News

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1. COVID-19 update

Premier Stephen McNeil (l) and Chief Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID-19 briefing, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia.

Mary Campbell at the Cape Breton Spectator gives us the daily update on COVID-19. Dr. Robert Strang announced just one new positive case of COVID-19, and fortunately no new deaths.

Here are the numbers:

Total new cases: 1

Total cases: 1,020

Total hospitalized: 9

Total in ICU: 4

Total recovered: 864

Total deaths: 48

Total long-term-care facilities (LTCF) affected: 3

LTCF residents: 157 (Northwood), 1 (other LTCFs)

LTCF staff: 8 (Northwood), 1 (other LTCFs)

Total positive and negative tests to date: 35,224

Age range of patients: under 10 to over 90

Strang says while the low number of new cases is encouraging, a reopening of the province won’t happen for another 14 days (the incubation period for the virus) and possibly not for another 28 days. At Northwood, Strang said they finished testing all of the residents, although those who tested negative will be retested. There has also been a “significant reduction” in the number of positive residents.

One reporter asked about students who want to get back into schools to pick up belongings they left behind now that schools will remain closed for the school year. Strang says after May 25 one student or a family member will be able to visit the school for those pickups, but only by appointment.

The briefing also covered smoking and vaping and COVID-19, those COVID clusters, CERB, and Boat Harbour.

In her briefing, Campbell also includes an interesting article about risk assessment by Erin Bromage, a comparative immunologist and professor of biology (specializing in immunology) at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who talks about where you’re most likely at risk of catching the virus.

Read the full story here.

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2. Halifax is finally planning COVID-19 transportation changes

A “pandemic extended sidewalk” in Washington, D.C. on April 9, 2020. Photo: Flickr user angela n.

Zane Woodford reports on the few details that came out of Tuesday’s council meeting about the city’s plans for the transportation network and reducing the spread of COVID-19. In an email to councillors, dated May 11 but sent Tuesday morning, transportation director Brad Anguish and planning director Kelly Denty write:

We have heard from the public and various stakeholders that there are immediate actions that are needed to allow people to physically distance while walking or cycling and access essential services and local businesses.

As we start to reopen the economy, commuter patterns and mode share are unknown and are expected to change throughout the recovery phase. In order to adapt and prepare for changing Public Health directives, the Municipality is developing a rapid response plan to quickly implement tactical elements to accommodate users of the right of way for different scenarios.

The city has been slow to make changes that have already been made in cities around the world, but Anguish and Denty say there’s a multi-department team working on the plan, which will focus on five areas. Neither that email nor a news release on the plan included many details on the changes.

Read the full story here.

3. Mostly non-COVID Halifax council round-up: Social policy, boulevard gardens, and more

Halifax councillor Lindell Smith. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Zane Woodford reports on the other non-COVID items at council, including the unanimous passing of Councillor Lindell Smith’s social policy framework, after a long three-year wait.

The social policy framework will give the city a more organized and formal way to look at social issues, including connected communities and mobility, food security, and housing.  Mary Chisholm, senior policy advisor, told council, “While we are doing great things, in the absence of a formal social policy, we are operating without defined values and principles, a formalized governance structure, and areas of focus that would help to govern the municipality’s approach to social policy.”

Council also talked about legalizing boulevard gardens, which Woodford points out are not gardens on boulevards, as well as Lorelei Nicoll’s motion for a staff report to add late RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson’s name to a list used to name or rename streets and facilities in the municipality.

Read the full story here.

4. Nova Scotia government doles out $10 million more for Northern Pulp

Northern Pulp Mill during a shutdown in October 2019. Photo: Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter reports on the province giving $10 million to Paper Excellence, the parent company of Northern Pulp. Where is that $10 million going? Well, Baxter points to this paragraph in a press release about the money:

Government owns the pipe that runs from the mill to Boat Harbour and is funding work to decommission the pipe along with other key elements of the environmental clean up.

Government is providing Paper Excellence, the mill’s parent company, a maximum of $10 million, or about half of the cost of shutting down the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility, as part of the work to hibernate the mill. The funding will pay for the removal of the leachate, decommission the pipes, ditches, and settling and aeration basins on the site.

“We are committed to seeing the clean up is done right, and through the funding agreement, we will hold the company accountable to make sure it does,” said Premier Stephen McNeil. “Completing this work is an important part of the process to return Boat Harbour — A’se’k — to its original state for the people of Pictou Landing First Nation and surrounding communities.”

The company’s work plan is in line with orders from the Minister of Environment and needs to be complete before Nova Scotia Lands can remediate Boat Harbour in 2021.

As Baxter says, the press release doesn’t say why the province owns that pipe.

Northern Pulp still owes the province $85 million in loans, along with another $65 million on a 30-year loan given by the NDP government in 2010 for the purchase of 475,000 acres of Nova Scotia timberland.

Read the full story here.

5. Auditor General finds Lands & Forestry and Health Departments slow to enact changes

Michael Pickup. Photo: The Signal

Jennifer Henderson looks at Nova Scotia Auditor General Michael Pickup’s followup report he released on Tuesday. That report looks at how well the province is doing on some of the recommendations Pickup made over the last few years.

According to Pickup’s team, 93% of the recommendations from 2015 were implemented, but only 70% of the recommendations from 2016 were. The results were better in 2017 with 81% of the recommendation being implemented.

Yesterday’s report noted that says Lands and Forestry still has not developed a program or management plans to monitor endangered and at-risk species to protect biodiversity. Those recommendations were made in 2016.

Lands and Forestry responded with this: “Draft plans have been completed for all remaining species that fall under the N.S. provincial government’s responsibility and are awaiting finalization and approval by Recovery Teams.”

The report also included at look at recommendations made on nursing homes and residential care homes and the lack of enforcement.

Read the full story here.


Views

1. Share, but don’t scare with, the COVID-19 information

Facebook is one of the places where misinformation around COVID-19 is being shared. Photo: Kon Karampelas/Unsplash

I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s seen COVID-19-related scams or misinformation out there. Facebook, especially, is a hotbed for people sharing these scams, plus all kinds of other nonsense. I gave people the boot from my profile in the early days of the crisis as the misinformation about treatments and conspiracies popped up all over my feed. I think my friends’ patience is limited these days, though. I’ve seen several people mention they were deleting and even blocking people who shared scams, conspiracies, and more online.

But if you’re getting these scams on social media or text, the federal government wants to hear about it.  You can report them here. 

Here’s a complete list of the reported scams.

I contacted the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, and according to Jeff Thomson the top reported solicitation method tied to COVID-19 fraud reporting is text messaging. That’s followed by email, internet and internet social networking. As of May 8, when I got a response, there were 868 reports on COVID-19-related frauds and 214 of those are classified as victim reports involving a total reported loss of $1.2 million.

Phishing and merchandise scams are the top-reported scams. Thomson says the most common phishing scams are those that ask people to click on links to get their Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. Mask scams are the biggest merchandise scams, although there are also scams involving hand sanitizer and products that claim to protect against COVID-19 — oils, for example.

The penalties for those sending out these scams depends on the charges laid. These scams fall under section Section 380 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Thomson tells me there’s limited information on any charges laid in recent COVID-19 scams, but he sent along a few links:

Seizure of 1,500 unauthorized COVID-19 tests

More COVID-19 test sales

Counterfeit COVID-19 supplies and medications

Scam over COVID-19 masks and sanitizers

There are several organizations across the country working to debunk a lot of the misinformation and scams circulating out there. Upstream, MediaSmarts, Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, COVID-19 : Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, Institute for Canadian Citizenship, Digital Public Square, Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, and the Asian Environmental Association all received funding from the federal government to create projects like online workshops and public awareness campaigns to fight the spread of misinformation.

I talked to a couple of these groups this week to see how their projects are coming along and what we can learn about sharing misinformation online and elsewhere.

Kathryn Hill, executive director of MediaSmarts, an Ottawa-based media literacy organization, says its project is launching next week. Hill says MediaSmarts tracks this kind of misinformation and they knew early on in the COVID-19 crisis that misinformation would be a huge issue. Its project is a public awareness campaign that will include public service announcements with visuals, graphics, and a landing page on a website with accurate information. “What’s different about COVID-19 is that we have the benefit of trusted sources,” she says. “People forget about those.”

Hill says they are also working with Instagram lifestyle influencers who have more than one million followers to help share reliable information about COVID-19. She says one of the challenges of the campaign is taking lots of complex healthcare information and creating simple, easy-to-share messages out of it. COVID-19 is an issue that’s a matter of life and death and not just politics and conspiracies. “Sadly, we’ve had people whose lives had been put in jeopardy and who have died because of bad information,” she says.

MediaSmarts has another campaign called Break the Fake that is designed to  counter misinformation. For this campaign, MediaSmarts brought back the house hippos. Remember them?

In a truth-in-advertising flashback, MediaSmarts brings back the house hippos to help fight misinformation online. Photo: MediaSmarts

The problem with some of the misinformation is that its creators are good at what they do. Hill says much of the bad content is very polished looking and therefore believable. “They figure out social media very fast. Same with hate groups. They figured this out quite quickly and there wasn’t anyone countering that.”

Hill says they encourage people to fact check before they share online, taking the time to step back and making sure that post they’re sharing comes from a reliable source, and not their cousin who didn’t check the source himself. Hill says many people who share misinformation don’t share it maliciously. “People who are sharing this information, it’s not because they want to harm. It’s because they want to help,” she says. “The structure of social media encourages us to jump in right away.”

Hill says it takes only around 10% of good, accurate information to change the online narrative around an issue. “When you come across good, legit content, share it,” she says. “We can stop the spread of misinformation and make a real difference. If all of us can start doing that in a real, consistent way, it would spark a powerful change in what we see in our feeds every day.”

The Institute for Canadian Citizenship is already rolling out its project. David Leonard, a senior director at the institute, says they’ve been working on misinformation for years, specifically that information that targets racialized groups across the country. That certainly has been happening with COVID-19, especially with anti-Chinese racism. “Every time there is a crisis, there are people and organizations willing to take advantage of that crisis,” Leonard says. “How do we bring people together when there are people trying to tear us apart? That’s true in COVID-19. That’s true at any other time.”

Leonard says the institute sends out weekly and biweekly emails to about 100,000 people in its network. Those emails include stories debunking misinformation, video and animated content, as well as polls asking people for their perspectives on what they’re hearing in their own communities.

The institute partnered with The Walrus Magazine to share a number of articles around COVID-19, including this one about the language in the crisis. (The Walrus itself has a website where it fact-checks COVID-19 misinformation). He says their project will roll out over the next six to nine months. Then they’ll look at it to see if they should take it broader and beyond COVID-19. (You can learn more about the campaign here).

Like Hill, Leonard encourages people to take a few seconds to think about what they’re sharing before they hit the send button. He says not everyone has the resources to counter the information they’re often flooded with and this can be especially damaging to, and dangerous for, racialized communities. “We understand we can’t stop that, but we can equip people to recognize and combat it,” Leonard says. “For us, that means rather than turning away from our neighbours, turning toward them, and those neighbours are all kinds of people.”


Noticed

At some point in the last month a Facebook friend sent me an invitation to join a group called the Nova Scotia Wine Fairies. I don’t join Facebook groups for a number of reasons, so I ignored the invitation, but days later I noticed I was still seeing the group’s posts on my own feed.

If you’re not familiar with the group, the Nova Scotia Wine Fairies asks members to choose another random member and send them a bag of treats, including wine. The group was started as a way to share random acts of kindness during our stay-at-home orders. These groups have popped up all over the country, so there are wine fairies everywhere (there’s a whiskey fairy group, too). Several friends and I have been sending each other treats over the last month without a group. I guess we’re rogue, offline fairies. There have been exchanges of lemon loaf, rice pudding, banana bread, butter tarts, and fudge. On Saturday, I dropped off to a friend some non-alcoholic wine with the curious brand name of Carl Jung, because, you know, when you’re not psychoanalyzing people, it’s good to have a side hustle making alcohol-free beverages.

Anyway, on Saturday, a moderator in the group posted that members were bullying each other and asked that they stop the negativity, including sending harassing private messages. On Sunday, the group shared a list of rules about what kind of comments members could post. Those members who didn’t follow those rules had their comments removed. Apparently, the negativity became too much for some. The same day, a moderator said another moderator had stepped down from the job.

To its credit, the group seemed to be getting better organized, creating regional albums to manage the more than 10,000 members from across the province that signed on in the past month. Members were encouraged to join the album in their area. I manage a few Facebook groups connected to other projects I work on. There are fewer than 1,000 members in each of those, so I can’t imagine the hassle involved in managing more than 10,000 members, especially those looking for wine.

Now, I was documenting all of this on my own profile because it was fascinating to watch, but I scanned through the group, too. I didn’t see many negative comments, although there were hundreds of comments on each post. Many of the comments seemed fine, except for those in which the odd member complained they hadn’t yet been “fairied” despite having sent off gifts to a number of other members.

The Nova Scotia Wine Fairies promoted random acts of kindness by asking group members to send bags of treats and wine to others. Photo: Twitter

One of the problems with the group was that to receive a random gift, members had to publicly post their home addresses. This is my biggest problem with such groups; the requirement that you share such detailed and private information.

This report from Carly Robinson with City News in Edmonton talks about the online security issues involved in these wine fairy groups.

Robinson interviewed Edmonton resident Stacy Lee, who was a part of a national wine fairy group, but found it was too large, so she created her own neighbourhood group, verifying that all of its members do indeed live in her community.

Posting your address is not the only concern security experts have with these groups. Depending on the privacy settings of your Facebook profile, others can find more information about you, including your birth date, job title, spouse’s name, children’s names, and more. That’s too much information to share online to get a free bottle of wine.

In that report, Paul Davis, an online safety and social media educator, says anyone wanting to join one of these group should first check out its size, the vetting process, and the privacy settings in your own account. He also reminds us that information you’re sharing for some short-term fun and wine will be out there long after this crisis is over.

Back to the Nova Scotia Wine Fairies: On Monday, the group seemed to be having some fun, although they were posting jokes about needing wine to deal with having their children at home. I have no time for these “wine mommy” memes and usually say so (I didn’t in the group because I never did join), which often gets me some flack.

Then on Tuesday, one of the moderators shared a post saying due to all the negativity about the group, both from within and elsewhere, the group was shutting down for good. Not moments before I finished reading that post, the group was gone. The Nova Scotia Wine Fairies were no more.

The Nova Scotia Wine Fairies aren’t the only Facebook group affected by online bad behaviour. Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, some Halifax residents started a group called Caremongering-HFX: Halifax Area Community Response to COVID-19. As Global News reported, that group’s goal was to share help to others in need, including sending off food, health care items, and other necessities to those isolated at home. The group also shared accurate and reliable information about COVID-19. At one point the group had thousands of members and at least 11 moderators. But that group was shut down, too, I’m told because of the bad behaviour of some members.

Despite my general habit of not joining Facebook groups, for a short time I was part of one community group with Be a Good Neighbour in its title (I think there was a good story idea in there). Members shared offers for help and other kind deeds, but a lot of its members proved they weren’t good neighbours at all. There were attacks on some members and racist posts. The moderators were quite good at shutting down those comments, though. I left that group, but it’s still up and running.

I feel badly for the founders of the Nova Scotia Wine Fairies who clearly were just trying to use an online trend to share some fun and laughs. And I feel badly that maybe my own comments contributed to its shutting down. It does seem a lot of members got some good treats, though.

Late last night, a former colleague of mine messaged to say she was invited to another wine fairy group that had taken over from where the Nova Scotia Wine Fairies left off.

I did notice there’s the Nova Scotia Plant Fairies, though, a group inspired by the Nova Scotia Wine Fairies. There are fewer than 1,000 members and they seem much quieter. Maybe they’ll leave the Nova Scotia Wine Fairies, at least the ones causing all the trouble, in the dust.


Government

City

Wednesday

9am:  Special Budget Committee — virtual meeting. Agenda and link here.

Thursday

10:30am:  Special Halifax and West Community Council — teleconference. Agenda here.

Province

No public meetings.


In the harbour

07:00: Ef Ava, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
10:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
11:00: Ef Ava sails for Portland, Maine


Footnotes

The Tamarack Institute is hosting a webinar, Basic Income: An International Response to COVID-19 on Thursday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. AST. This talk features senator Kim Pate, Scott Santens with the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network, and Jamie Cooke with RSA Scotland. Tom Cooper with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction will moderate the discussion.

Fifty senators recently recommended that the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) be transitioned to a basic income. The eligibility requirements for CERB changed over the weeks as the program rolled out across the country and many Canadians fell through the cracks.

Last month, I signed up for their webinar on the Southern Ontario Basic Income Experience, which included speaker Laura Cattari, who took part in that project and shared her story and thoughts. I wrote about it here.

I’m glad this discussion is ongoing because it’s an important one to have as many Canadians struggle financially through COVID-19.

You have to register to take part in the webinar and you can send along a question you’d like answered, too.

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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  1. Yesterday whilst watching the CFO not answer the question how much cash HRM has. I was intrigued to hear her tell council that the $37.6 million from the February 4 2020 sale of the site of the former St Pat’s High Schools on Quinpool road had been deposited to the HRM bank account on the day before, i.e May 11, more than 3 months after the sale. No explanation as to why the purchaser was able to delay payment.
    I took time yesterday to look closer at HRM financial position as of March 31 2019. On a consolidated basis HRM had Cash and short-term deposits of $315,624,000 on that date compared with $187,292,000
    the previous year. The word ‘cash’ does not mean cash money, in accounting terms it includes cash money and the money they expect to receive from receivables – it is not cash in hand.
    Page 8 of the Consolidated statements :
    https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/budget-finances/FS%20March%2031%202019%20V7%20%28Final%20Signed%29%20%28003%29.pdf

  2. I guess Facebook is like cars now. We accept horrible death and environmental degradation from cars so we can drive to the corner store.

    Same with Facebook except it’s for goofy cat photographs.

  3. Trudeau throwing tax-free money at seniors regardless of their income. Why send $300 to seniors making $70,000 a year ? We don’t need the helicopter money. We paid HRM taxes on time. What to do with my $300 – I’ll make a donation to the political party opposed to Justin, take the 75% rebate. And I’ll make a donation to a good cause.