News

1. Defund the police report: four months after publication, Halifax still moving slow on recommendations

A stenciled “defund the police” seen painted on a Halifax sidewalk on April 13, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

In January, El Jones’ Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police tabled its report.

The report outlined 36 recommendations for policing in Halifax. Generally, it was suggested better oversight, less police involvement in mental health response and traffic enforcement, more spending from HRM on affordable housing. It also defined “defunding,” categorizing it into four pillars:

  1. “Reforms to police practices, oversight, and accountability;
  2. “Reforms aimed at ‘detasking’ police and ‘retasking’ more appropriate community service providers;
  3. “Legislative, regulatory, and policy reforms intended to promote community safety; and
  4. “Financial reforms aimed at tying police budgets to clear performance metrics and encouraging public participation in municipal budgeting, with the ultimate intention of decreasing budgetary allocations to police and increasing allocations to community-based social services.”

The Examiner wrote about the report when it came out here.

“We have disinvested and defunded social services and then turned to the police to fill in the gaps,” El Jones said at the time, “which is also not fair to the police, and not reasonable or rational or efficient, or the best way of doing things.”

“So in order to shift away from policing, we also need to shift the way we resource other organizations and the way, more importantly, that we think about why we rely on police when we can rely on other strategies … defunding police is in many ways about reinvesting in fundamental and historically underfunded community resources.”

This past Monday, about four months after the report came out, Halifax’s Police Commissioners Board held its May meeting. The board, which helped Jones’ subcommittee create the report, has made little progress on implementing any of the recommendations contained in it, reports Zane Woodford.

The terms of reference for the project to defund police have been pushed to June — they were originally supposed to come out in May — and a new “working group” has been created to review the recommendations, which will lead to the formation of another subcommittee and… I’m already boring myself.

Not much has been done. Let’s leave it at that.

“Defunding the police” has been criticized as a concept for being vague, abstract, and impractical. Yet, Halifax has a clearly defined route for doing just that. Still, the new budget passed last month without taking the report into serious consideration, and things are still slow-moving.

You can debate defunding, but you can’t say there’s no clear plan.

To see what that plan is, what it recommends, what still needs to be done (a lot), and why progress has been slow, head to Woodford’s full report.

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2. Flooding at Truro hospital affecting surgeries, childbirths

Colchester East Hants Health Centre on a sunny day. The hospital is now dealing with flooding. Photo: Nova Scotia Health

The Colchester East Hants Health Centre is dealing with flooding that started Monday morning, and it’s causing problems for surgeries and patients in labour, reports Andrea Jerrett with CTV Atlantic.

Elective surgeries and some diagnostic imaging procedures booked for Monday have been postponed, but emergency surgeries will continue.

Pregnant patients who believe they are in labour, and arrive at the CEHHC over the next 48 hours, will be assessed and diverted to the IWK Health Centre or the Aberdeen Hospital, depending on which hospital is closer for the patient.

Nova Scotia Health says the hospital’s maternity team will be contacting pregnant patients who are expected to deliver over the next few days to discuss an alternate birth plan.

An obstetrician and nursing staff will still be available at the hospital to support pregnant patients in the event of an emergency or unplanned delivery.

Health care workers have already been doing everything they can for two years to keep their heads above water. When public health is already stretched as thin as it is, there’s not much room to deal with emergencies like this.

Nova Scotia Health says the extent of the water damage is now being assessed.

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3. Halifax crime roundup

A Halifax Regional Police officer in Halifax on Sept. 24, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

A bit of police news out of Halifax this morning.

Police have blocked off the 500 block of Herring Cove Road in Halifax as part of an investigation into a stabbing that occurred early this morning, reports CBC News. 

Halifax Regional Police said they were called shortly after midnight to respond to a stabbing near Sylvia Avenue and Herring Cove Road. This morning, Global News reported the 37-year-old woman who was stabbed died. 

And elsewhere in Halifax, two men now face charges for an assault that occurred in Fairview Saturday night, reports Alex MacIsaac at CTV Atlantic.

Police responded to a call in the area Saturday night and found a man who had to be taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries after being attacked.

Nathaniel Logan Muise and Adrian Eric Muse now face four charges in provincial court, including attempted murder and assault with a weapon.

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4. Maud Lewis painting sells at Ontario auction for 10 times its estimated value

Maud Lewis’s “Black Truck.” Photo: Miller and Miller Auctions

Do they lock the door to Maud Lewis’s house at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia these days? If not, they should. It’s storing some pretty valuable items, it seems.

One of Lewis’s paintings just sold for more than any other piece she produced: $350,000. Karla Renic reports for Global Halifax:

Listed by Miller and Miller Auctions, the Black Truck was estimated to be worth around $30,000 to 35,000 in value, but sold for a whopping $350,000.

Everything from Nova Scotia is selling over the asking price lately.

Lewis, who spent most of her life in poverty, suffering from arthritis, died in 1970, well before the art world decided her pieces were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s the first thing I thought when I saw this news. 

There’s a bit more to this story though. You might have already heard some of it. Renic writes: 

How her painting arrived at the May 14, 2022, auction is also worth noting.

The Black Truck first belonged to Ontario artist John Kinnear, who passed away in 2003.

“Kinnear was the only artist to correspond with Maud Lewis from the time she became famous, in the mid-1960s, until her death in 1970,” read the auction listing.

“Kinnear would send Maud Lewis pre-primed Masonite boards, brushes, and requested paints. In return, Maud would send the finished paintings for Kinnear to sell and he would return the proceeds to Maud in Marshalltown.”

He lived in London, Ont., where he was a frequent guest at the former Villa restaurant on Richmond Street, now renamed Anthony’s Seafood Bistro, owned by Irene and Tony Demas.

In wanting art for the walls of their restaurant, the owners and Kinnear reached a deal to have his artwork be used as payment for meals. One day he came in with the Maud Lewis painting.

I think the price of a beer at a baseball game is the only item whose value I find more baffling and disconnected from reality than art. Maybe you can count housing now.

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Camping in the city: another lesson in dealing with homelessness

Halifax’s Meagher Park, a.k.a. People’s Park, in November 2021. The park is one of a number of public sites where unhoused people. Photo: Leslie Amminson.

Last summer, on what started out as a quiet, pleasant morning, police entered a municipal park to remove encampments where about two dozen of the city’s homeless had set up temporary shelters. Unable to afford housing of any kind, even before prices started to skyrocket, and feeling they had no safe alternative, these people had resorted to sleeping on public land, setting up tents on grass usually reserved for picnic blankets and beach towels. Today, almost a year later, those tents are gone.

On that morning last year, police pushed through a sea of park residents, advocates, social workers, volunteers, and locals from the community to forcefully evict the tent-dwellers. The cops had been under the direction of the city — months later, documents would surface showing the city had been secretly planning these evictions well in advance — and their actions, at times violent and hostile, would damage public trust of two institutions whose cores, on paper, are public service: law enforcement and local government.

All this has been extensively covered in the media, even though officers actively tried to stop journalists from covering the events of that day in the park.

The city I’m talking about, obviously, is Toronto.

Well, sadly, it’s not obvious.

Almost exactly two months after the City of Toronto showed Canadians the wrong way to start solving a homelessness crisis, the same thing happened in Halifax.

A city worker uses a chain saw to cut through a shelter at the former Halifax Memorial Library on Aug. 18, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

I wrote about Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods park evictions when they happened last June, in a Morning File headlined: “How not to handle homelessness.” Soon after, I had to humbly accept that Halifax’s chief administrative officer, police chief, and council members don’t read what I write. Or, if they do, they ignore it.

But back to Toronto for a second.

Last week, that city decided to double down on keeping its parks tent-free. Toronto will now pay for 24/7 security surveillance at six parks through the summer. The cost is still unknown, but whatever money goes into staffing security won’t be spent on increasing affordable housing there. Most estimates put the cost of clearing Trinity Bellwoods last June at about $2 million. The city has also spent $11,850 on signs deterring tents in parks, according to CBC reporter Ali Raza. (104 of the 380 signs ordered have already gone up).

How many new housing units could all that money build? How much rent could that subsidize?

A sign posted outside College Park in downtown Toronto, forbidding tents, camping, and overnight visitors. Photo: Nathan Ng/Twitter

The decision came the same week Toronto’s city council was debating whether to allow drinking in public parks. That motion failed for the time being, but consider just how close Toronto came to increase enforce enforcement of a tent ban in the name of public safely while also making it legal to bring beer to the park. (I think there’s worthwhile debate about public alcohol consumption — Suzanne Rent explored that possibility with nuance in a past Morning File — but the timing’s awful).

I wanted to share a bit of an editorial, written by Emma Teitel in the Toronto Star Friday, criticizing the city’s new park security program. In it, Teitel concisely lays out why it’s short-sighted and ineffective to treat the symptoms of homelessness (unsightly encampments in public spaces) rather than the illness (a dire lack of safe, affordable housing and shelter alternatives).

Contracting security for parks, Teitel writes, “is a profound waste of resources if a government’s goal is to chip away at homelessness: a goal that demands building trust with people sleeping rough and offering them permanent and safe housing opportunities.”

On the other hand, if a government’s goal is simply to rid a space of such people then the city’s plan to discourage encampments via private security may well prove successful. We know that when an encampment is cleared its residents move elsewhere in the city; to other parks or ravines where they are less vulnerable to detection. They are still without homes — just not within sight or earshot of people who have homes.

“It is extremely revealing of the priorities of the city of Toronto that they are currently pursuing 24/7 surveillance of visible downtown parks this summer,” says Diana Chan McNally, an outreach support worker in Toronto.

“Keep in mind that there continues to be a dearth of housing available for unhoused people, and that the shelter system is operating at nearly 100 per cent capacity. The city is failing to provide the resources to address homelessness, and instead is putting effort into surveilling and criminalizing encampments.”

That last quote should ring familiar here in Halifax. Back in January, Out of the Cold Community Association executive director Michelle Malette told the Examiner that HRM’s shelter system, meant to offer temporary relief for clients while they look for more permanent housing options, is “stagnant” and has become packed with long-term residents as affordable housing options remain scarce.

Out of the Cold offers shelter and support for Halifax’s unhoused, and currently operates the newly-built Dartmouth modular units.

So, just like Toronto, we have people living in parks.

But what about park residents who’ve been offered hotel rooms or shelter space? Why don’t they move? After all, it’s true that parks should be for recreation, not habitation. I don’t want to see tents in parks either, if there are safe alternatives. But hotels are another temporary set up, and a number of homeless people refuse to move to these alternatives because they feel unsafe or believe they’ll be kicked out again shortly after moving.

Let’s go back to Teitel’s column:

It is no doubt frustrating to city government that many people living in encampments don’t want to move indoors to city-run facilities but that reluctance is not justification to boot them from public parks. It’s justification to provide permanent housing solutions by any means necessary. And this policy is a waste of those means.

“It begs the question,” Coun. Mike Layton told me, “why would we just have security officials going through parks when we could in fact have more support workers that have experience dealing with a homeless population and mental health issues? We have those people in the city. We’ve been using them. We could double down on that approach.”

The city would likely say it has exhausted that approach. In a statement shared with the Star, Mayor John Tory said “pandemic encampments” have shut down community amenities including parks and summer camps. “I support our professional city of Toronto staff doing everything they possibly can to try to prevent large out-of-control encampments like the ones we saw at the height of the pandemic. Public parks should be safe, open and accessible to all residents,” added Tory.

On that last point we can all agree. But while Torontonians have a right to public space in our city, we don’t have a right to ignorance about the poverty within it. Every spring and summer that poverty makes itself known in our parks. It will make itself known again this season, no matter how many dollars the city throws at private security guards.

Security further alienates a part of our community that’s already pushed to the margins of our society. Keeping people from sleeping in parks won’t stop homelessness; it’ll just stop us from seeing it as much. And enforcement, as we saw last August, breeds conflict. That’s something I’m hopeful Halifax has learned.

This spring, P.A.D.S. community network, which has helped facilitate operations at Halifax’s People’s Park encampment, asked Halifax regional council to allow tents in parks “until there is enough housing and ample and stable sheltering for all unhoused persons. Council denied this request, but asked for a staff report on how HRM should proceed.

“In recognition that some individuals will be unable or unwilling to accept indoor shelter and that demand for indoor shelter beds exceeds capacity,” reads the report that followed, “it is proposed the municipality designate spaces for outdoor overnight sheltering.”

As Zane Woodford reported earlier this month, staff ultimately suggested 16 city parks — away from schools and playgrounds, but with access to toilets and water — be designated for tent shelters. Staff recommended 11 of those parks only allow people to stay overnight; tents would have to be removed from 8am to 8pm.

Council had concerns. Concerns that make me hopeful we won’t copy Toronto again.

“In my opinion,” Coun. Tony Mancini told council on May 3, “having overnight camping and then having someone — police or bylaw, whomever — shake that tent and say, ‘OK you’ve got to leave’ at 8am is problematic,” said Coun. Tony Mancini.

“It’s a potential for conflict to occur.”

Other councillors agreed, and a motion passed to scrap the designation of parks for overnight tenting only while moving forward with designating long-term camp sites in HRM and creating “a timeline and a plan for supporting the transition, education, and implementation that is led and delivered by civilian HRM staff.”

There’s still a lot of potential for conflict between park residents and the municipality/police. Once new parks are designated for encampments, we’ll have to figure out how to move people from existing encampments like People’s Park without repeating the hostile mistakes of the last park evictions. Will we just let people stay if they refuse to leave? What would the point be then of having designated parks for those sleeping rough?

One of the 36 still-unheeded recommendations council received on defunding the police was to find a way to partially or fully “detask” police from “responding to incidents involving unhoused persons.” So enforced removal, as we saw last summer, isn’t a great option. Even if it’s just to move people to another park in the metro area.

Still, it’s encouraging to hear councillors consider the consequences. Park encampments have been precariously tolerated for almost a year now and homelessness isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We need to start thinking of long-term solutions and how they can be carried out peacefully, in cooperation with our most vulnerable neighbours and the community workers who help them every day.

Ultimately, allowing parks to be used as outdoor shelters isn’t sustainable. I’m not saying it’s a great set up; but it’s where we are right now.

I may be advocating for park encampments to continue, and to do so without monitoring from police or security, but I also want to see the day where the municipality’s parks are tent free. That will only happen if the shelter system is safe and has capacity for the homeless population. And that, in turn, will only happen if there’s deeply affordable housing out there for those who need it. If the cost of living keeps going up, that number might grow.

It’s a tough situation, but whatever we do, let’s not copy Toronto again.

As Teitel concludes in her editorial: “Enforcement is no match for homelessness. Surveillance is no match for homelessness. Only homes are.”

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Noticed: gas in the past

Gas station in Dartmouth. It’s not much to look at, but it’s as expensive as Harrods these days.  Photo: Halifax Examiner

I managed to go two weeks without driving my car further than a kilometre, but this past weekend I put about 200km on it. I’m now at half a tank. When it’s empty I’m starting to think the most prudent financial move will just be to sell the car. Or my great grandfather’s gold watch; I could probably fund two more refills with that, sentiment be damned.

Are you sitting down? Have you had your coffee? Did a deceased relative leave you their entire estate? Because last night, gas rose to over $2 a litre in Nova Scotia.

It’s almost hard to remember, or painful to remember, that the start of the pandemic brought the lowest gas prices the province had seen in over a decade. It was a time when you could gas up your car for 80 cents a litre in Halifax, but legally weren’t really allowed to drive anywhere.

Now the world’s opening back up and it’s too expensive to really go anywhere.

Fortune.

So fickle.

Such a penchant for cruel irony.

Anyway, while I was doing some google searches about past gas prices in Nova Scotia, dreaming of a golden age, I stumbled on this throwback, as reported by Global:

It was a passion project to recreate Canada’s first gas-powered car, led by the inventor’s grandson, Ron Foss. It’s a fun video — the original model, only one was ever made, was created in 1897 and Ron had to recreate the Fossmobile using archival photos alone — but what really caught my attention was the CTV article about the car from February 2021. Here’s an excerpt from John Vennavally-Rao’s report:

George Foote Foss was a bike mechanic and blacksmith who ran a shop in Sherbrooke, Que., in the late 1800s.

After seeing an electric car during a trip to Boston, he set out to improve on the design.

“He decided there was a better way to make a vehicle,” Foss said.

Foote Foss thought a gas-powered engine might work better and constructed all the parts for the car himself.

By 1897, he was driving around, “scaring children, getting stuck in the mud, petrifying the horses,” [grandson Ron] Foss said.

But in 1902, Foote Foss sold the car, the only one he ever made, for $75, and it was never seen again.

It always shocks me how long electric cars have been around. Why did Foss — and more importantly Ford — think a gas-powered engine might work better? We could’ve been riding electric since the 19th century and I wouldn’t have to ruin my bank account just to drive around and ruin the planet.

That’s all I have to say on the subject. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going for a bike ride.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am) — virtual meeting

Wednesday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — virtual meeting

Province

Health (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House) — Government Initiatives of Ambulance Availability and Offload Delays, and Department of Health and Wellness Response, with representatives from Dept. of Health and Wellness, and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
07:00: Pearl Mist, cruise ship with up to 216 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Bar Harbor
07:45: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor
10:00: Svanoy, ferry, sails from Pier 9 for sea
10:30: ZIM Constanza, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York (itinerary)
13:00: Toledo, car carrier, moves from Pier 9 to Autoport
14:30: Pearl Mist sails for sea
17:45: Zaandam sails for Sydney, en route from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Montreal
20:30: X-press Irazu, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea

Cape Breton
07:30: Algoma Value, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
15:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Jacksonville, Florida
19:00: CSL Koasek, bulker, sails from Coal Pier (Sydney) for sea


Footnotes

  • I’ve written something to this effect in the footnotes before, but it bears repeating: when I write “homeless people,” I don’t intend to imply homelessness defines those “experiencing homelessness.” But “people experiencing homelessness” is too long and jargony and “unhoused people” just sounds strange to me. The “homeless,” just like the “unhoused,” can be housed again. I try to avoid just saying “the homeless.” It’s a bit dehumanizing. Whatever term I use, I don’t want to distract from the fact that I’m writing about actual people. Actual members of the community. If I’m convinced I’ve failed to do that through the terminology I choose, I’ll change it in the future.
  • Another great (though far more trivial) column from Emma Teitel this month: Why I won’t let my daughter grow up to be a Leafs fan. If there were more parents like her, the world would be a better place. At the very least, it’d be a happier place.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

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

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  1. It is lawful to erect a tent in a municipal park for a night or part of a day but it is not lawful to erect a tent in a park on a permanent basis or for 24 hours and thus deprive others of the use of a park. A couple have placed a tent in Dartmouth Common in a very visible place and it looks as though they intend to stay there. Dogs will be perusing the newcomers.

  2. Just returned from Vancouver where the city allows people to tent in any park just about any time.

  3. If high gas prices get people out of their giant SUVs and pickup trucks I’m all for it.

    Less cars, more walking, cycling, GOOD and USEFUL public transit and HRM has a great car share program.

    As usual though, in our wonderful system gas will become a commodity only for the rich. Sounds like it already is.