just a loose pipe on the side of a building… Sometimes it’s the simplest explanation.

Much has been written about how the 1918 flu pandemic was largely forgotten. (This was actually a surprise to me, because my paternal grandfather’s first wife died in the pandemic, so I grew up knowing about it.) And even now, people are rewriting history. Recently someone was tweeting nostalgically about the early days of the pandemic, when we were all apparently dancing and baking sourdough bread. Several of the hotline callers commend Dragojevic for wanting to create a record of the pandemic, even as many want to just move on. He said:

A lot of people are done, want to move forward, the warm weather’s here — I think we’ll see how relevant this stays in the months and years ahead… .

How will we listen back? How will we remember this strange time?… Personally, it’s important to me. I just had a baby a couple of months ago, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what the world will be like, what stories she’s going to hear and what lasting effects are going to be around when she’s growing up. It’s fascinating.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — virtual meeting

Wednesday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Regional Centre Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — agenda

Province

Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, Province House) — Seamless Canada: Overview of Organization, with Col. Stéphane Boucher; also Agenda Setting


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Art Gallery Exhibition Tour with Frances Dorsey (Tuesday, 11am, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — from the listing:

Join Plant Kingdom curator Frances Dorsey for a tour of the exhibition at Dalhousie Art Gallery, followed by a walk through the new corresponding pollinator garden across campus. Dorsey will discuss some of the ideas that prompted the exhibition and the works included. The tour will highlight the ways that the different artists approached their artworks and the ways they interact with the plant world through both theme and material. This tour will be partially outside so please dress accordingly for the weather. No registration is necessary.

Ecosystem Triangle Planting (Tuesday, 11am, behind Shirreff Hall) — Volunteers will be working with Dalhousie MREM graduate, Samantha Ceci, and Facilities Management to install a new Ecosystem Triangle in a naturalized area behind Shirreff Hall.

PhD thesis defence: Interdisciplinary PhD program (Tuesday, 1pm, online) — Matthew Perkins-McVey will defend “Thinking with the Body: How Morphine, Alcohol, and Other Intoxicants Intersected Bodies and Minds in the Emergence of the Biological Subject.”

Wednesday

Campus Garden Tour (Wednesday, 12pm, in front of Hicks Building) — hosted by the Dalhousie gardeners

Saint Mary’s

Jordan River Anderson, the Messenger (Tuesday, 1pm, Sobey 255) — free film screening & discussion of Alanis Obomsawin’s 2019 film


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: Contship Leo, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
06:00: Berge Nimba, bulker, arrives at anchorage from IJmuiden, Netherlands
06:45: Humen Bridge, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
08:30: NYK Romulus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
11:30: CMA CGM J. Adams, container ship (140,872 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
12:00: Berge Nimba sails for sea
16:00: MSC Pratiti, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Genova, Italy

Cape Breton
05:30: Nobleway, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
06:00: Polar Prince, tender, arrives at Mulgrave from Halifax
09:00: NSU Challenger, bulker, arrives at Chedabucto Bay anchorage from Baltimore
09:00: HMS Protector, ice patrol ship, arrives at Liberty Pier 2 (Sydney) from Halifax
15:00: NSU Challenger sails for sea


Footnotes

William Pryor Binnie of Halifax is buried in Syros. Photo: Philip Moscovitch
  • Speaking of Syros, we were surprised to come across this gravestone in a cemetery there. Craig Ferguson, who runs the Dead in Halifax Twitter account, offers some background on Binnie:

This guy was the scion of Haligonian aristocracy. His dad was the Mayor of Halifax in 1841. His grandmother was a Creighton. His grandfather was the Anglican bishop. His maternal grandfather founded the bank that became CIBC

  • Today is both the solstice and National Indigenous Peoples Day.

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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. A new Infirmary should be off the peninsula in the Bedford/Sackville area and perhaps an expansion of the Cobequid facility which would be the best location for the majority of people.