News

1. Bullshitter of the week: Mass Casualty Commission “Effects on Wellness” panel

Mourners erected memorials and signs like this one on Highway 2 in Portapique after the mass shooting that began in the community on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

Tim Bousquet reports on the first day of the Mass Casualty Commission hearings, which included an “inexcusably condescending” panel on “Human Impact — Broad Reach and Effects on Wellness.

Keith Dobson, a Psychology prof at the University of Calgary, gave us advice for how to deal with the issues the inquiry will examine. “Pay attention to your own self,” said Dobson. “Do the things that are healthy for you. So this would include things like trying to sleep regularly, eat well, exercise … we need to get out of ourselves and make contact with other people.”

“If you find yourself distressed, do some deliberate actions to try to address some of those things,” said Susan Henderson, Executive Director of CMHA Colchester. “Be sure you’re spending an hour outside on a walk. Make sure you reach out to someone on the day you watch these proceedings … Make some time for yourself, do things that are creative activities… whether that’s a craft or some knitting or planting some seeds, just something that’s different from your everyday lives.”

This discussion of sleeping regularly and knitting was happening in front of victims’ family members who have been waiting two long years for answers about the murders of their loved ones.

Bousquet points out that the discussion of trauma and how to deal with it took place in an absence of context. One panelist said people living in the woods might be more scared after the murders. Bousquet:

People living in the woods probably have greater concerns than that they’ll be murdered by a guy driving around in a fake RCMP car. But even if they have some mental distress around the extreme unlikelihood that that once-in-a-lifetime event will repeat itself, isn’t the solution to get these people into proper housing? The solution is political, not a bunch of touchy-feely mental health platitudes.

Every time the Mental Health Commission of Canada (which has done some very good work) tweets about the surprising benefits of positive self-talk (“7 ways to make self-affirmations feel less cheesy“) or some such, I want to scream. This is how I felt reading Bousquet’s report.

Elizabeth McMillan has a story at CBC this morning about the lasting trauma experienced by volunteer firefighters who had their firehall shot up by the RCMP. McMillan writes:

Volunteer firefighters Greg Muise and Darrell Currie have spent decades rushing into burning homes and never expected their most frightening experience would happen within the walls of their own fire hall at the hands of the RCMP.,,

“It took part of my life…. I lost part of my life,” [firefighter Greg] Muise said Tuesday during public hearings for the mass shooting inquiry.

“The fire hall was like a second home to me…. I’m nervous every time I go there, not sure, not knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s a challenge.”

But, you know, make sure to get a good night’s sleep.

Oh, and speaking of platitudes, it’s Pink Shirt Day.

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2. Jobs for coal plant workers should be plentiful, committee hears

The coal-fired Lingan Generating Station in Cape Breton. Photo by Ken Heaton – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89037225

Zane Woodford covers yesterday’s meeting of the province’s standing committee on natural resources and economic development. The federal and provincial governments have both said they want to stop generating electricity using coal by 2030. Two of the province’s four coal plants were supposed to shut down this year, but that’s been pushed back, Woodford writes:

The Lingan and Trenton plants were slated to close this year, but as hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls has been delayed, so have those closures. As Jennifer Henderson reported the for the Halifax Examiner earlier this month, the Utility and Review Board has told Nova Scotia Power “it will not permit recovery of operating costs of Lingan 2 beyond August 15, 2022” without specific approval.

Jim Sponagle of the IBEW, the union representing Nova Scotia Power workers says, “The world will continue to change and it changes daily and we’ve got to change with iτ.”

The committee heard that Nova Scotia is going to need a whole lot of tradespeople in the coming years, and the hope is that some of the coal plant employees will take up trades.

Scott Skinner, CEO of the Clean Foundation, said he thinks Nova Scotia is going to need more than 11,000 tradespeople.

“There’s frankly a huge amount of work that needs to be done on things like energy efficiency, small scale renewables, large-scale renewables … I worry less about there being jobs,” Skinner said.

“We will have more trouble finding people to do the work in some of the areas of our province than we think we will right now.”

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3. Angela Simmonds hopes to inspire

Angela Simmonds. Photo: Nova Scotia Legislature

Angela Simmonds is running for the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party, and Matthew Byard spoke with her about some of her goals and expectations. (Since the interview, Zach Churchill has announced his intention to run. I will not write “thrown his hat into the ring.”)

Her life and experience have prepared her for the challenge, Simmonds tells Byard:

Life has prepared me for this moment, and I think one of the things about me is I will definitely be able to inspire people, and I hope to bring different people to politics and to the party…

I’m definitely not new to building trust and relationships … I’ve had my own business, but also worked in education and employment, and raised a family, and went back to law school at 36. So balancing priorities is an asset that I can bring.

Byard asks Simmonds about her complaint against officers from the RCMP Cole Harbour detachment, accusing officers of racial profiling and of pointing a firearm at her and her husband during a traffic stop. As Byard writes, “Former acting chief officer of Halifax-district RCMP Jeremie Landry sent e-mails to Halifax city councillors where he contradicted Simmonds’ claims.” Simmonds the opposition’s justice critic, rightly refuses to comment. But then she says this:

I don’t know that much about the police commission or the municipality in terms of their relationships, but I would say if it was an ongoing investigation that there should have been no communication.

For the justice critic to say she doesn’t know much about the police commission or its relationship to the municipality strikes me as odd.

Click here to read the full story.

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4. Alex Ross takes clothing line campaign to the next level

Family Over Fame and Alex Ross Clothing founder Alex “Cunny” Ross. Photo: Alex Ross.

Local musician and entrepreneur Alex Ross speaks to Matthew Byard about his Family Over Fame and Alex Ross Clothing lines. Family Over Fame currently features in ads on the sides of 40 Halifax Transit buses. The name Family Over Fame comes from a 2015 album released by Ross. Byard writes:

He said the messaging of the album and its lyrical content resonated with a lot of people and he got a lot of positive feedback. That’s when he said he was encouraged to expand the Family Over Fame movement and turn it into a registered business and clothing line.

“So, once I heard that coming from residents from my community I was like you know what, it actually would be smart to invest, to turn this into a business, and let’s see where it goes.”…

“Family Over Fame … could mean [put your] community first, you know what I mean. It could mean stopping the violence. Family doesn’t always just mean … somebody that’s your blood. It could mean a community member or somebody you’re not related to.”

Click here to read Byard’s story.

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5. Three more Nova Scotians have died of COVID-19

Photo: Glen Carrie/Unsplash

Yesterday, the province announced the deaths of three Nova Scotians over the previous three days, Tim Bousquet reports.

The deceased are:

• a man in his 60s who lived in the Central Zone
• a woman in her 70s who lived in the Central Zone
• a man in his 90s who lived in the Northern Zone
There are additionally today a total of 352 people in hospital who either now have COVID or once did have COVID, as follows:
• 53 admitted because of COVID symptoms, 12 of whom are in ICU. Those 90 range in age from 2 to 93 years old, and their average age is 65;
• 128 admitted to hospital for other reasons but who tested positive for COVID during the admissions screening or who were admitted for COVID but no longer require specialized care;
• 171 who contracted COVID in the hospital outbreaks

This wave seems to be waning. I’ve noticed that when I think about the future, I don’t think about the pandemic being over anymore. I think about enjoying the time between the waves.

I went to a yoga class on Monday night. It’s a small group, in a space with a window open. Several of us who were there know each other socially (my partner, Sara, is the teacher). It was the first in-person class she had held since mid-December and just about everyone commented on how good it felt just to be with others in person. Last night I had Zoom drinks with some friends and colleagues, and that was fine, too, though now it’s funny that being together in person seems more like a novelty.

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Views

Accidents don’t happen by accident

Like many journalists, I’ve made an effort to stop using the word “accident” to refer to car crashes. The idea is that an accident is something unpredictable. It implies that it just happened. There was nothing we could do to stop it. Things happen that nobody could predict, sometimes the consequences are terrible, and there’s just not much we can do about it.

But, of course, this isn’t the case. Some accidents are thoroughly predictable. Take the story of Steve MacKay and his neighbours, who took matters into their own hands, after witnessing crash after crash in their North End neighbourhood.

The notion of “accidents” is the subject of Jessie Singer’s new book, published by Simon & Schuster. Singer was on the War on Cars podcast recently, to talk about the book, and this was one of those interviews that wildly exceeded my expectations. The discussion was wide-ranging, and one of the things I found particularly interesting was Singer’s insistence that blame too often leads us to look at the last link in the chain of events leading to tragedy — without doing anything to break the chain itself.

Singer began looking into the question of accidents after her best friend, Eric James Ng, was killed while biking into Manhattan on the Hudson River Greenway. A drunk driver who was speeding hit him with his car. It was a tragic accident. Or was it? Singer realized years later that several other people had been killed in the same place. It was only after a driver intentionally mowed down a crowd of people — again, at the same spot — resulting in eight deaths, that authorities took action. Singer says:

The city and the state got together and they protected every single entrance of the busiest bike and pedestrian path in the country. You could no longer accidentally or intentionally drive onto it. But accidents seem so inconsequential to us as a society that we don’t do anything. We allow known repeat harms to occur. And I think that’s an important point. Accidents seem inconsequential, but they’re not… There is nothing random and unpredictable here. There is nothing random or unpredictable about accidents.

The notion of accidents, Singer argues, benefits the powerful. If industrial workplaces are so unsafe that workers are killed or injured — well, if it’s an accident, what are you going to do? You get another worker and you carry on. Suzanne Rent pointed me to the story of Jamie Lapierre, who died at 21 while working on a barge in Port Hawkesbury. More recently, Andrew Gnazdowsky died while on the job at Nova Scotia Powers’s Marshal Falls Reservoir.

And if cars are designed with minimal safety features, who are you going to blame when people get injured or killed? For decades, Singer says, the answer was “the nut behind the wheel.”

The nut behind the wheel is a way of making the car accident about people. And, you know, there’s a nut that’s holding your steering wheel on and it’s a fun pun on words, but when you think about what they’re talking about, they’re saying this person is dead because they were such a nut, which is a very dark little joke they’re making. But I think an important thing to understand about the nut behind the wheel—and it used to be an incredibly common turn of phrase—was that, for the first half of the 20th century, there was no notion in American society that the machine mattered in whether we lived or died, that the car mattered in whether we lived or died. So accidents were a matter of human error. Accidents were caused by the nut behind the wheel. And the notion that the big steel box made a difference wasn’t really present. And this really benefited carmakers, of course, because then the cars weren’t the topic of conversation…

And so in the 1940s and ’50s, we start to get scientists who start to prove that the nut didn’t matter if you change conditions. The machine you were inside could make the difference in whether or not you lived or died…

When seat belts were first proposed, the very first major car regulation, Henry Ford II said that they were technically unfeasible to install in cars and so financially burdensome they would have to shut down every Ford plant in America. So what we’re talking about here is deeply uncivilized behavior by corporations that puts society at risk, that makes carelessness a matter of the nut behind the wheel again and again and again. We’re just on our own out there.

The part of the interview that I found particularly provocative was the discussion on blame. (There is a whole chapter on blame in the book, which Halifax Public Libraries has on order,) Singer looks at the case of a woman whose son was killed by a driver while crossing the street. The family were not in a crosswalk when the crash occurred. (The nearest crosswalk was so far away, they would have had to walk an extra half hour to cross the street.) The driver was convicted, but so was the mother, Raquel Nelson. Singer notes that the New York Times pointed out that her friend Eric wasn’t wearing a helmet when he was killed, although, she says, “there is no planet” on which a helmet would have saved his life.

Think about pedestrian fatalities in Halifax. The first question some people ask is whether or not the person killed was in a crosswalk. But even if they were, there are still those who will find ways to blame them: probably on their cell phone, didn’t make eye contact, should have paid attention.

We can blame the driver, blame the cyclist, blame the pedestrian, but none of that gets us anywhere, Singer argues:

I understand this might be controversial, but no matter who we’re blaming in that case, Raquel Nelson or the driver, the blame detracts from prevention. Because no matter what conclusion we come to at the end of that story, we come to a conclusion that, you know, Raquel Nelson was somehow a bad parent for not taking three small children, one carrying a goldfish, on a half hour walk up and back the street, or that a driver was reckless. In either of those narratives, nothing changes. No matter who goes to jail, no matter who’s punished, nothing has changed — the conditions remain ripe for the same situation to happen again…

Eric was hit by a 3,500 pound car going 60 miles an hour. There’s no planet on which a helmet would have protected him. But, you know, noting his lack of helmet, I think — and I think this is the most important point — is the same as noting the drunk driver.

And that I almost want you to hold those things in both hands because both those narratives stand in the way of prevention, because both focus on the last causal link, the bad apple, the human error, the thing that a person did wrong. And if we instead talk about reducing harm, about prevention, about putting a pillow between us and our mistakes, even if that mistake is driving drunk, then we can actually reduce the accidental death toll. Something that Dr. Sue Baker said to me, she was an early administrator of NHTSA and she pioneered the first child car seats, she said, “My most controversial stance is we should make the world safe for drunks. We should make the world safe for drunks because if we make the world safe for drunks, if we make it safe for sleepyheads and people who aren’t paying attention, then we’re all protected.”

As a bonus, if you want to hear traffic engineers take a real pummelling, this interview is for you. You can listen to that here.

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Noticed

Does this seem like a good idea to you? Photo: Entree Desitnations

In the Cape Breton Specator, Mary Campbell writes:

I signed up for emails from Entrée Destinations because they promised “stories” from all parts of Canada — including Nova Scotia — and I was curious to see how they’d portray us. (Okay, full disclosure: I wanted to see how trite and clichéd their portrayal would be which is not really fair because this is tourism marketing and trite and clichéd are its hallmarks.)

General entertainment ensues, as Campbell dissects the itinerary for a $4,250 eight-day Nova Scotia “adventure” offered by the company:

But what really struck me is how incredibly grueling the itinerary is…

Day Three is when things really kick into high gear. You:

“…drive a circle route along the famed Cabot Trail, a 298-kilometre (186-mile) highway weaving through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Along the way, stop at secluded beaches, marvel at historic lighthouses, and hike the scenic Skyline Trail, where dramatic cliffs give way to panoramic ocean views. Then, drive to Chéticamp, a cozy fishing community marked by a strong French Acadian culture. Here, visit a local artisan and learn the traditional art of rug hooking, then continue browsing the myriad of local shops and museums. In the evening, enjoy dinner at your leisure. Accommodations are at Inverary Resort in a One-Bedroom Suite.”

Drive 298 km, swim, hike, visit museums AND learn how to hook rugs? This is a vacation?

Day Four starts in Baddeck, then there’s a visit to Eskasoni, a tour at Oak Island, driving to Lunenburg… Phew.

One thing that struck me, the fermentation guy, was the reference to “Tidal Bay wines, which can only be grown in this province.” I’m guessing whoever wrote this doesn’t understand what Tidal Bay means. (Mind you, a lot of people don’t. Explanation 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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Government

City

Wednesday

Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am) — virtual meeting

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm) — virtual meeting

Thursday

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — virtual meeting

Province

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Department of Community Services – Child Protection Services Caseloads, with Tracey Taweel


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Safe Space For White Questions – Freedom Edition (Wednesday, 2pm) — Live and anonymous online Q&A with Ajay Parasram and Alex Khasnabish hosted by Fernwood Publishing:

We’ve heard the word “freedom” a lot these days, but it seems like everyone defines it differently. Join us and ask your pressing questions about what is happening and why, or how to respond to people in your life about mandates, the convoy, the far-right, and freedom. Safe Space For White Questions is a monthly YouTube show with Dr. Ajay Parasram (Dal) and Dr. Alex Khasnabish (MSVU) intended to help predominantly white people deepen their racial resilience by having a judgement free and anonymous space to ask any questions they may feel uncomfortable asking in public.

PhD Thesis, Industrial Engineering (Wednesday, 3pm) — Scott Fleming will defend “Problem definition in engineering design: Using the universe of problems approach to aid novice performance”

Thursday

Live Conversation with President Saini (Thursday, 10:30am) — virtual talk with guests Elizabeth Rogo from TSAVO Oilfield Services, Kenya, and Ajith Rai, Suprajit Group, India


In the harbour

Halifax
No arrivals or departures.

Cape Breton
01:00: Nordindependence, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
11:00: CSL Metis, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Sydney


Footnotes

I’m wearing a red shirt. Does that count?


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Seems to me very few motor vehicle collisions are intentional, which makes them accidental by default.

    Driving a motor vehicle is totally dependent on driver judgment, which is often not the best and can be pretty dismal after a few drinks, some weed or if they are focused on texting or arguing with the kids in the back seat. While they didn’t intend to cause an accident – it could be argued they rendered one more likely because their attention to the road was divided, impairing their judgment. I’ve also been overtaken in blowing snow by people who seemed to me to be going awfully fast and could well end up in a ditch. Again, poor judgment IMHO. There is much brave talk about how automated driving systems will some day prevent all that, but I’m not holding my breath. That’s a really difficult thing to accomplish and even Tesla calls their systems ‘driver assistance’, not a replacement.

    I also think it’s poor judgment for a pedestrian to press the crosswalk button then simply march ahead without confirming that it’s safe to do so on all lanes, but I’ve seen it done many times.

    I’ve occasionally been stuck with others creeping behind chains of cyclists all over the Waverley Rd, unable to overtake because the curves and hills render it unsafe (and illegal). While cyclists have the right to use public roads, I feel they are taking their lives into their hands on this one. Some day this may well lead to a cyclist being hit or a head-on collision when a frustrated driver loses a bet while overtaking around a blind corner. I’m sure that will legally be the driver’s fault (crossing an unbroken centre line), but whoever allowed cyclists there without providing a safe way for them to enjoy this pretty drive and the cyclists who undertook the risk must share some of the blame as well IMHO.

    There is no substitute for good judgment.

    1. I’d rather frame the Waverley road issue in the following way: Whoever allowed cars to be driven there must share the responsibility for the death and mayhem that may one day result from 1500+ pound vehicles capable of travelling in excess of 100 km/h being allowed to use space that should rightly belong to people moving about in much safer and more human-paced ways (walking, cycling, wheel-chairing, skateboarding, scootering, baby strollering, etc…) Just imagine the possibilities if you allow yourself to even contemplate a world that isn’t centred around planet-destroying, humanity-injuring and -killing machines, especially on such prime real estate ripe for recreational opportunities in a location with so many gorgeous lakes and views. Just imagine it. It is possible, but certainly not if we just continue to accept that people who drive cars must be prioritised every single time.

      1. Idyllic yes, but IMHO not yet realistic.

        Unless you live near HRM or only venture locally elsewhere, given the limitations of Transit, sooner or later you will need a car.

        Even if you do live near HRM you will need to buy goods which will be delivered by trucks.

        Motor vehicles are essential for this city to function, there are more of them on the road than bicycles, they move more people and goods than bicycles and IMHO that earns them priority. It’s a pity the narrow streets of HRM don’t easily allow bike lanes to be safely separated from motor vehicles lanes like Montreal.

        “Planet destroying”?
        Due to government GHG policy, EVs are developing to be reliable and affordable. Some day trucks my be powered by (hopefully green) hydrogen. It’s not happening as fast as we would hope given demonstrable evidence of climate change, but it is under way.

        “Humanity-injuring and killing”?
        As I said above, bad driver and pedestrian judgment kills. Electrically powered vehicles will be quieter than ICE ones and so may be even more dangerous. Maybe it should be harder to earn and easier to lose a drivers licence? Not sure what you do about careless pedestrians or about cyclists willing to take their lives into their hands.

        At present, IMHO motor vehicles should have priority on roads.

  2. Wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a universe where that $2 million budget increase for the police went into safer cycling and pedestrian infrastructure?

    1. It’s nice to imagine and I already do, but it seems in the current reality, this is nothing but another pipe dream.

      Edson

  3. In the field of accident theory, two competing approaches are high reliability and normal accident. High reliability presumes that any accident can be prevented with the addition of enough safety features (bike lanes, helmets, lights, bumpers, air bags, crash sensors, bollards, crosswalks, crosswalk lights, driver awareness systems, pedestrian awareness campaigns, etc.). This approach also tends to find blame and focus on individuals, and is how we approach most potentially dangerous situations.

    Normal accident notes that “complex systems fail in complex ways” and that we cannot prevent all accidents that arise out of complex technical (or social) systems. Instead of believing one more safety added-on feature, or more awareness, will solve the problem, we should accept that major changes are required knowing not all accidents can be prevented (for example, cap the speed and size of cars) – or simply stop using the technology.

    https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/normal-accidents

  4. Thanks so much for highlighting that podcast about accidents. I will be subscribing and I have the ebook on hold. So interesting to listen to this and then think about the resistance to protected bike lanes. As a bike rider who commutes to work 4 days a week and even on most days in the winter (I’m not suicidal and don’t ride when snow is on the streets) this made me think about how the attitudes spoken about in the podcast are reflected in how much onus is placed on individuals like me to look out for my own safety as opposed to ensuring that infrastructure is designed to make it safe for me to get to work in what is after all a more sustainable mode of transport. The glacial pace of building bike safe infrastructure is quite infuriating.

    Edson