1. The costs of reporting on the RCMP
Yesterday, I made a plea for financial help in covering the Halifax Examiner’s legal costs for reporting on the Randy Riley murder trial.
Today, I’d like to give some historic context to that reporting.
I started the Halifax Examiner in 2014 precisely in order to do deep investigative reporting that challenges powerful institutions. Just a few months later, I came upon the case of Glen Assoun, a man who had been wrongfully convicted of murdering his former girlfriend, Brenda Way, and who had spent 17 years in prison.
It’s not easy to report on such cases. It took 13 months of interviews and reading court transcripts before I could publish the first in-depth article about the Assoun case, and that reporting continued on for another five years, before Assoun was finally fully exonerated.
As with all wrongful convictions, the Assoun story is complex and layered, but one essential element in it was the role of the RCMP.
Specifically, after Assoun’s conviction, the RCMP had important, critical evidence that Assoun was in fact innocent, and that another man, serial killer Michael McGray, had in fact killed Brenda Way. And what did the RCMP do with that evidence? They destroyed it. Top RCMP brass held secret meetings to decide how to deal with their cover-up, and a falsified investigative report was created. As a result, Assoun spent another 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
In 2020, my podcast colleagues Janice Evans and Nancy Hunter and I were in the midst of producing the CBC podcast series Dead Wrong, which detailed the Assoun story, when the Nova Scotia mass murders occurred.
It was surreal. We were under COVID lockdown at the time, so we couldn’t use the CBC studio; instead, Janice and I recorded the episodes in the borrowed backyard studio of a musician friend. I’d drive out to Purcells Cove three or four times a week, Janice would lecture me on pronunciation (I say, lovingly) as I voiced the story of Assoun, then I’d drive over to Burnside for an RCMP briefing on the mass murders before rushing home to do some reporting on the pandemic. There was a two-week period in there where I doubt I slept more than four hours a night.
The RCMP were, of course, a central element in the mass murder story. For years before the murders, the killer was, or at least should’ve been, on the RCMP’s radar. And as we know, the RCMP pursuit of the killer utterly failed, allowing the rampage to continue on for another 13 hours and another eight deaths. Along the way, RCMP officers mistakenly shot up a fire hall with three civilians inside.
To report fully on the mass murders, the Halifax Examiner joined a media coalition that sought to unseal about 20 search warrants the RCMP had obtained in their investigation of the murders. There was an absurdity to the exercise — no media organization had any interest in publishing details about family members of the victims and so we were fine with redacting that information, and the killer himself was dead, so why would anyone oppose unsealing the warrants? But the RCMP did exactly that.
It was obvious at the time that the RCMP opposed unsealing the search warrants because the information included in the warrants would embarrass the RCMP, both for what it did in the long years before the murders and in the immediate aftermath.
But I now understand there was a secondary and maybe more important reason for the RCMP to oppose unsealing the warrants: forcing all us media to hire a lawyer and go through many months of legal proceedings cost us a lot of money.
It’s hard to put an exact figure on the costs of trying to unseal the search warrants. The Halifax Examiner, as just one of seven or eight media partners (some companies dropped out or joined along the way, so it was a fluctuating number), alone spent many tens of thousands of dollars on legal costs related to those court proceedings. But that doesn’t include my time — I spent hundreds of hours going through court records, preparing spreadsheets, writing notes for the lawyer, attending court, and so forth.
The RCMP’s objections to unsealing were often ludicrously ridiculous. They opposed releasing minute details that put no investigation at risk and violated no living person’s privacy, costing us media many more months and many thousands more dollars.
I don’t think this is because the RCMP actually cared about those minute, insignificant details. Rather, I think it’s because the RCMP didn’t like being scrutinized by the media, and so was going to make that scrutiny as costly to the media as possible.
The point was to make cost a consideration for any future scrutiny of the RCMP. And sure enough, it is: You can bet that before doing any deep investigative reporting on the RCMP, all news organizations consider not just the reporters’ time, but also the legal resources that will need to go into the reporting.
This struck home for me last week when I was in court opposing a proposed publication ban related to the Randy Riley trial. I looked around the courtroom and saw I was opposed by not one, not two, but three Crown lawyers — two provincial Crowns who had prosecuted the Riley case and one federal Crown representing the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
I thought: What do they care what this nonsense cost? I’m the only one here who isn’t on the public dime.
Before the hearing, I had to print up some material to submit to the court. This cost a bit over $200 at Staples, and I had to make some calculations about what was really necessary to print and what wasn’t. I also had to pay a freelancer to cover my morning post so I could attend court.
In total, the money the Halifax Examiner has spent for reporting on the RCMP over the years could have probably paid for two full-time reporters. Damn right I think about those costs.
But not for a nanosecond does a Crown lawyer ever think about printing costs or the costs of other Crown employees’ time. It’s not even a consideration. They can throw up objection after objection, present case law that doesn’t support their argument, stretch out proceedings seemingly forever, and it doesn’t cost them personally a nickel. There’s an essentially bottomless public purse underwriting the entire enterprise.
And I mean absolutely no disrespect for the court or in particular Justice Josh Arnold, who in my estimation is both fair and wise (I’m utterly serious). But the court costs too are borne by the public — the good judge’s salary, the more-than-helpful clerk, the half-dozen deputies staffing the courthouse being used for no other purpose, the janitorial staff keeping the place spotless.
So the Crown can oppose the Halifax Examiner and the public covers all the costs, except for the costs to the Halifax Examiner. That leaves the Halifax Examiner with that much less money, and that much less time, to do actual journalism.
The point is to scare the media away from reporting on the RCMP.
I’m opposing the publication ban because I want to report fully on the Witness Protection Program, which is a division of the RCMP. I’m realizing as I get more into this reporting, that it’s not even solely, perhaps not even mostly, about the Randy Riley case, but rather about the Witness Protection Program itself.
Under the guise of “protecting witnesses,” a goal all of us can get behind in the abstract, the Witness Protection Program (WPP) has been legislatively shielded from all public and media scrutiny.
I’ll get into this in more detail in the future, but that legislative protection makes it impossible to ask some fundamental questions about the WPP, such as:
• Can the WPP be weaponized in the prosecution of innocent defendants?
• What controls are placed on those people being protected?
• What happens if a protected person lies at a criminal proceeding?
• Are the costs of protecting a witness reasonable? Are there any limits on those costs? Should those costs be monitored and/or audited by an independent, non-policing agency?
• What obligation does the WPP have to inform a defendant about a protected person testifying?
The Riley case gives just a glimpse of insight into these questions and others.
I want to report on the Riley case, but now I additionally want to use the information brought forth at trial to interrogate the Witness Protection Program. And so, the RCMP is going to try to make this as costly as possible, prohibitively impossible, if it can.
The RCMP will use the full power of the state — the unlimited financial resources, the costly instruments of the court — to stop a tiny news organization from scrutinizing its power.
“Starting on Thursday October 12, Nova Scotians will have to mask when they are going to a Nova Scotia Health facility in the province,” reports Suzanne Rent:
Nova Scotia Health announced changes to its medical masking policy on Tuesday. In a news release, the health authority wrote that medical masks will be required by anyone in the following settings:
• Upon entry to Nova Scotia Health facilities and in common/public areas such as hallways, elevators, staircases, and cafeterias.
• All clinical care areas where patients, clients, families and essential care partners/caregivers are present.
• All inpatient and ambulatory care settings.
The authority said the changes were made in response to the increase of cases of COVID in the community and the upcoming flu and respiratory illness season.
“Tens of thousands of hectares of land across Nova Scotia will be protected and conserved under a new agreement between the federal and provincial governments,” reports Suzanne Rent:
The Canada–Nova Scotia Nature Agreement “to advance nature conservation and protection across the province” was launched in Halifax on Tuesday. Lena Metlege Diab, the MP for Halifax West, on behalf of federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, and Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Timothy Halman made the announcement.
Under the nature agreement, over the next three years, the federal government will provide $28.5 million in funding so the provincial government can increase the amount of protected and conserved areas by 82,500 hectares by no later than March 2026.
In a video and thread shared on Twitter, Chris Miller, the executive director with the Nova Scotia chapter of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), said the announcement of the agreement was “big conservation news.” He said the agreement means the creation of at least 100 new protected nature areas in Nova Scotia, and more funding toward the establishment of a national park in Halifax.
The national park in Halifax is the Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, the creation of which has been delayed for many years, thanks in part to a handful of development companies wanting top dollar for land they own in the eastern swath of the proposed park.
I don’t see that the new agreement provides any cash to buy out the companies, but maybe somehow it incentivizes the municipality to get to an agreement to make it happen.
4. The enshittification of… time?
“The beginning of the long dash indicates exactly 1 o’clock eastern standard time.”
The CBC has ended its daily broadcast of the National Research Council’s time signal, reports Dan Taekema for the CBC:
The time signal was a touchstone that kept railways, shipping companies and Canada on time.
It remains precise — provided by cesium atomic clocks that are “the world’s best timekeepers,” according to the NRC.
NRC didn’t provide anyone for an interview but in a statement, spokesperson Orian Labrèche said CBC installed HD radio transmitters in 2018, which caused a delay of up to nine seconds in broadcasting the time signal.
The council proposed several solutions and worked with CBC to solve the delay, but “ultimately, CBC/Radio-Canada made the decision to stop broadcasting the NRC’s official time signal,” he wrote.
Every damn thing is getting worse. The ceeb started broadcasting the time signal on Nov. 5, 1939 and, as Taekema points out, train engineers set their watches to it, presumably avoiding terrible train wrecks and missed connections, and fishermen used it to, well, I dunno why fishermen needed the precise-to-the-second time, but apparently they did. A nation was saved.
But now thanks to high definition this-es and internets thats-es, the time ain’t even the time anymore. All this stuff is supposed to make the world better, not worse, but here we are, an entire G7 nation nine seconds off-kilter.
I remember a couple years ago driving across the Quebec border and into a new time zone, then hearing the long dash on my radio, and thinking, jeesh, my cell phone clock must be wrong, because it reads a minute later. But no, turns out, the long dash was wrong, by as much as nine seconds. Nine seconds is enough time to get T-boned by a tanker truck carrying a load of stolen maple syrup. I could’ve been killed.
For five long years the CBC has been giving us incorrect information. Irresponsible journalism! It’s like having AI write sports stories.
And rather than fix the problem, they decided to just do away with time all together.
The whole world is going to shit.
Show the carbon tax
The carbon tax started in the province on July 1, 2023.
Canada’s carbon pricing system taxes the three most widely used carbon-emitting energy sources in Nova Scotia: gasoline, heating oil, and electricity.
By raising the cost of energy, the carbon tax is intended to change the energy-consumption habits of Canadians because “carbon pricing is about recognizing the cost of pollution and accounting for those costs in daily decisions.”
This means for the tax to work, Nova Scotians must recognize that (carbon) pollution has a price.
A good place to start would be when we purchase energy products such as gasoline, electricity, and home heating fuel.
The problem is, if you look at a receipt from the purchase of gasoline or a bill for your electricity or home heating fuel consumption, you will not see the carbon tax listed.
Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, One Government Place) — Reviewing public spending, reports of the Auditor General and any other financial matters respecting the public funds of Nova Scotia.
Opening of the fall sitting of the legislature — 1pm
Voice Noon Hour (Wednesday, 11:45am, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — free performance by students of the Fountain School of Performing Arts
Guitar Noon Hour (Wednesday, 11:45am, Dalhousie Arts Centre, room 406) — free performance by students of the Fountain School of Performing Arts
Insights into receptor recycling from endosomes to the plasma membrane (Thursday, 12pm, online) — Dr. Lois Weisman, Professor, Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, University of Michigan will talk
Sciographies season five returns for a fifth season (Thursday, 5:30pm, online) — podcast shares the lives, stories and research of Dalhousie scientists; weekly episodes air on Thursdays at 4:30PM on CKDU 88.1FM; or listen on most podcast apps (Apple, Spotify, Soundcloud) from September 14 – November 2, 2023.
How can Patients Best Manage Medical Uncertainty? (Thursday, 7pm, Room 1020, Rowe Building) — Dr. Harriet A. Washington will talk
New developments in the history of the Maritimes Basin: More than a pinch of salt
(Thursday, 1pm, Science Building, S408) — Prof. John Walden, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, will talk
In the harbour
05:00: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
11:30: Liberty of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 4,414 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John, on a nine-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
16:30: Atlantic Sun sails for Liverpool, England
17:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Fairview Cove to anchorage
22:00: Liberty of the Seas sails for New York
06:00: Maritime Valor, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from New York
06:45: MSC Meraviglia, cruise ship with up to 5,386 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Charlottetown, on an 11-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
08:30: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Savannah, Georgia
11:30: Algoma Value, bulker, arrives at Port Hawkesbury anchorage from Halifax
18:45: MSC Meraviglia sails for Portland
The Examiner crew always does superb work, but today I’d like to give a special shout-out to Suzanne Rent. Due to a number of factors, some expected, some not, we’re very thinly staffed this week, and Suzanne has stepped up to fill a bunch of gaps. That kind of dedication makes the Examiner what it is.