1. Biomass is not green energy, but that’s not stopping Nova Scotia Power
Her story starts off with bad news:
Now in its latest update, Nova Scotia Power states it will significantly increase its burning of biomass to generate more “renewable” electricity. The renewable is in quotes because whether it’s an accurate description depends on whether the wood being fed into the boilers has been clearcut or harvested sustainably. Most of the forest in Nova Scotia is still in private hands where new ecological policies around harvesting on Crown lands don’t apply.
And then gets worse:
That’s not all. Nova Scotia Power estimates its costs to purchase biomass will rise from $9.5 million in 2020-21 to $18.9 million in 2024.
The company is also planning to resurrect an inefficient biomass boiler at Brooklyn Energy that goes back to Bowater Mersey days 25 years ago. Brooklyn Energy is now owned by Emera, the parent company of Nova Scotia Power. The boiler has been offline since February because of storm damage, but Nova Scotia Power says it will be back in service for 2023.
So, we’re going to burn wood for electricity, call it renewable, and also pay more for it.
2. Eisner Cove wetland defenders arrested
The property next to Highway 111 in Dartmouth is one of the provincial government’s special planning areas, where it’s fast-tracking development in an attempt to ease the city’s housing crisis. That means Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr will decide whether development there goes ahead, subverting Halifax regional council’s usual process of public hearings. He’s already approved early tree clearing and earth moving at the site, even though the project isn’t approved.
Neighbours and environmentalists are concerned about the proposal from Clayton Developments and A.J. Legrow Holdings to build about 1,200 homes in the area. The developer will be building a causeway over the wetland, and run-off from the road network will threaten the health of what’s left of it.
Let’s be clear about what’s happening here. The provincial government has subverted the municipal planning process in favour of one where the Municipal Affairs and Housing minister can unilaterally decide where development occurs and under what conditions. The minister can approve clearing trees and moving earth for a project that will further enrich a well-connected development firm. No cops are going to move in and stop heavy equipment from clearing trees for a project that hasn’t even been formally approved yet, but if protesters use their bodies to prevent the work from going ahead — well, we can’t have that.
One of the people arrested was Darlene Gilbert, who is Mi’kmaw. Woodford writes:
Lil MacPherson was standing next to Gilbert when she was arrested. She said they were both standing on a hill near the property line, Gilbert tripped, and two nearby officers told her to move. She told them not to touch her.
“And then he just said, ‘Oh, you’re resisting arrest. You’re getting arrested,’” MacPherson said.
“She did not do anything wrong. They really jumped the gun and why they didn’t arrest me too, I don’t know.”
MacPherson said she thinks the police saw Gilbert as a threat.
“She’s a threat to the development because she wasn’t moving. She said I’m standing on unceded territory and she is. She has treaty rights. She is the only one that has rights, not us. So she was standing her ground and I think that they were keeping an eye on her because she had the most power,” MacPherson said.
A video of one of the arrests shows an office jamming the handlebars of his bicycle into a woman’s back while barking, “Move!” at her.
A news release from Halifax Regional Police said, ” Officer [sic] were on scene to ensure public safety for everyone in the area.” Prior to the arrival of police, there was nobody in the area other than the demonstrators, workers, and security guards. It is hard to believe the latter two groups feared for their safety.
Before we move on to the next item, I want to draw attention to the use of bicycles by police. I had never really given bike cops much thought until the summer of 2020, when it became impossible to ignore how police use bicycles as weapons against protesters — boxing them in, jabbing them, smashing them into the ground.
Bike cops were heavily involved in the August 18, 2021 evictions of unhoused people in Halifax. The Halifax Cycling Coalition and Halifax Bike Mayor released a statement at the time. It read, in part:
The Halifax Cycling Coalition and the Halifax Bicycle Mayor condemn the Halifax Regional Police’s use of bicycles as barricades and as weapons…. We call on the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP to immediately cease using bicycles as weapons, force protection, and crowd control tools.
3. Millions of public dollars lost as e-voting company restructures debt
Dean Smith founded Intelivote in 2003 to provide electronic and telephone voting services for municipal elections, political party leadership contests, union votes, and more. The company ran a few of HRM’s elections, and currently holds the contract for its next one.
What went wrong?
Essentially, the company got into the e-voting business early, but hasn’t had that many takers for its product.
“The original investment in Intelivote, which came from Nova Scotia Business Inc. (“NSBI”), Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (“ACOA”), and many others, has been dissipated by the lengthy time it took to get uptake from municipal and other governments, political parties, unions, and non-governmental organizations,” Smith wrote in the affidavit.
“This has resulted in Intelivote carrying for many years a substantial debt level, with no practical prospect of ever being able to retire that debt.”
Smith, the company’s only employee, tried to sell Intelivote to a number of suitors, but none was interested in his e-voting software or hardware, just his expertise and contacts.
“Intelivote is at a crossroads, as the continued operation of the company is unsustainable with the present level of debt,” Smith wrote.
4. Community land trusts offer an alternative approach to housing
How does it work? Here’s the short version:
Community land trusts are non-profit organizations that hold a piece of land for the benefit of the community. Assets on CLTs can include not only affordable housing, but also social enterprises, community gardens, and other spaces to be used for the community’s benefit. The land itself is taken off the marketplace while the houses can be purchased or rented by residents. The goal is to keep the housing, whether single-family units or apartments, affordable for the tenants long term.
“The community land trust is a model that tries to impose a new and different systemic model in the housing market,” [Kevin] Hooper [manager of partnerships and community development with United Way] said. “You’re taking the resources of a trust and buying property and assets under the condition that those assets remain in a community’s hands, one way or another, in perpetuity, therefore you’re kind of eliminating that inflationary pressure that’s the major problem right now.”
“Increasingly, housing is becoming unaffordable and unattainable. We need a system that really intervenes in that. The community land trust is a system that is separate, autonomous, and geared toward the interests of low and moderate income households. That extended benefit is that it still lets the private sector do what it does. They can go on and provide service to those who can afford their services. Meanwhile, we can have another system that ensures everybody else has some options.”
Rent looks at community land trust projects in the early stages in Halifax, and in historic Black communities in Truro and Upper Hammonds Plains. And, she writes, they are not just about housing, but also about community:
Curtis Whiley grew up in Upper Hammonds Plains and is a sixth generation African Nova Scotia. His great-great-great grandfather came to Upper Hammonds Plains in 1815 as an emancipated slave and started a sawmill in the community…
“This is a model that’s not really been used in Atlantic Canada for this purpose. Community land trusts have a history, a Black history that I think because of the unique history of our communities here it’s something we have to be using,” Whiley said.
See, there are approaches other than just letting one guy decide who can build what where with no consultation.
5. Lawsuit claims Halifax firefighter sexually assaulted volunteer
This item is written by Zane Woodford
A man alleges a Halifax firefighter sexually assaulted him when he was volunteering for the service in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and then the municipality fired him.
In a statement of claim filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court last month, naming Halifax Regional Municipality as the defendant, MJ alleged Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency (HRFE) employee Tony Bitar sexually assaulted him on multiple occasions.
The Halifax Examiner is not identifying the plaintiff, as a victim of alleged sexual assault, but rather using his initials.
The allegations in the statement of claim have not been tested in court, and the municipality has yet to file a defence.
“In or around the year of 1998, the Plaintiff, then 19 years of age, began working as a volunteer firefighter. The Defendant placed Tony Bitar as the Plaintiff’s immediate superior during his course of employment,” MJ’s lawyer, Mike Dull, wrote in the statement of claim, filed August 18.
“During the course of his employment with HRFE, from approximately 1998 to 2003, the Plaintiff was subjected to repeated sexual assaults by Tony Bitar. These acts took place over the course of [MJ]’s employment with HRFE and would be perpetrated on the Plaintiff in his place of employment.”
MJ reported the assaults to police and the allegations were substantiated, Dull wrote, but “no charges were laid for other reasons.”
Dull wrote that MJ told the municipality about the assaults, and not only did it continue to employ Bitar, it also punished MJ.
“In or about 2003, the Plaintiff was reprimanded by HRFE for filing the complaint in respect to Tony Bitar. The Plaintiff’ s employment with HRFE was terminated in or about 2006,” Dull wrote.
According to his LinkedIn, Bitar has worked for the Department of National Defence since 2006, but only left HRFE in December 2021.
Dull argues HRM owed MJ a duty of care to ensure it was providing a safe work environment and to properly screen, train, and supervise its staff, and it failed to do so.
HRM is “vicariously liable for the actions of its agents, employees, servants, and contractors,” Dull wrote.
“Specifically, the Defendant placed Tony Bitar in a position of authority over the Plaintiff, where he could abuse, and did abuse, the position of power granted to him. The Plaintiff was vulnerable to this abuse of power and suffered damages as a result.”
MJ is seeking to-be-determined general, special and aggravated damages.
1. Tyre extinguishers: direct action against SUVs
The Tyre Extinguishers are a UK-based direct-action group dedicated to “mak[ing] it impossible to own a huge polluting 4×4 in the world’s urban areas.” Their tactics are simple: deflate the tires of SUVs, using easy instructions found on their website, then leave a leaflet on the windshield of the car explaining what they’ve done and why. The American English version of the leaflet says, in part:
We have deflated one of your tires.
You will be angry, but don’t take it personally. It’s not you. It’s your car…
You will have no difficulty getting around without your gas guzzler, with walking, cycling, or public transit.
The group encourages activists to avoid the following:
Cars clearly used for people with disabilities, traders’ cars (even if they’re large), minibuses and normal-sized cars.
They say electric and hybrid SUVs are “fair game” though.
Tyre Extinguisher actions have recently come to Canada. In late July, they deflated the tires on 34 SUVs in Victoria and Oak Bay, BC. They also have said in media releases and on Twitter that they’ve taken action in Ontario and in Montreal on September 5, deflating tires in Outremont and the Town of Mount Royal.
SUV owners who have come back to their cars to find their tires deflated are, as is to be expected, not happy. Scottish paper The Herald reported on BBC Eastenders star Jessie Wallace’s reaction after her Range Rover fell victim of the Tyre Extinguishers:
The-50-year-old actress said on social media: “These a***holes should be locked up for the chaos they are causing.”
Now, I’ve noticed that other media covering the Tyre Extinguishers tend to not reveal the method for deflating tires, perhaps for fear of appearing to endorse the action, but that seems a bit coy. After all, you can find out yourself with a five-second web search. Here’s the technique: unscrew the cap of the tire valve, stick a lentil onto the valve, then screw the cap back down.
In the tradition of direct action groups, the Tyre Extinguishers are leaderless, decentralized, and anonymous. I interviewed one of their spokespeople by email, and asked about targeting individuals over what is at heart a systemic problem. “We believe that in general, individuals should not be targeted. However, there comes a point where the consumption of an individual is so massive, so egregious, so unnecessary, that they become a target. We believe the owners of massive gas-guzzling death machines fall into this category,” the spokesperson said. “SUVs are ‘luxury emissions’ — totally unnecessary emissions done by the world’s richest people… So they must be targeted.”
I noticed one man on Twitter saying his wife’s SUV had been deflated, and she’s an emergency pediatrician who was on call. “It’s funny how every SUV we seem to deflate seems to belong to a pregnant doctor who has to drive immediately to her farm,” the spokesperson said. “We are constantly given these hypotheticals, but ultimately, if people want a reliable vehicle that they will not wake up to find deflated, they shouldn’t drive an SUV.”
One of my Examiner colleagues said the Tyre Extinguishers were “gonna get people killed.” In a heavily armed society like the US, is there a risk that someone deflating SUV tires could find themselves shot? The spokesperson was not concerned: “On the subject of American drivers shooting us, this is again all macho bullshit. We have had literally thousands of Americans send us photos of their guns, tell us they’re going to shoot us, etc. Shoot someone for putting a lentil in a tyre and then go to jail for life? Bullshit.”
I mean, people have been shot and killed for putting too much mayonnaise on a sandwich, and as a result of an argument in the drive-thru lane of a fried chicken restaurant, so I’d say it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
2. Alanis Obomsawin turns 90
Alanis Obomsawin turned 90 last week. Perhaps the best-known Indigenous filmmaker in Canada, Obomsawin has created an unparalleled body of work. For the last 50 years, she’s pretty much made a film a year. You can screen all her films free online from the National Film Board of Canada. (Disclosure: I do freelance work for the NFB.)
Obomsawin is perhaps best known for her epic documentary Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, which is available in both English and Mohawk versions. Tensions ran so high when she was shooting the film, that a small group of people at the NFB hid the footage, for fear that the police would raid the Film Board in order to identify or otherwise gain information about the Mohawk Warriors and others protecting their territory. But her work is varied, ranging from portraits of individuals, to Indigenous communities fighting for their rights, to autobiography and fable. Her most recent film, Upstairs with David Amram, is based on a conversation with Amram at the legendary Montreal jazz bar, Upstairs. (I’m sorry, but I cannot see his name without immediately hearing Raffi singing, “A peanut butter sandwich made with jam / One for me and one for David Amram.”)
Obomsawin started her career as a singer, before going to work at the NFB in 1967. Her 1988 album Bush Lady was re-released in 2018, and she performed songs from it at festivals in Montreal and Brussels.
In an overview of Obomsawin’s work on the NFB website, Jason Ryle, the former executive director of the ImagineNATIVE media arts organization, writes:
Alanis Obomsawin’s body of work is more than a noteworthy set of numbers. To say she’s prolific is an understatement, in that it’s not quite an accurate way to characterize the fact that she’s created over 50 films, a rare feat for any filmmaker. What this body of work represents is a profound legacy, and one not unlike a prism. When one contemplates the entirety of her work, one can see how her films refract and reflect on so many aspects of our lives, our histories, and our aspirations. For more than five decades, Alanis Obomsawin has asserted an uncompromising, fierce, and unprecedented cinematic space for Indigenous perspectives, faces, and places.
Her voice — an essential part of her work — reverberates beyond her signature narration and takes root in your heart, mind, and spirit. Yes, she is a remarkable filmmaker with multiple honours and awards, each one richly deserved, and deserving of many more. Yes, she is one of Canada’s greatest filmmakers, and one of the world’s great documentarians. And yes, she is certainly La Grande Dame of global Indigenous cinema, beloved by the many she continues to inspire.
During my very brief tenure as an NFB employee, I had an office near Obomsawin’s. I remember her as intense, gracious, and funny. In one of my first weeks on the job, one of my tasks was to write a marketing plan for her film Spudwrench: Kahnawake Man, about high steel worker Randy Horne, who was known as Spudwrench behind the lines at Kanehsatake.
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. (This is an understatement.) But I did know I was supposed to consult with filmmakers on their visions of their films, for marketing purposes. So I invited Alanis into my cavernous office (prior to budget and job cuts three people had worked there, and now it was just me), and she sat there quietly while I asked her questions like, “What are the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences for this film?”
What I recall is that after listening to me blather on for a bit, she looked at me and said, “What the fuck is this shit? Write whatever you want.” It was great. Rather than my feeling intimidated, it was liberating. She just wanted to be left alone to make films, and people like me could deal with all the other shit.
Happy belated birthday, Alanis.
I’ve been thinking a lot about AI-generated art and what it means, and I’ll probably write something about it at some point. AI illustration programs learn from the work of real human artists. As Charlie Warzel put it in his Galaxy Brain newsletter, in reference to one of these AI art generators:
“DALL-E is trained on the creative work of countless artists, and so there’s a legitimate argument to be made that it is essentially laundering human creativity in some way for commercial product.”
This morning, Warzel revisits the question in his latest newsletter. “What’s really behind those AI art images?” he asks:
My biggest concern is that the datasets that these tools are trained off of are full of images that have been haphazardly scraped from across the internet, mostly without the artists’ permission. Making matters worse, the companies behind these technologies aren’t forthcoming about what raw materials are powering their models…
Others remarked that there was a wealth of copyrighted material in the dataset, enough to conclude that the AI art–ethics debate will almost certainly get tied up in the legal system at some point.
So, I find it interesting, given that these AI art programs are appropriating the work of humans for their own creations, that one of the AI companies whose email list I’m on is using this image as a way to promote their new art-generation tool:
Speaking of copyright, the UK has created a copyright exemption for “text and data mining for non-commercial research.” But non-commercial can quickly morph into commercial, as Warzel notes has happened with the AI art generator Stable Diffusion:
Stable Diffusion is based on enormous datasets collected by a whole other company: a nonprofit called LAION. And here’s where things get dicey.
As [programmer Andy] Baio notes in his post, LAION’s computing power was funded in large part by Stability AI. To complicate matters, LAION’s datasets are compiled by Common Crawl, a nonprofit that scrapes billions of web pages every month to aid in academic web research. Put another way: Stable Diffusion helped fund a nonprofit and gained access to a dataset that is largely compiled using a different academic nonprofit’s dataset, in order to build out a commercial tech product that takes billions of randomly gathered images (many of them the creative work of artists) and turns them into art that may be used to replace those artists’ traditionally commissioned artwork. (Gah!)
Board of Police Commissioners (Wednesday, 12:30pm, online) — agenda
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm, online) — agenda
Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Grant Programs – May 29, 2018 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 1 (2022 Report of the AG-Follow-up of 2017, 2018 and 2019 Performance Audit Recommendations), with representatives from Departments of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Finance and Treasury board, and Natural Resources and Renewables
In the harbour
07:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, moves from anchorage to Gold Bond
09:30: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
15:00: NYK Rigel, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Hamburg, Germany
15:30: MOL Maestro, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
16:00: MSC Sandra, container ship, moves from anchorage to Fairview Cove
06:15: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Charlottetown, on a seven-day cruise from Montreal to Boston
16:00: Lambert Spirit, barge, and Lois M, tug, sail from Sydport for sea
16:00: Polar Prince, tender, sails from Mulgrave for sea
16:30: Zaandam sails for Halifax
Pickling, jam-making, dehydrating, and fermenting in full swing over here. Also, we are going to Fundy National Park for the first time, so I am open to your suggestions on what to do there.