1. Board of Police Commissioners

A cop in a blue uniform, baseball hat, and wearing a pale blue mask and black gloves extends his arm in front of a crowd of people.
A Halifax Regional Police officer threatens to pepper spray protesters as officers transport an arrested man to a patrol car on Brunswick Street on Aug. 18, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“Halifax’s Board of Police Commissioners has retained a Toronto law firm to conduct an independent civilian review of the events of Aug. 18, 2021 for $250,000,” reports Zane Woodford.

Coun. Becky Kent, chair of the board, first said last week that the review would go ahead. When the Halifax Examiner asked about it, she didn’t elaborate.

Kent confirmed the news with a prepared statement following the board’s in camera session during its meeting on Wednesday.

“The Board of Police Commissioners for the Halifax Regional Municipality has commissioned an independent civilian review of the issues relating to the Board’s oversight, governance, and policy responsibilities that arise out of the response by Halifax Regional Police (HRP) to protests on August 18, 2021,” Kent said.

On that day, HRP officers, some with their name tags removed, pepper sprayed and arrested protesters attempting to block the removal of temporary shelters on the grounds of the former Halifax Memorial Library.

“Concerns have been expressed about the role and involvement of Halifax Regional Police in the eviction of unhoused and/or underhoused individuals and in its handling of the related protests,” Kent said.

Click here to read “Halifax police board hires Toronto law firm to conduct independent review of Aug. 18, 2021.”

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2. Cobequid Food Security Network

Three women wearing aprons and a man in a blue shirt stand in front of an array of food including bagels, saran-wrapped muffins, oranges, apples and juices.
Sackville Public Library’s community café staff and volunteers on April 28, 2023. Left to right, John Spence, Meghan Lawrence, Jasmina Kalic, Angela Loaiza. Credit: Yvette d'Entremont

Yvette d’Entremont recently spent some time in Lower Sackville where several organizations are collaborating to reduce food insecurity in the area. One of the places she visited was a community café in the Sackville Public Library.

When at the café, d’Entremont spoke with Tammy, a single mother who just started a new job, but is also facing eviction from her home. d’Entremont writes:

This was Tammy’s second visit to the community café. She learned of its existence through a calendar posted at the library. She described the weekly event as offering a “good atmosphere,” adding that she intends to continue dropping in for the free food, but also for the social connections.

Tammy isn’t alone. 

According to the Sackville library’s community navigator Shawn Gregory, over the last year the number of people attending the weekly café has more than doubled.

“People today may be coming here just to have some breakfast, or they may take some more items, too,” Gregory said in an interview. “Then this may be their breakfast for tomorrow or for the next day. And that’s OK. That’s what it’s for.”

d’Entremont also interviewed Denise VanWychen, coordinator of the Cobequid Community Health Board. VanWychen said the organizations started working together on the network in September and that it just made sense to pool their resources. She said the network is looking to expand to other communities, including Beaver Bank, Fall River, Waverley, Wellington, Hammonds Plains, Lucasville, and Stillwater Lake. VanWychen also pointed out the work is a Band-Aid:

Food banks were created as an emergency short-term solution to the fact that people needed food. This is not a solution to the food insecurity that’s happening in this province right now. It’s a Band-Aid. And it’s wonderful that we’re able to do what we’re doing, but it’s not sustainable.

Click here to read “Cobequid Food Security Network seeks help feeding the needs of community.”

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3. Vaccination records

A photo of a man wearing a burgundy T shirg, getting his vaccination from a nurse.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Steven Cornfield

This item is written by Yvette d’Entremont.

A new online service that will allow people to access their vaccination records was announced by the province on Wednesday.

In a media release, the Department of Health and Wellness said the VaxRecordNS service will list information since 2008 on school immunizations, some early childhood vaccinations like measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV), and COVID-19 vaccines. More records will be added over time. 

“I am so pleased Nova Scotians will now have a convenient and secure way to access their immunization records. VaxRecordNS will also help public health staff administer the records, saving valuable time and ultimately benefit our entire health system,” Dr. Ryan Sommers, Senior Regional Medical Officer of Health and Senior Medical Director Public Health for Nova Scotia Health, said in the release. 

“Vaccines are the best way to protect ourselves, our families, our communities and our health systems from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. VaxRecordNS will help everyone keep track of their records and stay updated on their vaccines.”

VaxRecordNS is available for use by those 16 years and older who have a Nova Scotia Health Card. People can register online here. Vaccination records of children and dependents under 16 can be connected to a parent or guardian’s VaxRecordNS profile.

More information about VaxRecordNS — and the full list of vaccines included through the service — is available here.  

The Department of Health and Wellness said VaxRecordNS will free up public health staff by eliminating many vaccination record requests. COVID-19 and flu vaccine records can still be accessed through CANImmunize, and all vaccination records can be requested through Nova Scotia Public Health

All school-based vaccination records — public, private, francophone, and home-school — are included in the new service. 

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4. Housing crisis

Apartment buildings under construction on Clyde Street in Halifax in June 2021. The new construction dwarfs an older building, which is itself only a couple of decades old. In the foreground you can see a bright blue cherry picker crane, and a yello tube through which trash drops into a dumpster. In front of the nearest building is a chain link fence, covered with multi coloured banners extolling the virtues of the construction company, the investors, and the future luxury accomodations. The banners are already worn and filthy.
Apartment buildings under construction on Clyde Street in Halifax in June 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

Andrea Bennett at The Tyee has this interview with Ricardo Tranjan, author of The Tenant Class. Bennett writes:

In Ricardo Tranjan’s new book The Tenant Class, he writes that the challenge for the housing “crisis” in Canada is not to find solutions, but rather, to “enact the solutions we know work: move as much provision as possible outside of private markets; tightly regulate the remaining market provision; organize tenants to ensure quality and access.”

Even calling it a housing crisis, Tranjan says, is off-base. It’s rather a situation that benefits some, namely those making good money squeezing tenants for all they’re worth, at the expense of others, namely tenants.

In B.C., this is untenable for many renters. In smaller cities and rural areas, not only is rent too high, but renters are struggling to even find available units. In Vancouver, the vacancy rate is low, too, and rents are sky high, a problem exacerbated by a lack of vacancy controls.

There were a couple of questions and answers that stood out for me. First, this bit on the term affordable housing:

Current public and policy conversations about housing often centre around “affordable” housing. But your book doesn’t — the term only comes up about 30 times. What’s the problem with focusing on “affordable” housing? What should we be focusing on instead?

I bet most of the mentions are in the sections where I’ve criticized the use of the term affordable housing?

Yes, yes. [Both laughing.]

I think the widespread use of “affordable” is yet another way by which we put a veneer of neutrality on the entire housing conversation.

By choosing “affordable” — versus “public,” versus “non-for-profit,” by saying “lack of affordability,” instead of saying “too expensive,” “there’s too much profit in it” — it’s yet another term that helps to disguise the power dynamics behind the so-called crisis.

Some do not have access to housing security, because others are profiting too much from the housing market.

So I not only do not use “affordable,” or use it as little as I can, I harshly criticize the use of the term because I want people to be more explicit about what is their ultimate normative view about housing.

Do they want it to be for profit? Are they okay with so much profit being made off of housing? Or do they think it is not okay, that the profit of some comes at the detriment of housing security for others?

I want those conversations, and I think affordability gets in the way of it.

And then there’s this exchange about renting:

About a third of people in Canada are renters. And it seems like many people living in cities expect to be lifelong renters. Does this signal a shift in Canadian society? What are the benefits to conceiving of renters as a distinct social class?

It is not new — the share of households renting has been fairly stable for a number of decades. What perhaps is changing, but it’s really hard to know for sure, is the attitude towards renting.

Traditionally, renting was seen as either a transitory place or a failure. So those who did not manage to transition from renting to homeownership and rented for life didn’t achieve the great milestone of the Canadian middle class, which is homeownership, and perhaps that is changing.

What I think is then important is to shift the debate and the political energy from the recurring political promises to access to homeownership, and to start demanding more political action on making renting a more viable alternative.

Click here to read or listen to the entire interview.

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5. Tents in Victoria Park

Tents are set up on the lush green grass of a city park. Behind the tent are trees and tall buildings.
Tents in Victoria Park in downtown Halifax. Credit: Jennifer Henderson

Bruce Frisko at CTV Atlantic has this story about concerns over the growing number of tents being set up in Victoria Park in Halifax:

Small by modern standards, the greenspace is one of the oldest in Halifax, first referenced in city minutes in 1898.

It’s also just steps away from the busy Spring Garden Road shopping district.

These days, though, it looks less inviting, with tents, tarps and sheds peppered over most of it.

The number of people living here seems to be growing by the week.

“Even according to all the studies across the country, anything more than four tents at an area, problems will begin,” said Sue Uteck, Executive Director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association. “This is an illegal campsite not sanctioned by HRM, yet they seem to be allowing it to grow.”

“The residents and the businesses are basically in fear for the residents of the park themselves.”

Uteck said some of the usual events scheduled to take place in the park have been moved elsewhere. And there are concerns about late night drinking, fights breaking out in the park (that stuff happened before tents were ever set up in any park in the city…)

Victoria Park is not an HRM sanctioned tent site like others in the city. CTV contacted HRM for a response and got this from spokesperson Ryan Nearing:

While the province is responsible to lead addressing homelessness across the province, the municipality also has an important role to play – and is committed to applying resources to support efforts aimed at helping to address homelessness in the Halifax region.

“The number of people experiencing homelessness is continuing to grow in the municipality, as well as the number of people forced to shelter outside. A focus of the municipality is to support those forced to shelter outside while they wait for other housing options, including options from the province, to become available.

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Common Roots Urban Farm hopes to find common ground with monthly community meals

A long lineup of people stand on a gravel pathway in a park on a sunny day. They are waiting for a meal that is being served in the park. There are two tables set up where food is set out in containers. People are scooping up the food and putting it on their plates.
A meal hosted at Common Roots Urban Farm BiHi. Credit: Contributed by Common Roots Urban Farm BiHi

You might be familiar with the plot of land on Bayers Road close to the BiHi that’s also next to a fire station and the former Bayers Road Shopping Centre.

Common Roots Urban Farm BiHi has been using that plot of land since 2019 for its community gardens. They moved to this location from a spot at Robie Street and Bell Road next to the QEII Hospital, they had used starting in 2012. They moved to the current location because of the hospital expansion. (Common Roots has a second location in Woodside in Dartmouth).

Common Roots has been growing, selling, and donating produce from this spot for years, but starting next month they’ll also be hosting monthly meals to feed the community. I chatted with Sara Burgess, the coordinator with Common Roots Urban Farm BiHi Park, on Tuesday. She told me these monthly meals were inspired by other events Common Roots hosts each year.

“Food is a great way to get people together. We’ve always had large celebrations on the farms. Our Harvest Hootenanny is one of the well known, well attended events we have in the fall,” Burgess told me during a phone interview.

“Last fall, there were over 300 people who attended. And what I noticed was far more people who are usually at the event were lined up there to eat. So, people are looking for more food. We kind of bring people together across some of the things that are dividing us right now and build trust so we can support one another. I wondered if having community meals would be a way to bring people together to build trust.”

Signs on a tall wooden board that say Common Roots, BiHi Park Urban Farm. The other text says "Common Roots is an urban community garden and space where all members of the community are welcome to visit and spend time." Behind the sign are wooden boxes where plants are growing. There are small orange signs in the gardens that say, "Please do not pick" or "help yourself." Behind the urban garden is an office building with the number 7075 on the roof.
Common Roots Urban Farm BiHi. Credit: Contributed by Common Roots Urban Farm BiHi.

The first montly meal is set for Thursday, June 8 at about 5pm. The monthly meals are funded by the Mental Health Foundation and the food will be prepared by Stone Hearth Bakery, a social enterprise also on Bayers Road that employs people who face employment barriers (Burgess said Stone Hearth buys some of its produce from Common Roots).

What the meal looks like depends on what’s involved. Burgess said they have a set budget per plate and meals will depend on what volunteers might be eager to prepare. 

“Right now we’re not thinking of it as a potluck situation,” Burgess said. “But things can evolve from the initial plan, so we will see what happens.”

Burgess said she is expecting about 40 people to attend each monthly meal, although she said that number could be higher.

“The feedback I got is we could see more than 40 people,” Burgess said. “It depends on what point in the season it happens, what communities are attending, if it’s communities where a lot of people are going away for the summer versus communities where people don’t go away as much for the summer.”

Burgess said these meals will be about more than the food.

“One of the things I think the farm as a community project offers is multiple levels of engagement. People can have a community plot. People can walk through the garden. Or people can just show up for an event or a community meal and it allows ownership and connection with other people using the garden at whatever level people can engage,” Burgess said. “I think that having community meals will further connect and engage people who are working in their plots, who are volunteering, and it will also connect other people who may be using the farm at other times. Neighbours who may not often set foot on the farm or chat with staff or farm participants.”

Burgess said they will put up conversation prompts throughout the garden to encourage chats among people attending and interpreters will be on hand as well.

I’ve driven past this urban farm many times and in the spring and summer its gardens are packed with growing plants, fruit, and vegetables. Burgess said she’s not sure the exact size of the land, but guessed it’s less than one acre in total.

“There’s probably more that can be jammed in there, but we’ve jammed in as much as we possibly could in that little piece of land,” Burgess said.

People tend to plots in a community garden on a sunny day. Each plot has a wooden box in which there is a small garden with different plants. Some of the plots have small signs or coverings over them. There is a small shed with grey shingles next to the plots and garden tools are stored in a blue bucket next to the shed. In the background is a two-storey office building with cars parked out front. There are a few trees lining the perimeter of the garden.
The Common Roots Urban Farm BiHi. Credit: Contributed by Common Roots Urban Farm BiHi.

The urban farm includes a mix of community-allotted plots, a market garden that sells and donates produce, and common plots where they grow some annual vegetables. Common Roots also runs the multicultural garden across the street that used to be operated by ISANS. Burgess said in total there are about 100 communty plots.

The farm had a bit of bad luck over the winter months when one of its sheds burned down. Burgess said they lost a wheelbarrow and other tools in the fire. And while there have been generous donations from HRM councillors and others, they still need help replacing some of those items.

And people can also donate money to buy a plot that someone else can use.

“Community gardens and community food spaces kind of offer this space that is different from the rest of the world we move through, where people get to connect in ways that we don’t when we’re just rushing down the street or rushing here or there,” Burgess said. “And they also offer an opportunity to try different ways to engage with one another, to kind of try living in a way that we maybe wish we could day to day, and maybe hopefully start to bring something out from these spaces back into the wider community.”

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Satanic Panic

A poster with an orange background that says "not today Satan" in black text.
I chose to use this photo over the one of the shirtless man dressed like a devil. Credit: Jon Tyson/Unsplash

I was a teenager in the 1980s and remember Satanic Panic well, so I am looking forward to watching the documentary Satan Wants You by Vancouver-based filmmakers, Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams. Leah Collins at CBC has this interview with Horlor and Adams about their documentary. Collins writes:

Satan Wants You reveals the untold history of the book that sparked the Panic, Michelle Remembers. Published in 1980, Michelle Remembers was written by Dr. Larry Pazder, a Victoria psychiatrist, and his patient Michelle Smith, a local housewife who’d sought treatment after a miscarriage. 

Under Pazder’s care, Smith underwent “recovered-memory therapy” — a practice that’s since been discredited — and the book recounts their extensive sessions together. The result was a best-selling work of horror, a memoir with a paperback tagline that promised the same checkout-line thrills as a V.C. Andrews joint: “The shocking true story of the ultimate evil — a child’s possession by the Devil!” 

That child was Smith, and her nightmare began at the age of five. It was then, Smith claims, that her mother gave her away to a Satanic cult. For 14 months, she would be held captive and tortured, witnessing ritual murders and mutilations, many involving babies. The public gobbled it up like so many cannibalized corpses, and as book sales took off, its authors became regular fixtures on TV, appearing on everything from Oprah to CBC’s Midday. Clips from their interviews appear throughout the doc. Perhaps more incredible still, Pazder and Smith were quickly established as authorities in “Satanic Ritual Abuse.” Psychiatrists and members of law enforcement would turn to them as experts on this brand new subject. 

Satan Wants You revisits that history, while including voices that were conspicuously absent during the duo’s time on the talk show circuit. Members of Smith and Pazder’s families appear on record for the first time. (The doctor and patient would later marry.) And in unpacking the origins of the Satanic Panic, the film touches on present-day conspiracy theories from Pizzagate to QAnon. 

This is a decent interview that looks at why Horlor and Adams decided to do a documenatary on Satanic Panic and who they got to talk for the film, including family members who never before went on record about all of this.

Like Collins, I didn’t know the Satanic Panic had its origins in Canada. I remember it well, though, including how it made the rounds on all the daytime talk shows.

Satanic Panic even hit Lower Sackville where I grew up. Some of my friends who got involved in an evangelical church in the community, which I won’t name here, had all sorts of thoughts about what was evil in the 80s and even well into the 90s: debit cards meant the end of the world was coming, if you were gay you were going to hell, if you did all kinds of good deeds, but weren’t saved by Jesus, you were going to hell, Princess Diana went to hell because she was an adulterer, so on and so on. Basically, a lot of people were going to hell for lots of reasons. These were interesting and frustrating conversations to have.

When I read the CBC story about Satan Wants You I remembered too a young boy in Lower Sackville who died by suicide. The story was that he was involved in a cult. I shared the story on Twitter on the weekend and someone who grew up in Sackville messaged me and remembered that story as well, including how local media covered it, interviewing the young boy’s teachers who read out excerpts from essays he wrote.

At the time, heavy metal music was seen as the culprit behind people getting involved in cults. The 1992 documentary Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance vs. Judas Priest tells the story of how Vance’s family sued the band Judas Priest because he said he was influenced to shoot himself because of the band’s music (Vance watched his friend, Ray Belknap, shoot himself in a churchyard).

In the 80s we didn’t talk at all about mental health. It certainly was never a conversation in schools and it was easier to blame the music kids listened to. Years later, video games would get the blame.

It was wild at the time, but these days we have folks panicking over other things: transpeople, drag queens, 5G, and so on. You know, things and people that are doing no harm while those panicking ignore actual issues we should try to fix.

Anyway, here’s a good article on the five stages and key players behind moral panics.

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Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda

Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda


No meetings

On campus

Saint Mary’s

The Poetry of the Dark Side (Thursday, 6pm, SB255, School of Business Building named after a grocery empire) — Jack Mitchell will give the inaugural May the Fourth Lecture on Star Wars and Religion. Refreshments, Star Wars trivia with prizes, and a rare screening; reserve your spot here.

In the harbour

06:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England 
07:30: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Sydney, on a seven-day cruise from Montreal to Boston 
08:00: STI Comandante, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for Saint John
11:45: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport to Pier 41
15:30: Zaandam sails for Bar Harbor 
16:00: Largo Elegance, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Antwerp, Belgium
16:30: Atlantic Sky sails for New York
19:00: UBC Tampico, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Sorel, Quebec

Cape Breton
18:00: Harmonic, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from Girassol offshore platform, Angola


In 1995, I went to a Halloween party and dressed up like the devil. I wore a headband with horns on it, and had a pitchfork, and wore a long red dress with feathers on the cuffs of the sleeves. Those feathers caught fire from the flame of a candle that was sitting on a table. I was about to do the stop, drop, and roll, but the fire was quickly extinguished and the party went on.

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Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor, covering the COVID-19 pandemic and health issues. Twitter @ydentremont

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