When I lived in Chico, a small town in the Sacramento Valley in northern California, I used to go to the library and read the 19th-century newspapers on microfilm. I learned that 19th-century Chico was a stereotypical western town, with wooden sidewalks, dozens of saloons patronized by hundreds of unruly cowboys, and most important, stoic law enforcement officers.
The western movies got that part right: the sheriff really was a bad ass.
Most towns (including Chico) quickly left the sheriff model behind and created an actual police force, but the cops were still bad asses. Their job, basically, was to be the tough dudes upholding civilization. They would patrol the streets at night, make sure the drunks weren’t getting too out of hand, and if so, drag them to the drunk tank and let them sleep it off. The cops regularly, nearly every night, got in fist fights and worse, but because they were so bad ass, they could handle it.
That spirit remained in law enforcement for a century and more, even here in Canada. Here’s how Jacob Boon describes the competition to become a cop in Halifax in the 1970s:
If you wanted the job back then, you had to fight for it. Police applicants in the ’70s were brought down to the department’s gymnasium and placed in a boxing ring with the largest opponent that could be found. The top brass would stand along the upper balcony, watching.
“You went toe-to-toe,” says Tom Martin. “You had to be able to hold your own.”
A lot of bad stuff came out of that tough-dude mentality, but let’s leave that aside and concentrate on the good stuff. Because it really was praise-worthy. The story we told ourselves was that cops were that thin blue line between civilization and utter chaos. Cops went out there every day and put their lives on the line, or at least risked personal danger, so that the rest of us could go to work and raise families and walk in the park without worrying about being robbed and attacked and worse.
It was always understood that cops were accepting some degree of risk. Sure, that mentally unstable person probably wasn’t a physical danger, but he might’ve been, and the cop would have to wrestle him down and bring him to the psych ward. That two-bit criminal was probably just a pathetic loser, but even pathetic losers might carry a knife, and the cop had to arrest him.
And for accepting that personal risk so the rest of us could have lives of relative peace, we rightly valourized cops. They were heroes.
But something happened along the way. In the public mind, the heroes had to be protected at all cost, because they were heroes. The very thing that made them heroes — accepting personal risk — is now the thing that is no longer allowed — any risk is too much to ask of them.
We see this attitude at its ludicrous extreme sometimes. A disturbed kid on a streetcar poses no conceivable risk to anyone at all, but maybe in some parallel universe the kid has a hidden gun so better to just shoot the kid dead and protect the cop. People shot dozens of times for looking the wrong way. A man gunned down in cold blood as he reaches for his wallet on a traffic stop.
And not only are cops no longer expected to accept any personal risk whatsoever, they’re now beyond criticism.
Take the case of Action Man Scott Warnica.
Scott Warnica is a staff sergeant with the Nova Scotia RCMP and an incident commander with the highly-trained Emergency Response Team — capable of employing specialized weapons, equipment and tactics to resolve high-risk situations.
Warnica knows how quickly things can go bad and how motivated terrorists can be, but said he’s comfortable taking his wife to the Games.
“Most of the terrorist threats occurred after we bought our tickets,” he said. “I think if you keep your wits about you and pay attention to your surroundings I think you’ll be fine.”
Warnica is already planning this trip with his training in mind.
“We have to get from our cruise ship in Sochi to the Olympic park — a distance of 12 kilometres,” he said.
“We’re going to avoid public transportation, avoid a lot of the public areas if we can.”
Scott Warnica believes the games will be safe, but he knows a terrorist would see spectators as valuable targets. His wife said all the talk about the danger is already a win for terrorists, especially because athletes are thinking about it.
So much for accepting any degree of personal risk. The other million tourists at Sochi were braver than the RCMP cop, and even, gasp!, took the bus.
And then last week, Halifax councillor Matt Whitman dared question Warnica.
Don’t get me wrong, Whitman can be a bit of an oafishly silly man. I don’t know how it happened exactly, but somehow his reverse-networking, weird Jesus cult thing morphed into one of the strangest Twitter accounts in Halifax.
During last week’s snowstorm, one of Whitman’s neighbours was clearing the cul-de-sac with an ATV fixed with a snow plow. This for some reason irked Warnica, who ticketed the neighbour for something or another.
Who knows? Maybe the neighbour deserved to be ticketed, but the ticket struck Whitman as small minded, and he said so on that strange Twitter account, using the hashtags #GetALife and #PowerTrip. (The tweet has been deleted.)
Was this impolite? Sure. But you know, it’s just Twitter. It’s not like Whitman was asking Warnica to take the bus.
Still and all, nowadays we can’t criticize the cops, because they’re heroes! Heroes who can accept no personal risk, not even the risk of criticism, but heroes all the same.
I get criticized every day on Twitter. You know what I do about it? I shrug it off because criticism is part of everyday life for a commentator. Arguably, criticism is also part of everyday life for a cop, but you know what Scott Warnica did when Whitman criticized him on Twitter? He called the mayor.
Think about how thin Warnica’s skin must be. You can probably see through it, right down to his frightened nerves.
This would simply be the story of a laughably thin-skinned cop, except city council yesterday took Warnica’s complaint and ran with it. Someone criticized a cop! Oh noes!
And so council went into closed session for two, then three hours to discuss the matter. Councillors came out of closed session long enough to eat dinner and hold a scheduled public hearing, but then went back into closed session to discuss it some more. I had better things to do than sit around and wait for council to announce that No one should ever criticize a cop ever, so I went about my night. I followed along on Twitter, however, and after four hours of secret discussion, council ordered Whitman to apologize to Warnica.
Yesterday just happened to be the four-year anniversary of the publication of A Trust Betrayed: Peter Kelly and the estate of Mary Thibeault. Readers will remember that after the article came out, councillors refused to discuss the matter at all. There were no in camera meetings about it. No councillor would be interviewed about it. It’s as if nothing had happened.
So here’s how it goes with Halifax city council: The mayor can secretly transfer $140,000 from a dead woman’s bank account into his own bank account, and no councillor will say a word. But when a councillor hurts a cop’s fee-fees, council goes into closed session for four hours and demands an apology.
2. Beer Garden
Back in 2013, the folks at Bar Stillwell approached the Waterfront Development Corporation and asked about the possibility of selling beer on the boardwalk. As Remo Zaccagna reported at the time:
More than a year ago, [Stillwell’s three owners] approached the provincial Waterfront Development Corp. with the idea for the beer garden.
“We looked at all kinds of spots, from parking lots, to empty spots, to next to other restaurants,” [co-owner Chris] Reynolds said. “We looked all over the city, we’ve been thinking about it for a good couple of years now. But the waterfront made a lot of sense to us, because it’s where a lot of people spend a lot of their time outside.”
Waterfront Development agreed to a space at the foot of Salter Street, near the Waterfront Warehouse. The Stillwell owners also put a lot of thought and work into creating a bar out of a shipping container:
The container was designed by Eric Stotts of Skin + Bones Building Design Workshop Inc. — Stotts is an uncle of Reynolds and MacDonald, who are siblings — and built in Burnside by CTS Container & Trailer Services Ltd. The tent-like structure that sits on top of the container was manufactured by Able Canvas near Moncton.
Reynolds said after nearly two years of work, from conception to construction, the structure looks like it belongs in the space.
This was a risky and dare I say bold initiative. Would Halifax’s iffy weather cooperate? Would Stillwell get caught up in Halifax’s love/hate relationship with alcohol?
But the beer garden was a tremendous success. I went there a lot after work last summer, as did thousands of other downtown office workers, the hipster crowd, tourists, and passersby. A nice little community formed on the steps and picnic tables, in the shade of the trees, overlooking the harbour. Besides old friends I’d meet up with at the garden, I probably met a dozen people I’d never known before. It was everything a beer garden should be.
But the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia filed a complaint. It wasn’t fair, said RANS, that other restaurant owners didn’t have the opportunity to come up with an original idea, work on it for two years, and pitch an entirely new concept to Waterfront Development.
I guess that’s how capitalism works nowadays: creativity is an unfair market advantage.
And so Waterfront Development was forced to put the beer garden spot out to tender, and Joseph McGuinnes, who owns the wannabe gastro bar Stubborn Goat and fake Irish bar Durty Nelly’s (any bar that calls itself an Irish bar is annoyingly pathetic) low-balled the bid and won the contract for the beer garden spot. The garden now will be branded with the Stubborn Goat logo.
Me, I’ll go up the hill and drink with the unfair creative people.
3. The burning weed with its roots in hell
“From a psychiatric perspective, regular use of cannabis in adolescence is associated with the development of psychotic disorders, depression, anxiety disorders and an increased risk of suicidal thoughts [in teenagers],” Dr. Selene Etches tells the CBC.
See also: teenagers who don’t smoke pot.
4. Wild Kingdom
“A rare whale found on a beach in Nova Scotia will eventually be on public display in the New Brunswick Museum,” reports the CBC. “The Cuvier’s beaked whale was found alive, stranded on a beach in New Harbour, N.S., on Feb. 7. It is likely the first recorded discovery of such a whale in the Atlantic region.”
1. Cranky letter of the day
I would like to apologize to Inverness County Council as it seems that I have insulted you and that my efforts to analyse and critique the airport proposal seems to have offended you. I assume this from the fact that council has not responded to any of my inquiries for additional information, nor have they refuted any claims that I made in my four articles earlier this year about the proposal.
The purpose of my submissions was that after doing a fairly thorough review of the proposal, I had very significant concerns with the proposal and the motivation for the proposal. I am sorry that Warden MacAulay and CAO O’Connor felt so threatened by this analysis that they asked to meet with me at Engage Inverness County in 2015, without asking me prior to the event, behind closed doors instead of publically. At this meeting, the only outcome was that Warden MacAulay felt that I had a lot of energy and that he asked that I direct that energy for the positive of the county.
Well, I am also sorry that Warden MacAulay does not seem to think an analysis of a $9 million proposal by our council by a Chartered Professional Accountant with 22 years of experience in reading and preparing proposals, financial statements and projections and advising not-for-profits, individuals and businesses as a positive thing for our county.
I had attended the Cheticamp public consultation on the proposal and had planned on reading my analysis at this meeting but I would have used up the 20-minute question and answer period, which I thought unfair to the other attendees. This 20-minute limit was a joke perhaps meant to limit the public consultation in my opinion. The presentation was skimmed over by council.
I am also sorry that I corrected the warden as to whether the proposal would cost any more than the three million dollars to the rate payers. You see, he indicated that the airport was projected on a break-even basis. However, the proposal indicates about $120,000 being contributed by the county to making the airport, so call, break-even which I had to point out to the warden and the public at large. Unfortunately, there is much more cost than I had previously determined as I perused the proposal further.
I have been slow at getting back to the people of the county on this since I have been in a battle with the county to access information that the public should have access to. My access to information request I sent October 19th, 2015 was not responded to within 30 days required and I had to file a complaint with the Provincial Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Nova Scotia who finally forced the Municipality to comply with Nova Scotia Law.
In the coming weeks I will point out another $114,000 in costs in the first year of operation of the airport not accounted for. This cost is estimated to total between $600,000 and $1,140,000 over 10 years. I will break down the true value of the jobs that council hopes will repopulate the county, highlight the annual shortfalls that the county has incurred in operations (losses) and highlight that based on current trends, residents of the county that do not get county water will be subsidizing the areas that do have county water. All this and more.
In the mean time, I ask area residents that are not happy with the county to make your voice known because this is all happening while our CAO, Mr. O’Connor got a 4.8 per cent pay raise in 2014 and another 5.3 per cent pay raise in 2015 and is now making almost $123,000 per year based on the audited financial statements.
As a final note, as I look today at the county website, the airport proposal seems to have been removed. Anyone wanting a copy of the proposal and my previous submissions may e-mail me at email@example.com and I will send you a PDF copy of these.
Daniel Paturel, Margaree
Halifax & West Community Council (6pm, City Hall) — Samir Metlej wants to build another crappy seven-storey apartment building in the Isleville/Almon area.
Public Accounts (9am, Province House) — Janet Knox, prez of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and Peter Vaughan, deputy minister of the Department of Health and Wellness, will be questioned about Mental Health Services, Programs and Strategy.
Out of the Past (8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — a screening of the 1947 film directed by Jacques Tourneur.
In the harbour
OOCL Italy, container ship, Cagliari, Italy to Fairview Cove, then sails to sea
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 4pm.