1. Carrie Low hearing
“Const. Bojan Novakovic flatly denies that he asked Carrie Low inappropriate questions about her sexual assault,” I reported yesterday:
“The interactions with Ms. Low were great,” said Novakovic. “We had a rapport. I believe she trusted me by opening up to me. And I believe she trusted me because I had a calm and sincere approach.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong with Ms. Low.”
I sat in on six days of the hearing, and I’ll have more to report very soon.
One thing that was inescapable, however, was the sexist tone of the proceedings themself. Low was repeatedly condescended to by witnesses and lawyers, referred to as “Mrs. Low” (she’s not married) and a “lady.” The cross-examination of Low, who every one agrees was sexually assaulted, by lawyer Brian Bailey was aggressive and hostile; she said yesterday that Bailey’s questioning was more aggressive than the cross examination she received from the lawyer for Brent Julien, who was charged with the actual assault.
When Novakovic was on the stand, Bailey asked him to recount what Low had told Novakovic about the assault. This served no purpose in terms of the issues being heard by the Police Review Board, but it did serve to re-victimize Low, and she left the room in tears.
By the questions from Beverly Ross, one of the three panelists on the Police Review Board, it seems likely to me that Ross will not find any fault at all on the part of police — the only person Ross seemed to think screwed up was the nurse who examined Low after the assault.
My sense is that low-level cops — Novakovic and Jerell Smith — will be blamed for everything that went wrong with the assault investigation, and their supervisors will be spared any critique or reprimand. Which makes me wonder: why do we have police supervisors at all, if they can’t be held to account for the investigations of those they supervise?
I’m glad I sat in on the hearing. I learned a lot about police procedures and how they break down, and about how the systems supposedly built to ensure police accountability are in reality designed to do the exact opposite — that is, they ensure that there is no true accountability of police.
As I say, more coming.
2. Ramias accused of tax avoidance
“Halifax Regional Municipality is suing Joe and Anthony Ramia’s Rank Inc., alleging the developers skirted property taxes in the purchase of the big mall in Dartmouth,” reports Zane Woodford:
The Ramias’ company bought the mall from Montreal commercial landlord Ivanhoé Cambridge in 2021 for an undisclosed sum. They’ve since submitted development plans for the property. They’re proposing more than a dozen buildings up to 36 storeys tall, comprising more than 2,000 new homes.
Any time a property in HRM changes ownership, the buyer has to pay a 1.5% deed transfer tax. It applies equally to single-family homes, large apartment buildings, and commercial buildings like the mall. Property Valuation Services Corporation assessed the main mall property at almost $90 million for 2023. That’s down from $150 million in 2019. If the mall sold, for example, for $100 million, Rank Inc. would owe HRM $1.5 million.
But the municipality claims in a court filing that the company hasn’t paid.
City lawyer Marty Ward filed an application “for an order seeking declaratory relief” on July 11. The municipality alleged Rank Inc. used the transfer of ownership of a numbered company to avoid paying deed transfer tax.
This has huge ramifications for the municipal budget, and by extension, from residential property taxes.
Last year, the deed transfer tax brought $83 million into municipal coffers, and this year’s budget expect $76 million in revenue through the deed transfer tax, although that’s already been reduced by another million dollars. As the budget document explains:
Property taxes and payments in lieu of taxes form the most significant share of municipal revenues, as shown below in Figure 14. Deed Transfer Tax (a 1.5 per cent tax on the sale of properties) is the municipality’s second largest source of revenues. In 2022/23, Deed Transfer Tax was forecasted to raise to $83 million due to above-trend growth in housing volumes and the substantial increase to housing sales prices. This forecasted growth was met with an unpredicted downturn in the housing market commencing about mid-way through the fiscal year, due to a sharp increase in the Bank of Canada overnight lending rate from 0.25 per cent on March 1, 2022, to the current rate of 4.50 per cent on January 25, 20237. This increase drove mortgage rates substantially higher, which had a dramatic cooling effect on housing sales both in terms of volume and pricing. As a result, the Deed Transfer Tax finished the 2022/23 fiscal year under budget at $75.0 million and is projected to remain flat for the 2023/24 fiscal year.
As I’ve remarked before, while the provincial government says it is increasing the housing stock (and therefore supposedly lowering rents) by having John Lohr dish out lavish gifts to development companies, the federal government is restricting the ability of developers to build new housing (and therefore, following this logic, is increasing rents) by raising interest rates.
With higher interest rates, builders are finding it harder to finance new construction, and even those who can build must charge higher rents to make the projects financially viable.
In effect, “the market” was so hot before the interest rate increase that a lot of speculative money was dumped into housing, which led to rents skyrocketing, and now with interest rates rising, “the market” is constrained and so rents are skyrocketing again.
Isn’t capitalism great?
In any event, if the allegations against the Ramia are true, they expose a strategy for avoiding the deed transfer tax: simply place the ownership of a development property in the hands of a numbered company, and instead of selling the property, sell the company. Technically, the property didn’t change hands, so there’s no deed transfer tax.
The deed transfer tax accounts for 6.5% of all municipal revenues. It changes from year to year, but about half of that revenue comes from sales of commercial property. Joe Ramia has challenged the tax assessments on his properties many times, including on the Nova Centre, and now he allegedly is trying to avoid paying the deed transfer tax entirely.
If he is successful, then every commercial property will be purchased with a numbered company, so that when it is subsequently sold, the deed property tax won’t apply. If that happens, something on the order of 3 or 4% of city revenue will evaporate, and councillors will have to either cut services or raise residential tax rates.
“About 15,000 nurses have applied to work in Nova Scotia through a streamlined licensing process, and job matching is now underway for 606 already living in the province who’ve received commitment letters,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
That was one piece of good news and “hope” that Nova Scotia Health (NSH) interim president and CEO Karen Oldfield delivered Thursday. Oldfield was addressing staff during the NSH annual general meeting held at the Cobequid Community Health Centre in Lower Sackville.
“If we could wave the magic wand and just put people in place, we certainly would,” Oldfied said. “But there is great news on the nursing staffing front. Really good news. I’m really happy about it.”
The news comes on the heels of a Nova Scotia College of Nursing (NSCN) announcement in March. The nursing regulator implemented a new licensing and registration process that makes it easier for Canadian and international nurses to be licensed to work in the province. The approach was described as a first of its kind for Canada.
“Doctors in Nova Scotia have accepted new four-year contracts with the provincial government,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
Under the new agreement, all physicians in the province will see a 10% salary increase spread over the life of the contract. That amounts to 3% in the first and second years and then 2% in the third and fourth years, retroactive to April 1, 2023.
5. Kim Brooks
“Born in Saskatoon in 1973 and raised in Ontario, [Kim] Brooks is the ebullient daughter of a law professor and an elementary school gym teacher,” writes Evelyn White:
A previous dean of both the Dalhousie Schulich School of Law and the Faculty of Management, she will begin her five-year post as the institution’s 13th president and vice-chancellor on Aug. 14.
Brooks’ historic ascent comes after a revolving door of presidents at the flagship university in Nova Scotia, founded in 1818. In recent years, male leaders have departed amid scandals involving alleged misogynist treatment of female students at the Dal Dental school and the use of blackface on campus.
Installed in January 2020, Dalhousie’s last president, Deep Saini, left this past December (sans public explanation) with two years remaining on his contract. Brooks replaces acting president Frank Harvey.
6. Arbourcide update
Yesterday, the municipality provided an update on the trees at the Public Gardens:
On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, Halifax Regional Police responded to a report of damage to multiple trees within the Gardens. Approximately 33 trees, many of which range from 50 to 200 years old, were damaged.
Four trees were initially deemed unsalvageable and were removed by municipal staff. For the remaining 29 trees, municipal staff used coconut fibres to protect the wounds and attempted bridge-grafting on the trees with the goal to encourage the growth of healthy bark over the wounded areas.
This past spring, all the damaged trees leafed out as expected – with the exception of one small tree that was subsequently removed by municipal staff. Bridge-grafting efforts are ongoing, and many of the trees are showing positive responses in the form of callousing. However, it may take several years of continued tree growth to see the full extent of the damage.
7. The costs of climate change
As I’ve noted before, Halifax Water flies under the reporting radar. The utility spends hundreds of millions of dollars on various projects that often disrupt city streets for months at a time, but they get very little scrutiny from media. Which I suppose was the whole point of creating Halifax Water. But I do try to look at the utility’s regulatory filings, and from time to time I find interesting bits.
For example, Halifax Water is now undertaking a $131 million retrofit of its two water treatment plants. The J.D. Kline plant at Pockwock Lake was built in the 1970s, but has been renovated several times. The current retrofit, however, is significantly tied to changes in water quality brought on by climate change. Explains a filing:
Climate Change and Lake Recovery. Over the last ten years, Halifax Water has observed an increase in pH and an increase in TOC as measured by colour in it source waters. This change has been significant enough that the plant treatment processes are being challenged. In some cases, this results in an increase in operating cost however in most cases, this could also translate into additional replacement and retrofitting of existing treatment processes. Lake recovery and climate change are both realities that will continue to change source water quality for years to come, making it difficult to predict what the source water quality may be, which is critical for understanding any needed treatment modifications.
Both lake recovery and climate change are factors in the occurrence of cyanobacteria blooms, also known as blue-green algae. Upon death and biodegradation, cyanobacteria are known to release geosmin. Geosmin is commonly described as having an earthy and musty taste and odor with customer complaints known to occur at levels as low as 5 ng/L. In 2012, the JDKWSP began experiencing geosmin episodes leading to customer taste and odor complaints.
From 2012 to 2017, geosmin episodes became an annual occurrence, with events lasting from six weeks to six months; typically occurring in late summer or early fall. The average source and treated water concentrations during these events were 10 ng/L with a peak concentration of 18 ng/L. The current treatment train does not effectively remove geosmin and could exacerbate any event because algae that enter the plant would be removed in the filter where they could lyse and release additional geosmin or other algal byproducts.
Blue-green algae can also produce methylisoborneol (MIB) and a variety of algal toxins. MIB causes tastes and odors similar to geosmin. While geosmin has been the main concern, MIB and some toxins have been detected on occasion at low levels in Pockwock Lake in some isolated areas but none in the treated water. The expectation is that microcystins will continue to increase as an area of concern.
In June 2018, the presence of algae (species Tabellaria-fenestrata) caused significant operational issues. These diatoms, which are surrounded by a silica cell wall, are known to cause filter clogging in treatment plants. During this event, the JDKWSP plant had difficulty producing enough water to meet demand and filter run times were significantly reduced; from typically 70-hour filter run times to 16-hour run times. This required the filters to be backwashed more frequently and reduced the water that could be produced. To manage these diatoms, the pre-chlorination system, that had been turned off in 2013, was re-commissioned and returned to service.
A hundred million dollars here, a hundred million dollars there, and pretty soon we’re talking real money.
Point being, the costs of climate change will pop up everywhere, from increased air conditioning bills to bigger grocery bills to higher water prices. And the costs of not addressing climate change will be enormously greater still.
In the harbour
06:00: ZIM Iberia, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
06:00: USCGC Hollyhock, coast guard cutter, arrives at Tall Ships Quay from Quebec City
09:30: One Grus, container ship (146,694 tonnes), sails from Pier 41 for New York
10:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from anchorage to Pier 41
15:00: John J. Carrick, barge, arrives at Cherubini Dock from sea
15:00: NYK Demeter, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint John (itinerary)
16:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
16:00: ZIM Iberia sails for Savannah, Georgia
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling sails for St. John’s
04:30 (Saturday): CMA CGM Zephyr, container ship (154,995 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Tanger Med, Morocco
10:00: Algoma Valour, bulker, arrives at Pirate Harbour anchorage from Las Mareas Puerto Rico
My hearing isn’t great, and the Police Review Board hearing was in an overly spacious meeting room with lots of background noise (air conditioners, lawn mowers outside, people in adjoining rooms speaking loudly, etc.) I record everything and can pump up the sound on my headphones so I get accurate quotes later, but in the moment I can sometimes mishear things.
Yesterday, at the tail end of the hearing, board chair Jenna McKenna, who was clear across the room and speaks in a low voice, was speaking about concerns she had about how a civil suit Carrie Low filed against the police department might impact the Police Review Board’s decision. I swore I heard McKenna say, “we might have a rescued cat issue.” Huh?
Turns out McKenna said, “we might have res judicata issue.”
Res judicata refers to retrying a matter that a court has already ruled on. McKenna was saying that she feared that a judge in the civil matter might have made findings of fact that could limit how the Police Review Board could rule. In the end, that’s not going to be a problem, as it will likely be several years before there’s a decision in the civil suit, long after the Police Review Board issues its decision.
Still, I like the idea of a rescued cat disrupting legal proceedings.