News

1. Lisa Banfield

Memorial at the Portapique church hall. Photo: Joan Baxter

The Mass Casualty Commission (the public inquiry into the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020) on Thursday published its summer schedule. Notably, the commissioners have decided that Lisa Banfield will testify in person for one day, July 15. She will be allowed two “support people,” and she will not be cross-examined by lawyers representing the families of other victims.

I’ll say this right upfront: This is a bad decision. It’s bad for the victims’ families. It’s bad for public understanding of what happened before and during the murders. It’s bad for faith in the inquiry’s work. And it’s bad for Lisa Banfield.

Banfield was the life partner of the murderer for 19 years, and therefore presumably knew him better than anyone, and must have deep insights into his personality and habits, and in particular his violence and his financial matters. She might know something of the killer’s relationship with an RCMP officer who visited from time to time. She does have first-hand knowledge of the killer acquiring illegal weapons and building the fake police car. She was with the killer the entire day before the rampage began, during which she may have helped him clear brush along a rough roadway that was later used as an escape path during the murders, and perhaps visited some of the sites connected to people who were murdered the next day. She certainly knows how the rampage began, and from her vantage point in the woods, she might know how the murders unfolded Saturday night, April 18. And she will have an understanding of how police handled the information she related to them about the fake police car in the early hours of Sunday, April 19.

That’s a lot of very important territory to cover. Were I to make the call, I would schedule her to testify for an entire week, with cross-examination. (The victims’ families’ lawyers have repeatedly demonstrated they can cross-examine respectfully and with the mental health of the witness at top of mind.) As I say: the commissioners made a bad decision.

Still, let’s step back and have a considered conversation about Banfield.

Banfield has been and continues to be the target of innuendo, misinformation, and lies, much of it couched in misogyny.

There is zero evidence — none — that Banfield had any prior knowledge of the killer’s particular plans for the murders. It is an outright lie to say that she did without a shred of evidence. Innuendo, suggestion, and belief are not evidence.

Banfield’s long association with the killer does not mean she was of like mind. There is plenty of testimony already made public that lots of people were aware that she was the repeated victim of domestic violence, and that the killer had a large number of other sexual partners. It’s clear she was in a physically and psychologically abusive relationship.

That’s not to say that Banfield had no agency. She obviously made a series of bad choices that led to her becoming and staying involved with a man who was harmful to herself and others, and to some degree her participation in that relationship gave him that much more power. But whatever bad choices she made in terms of her relationship, she is not the killer.

This is an area worth investigating at length, so that the public can get to a better understanding of the connection between intimate partner violence and broader expression of violence in mass murders.

With regard to Banfield’s agency, she was aware of the killer’s illegal weapons and fake police car, but failed to report them to police. But here’s the thing: hundreds of people were aware of the fake police car — including the killer’s lawyer friend, an officer of the court. And dozens of people were aware of the illegal weapons. But with the exception of Brenda Forbes, none of those people alerted police about the illegal weapons or the fake car. (And Forbes says that police failed to respond appropriately to her complaint.) It is unfair to hold Banfield to a higher standard than the hundreds of other people who were not in an abusive relationship with the killer.

Banfield did not, as has been stated, come out of the woods “fresh as daisies.” This is a lie. Banfield was hospitalized for five days after the murders, with physical injuries.

Importantly, when Banfield did come out of the woods, she was immediately cooperative with police, giving an interview even as she was being treated in an ambulance, and then again later from her hospital bed.

Banfield’s biggest crime — and she was charged with a crime — was helping to provide ammunition to the killer. As I understand it, at the killer’s request, her brother James Banfield used his firearms licence to purchase the ammo, and Banfield was the conduit back to the killer. Both Banfields were given the opportunity to participate in the restorative justice system — if they complete a year of agreed upon action, after that year, the charges against them will be dropped.

When the restorative justice process was announced, Michael Scott, a lawyer with Patterson Law, which represents about half the victims’ families, said that a reasonable way for Lisa Banfield to take part in the process would be for her to testify before the commission. Indeed, while the details of the deal with Banfield are not public, that seems to be what happened.

Lisa Banfield has already been interviewed by Mass Casualty Commission investigators five times — four times more than any other witness. This suggests a considerable, even complete, cooperation with the inquiry. And, unlike in a court trial, the transcripts of those five interviews will be entered into the public record next week, so we can all see just how responsive she was.

I have sympathy for Banfield. She was a victim for many years, and then a victim on the night of April 18. It must be terrible to be associated with such a monster, and unimaginably terrible to be adjacent to his murders. And even now, she is the target of a continued campaign of lies and misogyny.

But testify she must, and at length. It should be for more than a day. She should be cross-examined.

In her testimony, Banfield will likely relive many horrible moments. She will have to speak directly and uncomfortably about herself. So it’s reasonable for her to have support people during her testimony, and she should take as many breaks as she needs.

Her testimony, I think, will be a heart-breaking public ritual. One brought on first of all by a horrible man who did horrible things, but also by a public that demands more answers than can be provided, and a misogynist segment of the public that wants to crucify a woman for the sins of a man.

I don’t know Lisa Banfield. I don’t know what kind of emotional state she is in. I hope, though, that next week’s public ritual will bring her some peace.

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2. Fast-tracking development: Disaster capitalism at work

2021 conceptual plan for Clayton Developments’ Port Wallace “The Parks” subdivision

In March, Housing Minister John Lohr designated five “special planning areas” in HRM, bypassing the municipality’s normal development approval process. One of the areas was the enormous Port Wallace development, and last week the province announced that “early tree removal and mass work” can proceed on the site.

As Joan Baxter has been reporting for some time, and again pointedly this morning, the Port Wallace development sits atop and adjacent to toxic mine tailings that, if disturbed, could poison the Dartmouth chain of lakes and the entire Shubenacadie River system with arsenic.

Click here to read “Fast-tracking Port Wallace development threatens Lake Charles and health of future residents.”

One point I’d like to concentrate on here, however, is this:

This green-lighted development at Port Wallace raises some red flags about Premier Tim Houston’s government’s intrusion into municipal affairs with its 2021 Act to Establish the Executive Panel on Housing in the Halifax Regional Municipality, and possibly also what looks like its intention to ignore serious environmental risks in the area.

All the minutes of executive panel meetings that were posted in February and March 2022 show that meetings were held “in camera” — meaning the public is left completely in the dark. There is an agenda, but there are no minutes of what was said, who said it, and what happened.

In recent weeks, many people in Canada have been fretting over the decisions being made by the unelected and partisan members of the United States Supreme Court to curtail the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to fight climate change by curbing emissions.

Yet here in Nova Scotia, the handing over of enormous amounts of power to a small group of people hand-picked and appointed by the provincial housing minister — a group of people whose meetings are all held behind closed doors — seems to have evaded serious scrutiny.

Any criticism leads to immediate arguments about the desperate need for housing, despite the evidence that the proposed development areas are more like urban suburbs and not being designed to provide what is really needed — long-term and genuinely affordable housing.

I’m reminded of Naomi Klein’s notion of disaster capitalism, which she developed as length in her book The Shock Doctrine, and described succinctly in this Guardian article:

This strategy has been a silent partner to the imposition of neoliberalism for more than 40 years. Shock tactics follow a clear pattern: wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called “extraordinary politics”, suspend some or all democratic norms — and then ram the corporate wishlist through as quickly as possible. The research showed that virtually any tumultuous situation, if framed with sufficient hysteria by political leaders, could serve this softening-up function. It could be an event as radical as a military coup, but the economic shock of a market or budget crisis would also do the trick. Amid hyperinflation or a banking collapse, for instance, the country’s governing elites were frequently able to sell a panicked population on the necessity for attacks on social protections, or enormous bailouts to prop up the financial private sector — because the alternative, they claimed, was outright economic apocalypse.

This works because there is no other way of perceiving the world than through the lens of market capitalism, and the market can never fail, it can only be failed.

So, there is a housing crisis, and so therefore the market has been failed. Never mind that markets are supposed to work perfectly, that according to Econ 101 textbooks, with high demand should necessarily come greater investments and an increase in supply and therefore a corresponding decrease in prices. And certainly never mind that that has not happened suggests that markets can indeed fail.

But it’s not the supposedly perfect system that is at fault; it’s we weak humans who have failed the perfect system. We do not study and understand the holy texts. We do not give enough deference to the priests and lords. It is our very lack of faith that brings upon the wrath of the gods.

All of this is absurd. “We live in capitalism,” wrote Ursula Le Guin. “Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

But Houston and Lohr and the market faithful will not tolerate dissent or resistance, much less change. There is one true faith, and the only way to address the present crisis is to sacrifice to the gods of the market. Any semblance of regulations or demands of the gods will be tossed into the volcano, non-market housing heretics placed on the rack.

I realize as I’m writing this, that the market faithful will read these words and think I am either dumb or not mentally well, or both. “Doesn’t he understand basic supply and demand?” they will say. They will think I am the simpleton, when in actuality they cannot think outside their chimerical constructs.

And so, the priests and lords will be unchallenged. Clayton Developments will be given whatever it wants, including huge public subsidies, and arsenic will flow into Lake Charles, all in the name of appeasing the market gods.

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3. COVID

Weekly COVID death counts in Nova Scotia since January. Note that because of a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has just six days.

Four people are reported to have died from COVID-19 during the week of June 21-17.

By age cohort, the deceased are:
• 50-69: 1
• 70+: 3

Additionally, there were 28 people hospitalized because of COVID during the same period.

By age cohort, those hospitalized are:
• under 18: 2
• 18-49: 1
• 50-69: 7
• 70+: 18

Nova Scotia Health provides the following hospitalization status, as of Thursday:
• Currently in hospital for COVID-19: 21 (3 of whom are in ICU)
• Currently in hospital for something else but have COVID-19: 122
• Currently in hospital who contracted COVID-19 after admission to hospital: 64

The above figures do not include hospitalizations at the IWK, where possibly the two children who were hospitalized are or were being cared for.

Weekly lab-confirmed (PCR tests) new case counts sine January. The gap reflects a temporary change in testing protocol that makes weekly comparisons meaningless. Because of a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has just six days.

Also, there were 1,491 lab-confirmed (PCR tests) new cases over that period. That does not include people who tested positive with only the rapid take-home tests or who didn’t test at all.

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4. Emergency departments are closing

There were no lawn chairs when the Halifax Examiner visited the Cobequid Community Health Centre’s emergency department before its 7 a.m. opening this week, but there were line-ups like this one on Tuesday, June 28. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

“The chief of the province’s second busiest emergency department says record-breaking overcapacity issues are making it increasingly difficult for them to fill the gaps of a primary care system in crisis,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“Our capacity at best is probably 140 a day, and we’ve been averaging over 150 a day fairly regularly and more in the last month,” Cobequid Community Health Centre emergency department chief and chief of medical staff Dr. Mike Clory said in an interview.

“We had 181 show up (June 13), which was our busiest day on record, and we’ve had in the 170s a number of times…The top 20 busiest days have been in the last several months.”

“A trend (over the last couple of months) is people are now showing up at seven in the morning lining up in lawn chairs,” Clory said.

“Not because they’ve had chest pain through the night, but because they don’t have a family doctor and they’ve had the sore knee or they needed blood pressure medication and they can’t get into a walk-in clinic and this is their only option and they want to make sure they get seen.”

While the Cobequid emergency department has the capacity to care for patients arriving with serious and life-threatening conditions, those who show up with non-emergency issues could soon be out of luck.

“We certainly can’t provide the level of emergency care that we used to provide in that we had capacity to see people who didn’t have life-threatening problems in a reasonably timely manner,” Clory said.

“It’s getting to the point now where more and more of our resources are going to have to be just for true, life-threatening or potentially life-threatening conditions that can’t be dealt with elsewhere. We don’t have the resources to deal with the primary care needs that are unfulfilled.”

Click here to read “Nova Scotia’s second busiest emergency department is dealing with record-breaking overcapacity.”

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5. Barristers Society

Photo from the webpage of the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society illustrating diversity.

Writes Stephen Kimber:

The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society’s new president, already under fire from within over her speech at the society’s AGM, has hired a Toronto law firm to investigate more allegations from within of ‘direct and systemic discrimination and harassment.’

Click here to read “NS Bar Society: another day, another racism investigation.”

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Government

City

Advisory Committee on Accessibility in HRM (Monday, 4pm) — virtual meeting

Province

Monday

No meetings

Tuesday

House of Assembly Management Commission (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place) — MLA office rents, appointment of auditors, HAMC Regulation changes, adoption of inventory control matrix, 21-22 financials and CPI adjustment


On campus

Dalhousie

PhD defence, Biology (Monday, 10am) — Stephanie Hall will defend “Assessing Transcriptomic and Physiological Responses of Environmental Stress in Mussels (Mytilus Edulis) From Two Populations and Sizes to Discover Markers Capable of Monitoring Mussel Health.”


In the harbour

Halifax
05:45: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Autoport from St. John’s
06:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Saint Croix, Virgin Islands
12:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
14:00: Vivienne Sheri D, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
14:30: Oceanex Sanderling sails for St. John’s
16:00: River Mas, cargo ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
16:30: Tropic Hope sails for Palm Beach, Florida
23:00: Vivienne Sheri D sails for Portland

Cape Breton
12:00: Donald M. James, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
12:00: CSL Kajika, bulker, moves from Pirate Harbour to Aulds Cove quarry


Footnotes

Whatever happened, I apologize.


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Tim Bousquet

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

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