News

1. The RCMP says Brenda Forbes never reported the Portapique mass murderer for domestic abuse, but that story doesn’t add up

Brenda Forbes testifying for the MCC from her home in western Canada, on July 12, 2022.

The most recent documents from the Mass Casualty Commission look at the Portapique gunman’s history of violence toward his common-law spouse, Lisa Banfield (the Examiner refers to the killer as GW).

This week, the public heard from Banfield herself for the first time since the April 2020 shootings in newly released interviews and video. Tim Bousquet summarized GW’s mostly undetected history of domestic abuse in this article from Wednesday.

I say “mostly” because one woman did notice his violent behaviour. She reported it seven years before he took 22 lives over the course of two days.

Brenda Forbes, a retired veteran who was a neighbour of the killer in Portapique for over a decade, told MCC investigators she saw GW as the violent man he was from the time he moved into the neighbourhood in 2002.

But it wasn’t until an incident in 2013 that she felt compelled to call the police. Joan Baxter reported on that Tuesday, but I’ll summarize.

After learning from GW’s uncle that he and two other men had witnessed GW choking Banfield in the couple’s backyard, Forbes called the RCMP. She was especially concerned because GW owned multiple weapons. Two police officers went to speak with Forbes after, but said they couldn’t do anything without proof. As far as Forbes knew, she told the MCC, they never followed up with GW or Banfield.

After reporting GW, Forbes says she became increasingly worried he might harm her. She and her husband ultimately decided to move, selling their house to two people who were later murdered in the April 2020 shootings.

Following those shootings, Forbes told media she’d reported GW years before. This prompted RCMP to conduct “exhaustive queries” in order to find records of her phone call to the police. Eventually, they discovered one page of handwritten notes from the officer who took Forbes’ call on July 6, 2013. They’re vague, but they contain the names of two of the three men who reportedly witnessed GW choking Banfield. GW’s name and address are also included. Lastly, scribbled in the margins, is the name “Lisa.”

It’s unclear from these notes just what Forbes was calling about, but she’s adamant it was a domestic abuse complaint against GW.

Const. Troy Maxwell, who took the call, contradicts this claim. In notes from the RCMP and MCC, he also appears to contradict himself.

Joan Baxter sifts through the MCC and RCMP documents to examine the report Forbes says she made to police, and Const. Maxwell’s inconsistent account of the call he received.

Banfield will testify in-person at the MCC for the first time today, though she will not be cross-examined by lawyers of the victims’ families.

Lisa Banfield speaks with a police investigator in Portapique in October 2020. Still from an RCMP video

That decision has been questioned by those families and their legal teams. It’s also been questioned here at the Examiner. Tim Bousquet wrote his own opinion on it earlier this month here.

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2. COVID update

The weekly COVID death count in Nova Scotia since January. Because of a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has just six days.

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

Five new COVID deaths were reported in Nova Scotia for the most recent reporting period, July 5-11.

Because of the limited data released, I don’t know the ages or vaccination status of the deceased.

During the same period, 36 people were hospitalized because of COVID. I can’t tell you their ages or vaccination status either.

Nova Scotia Health reports the following COVID hospitalization status as of yesterday:

• Currently in hospital for COVID-19: 25 (6 of whom are in ICU)
• Currently in hospital for something else but have COVID-19: 132
.• Currently in hospital who contracted COVID-19 after admission to hospital: 41

These figures do not include any (if any) children hospitalized at the IWK.

The weekly new lab-confirmed case count since January. The gap reflects a temporary change in testing protocol that makes weekly comparisons meaningless. And, due to a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has just six days.

There were also 1,562 new lab-confirmed (PCR tests) new cases during the reporting period. This does not include those who tested positive only with the rapid take-home tests or didn’t test at all.

The new monthly (as opposed to weekly) epidemiologic summary will be issued today, but as I understand it, the summary will cover the month of June, so won’t have any new data. We’ll have to wait until August 15 to get better data for July.

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3. Interested in contracting whooping cough? Researchers want to know

The Canadian Center for Vaccinology’s Challenge Unit at the IWK Health Centre. Photo: Canadian Center for Vaccinology

A group of researchers need volunteers to step up to get infected with Bordetella pertussis, the bacteria that causes the acute and highly contagious respiratory tract infection known as whooping cough, Yvette d’Entremont reports. 

You might think whooping cough is something we’ve already dealt with as a species, but 400,000 people still die of the disease each year. That’s why researchers at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology want to learn more, and use their findings to make a better vaccine. And to do that, they need human subjects.

The Canadian Centre for Vaccinology (CCfV) has already started a trial with three participants. They’ve been safely infected and isolated at the IWK in Halifax for Canada’s first controlled human infection model study.

Sarah MacDonald, a 21-year-old student at St. FX, is one of those participants. She told d’Entremont (not in person, of course) that she regrets missing out on part of her summer, but the multi-week trial is worth it to help advance research that could help save lives.

Sarah MacDonald in isolation in her room in the CCfV’s Challenge Unit. Photo: Sarah MacDonald

She’s also getting three meals a day, a bed, and a total reimbursement of $4,630. It just goes to show that young people will literally infect themselves with a deadly bacteria if it means they can find a cheap place to stay, lower their grocery bill, and maybe put a small dent in their tuition. Ours is a lucky generation.

At least it looks like we’ll be safer from whooping cough than anyone in the past.

Click here to read Yvette d’Entremont’s full report.

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4. African Nova Scotian Justice Institute meets one year after provincial funding announcement

Justice Minister Brad Johns speaks at an anniversary meet-and-greet/update of the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute. Photo: Matthew Byard.

“Tuesday marked one year since the former Liberal government announced $4.8 million in spending on the institute that will support African Nova Scotians in contact with the law,” writes Matthew Byard in his report on the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute, a group that works to address overrepresentation and anti-Black racism in the justice system.

The institute staff met on that anniversary Tuesday with members of government departments and the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition (ANSDPAD) to talk about what they want to accomplish going forward.

That includes hiring lawyers and staff, finding office space, and helping African Nova Scotians navigate the justice system regardless of their finances.

The Institute evolved from a “justice working group” that was founded under ANSDPAD and lobbied the government to implement the Wortley Report, which banned police street checks in this province, a practice that disproportionately affected the Black community in Nova Scotia.

Click here to read Byard’s full report about the institute and its work.

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5. Dalhousie gets demolition permit for Edward Street property

1245 Edward St. on Thursday, July 14, 2022. Photo: Zane Woodford

Earlier this week, the Examiner reported that Halifax Regional Municipality had ordered Dalhousie University to stop demolishing a house on its campus until its demolition permit had been approved. Demolition had started while that application was still being processed.

At the same time, the municipality was processing a third-party request to add the property to the heritage registry after the Heritage Advisory Committee had received a petition in May with more than 5,700 signatures asking that the building be preserved. That request was originally planned for consideration at the committee’s next meeting on July 27, but that might be too late.

As Zane Woodford reports in his latest update on the situation, Dalhousie has now received its demolition permit.

The house in question, at 1245 Edward St. in Halifax, was built in 1897 by German immigrants, then sold to the Oland family, before becoming the Sapp family home where Susan Sapp ran a nursery school and rented rooms to female students for decades. Mrs. Sapp passed away in 2021 and Dalhousie bought the house last July, intending to tear it down. It’s still unclear what the school will do with the property should the house be demolished. Details may emerge when the university updates its “multi-campus” plan this summer.

Halifax staff have already recommended the committee add the house to the heritage registry, writing in a staff report: “The building is an important architectural asset contributing to the heritage character of the surrounding area.”

Speaking less bureaucratically, William Breckenridge, who submitted the heritage application to the committee, told Woodford buying the house for the property is like buying a Van Gogh for the frame.

In light of the new demolition permit, the Heritage Advisory Committee has decided to meet at 1pm today to consider the heritage request.

Click here to read Woodford’s story.

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6. Halifax Pride Festival is back

2022 is the year of “after two long years [insert event] is back.”

Allow me to insert an event.

After two long years, the Halifax Pride Festival is back in full swing ⁠— it kicked off Thursday ⁠— with the return of the Pride Parade tomorrow at noon. Below is this year’s route if you’d like to go check it out (I’d recommend wearing a mask right now, though).

Halifax Pride Festival parade route, 2022.

Head to the festival site to check out all the upcoming events.

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Views

People’s Park winds down

Tents and emergency shelters are seen in August in the park at the corner of Dublin Street and Chebucto Road, which residents and activists there are now calling People’s Park. — Photo: Zane Woodford

This weekend marks the final two days of People’s Park, the makeshift tent community that formed in Halifax’s Meagher Park in August last year.

With the introduction of new designated public grounds for tent shelters around Halifax and Dartmouth, the municipality recently announced that People’s Park will be dismantled Monday. It will mark almost 11 months to the day since the violent tent evictions that led to its formation in the first place.

HRM’s map of proposed tent sites in municipal parks.

The end was inevitable. Less than two weeks after it was set up, Claire Chadwick of P.A.D.S., the volunteer group that helped run the camp at the start, told the Examiner “None of this is sustainable” and it’s been months since the park was full of tenters. At its height, upwards of thirty people were sleeping there every night. Now, it’s just a handful. The park is mostly discarded equipment and empty tents.

Neighbours of Meagher Park, which is surrounded by residential streets and two schools, were mostly supportive but even the most sympathetic will likely be happy to have their small green space returned to normal. 

For the better part of a year, the city put up with the quasi-legal encampment, most likely fearful of a similar backlash that came from the brutal mishandling (aka complete cockup) of the August 18 evictions that removed tents from other public spaces around the city. 

What has happened in that time? 

The municipality has decided the People’s Park evictions will be enforced, once again, with police. Surely the lost trust and increased public scrutiny that followed August 18 will prevent history from repeating itself, but one would have expected 11 months would have been long enough to figure out a way to move people without uniformed officers.

The new tent sites show an increased tolerance for campers who have no other place to go, or fear for their safety should they have access to an already backlogged shelter system. A shelter system backlogged because the housing and rental markets are increasingly difficult to access. Inflation, a rising cost of living, and a more expensive homebuyers market mean more people will be renting, meaning vacancy rents will remain low, meaning rental costs aren’t going down any time soon.

The spring announcement of controversial “special planning areas” to fast-track housing with no guarantee for affordability or opportunity for public consultation, and little interest in non-market options, are a trickle down approach that will likely help no one living in a tent or shelter. Maybe in the longest of long runs.

New shelter beds haven’t been added in HRM, not in any meaningful way anyway. And cold weather will come sooner than the July sun suggests right now. The city’s modular units, which arrived much later than promised, have been a success. But they only sheltered a few dozen people in desperate need of safe indoor housing.

Nonprofits buying up hotels and existing buildings to offer affordable housing might be the best short-term solution we’ve seen. But new housing, with guaranteed affordability and (equally if not more importantly) deep affordability, still needs to be created. And fast.

People’s Park can be shut down. Hopefully it will be peaceful.

But the new designated camp sites, which offer little shelter in the winter, will be a flimsy band-aid, replacing another flimsy band-aid, covering an increasingly permanent wound.

What’s worse, it’s not even the best band-aid.

Alex Cooke at Global Halifax spoke with Jeff Karabanow, the co-director of Dalhousie’s special community clinic in May, who said the new designated tent areas “miss the point.”

“I just don’t know why they wouldn’t mobilize all that energy and resources to something that’s more sustainable and dignified,” he said.

“I think it’s sad that we are considering an option of tenting in parks as an interim intervention for the lack of housing that exists in this city.”

A year ago we weren’t even considering that option, so I guess things are improving.

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Noticed: Trash ’em if ya got ’em

Remember when we weren’t even allowed to go to the parks? At that most severe point of the lockdown, I bought a bundle of cheap plastic claws and got my outside fix picking up trash around my apartment in Halifax. I kept it to Schmidtville, winding my way up and down streets between Spring Garden, South, South Park, and Queen to pick up the endless litter that failed to land in the city’s trash cans.

My litter-fighting claw. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

The motivation was threefold: I needed to get outside, I wanted to accomplish something with my time, and I figured the lockdown authorities or passersby would question me if I was masked up and doing a little community service.

I don’t know why I say a little. I had time to kill and plenty of garbage to kill it with. On average, one side of one small block would fill my five-gallon bucket twice.

I picked up Styrofoam, cardboard, condoms, and coffee cups. There were snack wrappers, bottles, and broken plastic; straws, take-out boxes, and the province’s last remaining plastic bags. Pretty much every man-made disposable item under the sun. My favourite collection came on a blustery day, when I chased down the discarded McDonald’s packaging of a full construction crew by the Clyde Street cannabis. Dozens of paper bags, throwaway utensils, and paper napkins presented multiple moving targets that took about half an hour to gather. When I finally finished, and passed the construction site, the men on their smoke break graciously apologized and said they’d trash it all next time.

But there’s one item I never picked up: cigarette butts.

About 20 minutes into my first garbage-collecting walk, I decided it wasn’t worth my time. They’re tiny and tough to grab with the claw, for starters. But more importantly, there were just too many of them. They were everywhere. Portions of the sidewalk had so many scattered around that I could spend half the afternoon picking them up and barely move.

Halifax’s unenforced smoking ban hasn’t kept butts of the streets. I think you could argue limiting ashtrays to a few sparse “smoking areas” around town, or removing them from college campuses, has even added to the problem. Though, let’s be honest, people have always been flicking these things to the ground, regardless of the availability of how many designated receptacles are around.

Photo: Pawel Czerwinski/Unsplash

This all came to mind when I came across a story out of British Columbia last month. Surfrider Pacific Rim, a group of ocean conservationists out of Tofino, created Canada’s first “cigarette surfboard,” or “dart board,” using butts collected from beach cleanups. It was made for World Oceans Day and was inspired by a movement that started in California, building surfboards with cigarettes from cleanups as a way to raise awareness about plastic littering on the world’s beaches. Since 2017, Surfrider Pacific Rim says its collected and recycled 1.2 million butts. A portion of them are now being used to ride waves.

When I wrote about Canada’s new plastic ban in June, I noted that cigarette butts are among the top 10 items most commonly found in shoreline cleanups. They’re not just for city sidewalks.

More generally, cigarette butts have to be one of the most prevalent pieces of plastic litter going. Most people these days feel immense guilt leaving plastic on the ground. You wouldn’t see someone toss a pop bottle or a candy wrapper when they were done drinking or eating, yet many people throw cigarette butts to the ground as if they’re biodegradable.

They’re not.

The University of Toronto has a “trash team” made up of science students and faculty whose goal is to “increase waste literacy in our community while reducing plastic pollution in our ecosystems.” Chelsea Rochman is an assistant professor at U of T and part of that team. She spoke with Gill Deacon at the CBC this week about the environmental impact of the plastic in cigarette filters, noting that an international coastal cleanup last year collected over one million butts on beaches around the world.

Photo: Jasmin Sessier/Unsplash

“As they break down over time, they’ll break into thousands of little microfibres made out of cellulose acetate, which is a type of plastic. Researchers have done work to try to understand the toxicity of the plastic in the cigarette butts and of the filters themselves and they do find the materials can be toxic to wildlife.”

Is it that surprising that both ends of a smoke are toxic, though?

Since you can’t really light up in any indoor public place in Canada anymore, are the effects of cigarette butt littering becoming the new second-hand smoke?

Until smoking completely disappears from human culture (not likely any time soon) we have two options. Take a page from Humphrey Bogart and go unfiltered, or move to biodegradable filters and DISPOSE OF YOUR BUTTS.

Just a gentle reminder. (Quitting cigarettes isn’t a bad option either, if you can swing it).

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Government

No meetings


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
05:30: Donaugracht, cargo ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Laem Chabang, Thailand
7:20: Treasure, car carrier, arrives at Pier 9 from Southampton, England
09:00: Asterix, replenishment vessel, arrives at Dockyard from St. John’s
10:30: Algosea, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
10:30: Largo Elegance, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Antwerp
12:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
15:30: Donaugracht sails for sea
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
18:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
20:00: Barge MM161 and Barge MM143, with tug Tim McKeil arrive at Cherubini dock from Sydney
22:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia

Cape Breton
11:30: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
13:00: Glovertown Spirit, barge, and Beverly M I, tug, arrive at Sydport from Montreal
23:00: Cherokee, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Greater Plutonio offshore platform, Angola


Footnotes

  • Given the current cost of living, not to mention the state of the world, I understand if you need a smoke. Just use an ashtray.
  • Also, it’s a filthy habit that destroys your health. I suppose it’s only responsible to state the obvious here.
  • Tomorrow the Toronto Argonauts take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a CFL game in my neck of the woods, Wolfville. Thankfully, no local government has been asked to subsidize a new stadium for the event, but 7,000 seats have been added to Acadia’s Raymond Field for the game, about the same size as the town’s population when students are around. I think it could be a great party for Wolfville, but God help anyone coming through the four-way stop sign on Main Street Saturday morning. Could this be the impetus to finally get a much-needed traffic light? No. Nothing will convince town council.

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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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4 Comments

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  1. If the federal government can tell cigarette manufacturers to print graphic images on all packs sold in Canada, why can’t that same federal government tell those same cigarette manufacturers to use non-plastic, biodegradable filters in all cigarettes sold in Canada?
    Is it because those types of filters are more expensive to make, or because the cigarette lobby is still quite strong here? Both I suspect.

  2. Why waste the time and effort on the sham called the MCC.
    They have made up their minds what they think we should know.
    If you treated the RCMP the way they have treated the public they would charged with misleading the authorities, why have they escaped any consequences.
    Maybe the premier, cabinet along with the Mayors & Councils will
    find a backbone and the courage to rid the province of the curse
    of RCMP policing. Paying for service not provided and the lacking of the ability of RCMP leaders to tell the TRUTH.

    Now for the “members”, politicians, commissioners and commission staff who cannot seem to find the truth, you have failed the victims, families and the general public with your actions, words and your continued singular mindedness is most disappointing but not surprising given your performance.

    1. RCMP are cheaper than local police and HRM and other municipalities do not have forensic capability. Violent crime is dealt with by the integrated RCMP/HRP unit. And the McNeil government refused to fund a second RCMP helicopter.

  3. Ethan, as a resident of Schmidtville, I want to thank you for your neighbourliness in picking up the trash during the worst days of the pandemic. Good on you. As for the construction workers, I think the developer(s) responsible for their employment bear some vicarious responsibility for this situation. The developers have not been the best of neighbours, to say the least. We have been tempted to rent a port-a-potty and put an ironic sign on it saying, “Schmidtville.”