1. Council considers tougher penalties on landlords for egregious behaviour

Rotting window in abandoned house with cedar shingles.
Abandoned house in Lower Prospect. Photo: Dennis Jarvis, Flickr.

At yesterday’s meeting, Councillor Waye Mason, long a champion of licensing landlords, proposed tougher penalties for landlords who deliberately make their properties uninhabitable in an attempt to force out tenants.

As usual, Zane Woodford covered the meeting for the Examiner. He writes:

Mason brought a motion to council on Tuesday asking municipal staff to incorporate a fix to the issue in an upcoming report on a residential rental registration system.

In that report, Mason wants staff to “include options for strong penalties up to and including the maximum statutory amount, and rapid respond to remediate any unit where, in the opinion of the municipality, a landlord has deliberately made a unit uninhabitable and/or non-compliant.”…

Mason wants to throw the book at any landlord flouting the law, doing away with warnings and moving straight to fines — potentially even using the maximum fine of $10,000, applied per day.

And he wants inspectors on site as quickly as possible.

Councillors shared horror stories they have heard — a landlord turning off the elevator in a seven-storey building, another removing the doors and windows from an apartment. I don’t know if landlords are particularly sensitive, but at least two of the councillors made sure to note that not all landlords are bad, and a third worried about protections for landlords. Woodford writes that Councillor Trish Purdy said:

“When I read that landlords are taking doors off of their tenants’ apartments, I don’t see cruelty there, I see desperation.”

I am hoping someone looks into the claim we keep seeing repeated that with rent increases temporarily capped by the province at 2% it will be impossible to do essential maintenance. Is it really impossible? Or is it just impossible without, you know, borrowing some money at low interest rates, as people do. Have the people who claim they won’t be able to maintain their units been diligently maintaining them until now?

Read all of Woodford’s story here.

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2. Could the convention centre be used as a homeless shelter?

Feels like home? Photo: Halifax Examiner

In another story coming out of yesterday’s council meeting, Zane Woodford looks at councillor Lindell Smith’s suggestion that the convention centre be used as a temporary shelter, in the face of the housing crisis.

The convention centre  is projected to lose $11.1 million dollars this year.

Woodford reports that there was some confusion at council about whether the issue had been previously raised with Events East, which manages and operates the convention centre.

There has not been any reach out from either of our shareholders, so the municipality or the province, with respect to that specific issue,” Carrie Cussons, Events East’s president and CEO, replied.

“We’re always open for a conversation about how we can be helpful to the community. I guess I will leave that in the hands of either the municipality or the province to reach out on that.”

Mayor Mike Savage said he thought there had been a discussion around using the convention centre for shelter space during the first wave, but Cussons repeated there had not been any “reach out.”

Savage said he’d been in talks recently about emergency shelters, and suggested chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé and Erica Fleck, the municipality’s district chief of emergency management, should bring the issue to Cussons.

Read the full story here.

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3. COVID-19 update: 10 new cases

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In his daily COVID-19 update, Tim Bousquet reports that the province announced 10 new cases yesterday, after having done an astounding 4,138 tests the previous day.  St. Margarets Bay Elementary is also closed today because of a case connected with the school.

Bousquet has also updated his graphs and super-helpful map of all potential COVID-19 exposure sites. He also reports on the province’s update yesterday, at which chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang raised concern about the number of close contacts of people testing positive:

Strang said the restrictions put in place last week will stay in effect until at least Dec. 9, but they will be evaluated as that date approaches.

Of particular concern, Strang said, is that contact tracing has shown that the people who have tested positive in the second wave of the disease have had on average eight close contacts. In comparison, in the first wave, the average number of close contacts was three.

Read the full story here.

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4. Elliot Page comes out

Elliot Page

In an Instagram post yesterday, Oscar-nominated actor and documentary filmmaker Elliot Page came out as trans:

Hi friends, I want to share with you that my name is Elliot, my pronouns are he/they and I am trans. I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived at this place in my life.

I feel overwhelming gratitude for the incredible people who have supported me along this journey. I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self. I’ve been endlessly inspired by so many in the trans community. Thank you for your courage, your generosity and ceaselessly working to make this world a more inclusive and compassionate place. I will offer whatever support I can and continue to strive for a more loving and equal society.

Read the full story here.

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5. Canada joins other countries in ocean protection commitment

Rocks and pounding waves
Waves crash in Indian Harbour, on St. Margaret’s Bay. Photo: Philip Moscovitch
Waves crash in Indian Harbour, on St. Margaret’s Bay. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

The CBC’s Paul Withers looks at the federal government’s “non-binding pledge to sustainably manage 100 per cent of its oceans by 2025.”

The pledge, he writes, includes protecting marine waters, reducing plastic, and working to improve fish stocks.

Withers writes:

“I think we’ll see in the next months, not years, whether this government is moving on this new strategy that they’ve signed on to,” said Josh Laughren, executive director of the environmental group Oceana Canada.

“This isn’t the first time governments have signed on to non-binding, long-term commitments, and people tend to get wary of more of those.”

Anya Waite of the Ocean Frontier Institute, based at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said oceans are too important to the planet’s future not to act to protect them.

“The ocean controls our climate, carries 100 times the heat of the atmosphere and 50 times the carbon,” she said. “If we don’t have the oceans front and centre, we can’t understand climate change and we need development of the blue economy to include sustainability.”

He also quotes University of Washington scientist Ray Hilborn, who says that protecting 30% of marine waters may simply mean that fishing moves elsewhere, and that this alone is not a sufficient measure, especially in light of climate change.

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Suzannah Showler’s “Crazy Wisdom: A Love Story”

The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, where Chogyam Trungpa’s ashes are interred. Photo: Wikipedia
The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, where Chogyam Trungpa’s ashes are interred. Photo: Wikipedia

Writer Suzannah Showler has an extraordinarily good first-person essay, published November 24 in Hazlitt. The piece, called “Crazy Wisdom: A Love Story” explores her parents’ lives and their relationship to the Shambhala community (through which they met). It also outlines the history of Chogyam Trungpa and Shambhala, and very thoughtfully grapples with questions of leadership, charisma, abuse, and individual life journeys.

The first time I attended a Shambhala event (this was back in Montreal, in the 90s) I had your classic hippie-type view. I can’t remember if I had started my religious studies degree yet or not, but I was certainly interested in the many manifestations of religion, and off I headed to the Shambhala Level One weekend, where I spent a lot of the time meditating seated behind some surfer dude who I irrationally found annoying.

One of the things that quickly surprised me about Shambhala was its formality. That, I soon learned, grew out of Trungpa’s teaching a bunch of hippies in the early 70s. Showler writes:

…The broader point was this: Trungpa wanted his students to get their shit together. Because in a weird way, he was kind of a conformist. Despite his shock tactics and irreverence, his claim to be exposing the limitations of convention, he also had a pragmatist’s belief that if you want to change a system, you have to do it from the inside. He demanded his students be joiners, that they groom themselves for the world, enter into society with others. And so even as they delved deeper into an esoteric spiritual practice, Trungpa devotees who stuck around also started wearing suits, cutting their hair, getting real jobs.

If you look at videos of some of the early talks Trungpa gave in the US (and Showler has watched lots of them), it’s striking to see all these shabby long-haired folks sitting around while Trungpa sits at the front of the room in a suit, expounding for hours with few or no notes. However, he was not inaccessible. As Showler writes:

Chogyam Trungpa was a guru who both totally embodied and totally rejected the trappings of the role. Part of his appeal was a downward mobility, holiness-wise: he didn’t seem to hold himself aloft, hadn’t made himself inaccessible in his enlightenment. Students took this as a kind of democratic generosity, even sacrifice. Trungpa was more fun than your average guru, but also more fallible. It was a kind of lifelong, full-bodied act of translation: the spiritual making itself accessible, allowing itself to be corrupted by the impoverished conditions of the material in the process. As his students imagined it, Trungpa chose to live in the world because he was choosing them.

But while Trungpa would say his more radical behaviour was meant to destabilize the implications of authority itself, the claim to be manifesting crazy wisdom also implied an authority and power beyond reproach. The logic of crazy wisdom was a total surrender to Trungpa’s whims—faith that whatever he did, no matter how outrageous or shitty, it was ultimately serving some higher-order aim.

This is where we get the intersection of horrendous, abusive behaviour and religion.

Showler’s parents, who moved to Halifax, got out early. She writes:

Here, her world shrunk to Trungpa devotees and Kalapa courtiers, and my mother’s doubts about Vajradhatu only increased. She began to openly question where the organization was going. “If you leave, you’ll lose all your friends,” she remembers one woman telling her.

My father’s priorities were changing, too. My sister was born when he was in his final year of law school. His ties to Vajradhatu weakened casually, like a hobby you let linger in the basement, a friend you find yourself not making plans with and can’t quite say why.

My parents’ journey into Buddhism took a decade. The trip out was much quicker. After he graduated in 1983, my father got a job at a legal aid clinic in Ottawa. They got into their Ford Mercury Lynx and made what was then, on a less-developed highway, a solid eighteen-hour drive west—my one-year-old sister protesting her car seat, rain haunting them down the TransCan—and were never Buddhist again.

I called this essay extraordinarily good, and I fear I am really not doing it justice. You should read it. It weaves together personal history, a finely drawn portrait of Showler’s parents, and larger issues of identity and religious belief and practice.

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“Freeman on the Land” bullshit

A photo of a sign saying private keep off
This land is my land. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Lawyer Barbara Darby is back with a blog post about the 2013 case of R. v. Duncan, heard by Justice Fergus O’Donnell in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Matthew Duncan (who represented himself in court) was seen by a police officer turning out of the parking lot of his building in Grimsby, Ontario, at 2:48 AM without using a turn signal. Usually, in these circumstances, people hand over their licence and registration. But not Duncan, who handed the officer a red binder.

Darby writes:

He handed the officer “a red binder, and told Constable Eles that he would be giving him a fee schedule. He told the officers that they had no jurisdiction over him and accordingly had no authority to arrest him.” The confrontation escalated quickly. Duncan was charged with assault on police for kicking and punching them in the course of resisting arrest, and one officer tased him and put him in handcuffs.

Duncan then went to court spewing some “Freeman on the Land” bullshit about how the court had no jurisdiction over him, etc, etc, but Justice O’Donnell wasn’t having any of it. He has a lot of fun writing about how the Internet can be great, but it also provides all kinds of garbage information, allowing people like Duncan to think the courts have no control over them. Darby quotes him at length, but I’ll just give you a little snippet here (while encouraging you to read her whole post):

In its benevolent manifestations, [the internet] has enormously increased and expedited access to useful information of all sorts, increased global awareness of myriad events, facilitated family and commercial communication across national boundaries in the blink of an eye and helped topple dictators… For the purposes of this case, the relevance of the internet is its un-policed “garbage in/garbage out” potential and its free-market-of-ideas potential to lure in otherwise pleasant and unsuspecting folk with all manner of absurdity and silliness.

Interestingly, after dispensing with the “Freeman on the Land” bullshit, O’Donnell acquits Duncan.

Darby writes:

While Duncan’s refusal of jurisdiction is dismissed, it is also important to think about where and how the law legitimately speaks. It isn’t a throw-away issue, in particular in a country of settler law and the enforcement of rights that have been defined and enforced by a very particular group of people.

It was also incredibly timely to read about “you’re not the boss of me” arguments, when my home province is sadly making the news with anti-mask protests. Will the anti-maskers be anti-vaxers?

I’m glad Darby has kept up her blog, even if she doesn’t post quite as often as she likes to. She’s always pulling up interesting cases, and I appreciate her perspective on them.

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North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — agenda and info here.


Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — agenda and info here.



Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — December 2020 Report of the Auditor General – Financial; more info here.

On campus



Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Seminar (Wednesday, 4pm) — Trần Thanh Tâm (Tam) Phạm will talk about “Understanding the variable bioactivity of apelin isoforms elicited through their cognate GPCR”; followed by Kathleen Vergunst with “Exploring the structural stability and assembly mechanism of hydrophobin proteins.” Info and link here.


Keynote (Thursday, 11am) — Architecture lecture with Angelo Bucci from the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Info and link here.

Wicked Civic Challenges Collective Action (Thursday, 12:30pm) — from the listing:

Public safety, food security, aging infrastructure, climate change, fiscal sustainability and economic readiness amidst COVID-19 are just a few dominant strategic topics that defy traditional strategic planning. Now more than ever, civic leaders require creative approaches to seek strategic success. Do you feel these complex issues and opportunities facing today’s communities require innovative solutions? This webinar is inspired by our Executive Certificate in Local Government, which begins on February 10th. Explore social innovation approaches and techniques to deal with complex organizational and community challenges facing elected officials and staff. Gain insights to initiate and sustain multi-stakeholder collective action.

Registration here.

A photo of Nichole Austin
Nichole Austin. Photo: Twitter

Assessing the impact of reproductive health policy on abortion and conception (Thursday, 2pm) — Nichole Austin from McGill University will talk.

Policies have the capacity to shape reproductive health outcomes by influencing access to, and the quality of, relevant types of care. However, assessing policy impact in the absence of randomization is challenging, and high-quality evidence on the effects of key policy shifts is consequently lacking. In this talk, I discuss two categories of reproductive health policy: 1) policies regulating abortion, and 2) policies regulating conception. I begin by describing the effect of targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws on abortion rates and provider availability in the United States, which I quantify using a quasi-experimental (difference-in-differences) design. I then address an abrupt shift in assisted reproductive technology (ART) funding in Québec and its potential consequences, which range from population-level changes in pregnancy and birth outcomes to individual-level changes in treatment uptake and clinical outcomes. This presentation will explore the nuances of rigorously evaluating reproductive health policy, summarize key contributions to this area to-date, and highlight future research directions.

Info and link here.

In the harbour

06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
08:30: Macao Strait, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Setubal, Portugal
11:00: Budapest Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
11:30: Dalian Express, container ship, sails from Bedford Basin anchorage for Dubai
11:30: Macao Strait sails for Mariel, Cuba
15:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
18:30: Largo Desert, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from New Orleans
19:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails from Anchorage #1 (south of Georges Island) for sea
22:30: Atlantic Star sails for New York


Rain, rain, rain, rain. At least I’m not worried our firewood will run out this year.

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Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

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  1. Regarding the “freeman on the land bullshit” comment on the internet ; its true. With the flood of information out there one must be careful to qualify the source. This case could have been a non issue but like myself and many of the gullible travelers on the WWW we believe because the info syncs with our individual agendas regardless of the source. However the police could have given this man a warning. Warnings are the most valuable tool police have regards public education in terms of the law and a positive public/police relations gesture.

  2. Big thanks for the recommendation on the Suzannah Showler piece. So darn good – best creative non-fiction writing I’ve read in a looong time.

    Typo/edit note: Suzannah with an “h” on the end.

  3. With regard to rental property maintenance, it is all tax-deductible, as are many other expenses such as landlord paid utilities and property management expenses. Since preventive maintenance is usually cheaper than repair, landlords can make more money by addressing problems like leaks right away. Unless the goal is to let the property deteriorate until it is a tear down – which is where bylaw enforcement comes in.

    1. It once was that a good number of landlords saw themselves as providers of accomodation and felt obligated to maintain premises for the well being of their tenants. That has changed. Most now seem to be only interested in maximizing profits. Worst of the lot are REITs which openly profess to be only out to make as much as possible on behalf of their shareholders. That means deferring maintenance, preventative capitol investments etc. Public entities have stood silently without recognizing the terrible social
      disaster unfolding in slow motion before them. The problem goes far beyond rent control as a solution.

        1. autocorrect…

          But yeah, if I may criticize the author of this morning file, REITS cause far more human suffering than freemen-on-the-land do, every day. REITS affect me far more than ISIS ever did. Recently, it has been fashionable to compare pickup truck convoys with Trump flags to pickup truck convoys with ISIS flags. What is there to say about REITs that vandalize our skyline with gaudy signs, funnel tremendous amounts of unearned wealth into the real-estate market and drive many into permanent poverty? When do we start treating these entities as a foreign occupation government that should be resisted by any means necessary?

          1. Did I say anything comparing damage caused by REITS with damage caused by Freeman on the Landers?

  4. The Freeman of the Land are a more robust movement here in Alberta – I have dealt with them in my career a few times. Mostly when it comes to jurisdiction over their land by municipalities, etc. However, I have received a few letters from individuals in jail who have declared their sovereignty and thus that the courts and the Canadian prison system has no authority over them and they are being held prisoner illegally. Their correspondence was always well researched if not dubious in its understanding of the law, etc.

    Another weirder case was a woman who declared herself a sovereign citizen to avoid paying her Sears Credit Cards as the state and the banking system had no authority over her. She would send her bills to my office for payment.

  5. I had no idea it wasn’t illegal to fail to signal if nobody else is effected. I suppose it is easier for most to just do it anyway. I know someone who refuses to use turn signals etc when nobody else is there to see them, then again he drives an older car without solid-state lights and blinker fluid isn’t free…

    1. The problem with signalling only when you need to is that when you haven’t seen someone you won’t signal, and that may be when your signal would be most necessary.

      1. I always signal, personally. It is really just muscle memory anyway. Arguably the vigilance needed to look around for people who might need to see your signal is better than just mechanically following the rules.

  6. Ditto on the Suzanna Showler piece. What a piece of writing! I’ve been sharing it around both because it is such an interesting, insightful look into Shambala and the writing is just so, so good.