1. The anatomy of failure: How and why the emergency alert system was not activated when a mass murderer was roaming around Nova Scotia

Lillian Hyslop. Photo: Facebook.

Tim Bousquet, Jennifer Henderon, Yvette d’Entremont, and Joan Baxter did some excellent reporting on the question of why the emergency alert system wasn’t activated early on Sunday. Bousquet, Henderson, d’Entremont, and Baxter piece together a timeline of events using tweets from the RCMP’s Twitter account, questions from friends of the victims, and experts on the emergency alert.

Heather Matthews is a friend of Lillian Hyslop, who was gunned down during her morning walk on in Wentworth. She says an emergency alert could have saved lives.

I really believe if there had have been an alert sent out, some of these random people that were shot would not have been shot. The people he had targeted, that’s one thing. But these people he got just because they were there?

The women [employed by the VON] like Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien who were out driving. Perhaps if they had been given warning.

Terry Canning was the province’s emergency communications coordinator for 15 years and the Examiner contacted him for a response. “Somebody within the Royal Constabulary fucked up big time,” Canning says. “And relying on fucking Twitter of all things.”

Canning says in a situation like the mass killing, a public information officer should be appointed very quickly. That officer would distribute information, including through an emergency alert system.

Read “The anatomy of failure” here.

2. These are the 22 people murdered in Nova Scotia on April 18-19, 2020

Jolene Oliver, Emily Tuck and Aaron (Friar) Tuck. Photo: GoFundMe

We are learning more about the 22 victims of the shooting: Lisa McCully, Gina Goulet, Lillian Hyslop, Heather O’Brien, Greg and Jamie Blair, Cst. Heidi Stevenson, Alanna Jenkins, Sean McLeod, Emily Tuck, Jolene Oliver, Aaron (Friar) Tuck, Corrie Ellison, Tom Bagley, Kristen Beaton, Joey Webber, Dawn Madsen, Frank Gulenchyn, Joy and Peter Bond, John Zahl and Elizabeth Joanne Thomas.

Read the full story here. 

3. “There’s a person down there with a gun”: first responder audio from the beginning of the murder spree

The Halifax Examiner obtained audio of first responders responding to the call to Portapique Saturday night, soon after the mass murder spree began.

Here’s a rough transcript:

So there’s a structure fire. There’s a person down there with a gun. They’re still looking for him. The patient we have got shot by him. He was just down there observing the fire, checking out the fire, so there could be other patients around the fire that could be gone already, but we’re not sure. Police are stationed at the end of the road there on the 2, not letting anybody down any further but it’s very vague what’s going on down there but there is for sure multiple patients down there [garbled]

Listen to the full audio here. 

4. How to heal with furry companions

Zoey, a miniature pinscher, was one of the dogs injured in this past weekend’s mass killing. Experts say pets and their families can recover from trauma together. Photo: Central Nova Animal Hospital/Facebook

Today, I wrote about how pets, like Zoey and Ginger, two dogs injured in the weekend’s mass killing, might recover from the trauma they experienced. I talked to two experts on pets, trauma and grief. Dr. Karen Overall, an animal behaviour specialist at the Atlantic Veterinary College talks about how pets can particularly helpful for the children who survived, and how children share their feelings with pets in a way they can’t share with adults.

The repository of all the horror, the secrets, the scary thoughts, the dogs will know all of that.

Dr. Debbie Stoewen, the Director of Veterinary Affairs at LifeLearn Animal Health in Guelph, studies the bond between pets and humans and how they can heal together. Pets, Stoewen says, can provide normalcy, routine, emotional support, and even comedic relief when their owners need it.

You can talk to your pet but because they can’t respond they will never say the wrong thing. You know it’s a safe space.

I especially loved learning how dogs and cats deal with stress in different ways. Overall shared some fascinating research about how dogs and cats survived the earthquake in Kobe, Japan in 1995.

Read the full story here. 

5. Update on COVID-19

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, at the daily COVID-19 briefing, Friday, April 17, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia.

Mary Campbell with the Cape Breton Spectator reports on the update on COVID-19. Dr. Strang announced two new deaths, both at Northwood in Halifax. That brings the total deaths to 12. Thirty-five new cases were announced today, most of them at Northwood.

Strang was also asked about a press release sent out by the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) on Wednesday. In the release, staff at Northwood say the conditions are “horrible.” Jason MacLean, NSGEU president, says members are telling him it’s like a “war zone.”

Strang called the press release “fear-mongering” and “hyperbole.”

You can read that story here.

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

The winter quarantine hospital on Lawlor’s Island, the only insulated hospital there. It was razed by the federal government in 1938, when the island’s quarantine stations shut down. Photo contributed

Dr. Ian Cameron first learned about the quarantine station on Lawlor’s Island back in 1979. Cameron, who is from Truro, had recently returned to Nova Scotia from Jackson, Mississippi, where he had been practicing medicine. He was on a tour of McNabs Island with a guide named John Jenkins, and asked about the ruins of some buildings on the other island, Lawlor’s, which is closer to Eastern Passage. Jenkins said that was the former disinfecting station. “That was the first I heard of it,” Cameron says.

That visit inspired Cameron’s research into quarantine facilities on Lawlor’s Island and the history of disease outbreaks in the city. Over the years, Cameron gave talks, wrote articles, and eventually published his book, Quarantine What is Old is New: Halifax and Lawlor’s Island Quarantine Station 1866 to 1938. The book was published in 2007, but has found some new readers with the COVID-19 crisis.

Cameron says he sees a lot of history repeating itself now with COVID-19: Governments weren’t ready; they didn’t heed warnings about pandemics and didn’t listen; the implications of travel and trade; the conflicts between public health and the economy. “Those are old lessons that date back to the bubonic plague,” Cameron says.

In Quarantine, Cameron shares a number of stories of how the quarantine stations on Lawlor’s worked and how Halifax dealt with outbreaks of disease.

The SS England carried passengers sick with cholera to Halifax Harbour in 1866. They were treated in a temporary quarantine station on McNabs Island. Photo: New World Publishing Archives

In 1866, SS England arrived in Halifax Harbour on its way to New York. It anchored and raised a yellow flag, a sign there was disease on the ship. There had been an outbreak of cholera and several hundreds of passengers died. Sick passengers were settled on McNabs. The Sisters of Charity helped with their care. They and other workers took care of the sick around the clock. Those who died during the stay there were buried on the island. Dr. John Slayter, the city’s health officer in charge of quarantine, worked on the island, too, and eventually died of the disease. The SS England did head to New York, leaving some passengers behind, who later took another ship.

That case made it clear that a permanent quarantine station was needed, and Lawlor’s was where it would go. Charles Tupper, who was the city’s health officer and the premier at the time, and who went on to become prime minister, was behind the construction. Three quarantine hospitals were built, a disinfecting station was added, and a small cemetery was built on the tip of the island.

Tupper passed the first quarantine law in Nova Scotia, where he joined Sir John A. Macdonald’s cabinet and developed the first Canadian Quarantine Act in 1867, one that is commonly quoted today. The act was updated after SARS and it will be updated again.
Charles Tupper was premier of Nova Scotia and port quarantine officer in 1866 when the SS England brought cholera to the city. Photo: NSARM

In some ways, Cameron says Lawlor’s was the ideal place for a quarantine station. It was isolated, but there was a large acreage. But in the winter, ships could get frozen in the ice and there was a lack of fresh water.

In January 1899, a shipload of Doukhobor refugees was brought to the island by Count Sergej Tolstoy, son of Leo Tolstoy, after an outbreak of smallpox. The wasn’t enough room on the island for everyone, so some had to stay on the ship. It was the middle of winter and the Doukhobors washed their clothes in the icy waters. Their stay on the island was extended to 27 days, long enough for the first Canadian Doukhobor to be born on Lawlor’s on February 4.

Sometimes the disease found its way into the city. Cameron says there’s a story of a mother living in the south end who made a petticoat for her daughter with a piece of canvas that washed up on shore. That canvas has floated across from Lawlor’s. The girl developed cholera. So did the mother. The father quarantined the family, but the young girl and mother died.

Even before the quarantine stations on Lawlor’s, the city had its champion of quarantine measures. Sir Peregrine Maitland was the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 1832 when he became aware of cholera outbreaks in Montreal. To prevent outbreaks in Halifax, Maitland spent a significant amount of money setting up quarantine on Melville Island and creating three wards in the city for those who were exposed. There wasn’t an outbreak that year. Two years later, there was a new lieutenant governor, Colin Campbell, who wasn’t as prepared. Cholera got into the city that year, and those infected were put into the city’s poorhouse where the IWK is now. Residents of the poorhouse were the city’s most vulnerable population. About 600 people died.

With the Spanish Flu outbreak, young soldiers were the most vulnerable. The island quarantine facilities were used again.

Eventually, quarantine hospitals were needed less often as scientists found vaccinations for smallpox and other diseases, and shipping laws expanded and proper facilities were built on ships. “All of these problems were being solved,” Cameron says.

In 1938, the quarantine stations on Lawlor’s closed down. Rockhead Hospital in the city’s north end was used when other smaller outbreaks occurred. Minor cases were taken to hospitals. The only memory left of the quarantine stations on Lawlor’s are some gravestones and foundations, like the one Cameron saw in 1979.

Cameron says even with COVID-19, some of those same lessons from history will repeat themselves again, when the next pandemic arrives.

There will be changes, no doubt about it. They will go on for some time. And some people will be careless. The smarter people will pay attention. History does teach if you’re aware and pay attention to it.

The Halifax Public Libraries will have a free download of Quarantine available from April 30 to May 6. The publisher ordered a new print run, too, and the book can be ordered directly from them here.


There’s a weird divide happening right now on social media about the mass rampage on the weekend. I suspect this divide is happening in real life, too, but since we’re all at home right now, social media has become one place where people can air frustrations and grief. I’ve noticed two sides — if that’s what we can call them — developing over the past few days. I’ll call them the Calls for Kindness and the Calls for Answers.

I’m in the Call for Answers camp. I use social media to get and share information. I often get a lot of story ideas there. Sometimes I make jokes. I’ve learned to ignore some of what people post, too, although I follow a lot of interesting people. I have my own rules about what I post, including don’t overshare about my private life and my child. But I always want answers for something. Social media can be one place to find them.

Like a lot of people, I was watching the events unfold online starting Sunday morning. I was on Twitter and Facebook, scrolling and searching for updates. The killer’s photo was everywhere. Information was scarce. People had a lot of questions and were scared. I got almost nothing else done that day.

That night, after the RCMP press conference, I wrote on Facebook that I thought the conference was dreadful. The tech was terrible and we didn’t learn how many victims there were — in excess of 10 — until a reporter asked the question several moments in. Someone said I was being disrespectful. Someone else told me to let the RCMP do their job. I said it was disrespectful to the victims that they weren’t mentioned sooner in the conference. I wasn’t expecting the RCMP to know everything, but we wanted to know something.

I woke up on Monday and started scrolling again. Now, the stories and photos of the victims were being shared. More details were emerging. The killer’s photo was being shared less. Like the day before, I got almost nothing done and my anxiety increased.

On Tuesday, I woke up and started scrolling and checking for updates again. Then I saw a photo of the Blair family with Jamie, Greg, and their young sons, Alex and Jack, and other family members. I watched a video of teacher and mom Lisa McCully playing the ukulele and singing with her two young children. I turned off my social media, wept for an hour, and did the dishes.

I ignored Twitter and Facebook for much of that day. I focused on work and researched a couple of stories. I talked to a couple of people on the phone.

I know others expressed their own concern about the information overload that day, too, and how they weren’t handling it well. I saw it in tweets and posts later on when I signed back in. A friend messaged me to say she was going offline for a few days. All the news — and the continued coping with the loss of her job, being at home all the time, and worrying about her father — was too much.

But social media remains one place where people share how they feel about what happened. Facebook friends and people on Twitter started sharing photos of candles in their windows. They changed their profile pictures to include a frame with Nova Scotia Strong and the provincial tartan on it. They shared a photo of Monday night’s sunset (I shared one, too).

Others shared stories on the background of the killer. They had a lot of questions and were critical of the RCMP response. They wanted to know more about why the alert wasn’t sounded much earlier. The divide between those who asked for kindness and those who wanted answers grew. Those who wanted kindness asked others not to post anything at all. The posts pleading for kindness got angrier. More questions were being asked.

I am still in the Calls for Answers camp, but those in this camp aren’t unkind or lacking in compassion. It’s fair and right to ask questions right now. On Sunday, people were asking the questions on Twitter as the RCMP sent out its tweets. The families are asking questions now. Asking helps with the understanding. It helps with grief. The media isn’t stirring things up — it’s their job to ask questions.

Right now, we are all cut off from the social connections that might help us better cope with this tragedy. My coping mechanisms are cut off or very limited. I like to go for long drives and sing. My drives now are limited to the short time it takes to get to the grocery store and back home. My other coping mechanism is humour, which seemed incredibly inappropriate to use earlier this week.

Right now, our brains are trying to process what happened on the weekend. We’re taking to social media to vent, to grieve, to cope. And we’re all handling it differently. People can ask any question they want on their own personal social media accounts. There are unfollowing and unfriending options for those who don’t want to see certain kinds of information. Acts of kindness can live online or be quieter and stay offline. How we express our feelings and what we want to know is different, important, and fair. Kindness, asking questions, and even criticism can work together.


No meetings.

In the harbour

06:00: Ef Ava, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
06:00: Boheme, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 31
07:00: Maersk Maker, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for Thialf, a crane ship anchored just outside the harbour
09:30: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
10:30: Maersk Maker moves back to Pier 9
11:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
11:00: RHL Agilitas, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
13:00: Maersk Maker moves back to Thialf
13:00: Markab, supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
13:30: Ef Ava sails for Portland
15:30: Boheme sails for sea
16:30: Maersk Maker moves back to Pier 9
21:30: RHL Agilitas sails for Kingston, Jamaica


In the past two weeks, I have spent more money on chocolate than I have on gas.

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

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  1. Like you, I want answers, and it’s not just being nosy. I think we all want some kind of understanding about how such terrible crimes can happen. A picture is emerging that all was not well with this Dartmouth businessman, and it could perhaps be instructive for future situations (G-d forbid). While respecting people’s privacy and grief, it seems that many in our media have found the right balance and the right tone. I don’t understand people talking about media “hype” in relation to the alert that didn’t happen – this is what they are hearing from people on the ground in the community. Those people have made their feelings known, and the media has picked up on it and asked questions. I too felt that the first media conference was most unsatisfactory – I expected the very first statement to be “more than…victims”. I’m not sure why it unveiled the way it did. I’m prepared to cut the RCMP some slack. I think they were overwhelmed and I don’t rush to blame them. I think as citizens we also want to know about things like shootings that seem random by our police officers (Onslow). So, appreciate your coverage thus far of this terrible tragedy, that has been overwhelming all of us in waves of grief.

  2. Scratch Dr. Strang and his anti-union streak emerges. Perhaps, he’s been too close to Premier McNeil whose contagion has evidently spread. Nursing members of NSGEU dared mention a discouraging word about “the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and basic infection control protocols in place” at Northwood. Dr. Strang was clearly more upset by the nurses’ alleged “hyperbole” and “fear-mongering” than by the clear, evidence-based shortcomings at the province’s largest senior care facility. So much for “our frontline heroes of healthcare”. Turns out if they speak out publicly, they’re liars!

  3. My father was quarantined for a long time back in 1955/56 because of TB. He spent close to a year “in the San” as he used to say.

  4. I am in both the Call for Answers camp and the Call for Kindness camp. They are not mutually exclusive. Although I want/demand answers on the communications, I can fully understand why some people don’t want to hear about that and I have compassion for them. It is an incredibly stressful time, and we don’t all react in the same way.

    1. In modern times. Historically the letter Q, plain yellow flag, indicated disease aboard. According to Wikipedia,”Yellow Flag (contagion)”, a flag chequered black and yellow would now be flown to indicate disease.

  5. The journalism, research, checking and cross-checking — and then publishing — that The Examiner has been doing since the weekend is exactly what I expect from media in times like this. It is not your job to solely report what other people want you to. I’m coming to the conclusion that the PR approach taken by most agencies today is distorting and destroying our right to know facts and to be communcated to with honesty and transparency. Glad to be a subscriber. Keep it up.

    1. Why is no one in the media asking questions about the killer’s girlfriend? Where is she in all this? What about his ex-girlfiend (or wife) and her new boyfriend? I know he was an only child but are his parents still living? These are just some of my questions…