News

1. Mass Casualty Commission: new details from inquiry tell story of police confusion in Portapique

Photo: Joan Baxter

“Jamie Blair called 911 at 10:01pm on Saturday night, April 18, 2020. She said her husband had been shot and killed.”

Four police officers would respond to that call from Portapique. They were arriving on the scene of what would become the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history. It would be over an hour before those officers received reinforcements.

In the Examiner’s latest update from the ongoing public proceedings of the Mass Casualty Commission, Jennifer Henderson pieces together the details of that initial police response in Portapique, one full of bravery, heroism, confusion, and miscommunication.

The four officers who initially arrived at Portapique attempted to contain the community to prevent the killer from escaping the scene, while simultaneously trying to hunt him down and respond to distress calls from neighbouring houses.

They received different instructions from different superiors (“I don’t know who has command,” one officer said into his radio), were denied backup well after they’d discovered multiple dead bodies and house fires, and had to leave four children alone in a house for almost two hours until reinforcements came. Officers had repeatedly requested they be allowed to send someone to sit with the kids during the manhunt, but those requests were denied. Two officers ultimately headed to the children’s house without authorization and got them to safety.

I’ll stay light on the details here. I know they can be disturbing and Henderson gives a thorough timeline in her full article if you’d like to read more. But there’s one more takeaway worth mentioning here.

Police had learned the killer’s name by 10:30pm at the latest that Saturday. By that time, they also learned he was driving a fake police car. Yet the killer’s name wouldn’t be made public until 8:54am Sunday and the public weren’t informed of the fact he was driving a replica police cruiser until 10:21am. Both public announcements came on Twitter. In the 12 hours between the RCMP learning that information and relaying it to the public, six more people died.

Also, Tim Bousquet has updated the article he wrote with Jennifer Henderson Monday, which gives a detailed timeline of the night of April 18 in Portapique. The updated article now includes details that media were unable to report until Tuesday.

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2. Why is Dalhousie University sourcing “sustainable” biomass from J.D. Irving and Wagner?

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Biomass burning has been back in the news lately. On Tuesday, Michael Gorman at CBC reported that the Emera-owned Brooklyn Power biomass plant on the South Shore went offline last month after heavy winds damaged the site, causing sawmills to sit on loads of byproduct they’d usually send off to be burned to produce electricity.

So let’s talk about biomass.

Is the burning of low-grade pulpwood, bark, shavings, and wood chip waste from sawmills as renewable as some in government and industry claim it is? The Examiner has written time and again that it is not.

“Citizens concerned about climate change,” wrote Jennifer Henderson in November in an article about Nova Scotia Power’s increased biomass burning in 2021, “have for years opposed the government classifying biomass as “renewable energy” because clearcutting, which releases carbon from the ground, remains the dominant form of harvesting on Crown and private land.

If that’s the case, why did Dalhousie University issue a tender in May 2021 for “sustainable biomass” to feed the bioenergy plant on its agricultural campus in Truro? A tender it ultimately awarded to J.D. Irving and Wagner Forest NS. And why hasn’t anyone been reporting on it?

In her latest article, Dalhousie University’s decision to source “sustainable biomass” from J.D. Irving and Wagner a “piss-off,” Joan Baxter digs into the story.

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3. Pavilion at Halifax Common will operate as an emergency shelter through March; affordable housing projects get more funding

The Pavilion on Cogswell Street will be turned into an overnight shelter for the month of March. Photo: Google Streetview

The Pavilion next to the pool at the Halifax Common will be turned into an emergency shelter for the duration of March.

Zane Woodford reports:

In a news release on Tuesday, the provincial Department of Community Services announced that the municipally-owned building on Cogswell Street on the Halifax Common will be used as a 25-bed shelter, open from 9pm to 9am, until March 31.

The new temporary shelter is meant to replace one the municipality and the province have intermittently operated this winter at the George Dixon Centre during severe weather.

The Permanent, Accessible, Dignified and Safe (P.A.D.S.) Community Network and others have criticized the unreliable nature of that system: there’s often a lack of communication about when the shelter is open and it’s sometimes closed during severe weather. (P.A.D.S. advocates on behalf of the residents of the People’s Park, where the municipality and police destroyed a makeshift pantry and seized the lumber at 10pm on Saturday.)

Woodford also reports on a few other, more permanent, housing projects for which council voted to give funding.

First, council approved a grant of more than $400,000 for Compass Nova Scotia, the housing co-operative planning two six-storey buildings on Maitland Street in Halifax. As the Halifax Examiner reported last March, the federal and provincial governments put up $4 million for that project.

Affirmative Ventures also received about $163,000 for its development on Main Street in Dartmouth and Welcome Housing and YWCA got about $180,000 for its project on Belle Aire Terrace in Halifax

The (still) long-awaited modular units being built at the Centennial Pool parking lot in Halifax also received a little extra contingency funding after Tuesday’s council meeting. Councillors voted to use some of a $205,601 surplus from the Halifax Regional Centre as budget contingency for the project, which, along with modular units already built in Dartmouth, is already budgeted for $4.9 million.

“With many aspects of the emergency housing work still ongoing,” reads the staff report to council on the contingency budget, “it would be advantageous to provide a contingency that would allow the flexibility to complete the work on the emergency housing initiatives and minimize the potential of having to request additional funds from Regional Council in the current fiscal year.”

I only include that passage here because it’s one of the best examples of Bureaucratspeak I’ve read in a while. I’m a little rusty, but I’ll try to translate:

With this extra money, we’d have some wiggle room in case this project costs more than we thought. If we go a bit over budget, we won’t have to ask for more money to complete the housing units.

And lastly, Woodford writes about Council’s decision to amend its agreement with the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS). In 2020, HRM agreed to sell four properties in North Dartmouth to AHANS so the association could build 25 townhouse-style apartments. Originally, about half the units would have to be rented out at no more than 20% below market value. And the project had a five-year timeline. Now, tenants will pay no more than 30% of their gross income and the project is set to be completed in three years.

I’ve written before about what affordable housing really means and how letting rooms “20% below market value” doesn’t really help most people who can’t afford a place to live. Affordability is relative, so I think this sliding scale rent model could have a lot more impact in bringing more affordable housing to Halifax.

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4. Woodford Report: photo radar, on-demand accessible cabs, and all the rest from council

Halifax City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

More from Woodford this morning, who has his roundup of Halifax regional council news. Here are the highlights:

  • Council voted on Tuesday to award an $1.8-million contract for an on-demand accessible taxi service. As the Halifax Examiner reported last year, the municipality decided to contract out the service because there aren’t enough accessible taxis in HRM to meet demand
  • Halifax Water’s stormwater right-of-way charge, better known as the ditch tax, is back up for debate. In 2013, the Utility and Review Board (UARB) ruled that HRM has to pay Halifax Water for stormwater runoff from its roads. The municipality toyed with a few different ways of recouping that money from Haligonians. For the past five years, it’s directed Halifax Water to collect the roughly $3.8 million by charging about 100,000 customers $40 annually. A report to council’s meeting on Tuesday considered other options, but recommended keeping the status quo.
  • Last fall, the city’s Department of Transportation and Public Works hired a consultant to study the potential use of photo radar to enforce speed limits in HRM. The consultant, Ontario-based Stewart Solutions Inc., submitted the completed study in January, and municipal staff presented it to council’s virtual meeting on Tuesday. The study contains 62 recommendations, and gives HRM the green light to go ahead with photo enforcement, but not red light violations.

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5. Researcher: NS has a ways to go to make home care more “meaningful, equitable, and acceptable”

Photo: Nova Scotia Health

“A Nova Scotia researcher says the provincial government must do more to improve home care services in the province,” writes Yvette d’Entremont.

“More and more people are calling for home care as an alternative to long term care, and yet we’re not seeing the funding and resources or even the media attention there,” Mary Jean Hande said in an interview.

Hande, a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS), is also a postdoctoral fellow at the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging at Mount Saint Vincent University.

Last week Hande published a piece advocating for more public funding and oversight into the province’s home care infrastructure.

In it, she wrote that home care services appear to be the “obvious alternative” to long term care. However, she argued that the province has a long way to go to improve home care infrastructure and make it a “meaningful, equitable, and acceptable” option for Nova Scotians.

Read the full piece on what more could be done to improve these services right here.

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6. COVID update

Photo: Jeremy Bezanger / Unsplash

The province reported two new COVID deaths Tuesday, a woman in her 70s and a woman in her 90s; both lived in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone.

There are currently 336 people in hospital who either now have COVID or once did have COVID.

Read Tim Bousquet’s full report from Tuesday here.

In other COVID news, Taryn Grant at the CBC spoke with doctors around the province about what they think of COVID restrictions lifting. There wasn’t much backlash to the decision. The consensus: continue to take precautions, but trust chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang.

Here’s what one doctor had to say to CBC:

I have to defer to the people that are truly experts in population health and general health protection… It’s really important to recognize that public health is in fact a medical specialty all of its own, and this is what they train to do.

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7. Faculty strike ends: Acadia University to resume classes Thursday

The Acadia University Faculty Association’s Strike Headquarters in Wolfville. Photo: Mackenzie Ryan

Acadia students will be going back to class tomorrow.

In a media release Tuesday, the Acadia Faculty Association, whose 350 professors, librarians, archivists, and instructors have been striking outside the Wolfville campus since February 1, announced its members are going back to work.

Faculty went on strike following months of negotiations with university administration that failed to produce a new collective agreement between the two parties. Three days of equally unsuccessful mediation talks over the past weekend led the union and university to agree to put all outstanding differences to an arbitrator. There’s no timeline for this arbitration, but the decision will be binding.

A spokesperson for the Acadia Faculty Association told Jon Tattrie at the CBC Tuesday that these outstanding issues include ensuring that full-time tenured faculty positions keep pace with the growing student body, protecting rights and benefits for part-time staff, improving faculty diversity programs, and increasing salaries for staff.

Last month, the Canadian Press reported faculty wanted “to increase the number of tenured faculty, offer higher wages and better working conditions for part-time faculty, and a commitment to increasing the diversity of faculty through dedicated positions for Indigenous people,” as well as a contract clause ensuring faculty salaries don’t fall below cost of living increases.

Classes for students will resume Thursday. In a message to students posted online, the university said “details regarding the impact of the strike on term dates, exams, how your classes will be completed, and information regarding any financial compensation will be communicated as soon as possible.”

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8. Education students in their final year will get teacher’s licences

Photo: MChe Lee/Unsplash

More from the world of education:

Almost 300 education students in Nova Scotia will be licensed teachers before they graduate in May.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development announced Tuesday that eligible bachelor of education students in their final year of study will get a temporary teacher’s licence, allowing them to work as paid substitutes. In a news release Tuesday, the department said these temporary licences are designed to provide some relief for the increased demand for substitute teachers across the province.

“Allowing student teachers the opportunity to get paid to substitute,” Minister Becky Druhan is quoted saying in the release, “not only provides experience in a field they will soon be entering, but also addresses the current need for more substitutes.”

Student teachers will continue to work under the supervision of their university advisors, but will be supervised by school staff on days they work as substitutes.

In total, 282 B.Ed. students from the five Nova Scotia universities that offer the diploma will be issued a conditional teacher’s certificate.

Whether you’re a teacher, a student, or an administrator, it’s quite a time to be in education right now.

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9. Halifax Shopping Centre locked down after weapons complaint; two men in custody

Halifax Regional Police cruisers lined up behind headquarters on Gottingen Street in June 2021.  Photo: Zane Woodford

Two men are in custody after a weapons complaint at the Halifax Shopping Centre locked down the mall for part of Tuesday afternoon.

At 12:30pm yesterday, Halifax Regional Police posted a tweet asking the public to stay away from the shopping centre while they investigated a weapons complaint. Three hours later, HRP tweeted an update, saying two men had been taken into custody and the mall had been reopened to the public. No one had been harmed, police said.

Police were light on details, but Rebecca Lau at Global News spoke with several people who’d been at the mall while police arrived at the scene. Some evacuated, but others were told to hide in the back of stores until police completed their investigation.

One mall employee told Lau he witnessed the arrest and saw two men apprehended with a large bag “of what appeared to be a large amount of jewelry.”

Three schools in the area locked their external doors for part of the afternoon.

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Views

Learning to live with the future

The effects of tropical storm Arthur at Peggy’s Cove in 2014. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

This week, as Peter Gurnham stepped down as chair of Nova Scotia’s Utility and Review Board, he told the Examiner the biggest challenge his yet-to-be-named successor would face would be “the impact of government decisions to close coal-fired power plants and move to 80% renewable energy by 2030.” In fact, he said it would be a challenge for all Nova Scotians.

On the same day Gurnham left office, a report came out that suggested Nova Scotians would face a much bigger challenge if faced with the impacts of not closing coal plants.

The United Nations released its latest report on the climate crisis. The findings — you’ve likely heard (or just assumed) — are grim.

As CNN summarized it, “Climate change is on course to transform life on Earth as we know it, and unless global warming is dramatically slowed, billions of people and other species will reach points where they can no longer adapt to the new normal.”

Unlike COVID, it would seem, there’s no “living with the climate crisis.” Well, there is, thankfully, but not if we continue living as we have been.

For Nova Scotia, that means we can build the dykes higher around Fundy, put up sea walls in Halifax Harbour, change the way we develop coastal areas, or do whatever can possibly be done to protect the isthmus and keep us from becoming an island. But these defensive measures will be useless if we don’t curb our use of warming greenhouse gas emissions.

For me, and many others, I’m sure, part of the problem when considering the climate crisis has always been its intangibility. Either it’s too far off in the future to care, or it’s so massive it paralyzes you. 

Recently though, I’ve been starting to feel — I mean really feel — hints of what the future could be like if heat causes mass migration, poor, dry soils, lower food production, and so on.

This past year, we’ve caught glimpses of it, even if the effects weren’t caused by climate change. Not yet, anyway.

Have you tried to buy groceries or gas lately? Driving to the market and back is a costly trip these days. We could see more of that if we let our soils dry, weaken, and die. Air travel’s been minimized with COVID restrictions; it might continue to be something most of us have to go without, given its impact on global warming. Nova Scotia reached one million people as Canadians migrated away from crowded, claustrophobic cities and more expensive areas during the pandemic. It caused some friction with housing stock, which was already far too low. What will happen when people don’t just want to move in droves, but are forced to? And housing costs could continue to rise as more people look for shelter on less land and home insurance creeps up around the coast.

I don’t say this to scare anyone. And once again, the things I’ve listed above have been caused more by the pandemic, supply chain issues, and war than changing climate. But an increasingly changing climate will eventually — maybe sooner than later — force us live more regularly and intensely with these problems.

I just feel, for the first time in my life, that I can see a bit of what a future affected by a more rapidly changing climate could be. And I see that I don’t want to have to adapt to anything beyond what we’ll have to adapt to now.

There’s still reason to hope here in Nova Scotia. (Yes, I realize it’s a global effort and nothing matters unless people everywhere put in work, but that’s no reason to cop out).

As Gurnham referenced, the province is getting off coal by the end of the decade.

That’ll make electric cars a more environmental way to get around Nova Scotia. By then they’ll likely be far more affordable too — or, the way gas prices are going, driving a gas guzzler at least won’t be any cheaper. Either way, that’s a promising notion.

And yes, HaliFACT is struggling — at least council’s looking at it, I guess — but there’s been good news at the provincial level.

The province’s doubling down on renewable solar energy last month, for instance, when the government pushed back against Nova Scotia Power’s solar rate that likely would have dissuaded more people from installing solar panels on their homes. The province followed that up by announcing it was seeking proposals for new wind and solar projects to help reach its climate targets.

Considering I can barely handle some of the rising prices and changing lifestyles the pandemic’s imposed on us, I think it’s best we pay the upfront cost of the climate crisis. If we wait, interest will accrue quickly. And it won’t just mean less air travel.

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Noticed

Speaking of international crises…

Photo: Amazon.ca

What is it about the conflict in Ukraine that’s been filling me with this abstract dread? I can’t quite define it.

Yes, it was unprovoked and people have needlessly lost lives and loved ones; it’s uprooted families, and turned lively cities into battlefields; it’s dissolved East-West relations, and could be a harbinger of a much larger war to come. But there’s something more that’s really been upsetting me. I just haven’t been able to name it.

Then, yesterday: clarity. I suddenly saw where my concern was coming from. All my vague anxieties and fears were perfectly articulated to me in this email from the Royal Bank of Canada:

Dear Ethan,

The escalating geopolitical tensions between Russia, Ukraine and NATO may have you feeling uneasy about how markets have reacted, what may lie ahead, and how this may impact your investment portfolio.

“Of course!” I thought. “That’s EXACTLY how escalating geopolitical tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and NATO have been making me feel.”

It was as if the mysteries of my soul had been translated into plainspoken English and neatly summarized in a bank email. Captivated, I read on:

While the headlines regarding inflation, protests, and acts of war can be alarming, it’s important to remember that market fluctuations are common and may be influenced by many factors. Historically, we’ve seen that the reaction period to acts of war is often short, and markets move past these events fairly quickly.

And just like that, my fears washed away. Yes, war is bad, but financially speaking, it’s usually just a hiccup. All I’ve gotta do is ride this one out and keep my eyes on the long game.

Since reading that, my heart has soared like a prudent investment that remains untouched for decades.

It’s the end of the email, though, that will stick with me when the world seems beyond saving. It’s sound advice for the fiscally-frightened in these dark days:

When it comes to your investments, it’s important to focus on the bigger picture. Those who plan, diversify, and remain on track tend to fare better than those who make quick, reactive decisions. The key to investing is having a well-structured investment plan that is designed to withstand periods of uncertainty.

Bottom line

Although no one can predict with certainty how financial markets may move, particularly following major world events, one thing is clear: having a long-term view and staying the course may be your best ally.

Leave it to the big banks to provide comfort and guidance in these topsy-turvy times.

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Government

City

Wednesday

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

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting

Thursday

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — virtual meeting

Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — virtual meeting

Point Pleasant Park Planning Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting

Province

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — also via video conference; Housing Repair Program for Low Income Seniors, with representatives from the Department of Seniors and Long-term Care and the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Gene flow in microbial eukaryotes: highways and bike paths (Wednesday, 4pm) — John M. Archibald will talk

Thursday

Copyright Law and Text and Data Mining: Does the Canadian Copyright Act Need to be Amended? (Thursday, 5:30pm) — Lucie Guibault will talk

Climate Justice is Social Justice: Paradigm Shift to an Anti-Colonial Ecosocial Worldview. (Thursday, 5:30pm) — online panel discussion with Ingrid Waldron, Meredith Powers, Haorui Wu, Gail Baikie and Soni Grant; moderated by Dani Sherwood, with AI-generated captions

Carbon Markets, Carbon Finance & Net Zero Target (Thursday, 7pm, Potter Auditorium, Rowe Building) — also on Zoom, with Stephen Entwhistle

Spirit Bear: Echoes of the past (Thursday, 7pm, McInnes Room, SUB) — also online; 2021-22 Shaar Shalom Lecture featuring Cindy Blackstock

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

No events

Thursday

The Distinguished Retailer Speaker Series (Thursday, 4pm) — Zoom chat with Brian Hill of Aritzia

Laethanta Sona: Translating Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (Thursday, 6pm) — online 2022 D’Arcy McGee Lecture with Sarah-Jane Scaife and Micheál O Conghaile:

In 2021, Sarah-Jane Scaife translated Samuel Beckett’s avant-garde masterpiece, Happy Days, to the Aran Island of Inisheer. The play was translated into Irish, by Micheál O Conghaile, for the performance. Meet both of them as we chat about this landmark event in contemporary Irish theatre.

Black / African Descent Student Leadership Panel (Thursday, 5pm) — online panel discussion will touch on recognizing personal achievements, overcoming obstacles, and celebrating other inspiring people in the Black community


In the harbour

Halifax
04:45: CMACGM Mexico, container ship (149,000 tonnes), sails from Pier 41 for New York
06:15: MSC Sao Paulo, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Sines, Portugal
11:30: Contship Leo sails from Pier 41 for Kingston, Jamaica
16:30: ZIM Vancouver, container ship, moves from Pier 36 to Pier 42
22:30: ZIM Vancouver, container ship sails for New York

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures.


Footnotes

  • I know a bank’s main focus is finances and that should be the crux around which the relationship with a client is centred. It’s fine to have some concern about how world events affect your money, but a little sensitivity and prioritizing goes a long way. I mean, that “staying the course may be your best ally” joke alone … yeesh.
  • No, I’m not being spiteful about the state of my bank account.

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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. The climate change elephant in the room is consumption and our belief in a growth economy. Pure and simple, we cannot consume or even to try to approximate our existing North American consumption patterns (by switching to electric cars, vegan meals produced by big corporations, etc.) and have a liveable planet in the next few decades. The goods we consume, including ” green” goods often include rare metals and production processes that require fossil fuels or massive amounts of energy and water. 90% of all of the goods consumed in North America are made with or are produced in places that are already hard hit by climate change, places suffering from too much heat, too much water , too little water and/or an inability to provide for the daily needs of their population due to the effects of climate change. These goods come on ships which are larger than the Empire State Building and in 2021, there were over 5,400 of these container ships at sea. Climate change has already made the transportation of these goods more difficult and dangerous as the ocean storms become worse and the currents shift and also because these ships are huge and filled with containers of dangerous and not so dangerous goods.
    Also most of our telecommunications systems travel through subsea cables, which are not well protected against the effects of climate change. These subsea cables support our consumption habit by allowing for just in time delivery of goods. COVID highlighted how fragile our global economy is…Just imagine what climate change is doing and will do? Where will North America’s rare minerals needed for electric cars, phones and computers come from when China, India, the Congo, Malaysia are more focused on addressing the impacts of climate change than on producing geegaws?

    1. Instead of leading by example of how to deal with impacts of climate change, the Province stubbornly is proceeding to spend $200 million of public money to build a new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in the worst possible place in a red zone for sea level rise. The new building will require untold millions in extra measures in futile measure to counteract rising water levels and severe weather. Arrogant and intransigent.

      1. And none of the buildings around it were built with ocean rise in mind. It’ll be on an island!

  2. The mass murder was a horror but what has struck me is was the insane way the RCMP communicated to the public – Twitter.

    How many people in Portipique were scrolling Twitter at the time? Such abysmal communications on a deadly night. How many people could have been saved with ANY other means of getting the word out?

    And then I scroll down and find that HRP used the same technique around the shopping mall incident yesterday.

    Do police departments use the tools easiest for them to use or do they use communication tools that actually work?

  3. Where’s the Change.org petition against Dalhousie ‘greenwashing’ biomass from J.D. Irving, or any use or biomass from anywhere ! Disgraceful Dalhousie! Not the behaviour of a world class university, or one with pretensions to that title.