1. Andrew Gnazdowsky’s family to sue province over his workplace death
A year ago, 26-year-old Andrew Gnazdowsky, drowned while trying to fix a piece of equipment at Nova Scotia Power’s Marshall Falls reservoir in Sheet Harbour. Now, his family has served notice it plans to sue the provincial government, Zane Woodford reports:
Since his death, Andrew’s sister Nicole Gnazdowsky has fought for answers. As the Halifax Examiner reported in May, she’s met resistance at every turn, and concluded that the provincial Department of Labour “botched” the investigation, identifying a potential conflict of interest and a flawed medical examiner’s report. Since then, the department has stopped communicating with Gnazdowsky, labelling her a “hostile individual” in documents uncovered through freedom of information, as reported by Lyndsay Armstrong at The Coast.
On Friday, Gnazdowsky took the next step in her quest for answers, and served the provincial departments of justice and labour with a notice of intended action on behalf of her parents and her brother’s estate.
Nicole Gnazdowsky has been tireless in trying to get answers about the circumstances of her brother’s death, first from the Liberal government and now from the Progressive Conservatives. “I can’t believe that now I’m going to have to take on a second premier in this situation,” she tells Woodford. He writes:
The family will make a claim “for negligence contributing to or causing the incident in which the Intended Plaintiffs suffered serious injury and death.
“It will be alleged that the Intended Defendant failed to provide adequate guidelines and standard requirements for the operation, maintenance, and overall overseeing of dam usage.”
The family also signaled it will allege that the government “failed to properly investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident and the events that led to the incident and the death of Andrew Gnazdowsky.”
The notice provides a list of ways the government is allegedly negligent, including that it “Chose not to review dam safety protocols and standards adequately;” “Chose not to follow the established procedures and policies in place to ensure compliance with dam safety protocols and standards;” and “Chose to perform the autopsy of Andrew Gnazdowsky in a negligent manner.”
2. Summer elections “bad for democracy”
Jennifer Henderson reports on testimony at yesterday’s Law Amendments Committee meeting on the government’s proposal for fixed election date legislation. It would set July 15 as the date for future provincial elections.
Henderson says everyone who spoke was in favour of the idea of a fixed election date. The problem is the date itself — in the middle of summer. She writes:
Speaker after speaker worried that legislating a July 15 election date would make it more difficult to engage voters on issues that matter and lead to fewer people actually voting.
Lydia Houck is the president of Students Nova Scotia, a group that represents 55,000 young people attending universities. Houck spoke of the importance of on campus education and debates organized by student unions as well as polling stations set up by Elections NS to make it easier for first-time voters.
“An election during the academic year stimulates participation,” said Houck. On the flip side, a summer election may suppress engagement among young adults many of whom are working to go back to school.
Paul Wozney, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said elections during school years are a great teaching opportunity, and the son of a former premier weighed in, too:
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was a short presentation by Rob Smith, the son of Conservative Premier G.I. (Ike) Smith who served three years before being defeated by Liberal Gerald Regan in 1970.
“This is bad for democracy,” said Rob Smith. “People will be on vacation and it will be difficult to find volunteers. When my father called a provincial election in 1970, the voter turnout was 78.9%. In the last provincial election, it was 55%. Please work to change this Bill so we can have elections at a sensible, pro-democracy time.”
I have never understood one of the arguments put forward about summer elections: that people don’t want to think about politics during the summer, or while on vacation. I have no trouble mulling over who I’m going to vote for while out camping or riding my bike. But there are, as Henderson’s story shows, an awful lot of good reasons to pick a date during a different season.
Of course, fixed election dates in a Westminster system may be a bit more rooted in aspiration than reality. After all, we have a fixed federal election date. How is that working out for us?
3. Police board seeks legal opinion on launching review of police actions during encampment evictions
At yesterday’s virtual meeting of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners, the board “asked for an independent legal opinion on whether it has the authority to review the actions of police at a protest at the former Halifax Memorial Library in August,” Zane Woodford reports.
Commissioner Harry Critchley brought forward a motion stating in part that the board “prepare a draft of a mandate and terms of reference for an independent civilian review of the oversight, governance, and policy aspects of the HRP’s handling of the protests on August 18, 2021.”
But the motion got derailed over the issue of whether the board even had the right to order such a review.
In the attached justification for the motion, Critchley gave some examples of similar reviews launched by boards across Canada, like those into street checks in Edmonton and Vancouver, and a review into the police response to the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto.
Critchley also provided legislative authority from the Police Act, which in part authorizes the board to provide “the administrative direction, organization and policy required to maintain an adequate, effective and efficient police department.”
The Act also says the board shall “ensure that police services are delivered in a manner consistent with community values, needs and expectations.”
“I really kind of hang my hat a little bit on that section,” Critchley said during Monday’s meeting.
Municipal lawyer Marty Ward argued that the board doesn’t have the authority to order such a review, and besides, there’s already an internal investigation based on a citizen complaint.
So instead of a review, the board passed an amended motion stating in part that it will “request an independent legal opinion and staff report on the jurisdictional authority for the commission to create a terms of reference for an independent civilian review of the oversight, governance, and policy aspects of the handling of protests on August 18, 2021…”
4. 72 new cases of COVID-19; active cases remain relatively stable
Although I rationally know that big COVID numbers on Monday are not a big deal because they represent three days worth of case reporting, it’s only in the last two weeks or so that my gut reaction and my rational reaction have lined up. I used to see nearly 100 cases on Mondays and even though I knew it represented three days, it still felt like a gut punch. Now, I can finally look at those numbers and calmly go oh yeah, that’s three days of cases. Fine.
The three-day number reported yesterday was 72, as Tim Bousquet notes in his daily update.
COVID exposure site information is here. So glad neither of my flights ever showed up.
5. Eskasoni Eagles face racist taunts in Antigonish
Nicole Sullivan reports for SaltWire on racism faced by Eskasoni Eagles players during a recent game against the Antigonish Bulldogs.
Sullivan interviews a man she calls Ben (he asked that his real name not be used to protect his son) who faced racism as a player, and has seen it in arenas through the playing careers of two sons. He told Sullivan there were over a dozen young adults spewing racist chants during the second period. Other parents (who also requested anonymity) confirmed the story. Sullivan writes:
Ben said the group yelling the racist taunts weren’t removed from the facility.
“It’s not just in Antigonish. It’s everywhere. And nothing’s ever done. [The Antigonish Bulldogs] didn’t even respond (to the Facebook posts about the racism) to say, ‘we’re really sorry this happened. There was a group of young people in there and we didn’t know what they were saying, we’re really sorry,’” Ben said.
“Instead it’s, ‘Let’s forget about this and forget that this even happened.’ The problem is they don’t know what racism is like because they haven’t been through it. And it doesn’t matter to them.”
After the game, the team posted an apology on Facebook — for the connectivity issues with its livestream. Several commenters raised the issue of racism, but the team ignored these comments, limited commenting on the post, and replied only to someone asking who scored.
Filter bubbles, trolls, and misinformation: Is everything you assume about social media wrong?
People who share misinformation online aren’t just dupes who can’t tell the difference between truth and falsehood. In fact, they may be more politically aware and social media savvy than the general population.
That’s one of the conclusions that jumped out at me during a really interesting interview on the latest episode of the On the Media podcast. The interview was with Danish political science professor Michael Bang Petersen, who runs the Research on Online Political Hostility Project. That is their graphic at the top of this item and, let me tell you, if I had seen it before hearing Bang Petersen on one of my favourite podcasts I likely would have navigated away and paid no further attention.
Aside: What is it with the ridiculous, stuck-in-old-sci-fi hacker stereotype?
Anyway, Bang Petersen says his research shows that many of the assumptions we have about social media — that people who are nasty to others online have been turned into trolls by technology, that we are in bubbles or echo chambers where our views are constantly reinforced, or that those who share misinformation don’t now any better — don’t seem to be accurate. In fact, they seem to be the polar opposite of what’s actually going on.
He told host Brooke Gladstone that his assumption going into the research was that people who are nice and friendly in their everyday lives can somehow be transformed into trolls online. It’s a common enough belief, right?
But he says for the most part that’s not what happens:
We did not find this huge group of people who report to be nice in face-to-face discussions, but hostile in online discussions.
And the real echo chambers are our personal, daily lives in the offline world, Bang Petersen tells Gladstone:
One way to think about social media in this particular regard is to turn some of the ordinary notions that we have about social media upside down. And here I’m thinking about the notion of echo chambers… The biggest echo chambers we all live in is the one we live in in our everyday life.
I’m a university professor. I’m not really exposed to any person who has a radically different worldview or radically different life from me in my everyday life. But when I’m online, I can see all sorts of opinions that I may disagree with, and that might trigger me if I ‘m a hostile person and encourage me to reach out and tell these people that [they] are wrong. But that’s because social media essentially breaks down the echo chambers… exposing us to a lot of things that we are not exposed to in our daily lives.
People get comfortable in our daily-life echo chambers, saying things behind people’s backs, sharing their racist or offensive views, and if their peers share them there is nobody to call them on it. Think of Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who resigned last week after the release of many racist, sexist, homophobic emails (and allegations that he shared photos of semi-nude cheerleaders with colleagues).
Gruden denounced the NFL’s move to hire women as referees and criticized acceptance of players protesting for racial justice during the national anthem. He also exchanged photos of topless women with Allen, including one of Washington Football Team cheerleaders, according to the report.
Monday’s report arrives days after Gruden responded to a report that exposed racist language he used in reference to DeMaurice Smith, the Black executive director of the National Football League Players Association…
The NFL previously announced that it had sent the emails to the Raiders for review. Some of the email exchanges also included Hooters co-founder Ed Droste, Outback Bowl executive Jim McVay and Tampa restauranteur Nick Reader, who founded Florida fried chicken franchise PDQ Restaurants, according to the report.
Do we think something happened to Jon Gruden when he sat in front of a computer? That suddenly technology radicalized him to be a bigot and share his bigotry with colleagues? This went on for years, and few of his colleagues seemed to have an issue with it until the emails became public.
So perhaps it’s not that social media is making us meaner, but that our meanness can be seen by more people, and can be reinforced by others of a like mind. Bang Petersen explains:
Sometimes when people are writing on… social media they are acting as if they are at the bar, with their friends, when no one is listening, and the key part is that’s not how social media works… On social media other people are listening, and other people are seeing what you’re writing, and people will react to that. And then you do you sort of realize oh, I said things I shouldn’t have… But it’s not because people don’t know what they are saying. They know exactly what they are writing, and they know this is something that hurts if other people read it.
This brings us to the question of misinformation, which I thought was fascinating. Bang Petersen’s project involves survey data, but he got consent from participants to link their surveys to their Twitter profiles, so he could compare the information they gave about themselves with what they were actually writing and sharing online. And one of the findings was that many people who share a lot of misinformation don’t care that it’s wrong. Accuracy is beside the point. What they want is to hurt their political opponents:
The people who are sharing misinformation are not ignorant. They are used to navigating social media and the Internet. They know more about politics than the average person. But where they are really different from the average is they have much more negative feelings towards members of the other party… They want to derogate people that they don’t like, and they are actually searching for information they can use for that purpose.
It’s not that people look at information and then make a firm evaluation, saying, “This is false but I will share it anyway.” It simply is not relevant to the decision. What they look at is, “Is this useful for a particular purpose”?
If this is true, it upends decades of well-meaning approaches to teaching media literacy, training people on how to spot legitimate news sources, and giving people the skills to evaluate information for accuracy and credibility.
I will confess that I used to argue with people on Facebook (at worst) or politely correct them (at best) when they shared information that was blatantly untrue, and I was shocked to find that most of the time they didn’t actually care. A further confession: I had a brief foray back into this recently when “friends” kept sharing an image purporting to be the most frequently banned books in libraries over the past 10 years. The books were all titles considered classics, and the notion that they are the most banned is, like the books, a work of fiction. You will be shocked to learn that my noting the blatant untruth of the meme did nothing to prevent people from sharing it. If you are the kind of person who believes the world is going to hell because of political correctness, cancel culture, etc, this feeds that feeling that you know and feel somehow is true.
If we really want to address the issue of misinformation, Bang Petersen says, we have to look deeper, into increasing polarization and the “rising inequality over the last decades, [which] has been a fundamental driver of political instability… That is at least where I would start to look for solutions.”
Does this mean social media plays no role in political violence? Bang Petersen says it does, but because it connects people, not just because it polarizes them:
My point is certainly not that social media is not playing a role… Social media is used as a tool for violence-prone individuals to accomplish the particular goes that they have, but it’s not that social media as such is responsible for those feelings of frustration and violence proneness.
It’s interesting stuff to reflect on.
The new viewing deck at Peggy’s Cove opened yesterday, so I decided to drive over and take a look. The deck has a beautiful shape: it curves and swoops, and while it’s brand new, architect Omar Gandhi’s design doesn’t feel alien to the place. It’s actually kind of inviting.
Peggy’s Cove was busier than usual for an October weekday. As I approached the deck, I ran into a couple of friends, Garth and Louise Smedley, who live a short drive from the cove. I asked them what they thought of the deck.
Louise said she liked the accessibility of the deck and that it made it more inviting to come in the evening for a stroll — something she might not do otherwise. For his part, Garth said it was “spectacular” when you come around the corner and see the vistas in front of you. I asked what he made of the argument that Peggy’s Cove has been ruined, or is somehow not the same, and he said he thought that was “ridiculous” because “everything that was there is still here. I came out here as a kid and played on the rocks. That’s still here.”
Louise added that “it might be a different story” if there wasn’t already a large parking lot and restaurant/gift shop on the site. “It’s made the parking lot and the restaurant better,” Garth said.
At that point, John Campbell, who owns the Sou’wester, the restaurant in question, walked up and said hi, so I asked him what he thought of the changes:
The first time I went down, I went out to the end and it kind of took my breath away a little bit. The crashing water below you, and the height difference, and seeing the lighthouse so predominant in front of you — it really was something else the first time I walked out there.
Campbell also noted his appreciation for the deck’s accessibility.
About a month ago, I was chatting with someone outside the Tantallon farmers’ market, and she strongly felt that the deck was going to ruin Peggy’s Cove. She also said she was resentful of Develop Nova Scotia, in her view, cynically pitting preservationists against accessibility.
Maybe this is a silly comparison, but the controversy about the deck made me think about how I felt about the Molson Centre (now the Bell Centre) in Montreal when it opened. I always loved going to Canadiens games at the Montreal Forum. I even got a ticket to the final game there. And when I went to the new arena with my friend Mike, I was prepared to hate it. But we both felt the same way as soon as we sat down: You know, this place isn’t bad.
I think part of the negative reaction to the deck lies in a deeper, more existential question about Peggy’s Cove. “It’s not a fishing village anymore. It’s just a tourist attraction now” is a theme I’ve heard over and over. Peggy’s Cove has been actively marketed as a tourist attraction for decades. The deck, along with other recent changes like sidewalks and new washrooms, make sense in terms of managing the flow of thousands and thousands of visitors, and increasing their enjoyment. But they are also an overt acknowledgment of tourism’s primacy, and I can understand why — even if I think the deck is lovely — that makes some people upset or wistful.
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm) — livestreamed, with captioning on a text-only site
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — livestreamed on YouTube
License Appeal Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — details here
Design Review Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — livestreamed on YouTube
Public Information Meeting, Case 23224 (Wednesday, 6pm) — Application by Clayton Developments to redevelop the former Penhorn Mall property with a mixed use community containing a mix of low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise residential buildings in addition to retail uses on the lands at 535-569 Portland Street, Dartmouth. To attend the virtual meeting, email this person. More details here.
Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House)
The Business Value of DevOps (Wednesday, 11am) — webinar with Roy Kaushik
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Wednesday, 12pm) — via Zoom, Brenda Gunn, Pamela Palmater, Brent Cotter, and Constance MacIntosh will address questions such as:
Why is UNDRIP relevant for reconciliation? What are the flashpoint issues and are they really game-stoppers? What does ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ mean? What are the political costs of failing to implement UNDRIP? Why are some provinces standing back while others step forward? What do we know about best practices for successful implementation?
Targeted metabolic reprogramming to enhance the efficacy of oncolytic virus-based cancer immunotherapy (Wednesday, 4pm) — Barry Kennedy will talk; email here for the link
Are metamorphic microdiamonds from Bohemia forever? (Tuesday, 1pm, Science 408) — Jana Kotková, Czech Geological Survey, Prague, and Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic, will explain how
Features of gem-quality octahedral metamorphic diamond forms rarely found in Central Europe provide important insights into nucleation and growth mechanisms of microdiamonds worldwide.
Bring your own microdiamonds.
Internet Expertise for Researchers (Tuesday, 5:30pm) — This online session will focus on how to find useful, quality information for academic or scholarly research, using Google and Google Scholar. Topics covered include grey literature, search strategies, and tips on how to evaluate search results.
In the harbour
06:00: MSC Leigh, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
08:45: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
10:30: CMA CGM Chile, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York; this super-big container ship will have been in port for 15 hours
16:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Norfolk, Virginia
20:30: MSC Leigh sails for New York
I’m talking fermentation (again) at the St. Margarets Bay Gardening club tomorrow at 7pm, at St. Luke’s United Church in Tantallon. Details here.