June subscription drive
Last week, I listened to a Canadaland Short Cuts podcast from May 4, called “Death of the Viral News Site.”
During the conversation, host Jesse Brown said this: “Journalists need to start thinking more like barbers.”
He went on to explain this a bit more:
There are no barbershop deserts in regions in Canada — communities where you just can’t get a haircut… That should be our model. That’s the industry. And it’s similar because… we don’t provide a product. We provide a service. People wake up once a month or so and say, “I need a haircut,” and a barber is never too far away to give them one in exchange for money. I think people wake up every morning and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” And we journalists can help them with that and charge them for the service…
You start a barbershop with the dream of cutting hair, and earning a living, and providing a valuable service. And it actually is a business that doesn’t work very well when you consolidate it into a national chain. It works a lot better when you just have your friendly neighbourhood barbershop.
I like this analogy. If you don’t already subscribe, please make the Halifax Examiner your friendly neighbourhood barbershop, where you can find out what’s going on.
1. Justice denied: Glen Assoun has died at 67
Reading Tim Bousquet’s story on the death of Glen Assoun has made me tear up. Assoun spent 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, then was forced to live with untenable conditions after his release, and never received an apology.
Here, Bousquet writes about Assoun after his release:
Glen was a broken man, broken emotionally and physically. And financially. He hadn’t held a paying job in 17 years, and in his condition, he was unemployable in any event. He couldn’t provide for himself. A preacher who had befriended Glen invited Glen to live in his apartment in one of those towers by the Mic Mac Mall. I visited once. Glen did not look good, and living off the charity of others was obviously adding to his burdens.
Meanwhile, all the people who had wronged Glen — the cops who framed him, the prosecutors and judge in the kangaroo court that convicted him, the cops who destroyed evidence that should have freed him, the prison guards who beat him, the prosecutor who made even his parole so onerous that it put him in the mental health ward, the former Justice minister who refused to act on his case — all and each of them continued to live in relative wealth and comfort, respected in their careers.
Justice? Don’t talk to me about justice.
Bousquet is in Ottawa today, to, as he writes, “receive recognition for telling Glen’s story at the Governor General’s Michener Awards. It doesn’t seem fair.”
2. Reducing the effects of underwater noise in the oceans
Shipping, the use of seismic airguns, and pile driving: All create noise that disturbs underwater species. Now, Yvette d’Entremont reports, a marine biologist, Dr. Lindy Weilgart of Dalhousie University, has written a “landmark” report on how to mitigate some of the effects of that noise:
The new report was prepared for [the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) by OceanCare in Switzerland. In addition to her work at Dalhousie University, Weilgart is also OceanCare’s senior ocean noise expert and policy consultant.
“Government regulations limiting the noise emissions from offshore windfarm construction, mainly due to the noise-sensitive and protected harbour porpoise, certainly help. If regulators insisted on quieter alternatives to airguns, something that seems well within technological capabilities, this would also likely drive innovations,” Weilgart wrote in the report’s conclusion.
“After all, explosions on land to search for hydrocarbons were replaced with Vibroseis because explosions were no longer acceptable to humans. If we value our life- sustaining oceans, we should provide them with the same care and protection.”
Continuing on the water beat, Yvette d’Entremont also has a story on water quality in Bedford’s Sandy Lake.
From above, it looks like all is well with Sandy Lake. But dive deeper, and there are signs of trouble.
That’s according to a presentation by retired Dalhousie biology professor David Patriquin, who spoke at North West Community Council on Monday. Yvette d’Entremont reports on the meeting here.
From d’Entremont’s story:
“The water quality has already declined to precarious levels and really needs action now, even without further development. But further development is a problem on top of it,” [Patriquin] told councillors.
“The lake needs attention now. That’s what I’m saying. That the lake is in a precarious condition.”…
Bedford-Wentworth Coun. Tim Outhit said… “We know development is coming because the desire to stop development has been taken away from HRM. It’s like Eisner Cove and other places. It’s been taken away by the province and fast tracked for development. We don’t like it,” Outhit said.
“God knows the park has increased by 20% during my time on council when we’ve had no development in the area, which I’m very proud of. But development is coming and this level of government can’t stop it. What I want to know is what do you suggest for the type of action that could be taken.”
“A lawsuit filed against Gampo Abbey Monastery and Shambhala Canada alleges the organizations are “vicariously liable” for privacy violations at the monastery and ‘negligent in failing to protect the residents’ privacy,’” Suzanne Rent reports.
The suit claims that former head monk Jack Hillie admitted that a hidden camera installed in the monastery’s showers belonged to him. He was arrested last year and will be arraigned in provincial court in Port Hawkesbury on July 4.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Basia Sowinsky, tells Rent:
It’s my understanding, based on what my client told me, that as part of the criminal investigation process, he was told by police that there was a considerable amount of video footage on the USB of the camera. He was additionally told by police…that there was footage found at the monastery, too. Based on those facts, I can only presume that it goes back a little ways with respect to how long that camera’s been filming for and how much footage it picked up on of the various residents.
5. Cabinet brief: fire, MOVEit hack, and fading hope for Atlantic loop
Henderson writes about what the province sees as next steps in protection from future wildfires, and she gets some unsatisfying answers from cybersecurity Colton LeBlanc on data encryption.
She also writes that Premier Tim Houston “expressed doubts that the Atlantic Loop project will be the silver bullet that will allow Nova Scotia to meet ambitious environmental goals to reduce carbon emissions by 2030”:
“When you weigh up the need to meet the environmental goals, which we are serious about, and finding the balance with affordability, if the cost of the Atlantic Loop is too much of a financial burden for Nova Scotians to bear then we have to look at other alternatives. I think that is kind of where we are at.”
Houston said those other alternatives include Bay of Fundy tidal energy and offshore wind developments similar to those operating in Scotland and northern Scandinavian countries. Houston said he is also willing to consider generating renewable electricity from nuclear reactors as New Brunswick and Ontario do — perhaps the first time in decades a Nova Scotia premier has publicly supported nuclear power.
6. ‘If I misspoke or maybe misunderstood at that moment…’: John Lohr takes heat over aboiteau decision
“Emergency Management Minister John Lohr found himself on the hot seat Thursday for an emergency order he issued June 1, while out-of-control wildfires were raging in Halifax, Shelburne, and Yarmouth counties,” Jennifer Henderson and Joan Baxter report.
Citing wildfire concerns and a request from the West Hants fire chief, Lohr overruled an order from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to allow fish passage into the Avon River by leaving open the gates of the Windsor aboiteau, or dike. But, as the Examiner previously reported, the fire chief says he issued no such request.
Henderson and Baxter write:
Now that the fires have been brought under control in the province and there is presumably no “emergency,” reporters today asked the Lohr what evidence he is relying on to renew the order. Lohr’s reply:
We’ve heard from the federal minister of public safety, Bill Blair, that there is a concern across the country that the fire situation remains extreme. We are still in a situation where there is low rainfall and there are still concerns for public safety.
“I can have a bonfire in my backyard now,” said one journalist. “Why is it we need to have Lake Pisiquid full of water?”
“What I can say is we will maintain the reservoir as long as it is needed for public safety,” said Lohr. “That reservoir has played a significant role in firefighting in the past.”
7. ‘Queen of Canada’s’ Tatamagouche-area sojourn
For weeks, I’d been hearing that Romana Didulo, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Canada,” and QAnon cult leader who has called for the murders of health care workers and claims to be in touch with a group of aliens who guide her, was holed up on a Nova Scotia property for the winter.
And then, as I pulled up to a parking spot in Bayers Lake one day, there she was. I can’t remember what was going on that day, but I had an appointment to get to and did not go over to the RV. I suppose if I were a more enterprising reporter I would have dropped everything to see if I could get an audience with the “Queen.”
Mack Lamoureux of Vice has been reporting on Didulo, “for reasons only known to my editor and therapist,” for more than two years now. When he heard she was in Nova Scotia, he flew here from Alberta to talk with her followers and try to get an interview with her.
His story, “What Happens When a QAnon Cult Leader Moves Into Town,” is a great read. It captures the absurdity of Didulo’s enterprise, but also the real harm it has caused to people who have lost their homes, people who find themselves living in degrading conditions (sleeping on the floor of an RV so the dogs can have the bed), and people who are ready to give up everything for her.
The small collection of Romana’s Didulo’s ragtag group of cult followers-turned-servants who populate a rural Nova Scotia property look at me with a mix of horror and apology. One man, wearing a security hat straight out of a dollar store costume section, tries to take control and meekly tells me I need to leave the area. Another follower, a bit bolder than the security guy, coldly says “absolutely not” when I ask if we can speak to their so-called “queen.”
There are three motorhomes strewn across the front lawn of the property and our conversation has to be loud in order to hear over the cacophony of the dozen or so dogs barking and fighting. Here is where Didulo and her followers, who have been proselytizing her unique brand of QAnon conspiracy-cum-alien stuff-cum-soverign citizenship beliefs across Canada for the better part of a year, stayed over the winter. Here is where Didulo made her most loyal followers sleep on the floor of RVs so her dogs could sleep on the bed, and made people sit in their filth for weeks, eat expired food, and face torrents of abuse.
This is a nicely reported and also somewhat self-reflective piece (which sometimes can be code for “self-indulgent,” but in this case is not). Lamoureux sums it up near the start of the piece like this:
It would be a journey that would take me across Nova Scotia, make me question journalistic ethics, visit a village devastated by a hurricane to meet a “demon of a man,” cause a minor bit of drama in a lovely small town, hear stories from people who escaped an abusive cult compound, and share beers with many a friendly Maritimer. All to answer the a variety of questions—like is this a real cult, a scam, a mental health issue, or a mix of all of this, and why did they pick Nova Scotia?—that at its heart boils down simply to: what the fuck is going on here?
Last week, over at the Examiner virtual hangout (i.e. on Slack) we had a spirited conversation about comment moderation. Fortunately, comment moderation is rarely much of an issue around here. Commenting is only available to subscribers, and it turns out the subscribers are generally a thoughtful bunch, with interesting things to say.
I understand that when the Examiner launched, the original policy was that commenters had to use their real names, but there are many circumstances in which one might not want to use one’s real name, so that requirement was dropped. Plus, as we’ve seen all too clearly over the last few years, people are perfectly willing to just say absolutely horrendous stuff using their real names. So, that’s not much of an incentive to stay civil.
But even in this relatively utopian little corner of online commenting, there are still cases that will require some moderation. Should that comment stay up? Is the person asking this question bad-faith trolling or sealioning? Or are they asking a legitimate question that someone should reply to?
Some of us take a more expansive view on what to allow, figuring that others will set any miscreants straight. Others among us think it’s best to just not approve those comments in the first place. If you’re going to make negative comments about a group of people for instance, should it be up to that group to defend themselves? Or should we just not publish the comment in the first place? (I’m in the latter camp.) What if it’s not really clear if the comment is negative?
The Examiner does have a commenting policy, and a link to it appears at the bottom of each story. I think it’s a good policy, and it is deliberately lacking in detail of what is and is not acceptable, but clear on the tone we are looking for:
We want comments that are productive and extend the conversation, and will not tolerate or approve name-calling or disrespectful interaction between commenters. Provide links to back up your comments if possible. Off-topic comments will not be approved.
So, for instance, if there is a story about a drag queen storytime, comments about puberty blockers will not be tolerated (unlike, say on Facebook). Some guidelines will always be necessary. Saying we will accept any comment as long as it does not explicitly break the law leads you into the cesspit that Twitter has largely become. This approach leads to bringing in more and more rules, reacting to each thing as it comes up and you go, “Uh, no, I guess that’s not OK.” Mike Masnick at Techdirt has a good post about this approach and its problems.
Some comment moderation decisions are easy: Is the material illegal? Is it libellous? Is it hateful? Others are harder to decide on. Ultimately, I think the Examiner’s approach is a good one, although it’s one that wouldn’t scale to a huge platform. That’s okay. We’re not a huge platform. We’re the neighbourhood barbershop. If someone comes in screaming obscenities, we’ll kick them out.
To get a sense of the challenges of moderation, I suggest trying out a new little game called Moderator Mayhem. The above-mentioned Mike Masnick is one of its creators.
The mechanics of the game are simple. You are an employee with a fictional review site called TrustHive. You are presented with a series of cards showing comments flagged for moderation, and you have to decide whether to approve them or not. Sometimes, the decision seems easy.
Well, we’re obviously not allowing that one, right? But sometimes, all is not as it seems.
As the game goes on, some of the decisions get trickier. At one point, the company deploys AI to help out, and that just makes things — for the most part — worse.
The cards keep coming, and you’ve got to decide as the clock ticks down. One of the interesting things about this game is there are not always clearcut right and wrong answers. Your manager can agree that sometimes it’s just complicated.
I “won” the game the first time I played it, which is apparently not all that common, according to Masnick. “Won” is in quotation marks, because your big prize if you successfully complete all the levels without getting fired is being told that you have been promoted and will now be making more difficult moderation decisions.
I don’t think I would call the game fun, but it is definitely interesting, and also designed for you to play casually, with a few minutes here and there. Unlike real moderators at large sites, you won’t be at this all day long.
Canada’s population is expected to hit 40 million today. In fact, by the time you read this, it probably already will have passed that milestone.
You can follow population changes: births, deaths, immigration, emigration, inter-provincial migration and the arrival of non-permanent residents on Statistics Canada’s “population clock (real-time model).” In the screenshot above, you can see the representation of someone moving from B.C. to New Brunswick.
I will confess, I don’t really understand how this thing works, but it’s fascinating to spend a few minutes watching. Here’s what Statistics Canada says about it:
This population clock models in real time changes to the size of the Canadian population and the provinces and territories. However, population estimates and Census counts are the measures used to determine the size of the population in the context of various governmental programs. Additional information related to Canadian population trends can be found on Statistics Canada’s Population and Demography Portal.
Sometime today, that population counter is likely to roll over to 40 million. Here’s where it stands as I write this:
After writing this, I went to check the counter again, and we are now up to 39,999,251
From Inequity to Justice – Law and Ethics of AI & Technology Conference (Friday, 9am, Schulich School of Law) — a two-day, multi-disciplinary conference to discuss: In the current digital landscape, what are the leading questions we must address to ensure that technology is developed with privacy, safety, and ethics in mind? How do we address these issues through code, law, and policy? Continued Saturday, more info here.
In the harbour
06:30: MOL Experience, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint John
08:00: Grande Togo, ro-ro container, sails from Autoport for Veracruz, Mexico
14:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
15:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, moves from Pier 31 to Pier 42
16:30: MOL Experience sails for Southampton, England
19:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, moves from Pier 27 to Imperial Oil
08:00: Seven Seas Navigator, cruise ship with up to 550 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Corner Brook, on a 12-day cruise from Montreal to New York
16:30: Seven Seas Navigator sails for Halifax
Three dogs in the house — one a visiting young pup, and one a cranky post-surgery senior — makes for a challenging writing environment. Kind of entertaining though, too.