1. Riley case update

A Black man with wire rimmed glasses, wearing a dark shirt.
Randy Riley in the lobby of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Sept. 14, 2023. Credit: Tim Bousquet

People have been asking me what’s up with the proposed publication ban related to the Randy Riley trial.

For background, I discussed the issue at length on Canadaland, starting at the 29-minute mark, here. I also wrote about it here.

The short of it at present is that Justice Josh Arnold has reserved his decision on the proposed publication ban. That means he has all the testimony and evidence and case law, and is deciding what to, er, decide. I don’t expect he will take long, but I can’t now give you a date for that. Typically, parties in the matter (that is, me) are told the day before a decision is issued, in order to prepare.

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2. Pete’s employees unionize

A group of people stand outside a storefront off a city street. A few people are holding a large sign that says "we, the customers, are urging Pete's and Sobeys to do better for their workers and the communities they do business in. We promose not to cross any future picket lines." A few other people hold signs that say "SEIU 2"
Workers and customers rally outside Pete’s Frootique in Halifax. Credit: SEIU Local 2

On Friday, Suzanne Rent reported:

Dozens of workers from the Halifax location of Pete’s Frootique will rally outside the downtown store on Saturday demanding better wages and paid sick days from their employer, Sobeys.

About 92 staff from the Halifax location of the grocery store voted in March to join Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2, which represents 20,000 workers across Canada, including in Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Alberta.

In a tweet on March 7, SEIU called the win a “landslide victory” for the workers.

Those workers are now in talks for better wages and paid sick days. All the workers at the store, including supervisors and those with more than 10 years of service, make minimum wage.

Click or tap here to read “Workers from Pete’s Frootique in Halifax to rally for better wages, paid sick days.”

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3. Nicole Gnazdowsky

A young white man wearing a baseball cap and tshirt poses with a young white woman wearing a tanktop with a purse across her shoulder in front of a 3 tier Roman aqueduct over a small river.
Andrew and Nicole Gnazdowsky Credit: Contributed

“Nicole Gnazdowsky is frustrated,” writes Stephen Kimber:

She has every reason to be. Three years after the fact, she is still waiting for answers about why her brother died in a workplace accident. Despite her best, exhaustive, exhausting efforts — which finally did lead to the courtroom this fall — she’s still not sure she’ll ever get the answers she seeks.

Click or tap here to read “Nicole Gnazdowsky’s search for answers continues.”

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Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

Given the shifting method of reporting and apparent obfuscation of COVID data, it’s becoming difficult to tease out the data, but here’s what I can tell you. In the the period from Oct. 1-15:

• 2 people died from COVID. Both were aged 65+
• 51 people were hospitalized because of COVID; 40 were aged 65+, 11 were 45-64
• there are 5 people in ICU with COVID; 4 aged 65+, 1 aged 45-64

Lab-confirmed cases of COVID have more than doubled in the last few weeks, but are still about half what they were for the same period last year. It’s too early to say whether COVID is truly seasonal, but that’s how the data are being presented.

It’s true that COVID “is just another respiratory disease,” but the effects appear to be broader and more serious than influenza, and also additive — that is, it’s not that X number of people will get respiratory disease, some influenza and some COVID, but rather that X people will get influenza, a number that would be the same if COVID never existed, and now Y more people will get COVID.

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5. The solution to high heating costs: heat pumps

A truck that holds home heating fuel
Credit: Aabel Fuels

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a temporary, three-year pause on the carbon tax on heating oil, accompanied by an increase from $10,000 to $15,000 in federal subsidies for low-income households to install heat pumps.

Both the Ecology Action Centre and Efficiency Canada reacted.

A statement from the Ecology Action Centre:

While carbon pricing remains an essential policy tool for achieving emissions reductions, the EAC recognizes the value of a temporary exemption for fuel oil heating while measures are put in place to accelerate the transition away from heating with oil. 

The Ecology Action Centre applauds the Government of Canada’s announcement of additional rebates to help ensure that heat pumps will be available at no cost for households below the median provincial income – many of whom are struggling with energy poverty across Atlantic Canada.  

We are also encouraged to see that additional mechanisms will be introduced to support the transition to heat pumps for those at all income levels, including the introduction of new low-interest loans for households at all income levels to ensure that upfront costs to heat pump adoption are no longer a barrier. This will contribute to significant cost savings to households across the country, helping to reduce energy poverty in Atlantic Canada and accelerate the transition away from burning fossil fuels to heat our homes.  

For decades, Nova Scotians have disproportionately suffered the consequences of living in energy poverty due to our reliance on heating oil, an expensive and carbon-intense method of heating our homes. 

Roughly 39% of Nova Scotians rely on oil for home heating, along with along with 56% of households in P.E.I. About 15% of New Brunswickers and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians also rely on oil.  

This reality has been a key driver of the phenomenon known as energy poverty, whereby a household spends more than 6% of income on home energy (electricity and heat). According to the Nova Scotia Affordable Energy Coalition, nearly one in three Nova Scotians are estimated to live in energy poverty. 

Anyone relying on oil to heat their home has become accustomed to energy bills which can amount to thousands of dollars per month during the winter. Efficiency Nova Scotia estimates that the average household using oil furnaces or boilers pays nearly $5,000 in annual space-heating costs.  

More and more, low-income households across Atlantic Canada are struggling to pay utility bills and are forced to make impossible choices between paying for utilities or other necessities such as food, medicine, or rent. 

Heat pumps have the potential to significantly reduce energy poverty and carbon emissions by providing cheap, efficient electric heating and cooling. 

Efficiency Nova Scotia estimates that a heat pump could reduce heating costs in the average home in Nova Scotia by 70%, while reducing carbon emissions by 35% with emissions reductions increasing to 100% as Nova Scotia transitions away from coal fired electricity.  

This announcement represents a significant step forward, but there is more to be done: experts across Canada are recommending a $27 billion investment over the next decade to facilitate no-cost, turn-key heat pump adoption and deep-energy retrofits including better insulation and building envelopes, aimed at low-income households across Canada. 

Households will also need to be given further support with sourcing equipment and installation, and energy efficiency providers in Nova Scotia must ensure that consumers can easily navigate contractors, products, and disposal of old heating systems.  We hope to see both the provincial and federal government coming forward to fill these additional gaps in supporting households.  

And from Efficiency Canada:

On Friday the federal government announced additional funding to help Canadians make the switch from oil to heat pumps. Modifications to the Oil to Heat Pump Affordability program will raise the maximum federal funding for eligible homeowners installing a heat pump from $10,000 to $15,000.

The program is Canada’s only policy that helps low-to-moderate-income households access energy efficiency services.

“Expanding the Oil to Heat Pump Affordability Program recognizes the crucial role of energy efficiency in permanently reducing energy costs for countless Canadians struggling with high bills,” says Corey Diamond, Executive Director at Efficiency Canada. “But until the government implements a truly national low-income energy efficiency strategy, millions of people will continue to be left behind.”

Efficiency Canada has long advocated for a National Low-Income Energy Efficiency Strategy that ensures all Canadians can save energy, regardless of their income level, where they live, or the fuel they use for heat. 

Limiting the program to heat pumps makes it more difficult to solve affordability problems. Insulation and air sealing are also needed in many homes to cut bills and deliver health and comfort benefits. And, limiting Canada’s only low-to-moderate income efficiency program to oil heating also leaves out the vast majority of Canadians who heat with electricity or natural gas and also struggle to pay their bills.

Efficiency Canada calls for an end to fragmented policies to reduce energy costs for those who need it most. 

“To avoid the need for future emergency responses that weaken carbon pricing, we need a long-term, well-designed, energy efficiency program accessible to all low-income Canadians,” says Diamond.

With files from Jennifer Henderson.

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1. ’tis the season!

Tampered candy: Someone in Dartmouth stuck a sharp object in this candy bar.

Which suburb will produce the first lying kid this year? I’m betting Cole Harbour.

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2. Them apples

I guess we talk about Pierre Poilievre’s apple video now. On the above-mentioned Canadaland episode, I just said that reporter Don Urquhart was unprepared and left it at that.

Richard Starr, however, has a contrary view:

Contrary to what Poilievre’s right wing fans believe, the incident was far from a takedown of the big bad “mainstream media” by a scrappy opposition politician. Au contraire. As he has demonstrated, Poilievre is leery of most members of the mainstream media he encounters in Ottawa and does his best to avoid scrums with members of the parliamentary press gallery. What his admirers actually saw in the Okanagan Valley orchard was bullying by a powerful politician of an over-worked small town reporter, struggling with limited resources to keep his community informed.

Tell me all about over-worked reporters.

I guess both views can be true.

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How Schoolhouse Rock missed the story of the U.S.’s worst school bus disaster

YouTube video

Do Canadians know about Schoolhouse Rock? Every person of my generation who grew up in the United States knows Schoolhouse Rock.

In response to concerns that kids were watching too much TV and so were becoming dumb, dumb, dumb, some advertising guru came up with the idea to show short videos between Saturday cartoons that supposedly had educational value that somehow counteracted the stupidity of Hong Kong Phooey.

Probably the best known Schoolhouse Rock video was “I’m Just a Bill,” which came up in conversation with some of my American friends over the weekend. The last time I watched the vid was 47 years ago, when I was just a dumb, dumb, dumb 13-year-old who didn’t know shit, but this weekend I rewatched the video as an educated adult. And you know what? “I’m Just a Bill” is wrong! It was teaching kids false things.

“I’m Just a Bill” uses as an example a bunch of hayseed locals who got their Congressman to introduce a bill in the House of Representatives to require school buses to stop at railroad crossings.

Wait a minute, I thought. Congress doesn’t pass traffic laws. In the U.S., those are all state laws. Sure enough, with a little googling around, I found that the U.S. Congress has never passed such a law.

The front page of the Salt Lake Telegram has a headline that reads '24 killed in bus crash.'

But each of the 50 states has a law that requires school bus drivers to not only stop at railroad crossings but to additionally open the door to look for trains before moving across the tracks. That requirement has a super interesting, and super tragic, origin story.

The terrible Dec. 1, 1938 school bus–train crash that killed 23 school kids and the bus driver at Burgon’s Crossing near Riverton, Utah is the worst such crash in U.S. history. It is detailed in an essay authored by Eric Swedin in the Utah Historical Quarterly. The short of it is that it although, as required, the bus driver (29-year-old Farrold Henry Silcox) stopped at the railroad crossing and the train engineer sounded the whistle, those precautions weren’t enough.

It was a cold, snowy morning so the windows of the unheated bus were shut tight, muffling the sound of the train whistle, and the bus’s windows were steamed up, except for the front windshield, which “was equipped with a defrosting window and windshield wiper,” and so Silcox could not see out through the glass in the door. The train approached from the right, and none-the-wiser, Silcox proceeded across the tracks.

In the wake of the tragedy, attention was first put on the lack of crossing gates — there were 2,200 railroad crossings in Utah, but only 125 of them had “train-actuated signals” (another 20 had watchmen). And there were a lot of trains in Utah — investigators found that “only” 22 trains a day passed at Burgon’s Crossing.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Utah created “junior traffic patrols where a student would get out of every school bus at railroad crossings to see if a train was approaching.” I think they realized this was probably unnecessarily traumatic for the students, and so the junior traffic patrols were short-lived.

But safety regulators recognized “the lack of correct rules to govern driver behavior. Such rules, turned into habits, made a person’s activities safer.” And so in addition to stopping at railroad crossings, drivers of school buses were also required to open the front side door to have a look. Every other state soon adopted a similar law.

In my quick scan, it doesn’t appear that such a requirement has made it way universally to Canada, home of cold, snowy weather that can fog up school bus windows. I don’t see that Nova Scotia has such a requirement, for example. (Saskatchewan does, however.)

Imagine the horror experienced by survivors and rescuers of the Burgon’s Crossing disaster.

A particularly poignant example: “David Witter, an unemployed twenty-two-year-old truck driver, was catching a ride in a boxcar, walking back and forth, trying to keep warm, when the train came to a stop. He got out to see ‘the awfullest thing I ever saw.'”

Witter is elsewhere described as a “hobo.”

“I saw a little girl sitting along the tracks. She was terribly mangled but alive. She was screaming horribly, holding on for dear life,” Witter later said. “I rushed over, but she died before I could reach her. None of them seemed to die right away. One-by-one they would stop screaming.”

Witter rose to the occasion, picking through the scattered bodies lying in the snow to find the surviving children well enough to be carried to the warmth of the caboose.

I wonder what happened to Witter. He seems to have disappeared from the public record after the crash.

This item took a weird turn.

I shouldn’t have expected Schoolhouse Rock to be truly educational. It was just a stupid little thing dumb, dumb, dumb kids watched on Saturday mornings. But even after all these decades, I feel like “I’m Just a Bill” really missed the story.

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Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Monday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate and online) — agenda



Law Amendments (Monday, 10am, One Government Place and online) — Bill No. 340 – Municipal Reform (2023) Act (with representation)

Legislature sits (Monday, 4pm, Province House) — watch it here


Private and Local Bills (Tuesday, 11am, One Government Place and online) — Bill No. 351 – Bethel Presbyterian Church, Sydney, Act (amended) (no representation)

On campus



Strings Noon Hour (Monday, 11:45am, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — performances from students’ repertoire

From Net Zero to Net Positive: The Practice of Planetary Healthcare (Monday, 5:30pm, Theatre A, Tupper Building and online) — a talk by Andrea MacNeill, inaugural Dr. Tarunendu Ghose Visiting Scholar in Global Health: register here  


Enigmatic archives of magmatic processes: Decoding mineral zoning and melt inclusions with Fe-Mg isotopes (Tuesday, 11:30am, Milligan Room – 8007 Life Sciences Centre) — a talk by Corliss Kin I Sio from the University of Toronto; from the listing:

Mineral zoning and melt inclusions reveal the inner workings of volcanoes. For example, mineral zoning may be used to infer the timescales of magmatic processes. Melt inclusions, on the other hand, may record primary melt compositions and depths of entrapment. Though potentially valuable, interpreting these magmatic archives is far from straightforward. Similar patterns of mineral zoning can result from crystal growth or chemical diffusion. Melt inclusions may incorporate disequilibrium compositions arising from boundary layer formation. I will demonstrate how stable isotopes can reveal the nature of these magmatic archives, allowing appropriate crystals and melt inclusions to be identified for diffusion chronometry and geobarometry studies. Stable isotopes are powerful discriminators of equilibrium versus kinetic processes, adding a dimension to petrologic studies that yields conclusive interpretations.


Opening Reception (Monday, 5:30pm, Anna Leonowens Gallery) — shows by Tabatha Cass, Gavin Snow, Fraya McDougall, and Megan Johnson

Saint Mary’s

Indigenous Partnerships: Climate, conservation and sustainable development in Southern and Central America (Monday, 12pm, MM227) — Fredy Duque from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Indigenous Foundation, Panama, will talk

Harvesting Freedom: The Life of a Migrant Worker in Canada (Monday, 7pm, Halifax Central Library) — author Gabriel Allahdua, a former migrant farm worker, current organizer, and outreach worker will talk

In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
05:15: Morning Claire, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Zeebrugge, Belgium
06:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, St. Croix
06:30: Maryam D, bulker, arrives at Pier 28 from Boston
07:30: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for Baltimore
10:30: Silver Shadow, cruise ship with up to 466 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Portland, on a 10-day cruise from New York to Quebec City
14:30: One Owl, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Dubai
15:00: MSC Maureen, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Sines, Portugal
15:30: Atlantic Sea sails for New York
15:30: Morning Claire sails for sea
18:30: Silver Shadow sails for Charlottetown
21:00: Tropic Hope sails for West Palm Beach, Florida

Cape Breton
06:00: Marella Discovery, cruise ship with up to 2,074 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Saint John, on a 14-day roundtrip cruise out of Port Canaveral, Florida
18:30: Marella Discovery sails for Halifax


I had nightmares most of the night. I once posited that “nightmare” meant “night-mare,” or “night-horse,” as in a creature taking me on a journey. But the Online Etymology Dictionary tells me that the current meaning of “nightmare” didn’t arise until the 19th century.

In Middle English, “mare” wasn’t a horse but rather a witch or evil spirit:

mare (n.3)

“night-goblin, incubus, oppressed sleep,” Old English mare “incubus, nightmare, monster; witch, sorcerer,” from mera, mære, from Proto-Germanic *maron “goblin” (source also of Middle Low German mar, Middle Dutch mare, Old High German mara, German Mahr “incubus,” Old Norse mara “nightmare, incubus”).

And from that came “nightmare,” which through the centuries evolved into our present definition:

nightmare (n.)

c. 1300, “an evil female spirit afflicting men (or horses) in their sleep with a feeling of suffocation,” compounded from night + mare (n.3) “goblin that causes nightmares, incubus.” The meaning shifted mid-16c. from the incubus to the suffocating sensation it causes. Sense of “any bad dream” is recorded by 1829; that of “very distressing experience” is from 1831.

Isn’t it weird that the mares afflict both men and horses?

I’ve been haunted by my share of evil female spirits, but as the beachcomber philosopher once said, I know it’s my own damn fault.

The real irony, tho, is that I think the cause of last night’s nightmares wasn’t an evil woman but rather the sausage I had for supper.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Whether it’s legally required or not I happen to be able to tell you that at least two of the school bus companies in Halifax require their drivers:
    1) on the approach to a railway crossing, to open their drivers window and hit a switch which shuts off noisy things like the radio and the heat
    2) upon stopping before the railway crossing to apply the park brake, put the transmission in neutral, and open the passenger door
    3) then finally undo all that and proceed, clearing the railway crossing before closing their window and un-muting the noisy things.

  2. It’s worth nothing that most of the programs to assist people with heating costs do nothing for renters who pay utilities. Landlords have no incentive to improve insulation and heating, as they do not pay the costs, and tenants can’t afford to invest in upgrading properties they do not own. Condo owners, especially non-resident investors who rent the units, are more interested in a cheap purchase price than energy efficient units (for example, most balconies are a huge source of heat loss, since they act as cooling fins for the concrete floor mass, and few buildings pay any attention to things like where natural light comes from).
    Meanwhile, homeowners, who might have substantial equity in their homes despite low income, get assistance lowering their costs and improving their properties.
    Governments could take action by improving building standards (including single-home size limits), requiring retroactive improvements in buildings (especially rental properties), subsidizing the costs of preferred fuels, and so on, but for some reason governments prefer funnelling tax dollars (paid by all) to select homeowners and investors, to make their properties more affordable and more valuable.

  3. Thanks for the “I’m Just a Bill” deep dive- I was a kid watching cartoons on Saturday morning in the late 80’s and early 90’s and yes, we definitely saw Schoolhouse Rock (on ABC, because there were no good Saturday morning cartoons on Canadian networks so we watched American channels!)

    1. We’re having a fun discussion. Seems some Canadian-raised kids know all about Schoolhouse Rock while others don’t.

      1. Grew up an antennae TV kid near Windsor ON. Detroit/Cleveland cartoon consumer so definitely caught Schoolhouse Rock and something that went on about grammar, conjunction junction sticks in the mind.

          1. I have very mixed feelings about this commercial appealing to nostalgia. Or, as they say on the Simpsons episode that includes a Schoolhouse Rock parody:
            Bart: (referring to the educational cartoon) What the hell is this?
            Lisa: It’s one of those campy seventies throwbacks that appeal to Generation X-ers.