1. Remembering Jen Powley
Jen Powley has died.
Powley was an author, who published two books and wrote for media outlets including the Halifax Examiner, and an advocate for the rights of disabled people. She also ran for municipal office in 2020. She was 45.
One of them is Carrie Ernst, the executive director of Independent Living Nova Scotia (ILNS). Here is part of what she had to say:
Jen had advocated for a lot of different groups and a lot of different causes and was very involved, but Jen’s legacy was her primary concern that people with disabilities were treated equally. That they were engaged in community and you saw beyond what their disability was. I think her legacy is that we were able to have the hard conversations with government.
I said today, and I kind of chuckled, Jen has left me with the strength to deal with the hard questions. We would be dealing with government and she would ask the hard questions and I would think, “Jeez Jen, why did you ask it that way? Why don’t we see if we can finesse it?” But she was the one who always asked the hard questions and she wasn’t scared of that. I said to her mom today, my promise to Jen in my last text to her was that I wasn’t going to be scared to ask the hard questions anymore.
Powley’s death is a huge loss to our community. Please read Rent’s article about her.
2. Riley trial
Tim Bousquet continues his coverage of the murder trial of Randy Riley, who is accused in the murder of pizza delivery driver Chad Smith.
Some of the proceedings are under a publication ban, but Bousquet has just filed an article on what can be reported on the testimony of Paul Smith [no relation to Chad]. Bousquet writes:
Paul Smith had testified against Riley in Riley’s 2018 trial. In the 2018 trial, Riley was convicted of second degree murder, but the Supreme Court of Canada subsequently overturned that conviction and ordered a new trial, which brings us to the current trial.
An audio recording of Paul Smith’s 2018 testimony was played in front of the current jury on Monday.
At the 2018 trial, Paul Smith testified that Riley had called him up and asked for ride. When Paul Smith arrived at the place where Riley was staying, Riley and another man, Nathan Johnson, were waiting outside and got into Paul Smith’s SUV. Riley asked Paul Smith to drive them to an apartment building on Lawrence Street.
When questioned by the Crown in 2018, Paul Smith said that along the way to Lawrence Street, Riley said he was going to get a gun. But on cross examination by defence lawyer Trevor McGuigan, Paul Smith admitted that Riley never said “gun,” and he [Paul Smith] never saw a gun.
Just about every local media outlet has post-Lee stories today: the state of the cleanup, comparisons to previous storms, the damage to Rissers Beach, how we should get used to these storms — and worse — because with climate change they aren’t going away.
My favourite of these stories though, is this one from CTV, for one quote from Sue Davenport, who lives in Australia and is in Halifax visiting her daughter:
They’d explained to me last year about ‘Cyclone Chips,’ and how you’ve got to hit your stores and everything.
Conservative governments and right-wing think tanks love to rail against “red tape.” The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has a “Red Tape Awareness Week” and hands out “Golden Scissors” awards to those who are taking action to cut red tape.
Railing against people who rail against red tape is a regular theme over here at the Examiner. Back in 2015, Tim Bousquet wrote:
Like salmon returning to the spawning grounds and Pavlov’s dogs drooling at the sound of the dinner bell, business people complain about red tape. That’s just what they do — it doesn’t matter whether the “red tape” was created for good reason or not, from the business person’s perspective, it’s always a bad thing
Sure, some regulations are overly complicated, maybe even stupid. But reducing red tape for the sake of reducing red tape, without thinking about why the regulations you’re reducing or the enforcement you’re cutting are important? Well, that’s not only stupid; it can be disastrous.
Just ask the families of the hundreds of Calgary children poisoned by food they ate at their daycare.
A story published on Monday in the National Observer argues that kids getting sick from E. coli bacteria is a direct outcome of cutting “red tape” in Alberta.
Max Fawcett writes:
A common kitchen owned by Fueling Minds that serves multiple affiliated daycare centres has been identified as the source of the outbreak, and it’s a minor miracle people didn’t get sick sooner. It’s had problems with Alberta Health Services (AHS) inspections dating back to 2021, when everything from unsafe dishwashers and improperly mixed sanitizer to food being transported without refrigeration and even an invalid food handling permit were noted by inspectors. Many of these problems were identified again during subsequent inspections, which speaks to the lack of compliance or any consequences flowing from it. On the most recent visit, AHS inspectors even found cockroaches — two live and more than 20 dead in sticky traps.
And yet, despite all these problems and the obvious inability to address them properly, the facility was never closed down by inspectors. Parents whose children were being fed food produced at the facility were never warned about these ongoing deficiencies and would only have known if they actively sought out the inspection reports. It’s fair to wonder if this dangerously light touch is because the AHS inspectors have decided to err on the side of keeping businesses open — the government that employs them, after all, clearly takes a dim view of “unnecessary regulatory compliance that makes life difficult for job creators,” as red tape reduction minister Nally put it.
I can’t agree more with this paragraph, from near the end of the story:
It’s long past time for a more mature and sophisticated approach here, one that sees regulation as a form of collective insurance rather than an obstacle to individual prosperity.
5. Province hopes new phone line will cut down on medical imaging no-shows
Jean Laroche reports for CBC on a new toll-free line aimed at reducing the number of people not showing up for medical imaging — x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and the like. The story says 22,000 people did not show up for appointments in Nova Scotia last year.
Why? Two main reasons, according to Raylene McGhee, director of diagnostic imaging in Nova Scotia Health’s eastern zone. Laroche writes:
According to a survey of patients in the eastern zone who missed their appointments, McGhee said those no-shows were driven by two major factors: doctors making multiple bookings for the same procedure; and patients not knowing how to cancel or rebook a procedure when those appointments conflicted with work or family obligations, or something came up unexpectedly.
McGhee is hoping a simple-to-remember phone number will make it easy all around.
Doctors double-booking is not a patient problem, so those probably should not be counted as no-shows (if you are more familiar with the health system than I am, please feel free to correct me here.)
I appreciate that the approach here is to recognize the system is confusing for patients and to try to improve it, rather than just blaming them. Have you ever tried to change an appointment for an x-ray or whatever? It definitely can be confusing.
And then there are the robo-calls some clinics send as reminders, which really sound like spam calls, thereby defeating their purpose.
Let’s hope this new system helps with the problem.
In the Quiet and the Dark: New documentary on the people trying to save eastern hemlocks from total devastation
Hemlock woolly adelgid has only been in Nova Scotia a few years, but it is laying our eastern hemlock forests to waste. It’s an aphid-like invasive species that probably first came to North America on nursery stock from Japan, and has spread rapidly over the last few years. Our hemlock forests are in very real danger.
Yvette d’Entemont recently profiled a group of volunteers who are working to save hemlocks on the South Shore, and who discussed their ecological and cultural importance. You can read that story here.
The new documentary film In the Quiet and the Dark, which premieres at the Atlantic International Film Festival tomorrow, looks at the fight to save the eastern hemlocks, and focuses in particular on long-time forest ecologist and former Parks Canada employee Donna Crossland.
Scientists are working on ways to fight the hemlock woolly adelgid with biological controls — introducing species that eat them. But Crossland argues that HWA is killing hemlocks too fast to wait, and that trees need to be protected now, through pesticide injections. The film follows her and a group of volunteers as they protect trees in southwestern Nova Scotia and make the case to government that more needs to be done — and fast.
In the Quiet and the Dark is directed, written and shot by Nance Ackerman, and produced by Teresa MacInnes of Sea to Sea Productions. I spoke with Crossland and Ackerman about the film, the hemlocks, and HWA.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Philip Moscovitch: What’s the importance of hemlock to Nova Scotia forests? What do we lose if we lose the hemlocks?
Donna Crossland: Hemlock has almost a triple role in our forest ecosystem. It’s a foundation species, as many people will tell you, meaning that it’s a tree that can exert its own ecosystem processes. It determines what else lives in the forest because it creates this deep, immense shade and humidity — its own environment. It alters its own environment, so it dictates what else lives among these giant conifer trees. And so that’s one role.
But then the other role is that it’s got an incredible capacity to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change because it keeps photosynthesizing late into the year, and it can start up again early in the month of March, sequestering carbon. Older forests do it better, in terms of mitigating climate change. And then for me, it’s a link to the past, to what forests in the Acadian forest region were like at one point. When the early Europeans came to this area, that’s the kind of forest that would have greeted them: these very old, large-dimension, dark, humid forests. And there were a lot of complaints about the darkness back then. So it’s a link to the past. Every time I step inside a hemlock forest, I get the sense of, “Oh, this is what it used to be like when everything was still intact and we hadn’t horrifically altered this forest ecosystem.”
PM: When did you first hear about hemlock woolly adelgid, and did you have any sense of what it was going to mean for hemlocks in Nova Scotia?
DC: I believe it was back in 2015. I was still working for Parks Canada, and I had just returned from Point Pelee National Park to Kejimkujik National Park, and I had this strange email from someone who had paddled around Kejimkujik and had admired the beautiful hemlock forest there, and it said, “What are you going to do about hemlock woolly adelgid?” And I had to Google “hemlock woolly adelgid.” I had sort of heard of it, that there were these white woolly masses, egg masses or something. I wasn’t really sure what it was exactly. So, I looked it up and I went, “Oh, gosh, that sounds awful. I hope we never get it.”
I was worried back then in 2015, but it wasn’t until 2017 when suddenly it was reported in Nova Scotia. And so then I was triple worried. I kind of knew at that point that it was going to be life altering, because it was my favourite tree and I knew what role hemlock ecosystems play in our forests in Nova Scotia. So I just remember my heart dropped. It was a busy day at work, it was July 2017 I think, and someone came into my office and gave me the news. And I just said, “Oh, no.”
PM: Nance, tell me about your connection to hemlocks, and why you wanted to make this film.
Nance Ackerman: There’s hemlock behind my house, which is up in Tupperville Falls, and it’s basically the inspiration for this film. I’m part Mohawk, and I do my ceremonies up there, and I bring my kids up there, and we swim there. And it’s basically my church. And just since I started making this film, now one side of the river is dead. Just dead. And that happened in a year and a half. So it’s just how urgent and how quickly it’s moving, and how the government is not moving urgently and quickly as as they could be. You have to question, will they ever? That’s what I’m hoping this film does — that the public becomes aware, the government puts in more resources, and more people on the ground, and more trees will get saved.
DC: This is a race. The decline of hemlock is occurring at such a rapid pace, and we have government, which tends to be a slow engine. Time is the enemy here, and this is an emergency. It was quite clear from the beginning that government was not going to act as quickly as required. And so volunteers kick-starting it really moved things up a notch.
PM: Donna, you are a long-time forest ecologist who has embraced the use of pesticides to save hemlocks. How did you come to that position?
DC: I had to actually quit my job at Parks Canada earlier than I intended so that I would have the freedom to do and say what I felt needed to be done or said. But it was very dicey even for the volunteers to convey that we had to use pesticides in order to conserve these trees. That was a big, scary, huge step. And there could have been a tremendous kickback from the community who care about natural ecosystems. We’re aware of Silent Spring. We know about DDT. We know about chemicals that they told us were safe, and then we find out years later they’re not safe, or they’re not as safe as they said they were. And so needing to resort to pesticides to conserve an old growth forest system was an extremely challenging topic to convey to the public. As someone who before this held a forest funeral march in downtown Halifax to convey that our forests are in trouble and we need to conserve them, I was trying to lend confidence that we need to do this — use pesticides to conserve old growth.
PM: One of the things that has always struck me about this story is that you’ve got this huge threat to Nova Scotia forests and it takes volunteers to start doing something about it.
NA: To me it’s just it’s the quintessential issue with government and where their priorities lie. I’m not talking about particular people in the government here, because there are some amazing wonderful people doing wonderful things, and they’re in the film. But I’m just saying in general, the government is led by profit and corporations. It’s why so much of our province is clearcut. So it’s a tough situation in terms of — you’re appealing to a government agency in the business of making money off a resource. You’re appealing to them to try and save the forest. And it’s just a battle within the government, and even between departments.
Even the most productive, well-meaning people in government run up against a brick wall so often. But that’s common knowledge. What I wanted to concentrate on was the passion of people outside government and a few in government that are busting their asses to try and save this tree. That’s what I wanted to concentrate on, because to me it’s just common knowledge that the government has another, much bigger agenda that involves profit. And there’s not a lot of profit money-wise in [saving hemlocks] other than all the obvious things that Donna just said — you know, the carbon stores, and saving the forest, and actually saving the resource.
PM: You have a scientist in the film, Aaron Ellison of the Harvard Forest, who talks about how magnificent hemlocks are, but who also believes that forests come and go, and change, and that his job is to study how forests work. “We’re not interested in saving the forest,” he says.
NA: You’re probably wondering why he’s in the film. I generally take a pretty hard line and have a very strong message in my films, and I kind of beat people over the head with it: Drug addiction is bad, child poverty is bad, women in prison is bad. I have very strong feelings that we need to save the hemlock. But I also have very strong feelings that, as humans, we spend so much time screwing with nature, that adding one more chemical — is that really going to help? And then Donna would say yes, if we save — already we’ve saved five or six thousand trees. If we save those trees and they last on the landscape as we wait for the bio controls, then yes, it is worth it.
I’ve been fighting and marching and protesting against pesticides my whole life. I think that’s why it interested me. I was like, OK, so here’s an example where you can do something that you’ve been against your whole life, for the greater good. To do it not for profit or for aesthetics, but to save a species was kind of an interesting inner battle for me.
PM: The film ends on an optimistic note…
NA: That’s unusual for me!
PM: But do you feel optimistic at all?
DC: I do feel optimistic. As long as our bio control scientists continue to work on a second predator for the second generation of hemlock woolly adelgid. They’re very good with a little beetle that eats all winter, and eats the first generation of HWA. But it has two generations a year. They’re still looking and testing for the second predator, but they’re reasonably optimistic. So I take my cues from the bio control scientists in the eastern U.S. who are reasonably optimistic. But my optimism is is stifled a bit by just the incredible sense of loss and sadness I feel for some of our most beautiful forest ecosystems that, once they’re gone, we will never get back. They will never come back, ever again. So it’s irreplaceable, what we’re losing, and we will only conserve a small fraction of our hemlock forests. Probably one percent.
In the Quiet and the Dark screens at the Atlantic International Film Festival (which seems to have come to its senses and stopped calling itself FIN), on Wednesday Sept. 20, at 5:30pm. It will be released on CBC GEM Oct. 6, and will air on CBC TV in the Maritimes on Oct. 7. A national broadcast follows, on Oct. 21.
Playing the slots at a hacked casino
404 Media is an excellent new journalist-driven tech publication. It’s already produced some great investigations, but recently turned to something slightly lighter: a piece on what it’s like to gamble at MGM’s casinos in Vegas right now.
You see, MGM has been the victim of a ransomware attack, and, unlike rival gambling giant Caesars, they have refused to pay up.
So, 404 writer Jason Koebler, headed to Vegas for part of a day, to engage in a somewhat dystopian gambling experience, which I think also serves as a warning for what happens when we become over-reliant on one set of tools:
After passing dozens of slot machines with a variety of error messages including “Cabinet Locked Locked by Host,” L55.J.16 No Signal,” “Audit Mode Out of Service,” “VALIDATION HOST NOT AVAILABLE Out of Service, “G2S Server Offline,” “Door Closed – Main,” “Call Attendant – Printer Paper Depleted,” “System is Offline or Unavailable,” “System offline,” “BILL VALIDATOR TILT BILL VALIDATOR TILT Out of Service,” “An error occurred during interrogation G2S Device Is Disabled (G2S_cabinet),” so on and so forth, I decided to finally play one.
At the first machine, I quickly lost $20. At another, I similarly quickly lost my money and decided to cash out before I lost more. “PLEASE WAIT, CALL ATTENDANT,” the buffalo-and-mountain-lion-themed machine stated on the screen. “$15.70 NOT IN USE.” I sat at the machine for 10 minutes, allowing the blaring music to wash over me. No one came, so I started anxiously looking around. I began talking to another patron, who said he had been waiting to cash out $93 for 30 minutes. “I heard there’s only one guy doing this,” he said. I briefly considered walking away and losing my $15.70, when a man wearing a suit, tie, and fanny pack and carrying a clipboard approached.
“How’s it going?,” I asked. “I’m so sorry,” I continued. “It’s been crazy,” he said. “I don’t even work in this department.” The man unzipped his fanny pack, which was full of money, and handed me $16. He wrote down our transaction in pen. I asked if he was the only person working on the floor. “Oh no, there’s a lot of us,” he said.
This process is terrible for the casino workers, who are the real victims here, but the long waits have seemingly led many customers to simply abandon their slot machines rather than cash out, which has the knock-on effect of rendering the machine temporarily unusable. I walked by dozens of machines that had a small amount of money “locked” in the machine waiting to be cashed out. Other people have been patiently waiting to cash out a few cents, according to local media.
Koebler also visits the food court, where none of the ordering tablets work, and heads to a strip club offering free lap dances for those affected by the hack. He does not get a lap dance.
Drop in Open House, Case 22257, Phase 4 (Tuesday, 2pm and 5:30pm, Acadia Hall, Lower Sackville) — learn more about the Draft Regional Plan and the Suburban Plan process; more info here
Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda here
Board of Police Commissioners (Wednesday, 4pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate and online) — agenda
Public Information Meeting: Case 2023-00484 (Former Case 24378) (Wednesday, 7pm, Centennial Arena, Halifax) — application to construct a 4-storey apartment building on Main Ave., Halifax
Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place and online) — agenda TBD
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, One Government Place and online) — committee business
Mount Saint Vincent
Using our voices to build a better world (Wednesday, 6pm, Auditorium B & C, Seton Academic Centre) — a lecture by Peggy Nash; info and RSVP here
In the harbour
06:45: Carnival Legend, cruise ship with up to 2,549 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Baltimore, on an eight-day roundtrip cruise out of Baltimore
08:30: Carnival Venezia, cruise ship with up to 5,145 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John, on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of New York
14:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
15:00: MSC Shristi, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Sines, Portugal
15:30: One Blue Jay, container ship (145,251 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Norfolk, Virginia
15:30: Lake Taupo, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Jacksonville, Florida
17:00: Carnival Legend sails for Saint John
18:00: Carnival Venezia sails for Sydney
22:30: Lake Taupo sails for sea
01:30 (Wednesday): Harbour Progress, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from New York
05:30: Mein Schiff 6, cruise ship with up to 2,700 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Reykjavik, on a 14-day cruise from Hamburg, Germany to New York
07:30: Flagship Privet, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
07:40: Norwegian Pearl, cruise ship with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Liberty Pier (Sydney) from Halifax, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Quebec City
08:30: SFL Trinity, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from New York
15:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry through the causeway for sea
17:00: Mein Schiff 6 sails for Halifax
17:30: Norwegian Pearl sails for Charlottetown
17:30: CSL Kajika, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Belledune, New Brunswick
Went to a friend’s wedding reception Thursday night. Why Thursday? Because they didn’t book early enough to get the weekend. If they had gotten the weekend, their event probably would have been cancelled. Three cheers for procrastination.