1. ‘A greedy, overbearing, little bastard’: the life of a terrible man, from university ‘asshole’ to mass murderer

An old white church with flowers, flags, and teddy bears sitting out front. Above the church door is a banner that says Nova Scotia Strong.
Portapique Church Hall. Photo: Joan Baxter

Note: This article includes detailed descriptions of violence.  

Yesterday, we published four articles from the Mass Casualty Commission, which continues this week.  

First, Tim Bousquet had this story about GW’s violence towards and manipulation of others throughout his life before the murders. The article chronicles GW’s time at the University of New Brunswick where he once won a secret award for being the asshole of the year. Police interviewed one of GW’s dormmates after the murders and he called the killer a “bizarre individual” who would stay out all night, brag about his sexual exploits, and get into fights with other students.  

There are also details about how GW treated his patients at his clinic in Dartmouth. According to witness statements, GW could be kind to his patients, but also abusive. At least eight patients made complaints about GW to the Denturist Board of Nova Scotia. Bousquet writes: 

Three of the complaints came before the board at roughly the same time. The three complained of an ill-tempered denturist who refused to adjust or fix ill-fitting dentures, and one, named BO in the documents, complained that GW used “sex talk” while treating her, and asked her what colour her underwear was. 

In response, GW wrote a letter to the board saying the complaints were nonsense. 

“Three complaints in a few months is a real eye-opener,” wrote GW. “Some members of the public feel they should have an unfettered right to complain and to have that complaint investigated.” 

Read the entire article here.  

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2. Brenda Forbes tried to warn neighbours and the RCMP about the “psychopath” in Portapique years before he went on his murderous rampage. No one listened.

the green roadsign to Portapique with a tartan sash tied around the post
The Portapique sign on Highway 2 was adorned with a NS tartan sash following the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter writes about the experiences of Brenda Forbes and George Forbes, who were neighbours of GW’s in Portapique, but who became so terrified of him they eventually moved to Alberta, taking a loss on the sale of their home. Baxter went through all the transcripts of police interviews with the Forbes, who described years of living in fear of GW. Brenda Forbes also talked about witnessing GW’s abuse against Lisa Banfield. Baxter writes: 

Brenda Forbes told the RCMP that from the start she thought GW “was a little off,” and said it didn’t take long for them “to figure him out.” 

And it wasn’t long after GW moved in with Lisa Banfield that he “started abusing her.” According to Brenda Forbes, GW: 

… beat the crap out of her one day and she ran to my house. I told her that she needed to get help and there were places out there that she could hide from him, he wouldn’t find her. But she told me point blank she was too scared to leave because he would find her and kill her. 

Brenda Forbes said GW had used his truck to block Banfield’s car in the driveway so she couldn’t get away. 

Speaking to the MCC in 2021, Brenda said that if GW said “jump” Banfield would say “how high?” 

“That’s how controlled she was by him. And I feel bad for her, I really do,” Brenda said. 

Brenda Forbes testified at the Mass Casualty Commission on Tuesday, and Tim Bousquet was live tweeting. In an interview with the MCC in 2021, she said she’d like to see “more support for women that are abused.”  

Click here to read Baxter’s article.  

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3. A month before the mass murders, the perpetrator went to Pictou to kill someone else

a fire
On March 19, 2020, the Washtub Laundromat in Pictou burned down. Photo: Brian Cameron

“March 19, 2020, was an eventful night in Pictou,” writes Tim Bousquet in his second story about the mass killer.  

 “Fire lit up the night sky on the Pictou waterfront,” reported Adam MacInnis for the New Glasgow News. 

The fire started at the Washtub Laundromat on Caladh Avenue, and spread to the adjacent enviro-depot. Firefighters feared that the fire would further spread to the nearby Coleraine Plaza seniors building, and so had that building evacuated. 

The fire was dramatic and worrying enough, but also that night, the man who a month later killed 22 people in a murderous spree showed up at Acropole Pizza on Church Street. The Halifax Examiner refers to the man as GW. 

GW was in Pictou looking for Kip MacKenzie. GW wanted to kill Kip. 

The RCMP only found out about this in late April, after the murders, because Kip, who was on a police undertaking, hadn’t been seen for a few days. Cst. Ryan Murnaghan went to the pizza shop to look for him. A worker at the pizza place, Donald MacMillan, said oh, by the way, that killer was here back in March. 

Murnaghan went to talk with Kimo Poirier, who lived next door to the burned-out laundromat. Kimo “is well-known in Pictou,” reported Kevin Adshade for Saltwire, but not so well-known that Murnaghan knew his last name. 

As Bousquet writes, Kip inherited property in Fredericton that the killer thought was rightly his. Bousquet writes:

GW confronted Kip about it, and Kip, who was very drunk, signed some paperwork that gave GW title to the property. Sometime after that, Kip, realizing what had happened, “knocked out” GW. GW had come to Pictou for revenge, by killing Kip.

Click here to read the whole story.  

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4. She had a bad date with the future mass murderer, went back to his apartment, and an RCMP officer walked in

a building with giant teeth attached
The killer’s property in Dartmouth in 2019. The teeth were removed from the building days after the mass shootings. — Google Maps

And finally, Bousquet has this article about a woman who is referred to in Mass Casualty Commission documents as QQ, who went on a date with GW in the fall of 2000. 

The woman met GW at The Thirsty Duck in Halifax when he overheard her talking about getting her teeth bleached. In an interview with the MCC, the woman recalls going out with GW about a week after that first meeting. The two were at his apartment above his denturist clinic in Dartmouth. Bousquet writes:

GW lit a fire in the fireplace.

“And then he had a visitor.”

“We were in the living room,” explained QQ. “And it’s one thing led to another… and you know, he made a comment because — he didn’t make it any secret that he was very well endowed. Scary, actually. Freakish. Definitely not normal.”

“I was getting bad vibes, and we were in the living room,” continued QQ. “It was around midnight, I would say. It was late. And it was winter.”

She heard someone open the back door, then kick their boots on the ground to get the snow off.

“He didn’t knock. And he, it was an RCMP officer… he just walked right in, like it was your brother.”

QQ described the man: early 30s, dark complexion, dark hair, about the same height as GW. He looked like he worked out, but he wasn’t bulky.

Click here to read the full story. 

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5. Woodford Report: City council talks mobile ticketing for transit, Sandy Lake environmental assessment, Convention Centre, and more

A three-storey sandstone building with big wooden doors and a tall clock tower. In the foreground, green leaves hang over the frame.
Halifax City Hall in October 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

This morning, Zane Woodford reports on the latest from Halifax City Hall’s council meeting Tuesday.

First, a plan for mobile ticketing on Halifax Transit was approved in 2020 — even the Number 8 at rush hour moves faster — but it’s finally a little closer to becoming a reality. Yesterday, council approved a $1.5 million contract with a UK-based company “for a mobile fare payment application and onboard validators” and five years of technical support.

In 2020, Council approved a three-phase plan to bring transit fares into the 21st century. First, an app would be made available so riders could show drivers their fare on their phones. Next, new fare boxes would be installed to automate ticket validation. And finally, Halifax Transit would introduce a reloadable smart card and also allow riders to tap credit or debit cards on the fare box when riding the bus.

A smartphone on a white background shows a ticketing app, with a QR code, and a second red screen floating in an illustration.
An illustration of Masabi’s Justride app. The company won the contract for Halifax Transit’s mobile ticketing. —

Though the specifics are still unclear, the company contracted to create this service, Masabi, advertises a “Justride” that aligns with Halifax Transit’s vision. The timeline is also still being finalized, but Halifax Transit’s manager of technical services Marc Santilli told councillors they want it in place soon.

“Our goal is to get this in place as quick as possible. Realistically, I think it’ll it’ll be at least a couple months, but we will push as quick as we can.”

Also, in the roundup, an update on the Halifax Convention Centre and its losses, the news on an ecological assessment Sandy Lake, and council votes to approve a developer’s plan to restore the historic Elmwood Hotel on the corner of South and Barrington streets.

Click here to read the full report.

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6. Province announces 200 new nursing seats

A white woman dressed in nurses' gear holds the hands of a white senior man in a wheelchair as they chat in a long term care facility
Photo: Nova Scotia Nurses Union Credit: Nova Scotia Nurses Union

This item was written by Yvette d’Entremont.

On Tuesday the province announced funding for the creation of 200 new nursing seats at post-secondary institutions throughout Nova Scotia.  

Department of Health and Wellness Minister Michelle Thompson said a $3.2 million investment will be made in new seats this year, which will grow to a $6.8 million annually when all the spots are in place. The investment is from the 2022-23 budget.

“Adding 200 seats is good news for our nursing workforce, and will provide future relief, which is encouraging. Many young students are eager to be nurses but are waitlisted at various schools,” Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton said in a Department of Health and Wellness news release

“However, we must take an immediate multi-pronged approach to resolve the nursing shortage, including a national health human resources strategy and incentives to ensure our more experienced nurses stick around to mentor new grads. Nurse leaders and premiers who participated in the Council of the Federation agree we must work together to prevent further erosion of our healthcare system and a worsening nursing crisis.”

The additional nursing seats include 80 bachelor of science, nursing slots. Dalhousie University and St. Francis Xavier University will get 26 seats each, and 28 will be added at Cape Breton University. 

“There are so many opportunities for nurses today and an equally high demand,” Noah Robinson, nursing student and co-president of Dalhousie University’s Nursing Society, said in the release.

“Extending nursing program seats helps to get more nurses in practice. With the broad scope of nursing — which is only becoming more diverse — these seats are an important contribution in supporting our healthcare system.”

There will also be 120 practical nursing seats added at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC).  

Last year, the government announced that for the next five years all nurses graduating from the province’s universities and NSCC will be offered a job in Nova Scotia. 

When the new seats are fully in place, the province estimates that 530 registered nurses and 370 licensed practical nurses will graduate in Nova Scotia each year.

“Nurses are in demand in all areas of healthcare, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, home care and public health,” the news release noted. 

Although some seats will be in place this fall, the remainder are “expected to be ready” by May 2023.

The province also announced an annual $500,000 investment to permanently fund the additional 25 seats in Dalhousie University’s nurse practitioner program. Those seats were temporarily added in 2018. 

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7. Overburdened health care, continued: Nova Scotians need for doctors

A doctor in a white coat grips a stethoscope in both hands in front of him. The photo is taken from the neck to hips.
Over 100,000 Nova Scotians are now on the Need a Family Practice Registry. In other words, about one in 10 people in this province need a family doctor. Photo: Ivan Samkov/Pexels

This item was written by Yvette d’Entremont.

In the midst of ongoing emergency department overcapacity issues (reported here and here) and a lack of walk-in clinic availability, the number of Nova Scotians on the Need a Family Practice Registry now tops 100,000.

The monthly data released by Nova Scotia Health (NSH) shows that as of July 1, there were a record-breaking 100,592 Nova Scotians on the registry. That statistic doesn’t include those without a primary care provider whose names aren’t on the list. 

The number in the July report represents 10% of the population and is up from the 94,855 who were on the list as of June 1

In a media release Tuesday, the province’s NDP noted the figure is more than double the number of Nova Scotians who were on the list in January 2018 when public reporting began under the then Liberal government.

Of the more than 100,000 on the list as of July 1, the biggest jumps were in Central and Eastern zones. 

The number of people without a primary care provider on the list from Central Zone is 38,567 (up 10.5% from the previous month). There were 29,122 in Western Zone (up 3.6%), 21,040 in Northern Zone (up 1.3%), and 11,862 in the Eastern Zone (up 7.2%). 

Last month, 7,240 Nova Scotians added their names to the registry.

Reasons selected by those who joined the registry:

  • My provider has moved/closed their practice: 29.4%
  • I am new to the area: 27.7%
  • My provider is retiring: 19.8%
  • My provider has retired: 15.9%
  • I have not needed a provider until now: 7.2%

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8. Province-wide support for sexual abuse survivors will offer more people help

This item written by Yvette d’Entremont.

One of the volunteers behind a recently launched provincewide support network for sexual abuse survivors in Nova Scotia says the new initiative will allow them to help more people in need.

“Mental health is underserved by our health care system and we’re seeing that now with the pandemic. It has increased the need for mental health supports, and our health care system is struggling to respond to that,” Cathy Vey said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. 

“We’re having waitlists of people come to us desperate for some help. And for us to become more efficient at this and to be able to lean on each other, to help provide the supports, to immediately refer to other agencies we can trust that we’re working with, that’s helping us to expand as quickly as we can.”

Vey is the board chairperson for Kentville-based Survivors of Abuse Recovering (S.O.A.R.) society. Its mandate is to provide free peer support services to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

S.O.A.R. is leading the new sexual abuse survivor support network project, called Sexual Violence Peer Support Network Nova Scotia (SVPSN). 

Its website describes the network as bringing like-minded agencies together to “improve access to peer support for survivors of sexual violence across Nova Scotia in a way that is sustainable, genuinely collaborative, mutually respectful and safe for the communities we collectively serve.”

Vey said there are many groups in the province doing great work to help survivors of sexual abuse (not just those who experienced childhood sexual abuse), and SVPSN brings them all together.

Several provincial organizations with mandates to help survivors of sexualized violence have tried in the past to create this kind of collaborative network. Despite several “false starts,” Vey said this time it “seems to have stuck.”

“We took things a bit slower and put a lot of time into the groundwork to make sure we were all on the same page in how we were going to work together,” Vey said.

The new initiative focuses on survivors of sexualized violence, community supporters of survivors, and professionals from organizations that want to train and manage volunteers who can provide mutual aid to fellow survivors of sexualized violence.

The network currently comprises a core group of nine members from across Nova Scotia. They’re now ready to expand and welcome other like-minded groups in the province to reach out to join them.

Vey said one of their main goals was the creation of a practical working model to deliver mutual aid to sexual violence survivors. The other focus was to include an education and training component for mentors and volunteers.

That project ⁠— Enhancing Organizations’ Capacity to Provide Mutual Aid Services to Survivors of Sexual Violence and Other Trauma ⁠— is funded by the provincial Department of Health and Wellness. 

Vey said the project helped with the creation of SVPSN and also enhanced S.O.A.R. ‘s peer support training program. That comprehensive program of four, 48-hour training sessions was shared with the network.

“Peer support is important because it means you’re talking to somebody who has lived experience of what you’ve experienced, so they know what you’ve been through and not just academically,” Vey said. 

“There’s an element of trust there that a lot of survivors of sexual violence have trouble with. With one-on-one peer support, you’re able to open up quicker and more honestly with somebody who’s been through the same thing.”

Besides S.O.A.R.S., agencies behind the creation of SVPSN include: 

Women’s Place Resource Centre in Annapolis Royal; Open Arms Shelter, Kentville; Shelburne County Warm Line (serving Nova Scotia); Wanda Finnigan, Bear River Mi’kmaw Community; Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network (Nova Scotia); Red Door, Annapolis Valley; Tri-County Women’s Centre (Yarmouth Digby, and Shelburne counties); Mardi Burton, community champion and former NSH clinical therapist.

While excited about the new network and the doors it opens, Vey said they do require funding.

“We’re completely volunteer driven. It’s hard to do this with only volunteers,” Vey said. 

“We need paid staff and we can’t afford to do that right now, so stable funding is what we really need to be able to get an executive director.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by childhood sexual abuse, you can call S.O.A.R. at 902-679-7337 or email

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9. Prime Minister apologizes for Canadian Government’s mistreatment of Black battalion in First World War

A group of men dressed in replica military uniforms from the early 20th century march in a street
An honourary march at a ceremony in Truro this past weekend where the prime minister apologized for the federal government’s treatment of No.2 Construction Battalion in First World War. Photo: Matthew Byard

In March, Matthew Byard reported that the federal government was planning to officially apologize for the treatment of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, which enlisted Black soldiers to participate in non-combative roles overseas.

Over the weekend, that apology came from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in Truro Saturday as part of a ceremony that honoured the all Black battalion:

I am here today to offer the government of Canada’s official apology for the appalling way these patriots were treated.

For the overt racism of turning Black volunteers away when they offered to sacrifice their lives for all, we are sorry. For not letting Black service members fight alongside their white compatriots, for denying members of No. 2 Construction Battalion the care and support they deserved, we are sorry. For failing to honour and commemorate the contributions of the members of No. 2 Construction Battalion and their descendants, for the blatant anti-Black hate and systemic racism that denied these men dignity in life and in death, we are sorry.

Byard was there and heard reaction from the African Nova Scotian community about what that apology means. You can read more about that, and the history of the battalion, here.

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Reeling rail travel

An elk, facing away from the camera, looks at an oncoming Via train on a snowy day under the Rocky Mountains.
Photo: Jeffrey Dungen/Unsplash

Airports are a mess ⁠— even by airport standards ⁠— and gas prices have turned road trips into a luxury reserved for the wealthy elite. The pandemic may no longer be restricting travel (for now) but that doesn’t mean travel is really back, does it?

Then, last week, worse news for travellers. “More travel chaos,” ran a National Post headline for a Canadian Press report, “Via Rail receives strike notice, warns service may be suspended.”

As a Nova Scotian, my first thought was, “what chaos?”

If you aren’t employed by VIA Rail in this province, you likely weren’t too concerned about how the prospect of a strike – the two parties reached a deal by the way, so the trains are still running – would disrupt your travel plans. That’s because there aren’t many travel plans you can make with VIA Rail out here.

Take away the company’s partnership with Maritime Bus, an already struggling service I wrote about in a past Morning File, and what do you have left for travel options? A twice-weekly, 24-hour trip to Montreal that costs about the same as a two-hour plane ride. Even now, with increased fuel costs and fewer flights available.

Have you ever taken The Ocean line? It’s no Rocky Mountaineer.

The one time I took the train, I was heading home from Montreal. I sat in a small seated area with no WiFi and watched rural Quebec whiz by ⁠— or roll by at a moderate pace, to be more precise ⁠— before night descended and my “scenic” views ended. It was more comfortable than air travel for the first five hours, but as we started to mosey through New Brunswick, it got a bit tough on the joints. And brain.

As Erica Butler reported for the Examiner a few years ago, the future of The Ocean was in jeopardy before the pandemic. 

Come November 1, 2020, VIA Rail will no longer be able to turn its trains around in Halifax, which could put The Ocean, the 116-year-old train service linking Halifax and Montreal, in jeopardy. According to VIA’s 2019 Corporate Plan, the rail loop that VIA uses to turn its train around is on Crown land, but that land is leased to PSA Halifax (formerly Halterm), and the global shipping company has decided they need the land.

This seemed to spell the end of the line, but the pandemic shut down train travel for over a year, and when it reopened last summer, the solution to this problem was to mix old railcars with new ones that now allows the train to run both ways. No need to turn around.

As Butler reported in July last year (now for CHMA in New Brunswick) that makes an already dismal riding experience worse.

​​It means seats in some cars will be facing the wrong way for one leg of The Ocean’s roundtrip, and it also means the end of the popular dome/bubble/observation car (which had already been limited to sleeper class passengers.)

If The Ocean was a more regular service that at the very least got to each stop in the same time it would take to just drive there (a cheaper fare wouldn’t hurt either) I might take it from time to time. Maybe that’s not viable.

Ridership is low. Would a better service improve it?

The state of the tracks through New Brunswick keeps the train incredibly slow. VIA won’t let its trains go even highway speed on long stretches for fear of derailment. Last month, Alexandre Silberman at CBC reported CN planned to spend $40 million to replace just two miles of rail. It’s not the same track The Ocean uses, but it is telling about how costly it would be to bring the tracks up to date across the line.

Imagine a fast train to Montreal. Sleeping through New Brunswick and arriving on the island in 10 or 12 hours. I’d actually make the trip; if it cost less than a flight, I’d go often.

Trains are a great way to get GHG-emitting planes and cars out of the sky and off the road, but Canada hasn’t invested, or re-invested in that infrastructure, and it seems unlikely trains will be a viable option for travel any time in the near future.

Speaking to News Wire, former Amtrak president David Gunn summed up the situation for VIA:

VIA is almost invisible in Canada. They don’t run anything to speak of outside the Montreal-Toronto corridor. Two trains per week to Halifax (from Montreal) and two to Vancouver (from Toronto) is sad to watch.

Looking South from the platform of Halifax's Via station. An empty rail line stretches into the distance. To the left, a train is stationed. To the right, the Barrington NSLC is visible. It is sunny and blue skied.
The start of The Ocean line from the Via Rail Station in Halifax. Photo: Yelp/Kate B

Sometimes I like to go down to the VIA station in Halifax and look at the end of the rail line. There’s something kind of magical about the terminal by the ocean, how it’s the start of a line that leads all the way to St. Catherine Street, to another world.

But if I want to get to that city on the St. Lawrence, I’d rather sit an airport for an eight-hour delay. It’s still faster. Or I could hitch. Or bike. Sailing could be fun.

I’m happy the workers avoided a strike, but my travel plans were never up in the air. What a shame train travel’s never been a priority here in my lifetime. And likely never will be.

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Noticed: Seeing stars through the decades

In an episode of Mad Men, set in 1960s New York, the show’s resident weasel Pete Campbell asks his co-worker Harry Crane about newly published photos of Earth from space. Do they make you feel small and insignificant, he asks. No, my wife does that, Crane responds.

It’s a stupid joke, but it speaks to our species’ struggle with perspective. Our inability to see the forest for the trees, or the planet for the universe, when it comes to cohabitation down here. It’s a topic that’s resurfaced again and again when we see new images of the cosmos, and our place in it.

Though Mad Men doesn’t specify the photographs, it’s likely they’re discussing the famous “Earthrise” shots taken by the Apollo 8 crew as they orbited the moon.

An image of the Earth from space, with the moon's surface in the foreground
The famous photo, taken by astronaut William Anders, of Earth rising over the moon’s surface in 1968. Photo: NASA

The year this photo was taken, race riots broke out across the United States as Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Bobby Kennedy was shot that same year. The Vietnam War raged on, while the Soviet Union and three other Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia.

In light of this photograph, taken at the end of that year, human conflict, hatred, politics, and violence became instantly trivial.

“The vast loneliness up here of the moon is awe inspiring,” said crew member Jim Lovell at the time. “It makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.”

The picture would also become a driving force of environmentalism. As the Guardian’s science editor Ian Sample put it in 2018, Earthrise “showed the world as a singular, fragile, oasis” in the cold black void of space. One we had to protect at all costs.

Four years later, the “Blue Marble” photograph was taken by the Apollo 17 crew, perhaps the most iconic image of our planet. It showed a complete planet, void of borders, vulnerable in the vastness of space.

The Earth in full profile from space, resembling a blue marble.
The famous “blue marble” photo, taken in 1972 by the Apollo 17 crew, showing Earth from the Mediterranean to the Antarctic. Photo: NASA

In between the taking of these two photos, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who flew on Apollo 14, summarized the perspective that comes with seeing the world from a distance:

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’

The same year the “Blue Marble” was taken, as the Cold War and conflict in Vietnam raged on, British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians at a protest in Northern Ireland, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by Palestinian Terrorists at the Olympic Games.

That year also marked the start of the growing OPEC energy crisis that would lead to rising fuel prices and lineups at the pumps, as well as an investigation into the wrongdoing of an American president.

Fast forward and zoom out, 18 years and six billion kilometres respectively, and we come to the so-called “Pale Blue Dot.”

As the Voyager 1 space probe left our solar system in 1990, it took one last look back, barely capturing an image of our home, which appeared as a pixel in a shaft of sun glare.

An image of space, showing shafts of light glare from the sun. In one of the light beams, Earth is visible as the tiniest of specks.
An image of Earth, taken by the Voyager 1 space probe, as it left the solar system in 1990. The planet, circled, is a tiny dot in a shaft of solar light. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Assuming you’re reading this on your phone, you likely can’t even see it. Yet this photo, which captures practically nothing, showed us something immense, as Carl Sagan famously philosophized:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

At the time of that photo, it seemed we might actually be setting aside some of the “follies of human conceits” and working to preserve the pale blue dot. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War were imminent, ending decades of hostility and diminishing the threat of nuclear war. The Kyoto Protocol was two years out, spurred by environmentalists sounding the alarm over the human impact on the climate and natural life. And the internet, the great democratization of information, was in its infancy.

Of course, the last three decades haven’t carried that momentum.

The latest images from NASA, the most complete composite image of our universe and its history, show a dazzling and unreachable array of cosmic brilliance. It’s as humbling as it is awe-inspiring.

Newspapers around the world relayed those images to almost every earthbound human on the planet. They also relayed articles about Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, an increasingly damning investigation into the wrongdoing of an American president, devastating famine around the Horn of Africa, skyrocketing fuel prices exacerbating an energy crisis, and the renewed risk of nuclear war. All that accompanied by constant reports that we’re still hurdling toward the destruction of natural life on the only inhabitable speck of dust we have.

They say the more we see, the less we know. The less we change, it would seem, is equally true. No amount of celestial perspective can alter the stubborn beast that is human nature. Not yet anyway.

One bright spot about these latest images from the James Webb Telescope: for a cold, empty void, doesn’t space look beautiful?

A cluster of galaxies, resembling swirling Christmas tree lights, against the black backdrop of space
Released Monday, an image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, SCStl

However infinitesimal our role in it might be, it’s nice to know we’re part of something so spectacular.

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Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, virtual meeting) — agenda here

District Boundary Resident Review Panel (Wednesday, 3:30pm, City Hall) — agenda here


Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda here


No meetings

On campus



PhD defence, Schulich School of Law (Wednesday, 10am, online ) — Oladiwura A. Eyitayo-Oyesode will defend “Fostering Implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Africa: Prospects of Revenue Generation Under the Tax Treaties Signed by Nigeria, Tanzania, and Botswana.”

PhD defence, Physiology and Biophysics (Wednesday, 1:30pm, online ) — Kirishani Kesavan will defend “Endothelial Characteristics of Cardiac Resident Stem Cell Antigen-1+ and c-kit+ cells.”

Speak to the Power of Truth: Black Queer and Trans Lives Also Matter (Wednesday, 6:30pm, online) — Discussion of Black queer and trans activism, inclusion, systemic and continued discrimination and harassment, and transformative change.


PhD defence, Mathematics and Statistics (Thursday, 9am, online) — Shen Ling will defend “A New Method for Multi-Class Classification with Multiple Data Sources, with Application to Abdominal Pain Diagnosis.”

PhD defence, Microbiology and Immunology (Thursday, 9am, online) — Landon Getz will defend “Genome-Wide Investigation of Vibrio Parahaemolyticus Type III Secretion System-1 Regulation and Chitin Metabolism.”

In the harbour

We don’t have ship listings today. Our apologies.


This item not written by Yvette d’Entremont.

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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. I have been taking the train fairly regularly to visit a family member who happens to live in a town on the rail line between Montreal and Toronto, and far from all the airports. I love train travel and it completely confounds me that Canada is not doing everything it can to improve service. It should at least be brought back to the level it was before Harper slashed the service in half, but the pandemic has caused it to drop even further. We booked two months ago to travel to Ontario in October, thank goodness because the train is completely filled up (at least all the sleeper options are gone). People would take the train if it ran more often, was more comfortable and not so slow, and not so expensive. The fact that train travel is far more environmentally friendly seems to be lost on our federal government which so far has a rather poor record in dealing with the climate crisis.

    And for a government which seems to think tourism is one way to employ thousands if not milliions of Canadians, the lost opportunity by not supporting our valuable train routes, which could be world class attractions, is little short of criminal.

    The train is used by tourists, families like ours visiting one another, academics. students, people from all walks of life. In the past the line through northern NB was an essential service for the residents there. I don;t know how they manage now with such infrequent service.

  2. The high price of rental cars drove me to take the VIA in Ontario last week down the Montreal Windsor corridor. We generally were travelling between 125 and 155km/hr and I made the trip in about the same time as if I had drove a car. I hadn’t taken it in years because affordable rental cars were the way to go.

    One way it was on time and the other we got about 45 minutes behind. The problem I’ve always found with VIA is that once they get a little behind then they have to wait and wait for other trains and then it just snowballs until your 45 minutes or an hour behind and wondering if you’ll make the connection for a flight or a visit with friends etc.
    That corridor has parallel tracks and several sections where freight rail is separated. Such efficiency is only a pipe dream in the parts of the country (pretty much everywhere else) with a single track and miles long freight trains that ALWAYS have priority.
    Taking the train across Canada you can’t even get within a reasonable distance of any large town in Northern Ontario because CP kicked VIA off their tracks decades ago. I would take it to Thunder bay if it went to even a half hours drive of a station but it’s a 2 to 3 hour drive to the nearest via station from Thunder Bay. It’s an hour and a half drive from a via station to Sudbury and 5 hour drive from the tracks to Sault St. Marie.
    Rail infrastructure, like roads, in this country should be a public resource in my opinion, if we ever want to have even reasonable passenger service. We have a mess of historic separations between CP and CN which instead we should be building links between and sharing costs if it were a public resource. We could have some sort of federal inquiry/plan to look at whether maintaining 1000 plus kms of tracks through the wilderness of northern Ontario makes more sense in the long run than other options OR whether having routes that largely avoid major population centers makes any kind of sense.
    As it stands much of it is barely usable for freight let alone getting a passenger train up to 150km/hr. Taking a 21 hour trip compared to 12 (if it could go 125km/hr) from Halifax to Montreal would be a huge difference and the longer trip is left as an option only for those who have the time (tourists, retirees, students) or those who have the disposable income to have the luxury of making the longer trips.

  3. Rail service between central Canada and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick was a condition of Confederation. Presumably the fathers of Confederation meant both passenger and freight service. Upgrading the rail line will benefit both passenger and freight service. While we are at it, let’s electrify the passenger trains the way the Netherlands has done with their passenger trains, using green energy.