1. Advocates: access to gender-affirming health care in Nova Scotia is getting worse
“Nova Scotia may have the highest proportion of trans and gender diverse individuals in Canada,” writes Yvette d’Entremont, “but advocates say those who need to access gender-affirming health care are facing increased barriers and lives are at risk.”
As d’Entremont reports, the non-profit Halifax Sexual Health Centre (HSHC) is now identifying two new and “significant” barriers to gender-affirming care (GAC) access in Nova Scotia.
- Plastic surgeon Dr. Steven Morris, the only provider of gender-affirming surgery in the province, said he’ll no longer be offering gender-affirming top surgery procedures (mastectomy, chest masculinization), effective immediately.
- two specialists (endocrinologists) who provide letters required by MSI for patients to get their gender-affirming surgery publicly funded are no longer accepting new referrals. Both specialists have cited capacity limitations as the reason.
HSHC has more than 850 patients receiving gender-affirming care and are deeply concerned about these developments. There are about 60 patients on the wait list.
The centre’s executive director Abbey Ferguson says there needs to be more funding for this type of care, so trans people in Nova Scotian can get the dignified treatment they need in their home province.
“Delayed care for trans folks is a life-impacting situation. The risk for suicidality and other mental health concerns is massive, and this hindrance is huge.”
2. Nova Scotia Power rate hike
In January, the Halifax Examiner reported Nova Scotia Power was applying to the Utility and Review Board (UARB) for a 10% rate hike over the next three years. Part of that application was the infamous “system access charge” that would have charged solar panel users extra for the surplus energy they produced. That application was withdrawn after heavy pushback, but the 10% rate hike application remains.
“The rate application we are submitting today supports the changes we need to make to enable us to meet government environmental goals and ensure we can meet our customers’ growing demand for electricity,” said Peter Gregg, president and CEO of Nova Scotia Power, said at the time. “We do everything we can to manage our costs prudently and we don’t take it lightly when we seek to increase rates. We understand the impact this does have on our customers.”
He didn’t say much more about it when Nova Scotia Power met with the province’s public accounts committee Wednesday.
As Jesse Thomas reports for CTV Atlantic, the province got few answers as they asked Nova Scotia Power’s top executives about the application for the company’s first rate hike in a decade.
The energy utility’s lawyer said the matter is before the UARB, which is set to begin public hearings in September, and so no questions could be answered regarding the proposed rate hike.
“It was a very frustrating committee,” said Halifax-Atlantic Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire. “First of all, we were made aware by Nova Scotia Power and the government and through their lawyers that they weren’t going to answer any questions, which in my time as MLA I had never seen of before.”
Still, the government opposition pressed for answers but they came up short.
“There were no answers,” said Maguire. “And it was insulting. It was insulting to all Nova Scotians.”
Asked why the utility was applying for a rate hike as Nova Scotians were struggling with inflation, legislators got a rare answer.
“We’ve been focussed on cost management throughout those 10-year-periods, to find ways to avoid coming in for a general rate application,” said Nova Scotia Power chief operating officer Mark Sidebottom. “But we are in front of one of the largest transformations the electricity sector is going to go through.”
Nova Scotia has committed to get 80% of its energy from renewable resources by 2030.
The Houston government recently tabled a bill to make Nova Scotia Power more accountable to ratepayers, but, as the Examiner’s reported, critics have said that bill lacks teeth.
3. Modular units finally ready in Halifax; staff still needed
The Halifax Examiner first reported that HRM would be building modular units to house dozens of the city’s homeless through the winter back in September.
A quick timeline:
- Oct. 1: HRM releases details of planned modular units, meant to house a total of 73 people at two sites, one in Dartmouth and one in Halifax. The cost is estimated at $240,000.
- Nov. 9: HRM says the modular units the municipality was originally going to purchase aren’t up to snuff. Council votes to approve $3.2 million for new modular units. A Dartmouth site that will house 24 people is found, but a Halifax site is still being sought.
- Jan. 7: A city staff reports says modular units won’t be ready in Halifax until mid-March, though a location at Centennial Pool parking lot has been found.
- Jan. 11: Three weeks into winter, modular units open in Dartmouth near the Alderney Landing Terminal.
- March 1: Halifax uses the Pavilion at the Common to shelter people overnight as modular units on the peninsula continue to be delayed.
That’s a brief catch up.
Now, Gareth Hampshire at CBC is reporting the Halifax units are ready to house 38 people. But Out of the Cold, the community group currently operating the Dartmouth site and commissioned to run the Halifax site as well, doesn’t have the staff to start moving people in. From the article:
“We’re still in a very active phase of our hiring. We need to hire maybe another 15 more staff,” said Michelle Malette, the executive director. “We’re still going through references and doing interviews every day.”
Malette said it would not be realistic to set a move-in date, and that it would not be in the next two weeks because training is a requirement for all staff after they’re hired.
From everything I’ve heard, the Dartmouth units have provided quality shelter to the 24 residents, and there’s no reason to expect anything different for the Halifax site. But it’s been more than half a year and residents won’t move in until the warmest part of the year, it would seem. It’s still great they’re ready, but these delays seem endless.
4. The Tideline, Episode 78: Rocky Horror Show
No need to shiver with anticipation. The latest episode of The Tideline is out today, and Tara Thorne is talking The Rocky Horror Show. Here’s the show description:
For a show (and cult film) out of the mid-1970s, The Rocky Horror Show was ahead of its time in its depiction of queerness and gender and — save a handful of instances — has aged surprisingly well enough to fit into this contemporary time. Neptune Theatre’s production opens this week (running through June 26) and director Jeremy Webb and actors Allister MacDonald (Dr. Frank N Furter) and Breton Lalama (Riff Raff) squeeze in a chat between tech run-throughs to dig into how they’ve updated (and produced) the show with 2022 eyes — namely an intimacy director and active consent between characters — and whether they’re prepared for the rare theatre audience that talks back. Plus a new song from Nicole Ariana.
Last week, I wrote about moving and all the unpleasantness that entails.
It’s not all bad, though. At the other end of packing up and moving out comes the fun part, though equally exhausting: unpacking and setting up a new place. You get to add your own touch to a new home, decorate it how you like, and give it a bit of life. You also have to set up a home so it has a flow. You set up the kitchen so it’s easy to cook and wash dishes and you won’t be tempted to eat out every night. So, you keep the spices in one spot, the baking ingredients in another, and put your most-used tools where they are most easily accessible. You set up the bathroom and laundry so there easy to clean and keep organized. You set up the living room and its amenities so you’ll actually want to use them.
It’s a lot like setting up a city, I suppose.
Take transit. It’s not a last resort for those who can’t afford a car. It’s an essential service that can limit the need for parking, roadwork, and new highways. It also clears up congestion, taking GHG-emitting cars off the road and making it easier and cheaper to get around a city. We’ll need to get away from the car-centric society we live in at some point, even if we want to stubbornly hang on to our expensive, resource-draining, road-clogging individualism. So, how do you get people who don’t need public transit to want to use public transit?
You can design routes people will actually take or create reliable apps and maps that show you how to get around without having to calculate times, transfers, and delays. You can also make it more affordable than it already is.
How? Switch to an all electric fleet of buses and take advantage of drivers too nervous to buy an EV but too terrified to check the price of gas? Perhaps.
In Halifax, the municipality made transit free for the first part of the pandemic. It was a great move, but it’s hard to increase regular ridership when people are disinclined to share air in a tight, indoor space. This year’s municipal budget has $825,000 set aside to provide free bus rides on Fridays and free ferry rides on Saturdays for the months of July and August. It’s a move designed to help Nova Scotians “get back out there” and spend money in the community, but it could also help people who don’t normally use transit get acquainted with taking the bus to get around.
In Ontario, where a provincial election campaign started up this week, the province’s Liberal party is promising something similar, albeit on a larger scale. Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca has promised $1 fares for all transit for three years, a pledge he’s dubbed with the political moniker, “buck-a-ride.” The program would cost the province an estimated $710 million in the first year and $1.1 billion in the second. Considering the cost, it certainly sounds like it could be an empty promise made by a party looking to appeal to voters drowning under inflation.
And maybe it is. The Toronto Star’s editorial board thinks it’s likely a political calculation, but they also thought it was an idea worth exploring.
“‘Buck-a-ride’ is an attention-grabbing proposal,” the editorial board wrote Tuesday, “and it has considerable merit regardless of short-term political considerations.”
[I]f you assume that people riding public transit do so at least partly out of economic necessity, slashing fares would direct savings to those who need them most. That would be welcome relief with inflation running at 6.7 per cent.
The Liberals estimate the move could take 400,000 cars off the road, reducing gridlock and greenhouse gas emissions – an appealing prospect in light of recent dire warnings from a United Nations panel about the narrowing window to address climate change.
There’s also a psychological basis to the idea. It usually takes incentives to change habitual behaviour, and the new behaviour must be repeated over time to become the new normal.
For many, the savings would likely be enough to change their mode of travel.
Under the proposed plan, a monthly pass would be less than a third of what it costs now, and a bus from Niagara to Toronto would be reduced more than $20. As for the hefty price tag, it beats the more than $10 billion that it might cost to build a new highway across the northwestern part of the Greater Toronto Area, as that province’s PCs are proposing.
Is the Ontario Liberal plan feasible? Maybe not. But it’s heartening to see governments here and around Canada at least trying to put their money where their mouth is and start pushing transit, not just as a low-income alternative to cars, but a green alternative that will steer us away from our current commuting habits, helping to save our planet and our forever-under-construction roads, while freeing up bottlenecks in our cities, and better-connecting them to neighbouring communities.
If we want to keep building isolated condo communities around Halifax we need a way to get them around without putting more cars on the roads. And if we want to double our population in the coming decades, we should immediately start pushing commuters to share the drive and make it easier to live without a car in this small, but spread out province. Ambitious expenditures in accessible, reliable, easy-to-use transit — if only we had such a thing, though I admit it’s better than it was — will pay off in the long run. Or do we care about the long run?
Since Monday, when a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion sparked protest and outrage over the seemingly inevitable overturn of Roe v. Wade, American media — social and legacy — has been consumed with the debate over abortion and reproductive rights. As is so often the case, the national discussion down there has continued into the one we’re having up here.
If a decision that’s held for nearly 50 years, one that protects health care rights for half the population of a modern western democracy and is supported two-to-one by the country’s citizens, could be undone overnight, how safe are abortion rights here in Canada?
The Canadian Institute for Health Information reported there were almost 75,000 abortions in Canada in 2020. Here, as in the US, public opinion is largely pro-choice. A 2020 poll from DART & Maru/Blue Voice Canada found 71% of Canadians believe the abortion debate doesn’t need to be reopened.
And Canadian politicians have been quick to respond.
The federal NDP released statements saying the party supported the right to abortions and wanted to see Trudeau’s Liberals improve access to safe abortions across the country. Prime Minister Trudeau, for his part, said his government would continue to defend abortion rights in this country.
“A woman’s free choice is a choice to be made by her alone,” he told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday. “Every woman in Canada has the right to a legal and safe abortion.”
Even candidates in the federal Conservative Party’s leadership race, who were instructed to remain silent on the US Supreme Court leak, decided to forgo a chance at political expediency and speak out (to differing degrees) against limiting abortion rights. Candidate Leslyn Lewis is the one exception; she’s running on an anti-abortion platform.
Martha Paynter, a nurse who provides abortion care in Nova Scotia and who’s contributed to the Examiner, summed up the strength and history of Canadian abortion rights in a piece she wrote in September, then responding to a new law limiting abortions in Texas:
In Canada, for those of us providing it, abortion care is straightforward. We go to work, we provide publicly funded care, we call it a day by late afternoon. We may navigate a few hoops — like who is paying for a procedure for a non-citizen, or what private prescription drug coverage will make an IUD affordable, or what to do about an abusive boyfriend who keeps calling — but the fundamentals of our work are pretty uncomplicated. Aspiration (surgical) abortion is safe and quick. For medication abortion patients, we make sure they know to expect a lot of cramping and bleeding, and what to do when ‘a lot’ shifts into ‘too much,’ but they are experiencing the abortion itself at home.
Unlike when I started in this field in the 1990s, very few of us have to walk through aggressive anti-choice protestors to get to our shifts. Recent surveys have found we do not generally experience anti-choice stalking, harassment, and violence. Many places, including Nova Scotia, have bubble-zone legislation or hospital policies prohibiting picketing near abortion clinics. The last shooting of an abortion provider in Canada was almost 30 years ago, when Dr. Garson Romalis was injured by a sniper.
Although Conservatives in Canada routinely bring forward private members’ bills to limit abortion, like the recent Bill C 233, to criminalize sex-selective abortion, none of these bills ever pass. If they did, we are confident there would be immediate legal action to overturn them before they even went into play: limits on abortion violate the Constitution in Canada.
PEI refused to allow abortion on Island for decades, but the instant a legal case was launched against them, the government cowed and opened a clinic. Abortion bans in Canada are unwinnable.
So instead of worrying excessively about how are patients might afford care, or obstructionist legislation, or our own risk of physical harm, in Canada we providers get to focus on how to extend and expand access: increase our competence to provide care at later gestational ages; link primary care medication abortion prescribers to back up providers; expedite diagnostic imaging; remedy gendered language; and reach communities we have not yet managed to provide with adequate care.
So here in Canada, the right to abortion care seems secure; accessibility is the bigger issue. And it is a big issue. What does it mean to have the right to health care if that health care is inaccessible? For many lower income, rural Canadians, it’s a struggle to get to a clinic or receive medical support while taking abortive drugs on their own.
Writing about the accessibility issue for the Toronto Star, Olivia Bowden looked at how spread out abortion providers are in Canada:
In New Brunswick, there are five abortion providers and all of them are in urban areas, meaning people in rural areas have to travel to gain access, according to data compiled by Action Canada for Sexual and Health Rights.
Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon also do not have a single rural clinic.
In populous provinces such as Ontario, there are only four rural clinics and British Columbia only has a single one.
Bowden spoke with a professor at the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa, Christabelle Sethna, about some of the difficulties that come with inaccessibility.
Clinics or hospitals may have limits on the number of weeks they will perform an abortion at, so many women have to find and pay for transportation quickly, or be faced with having to find another provider, potentially out of province, she explained.
Indigenous women also face impediments, especially if they live in remote regions and only have access to a single hospital for abortions — where they can encounter discrimination, she said.
A lot of the coverage I’ve read on this issue this week has dealt with opinion, legal precedent, polling, and statistics. What will politicians do to protect these rights? Where do they stand on the issue? How difficult is it to get an abortion already? Who is excluded from abortion services already due to geography and finances? How likely is it that the protection of health care rights for millions of people will soon be gone? What effect will the American decision have on other western countries?
A small sampling of very valid questions.
But the most compelling coverage I’ve read about this issue focuses on a different question. The most important question. What happens when we make abortions illegal?
Jessica Bruder tried to answer that question in an article she wrote for the Atlantic earlier this month, weeks before the leaked Supreme Court draft.
She spoke with women calling themselves post-Roe preppers or “vaginal preppers.” These are women from around the States, operating independently to educate women on how to perform abortions safely themselves and where to access abortion pills. Some have converted vans into mobile operating rooms that they plan to drive up and down state borders to provide care for low-income women who can’t travel out of state. One woman Bruder spoke with was in the middle of bulletproofing one such van. The irony of pro-life.
A ban on abortions prevents abortions as much as a ban on illicit drugs prevents illicit drugs. But a ban on abortions, unlike one on narcotics, criminalizes a medical procedure the World Health Organization has deemed essential health care. Made illegal, abortions will continue, but safety and accessibility will be huge barriers. Fears that lower-income women with no funds to travel to abortion-friendly states will resort to coat hangers or bleach are part of what’s driving the vaginal preppers’ efforts. In 1965, eight years before Roe, Bruder writes nearly a fifth of all maternal deaths in the US were the result of unsafe, illegal abortions.
So women prepare to take their health care into their own hands. One way they’re doing this is by stockpiling homemade devices for performing abortions, called Del Ems, which would allow women to perform abortions on themselves from home, should they be denied access to medicine or clinics. I’ll end with a passage from Bruder’s article, describing what the past, and possibly the future, of abortion in America looks like. Really, it’s a picture of what happens to abortions when they’re banned from regular health care:
One bright afternoon in early January, on a beach in Southern California, a young woman spread what looked like a very strange picnic across an orange polka-dot towel: A mason jar. A rubber stopper with two holes. A syringe without a needle. A coil of aquarium tubing and a one-way valve. A plastic speculum. Several individually wrapped sterile cannulas — thin tubes designed to be inserted into the body—which resembled long soda straws. And, finally, a three-dimensional scale model of the female reproductive system.
Ellie [the anonymous woman who demonstrated the device for Bruder] snugged the rubber stopper into the mason jar. She snipped the aquarium tubing into a pair of foot-long segments and attached the valve to the syringe’s plastic tip. In less than 10 minutes, Ellie had finished the project: a simple abortion device. It looked like a cross between an at-home beer-brewing kit and a seventh-grade science experiment.
The two segments of tubing protruded from the holes in the stopper. One was connected to a cannula, the other to the syringe. Holding the anatomical model, Ellie traced a path with the tip of the cannula into the vagina and through the cervix, positioning it to suction out the contents of the uterus. Next, to show more clearly how the suction process works, she placed the cannula into her coffee. When she drew back the plunger on the syringe, dark fluid coursed through the aquarium tubing and into the mason jar, collecting slowly within the diamond-patterned glass.
I had read about such devices before. But watching the scene on the beach towel brought history into focus with startling clarity: Women did this the last time abortion was illegal.
If you read one piece of long-form journalism this week, make it Bruder’s article. It really brings home the impact of this court decision.
Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — virtual meeting
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — virtual meeting
Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm) — virtual meeting
Trace (Thursday, 6:15pm, Room 101, Atrium Building) — free screening of award-winning documentary, followed by Q&A with co-directors Raluca Bejan and Ioan Cocan.
Public accounts of the 2015 European refugee crisis covered the issue through an individualizing gaze placed on the refugee subject. The refugee in suffering, an experience witnessed by us all, as a spectacle, from the distance: images of crowded tents, boats carrying overflowing numbers of people, children dying on Mediterranean shores. Trace turns the gaze outwards, scrutinizing the “space” of the crisis in which people seek refuge. Trace is an independent documentary project and was filmed in Greece, the UK and Canada in 2017.
More details here. Masks required.
Ceremony of Celebration for the Class of 2020 (Friday, 10am) — more info here
Ceremony of Celebration for the Class of 2021 (Friday, 3pm) — more info here
In the harbour
06:00: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
09:00: Asterix, replenishment vessel, sails from Dockyard for sea
10:00: One Majesty, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka (itinerary)
11:00: MSC Rochelle, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
13:00: Algosea, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
16:00: MSC Manya, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
16:15: Oceanex Avalon, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from St. John’s
16:30: ZIM Qingdao sails for New York
22:30: MSC Manya sails for New York
The mornings just seem to start earlier and earlier these days.