1. Emergency powers: Lake Pisiquid and John Lohr’s lies
John Lohr, the provincial minister responsible for the Emergency Management Office, has for the second time extended the provincial state of emergency related to Lake Pisiquid.
You’ll recall that Lohr used the excuse of the wildfires ravaging the province in late May to order the closure of the gate of the aboiteau on the Avon River in order to fill Lake Pisiquid. Lohr said fire officials told him the lake was needed for firefighting purposes; this was a flat-out lie — Lohr has never produced even a single fire official who said as much, and the local fire chief has directly contradicted him.
Here’s the text of the emergency order Lohr reissued yesterday:
On June 1, 2023, a State of Emergency was declared for the area around and including Pisiquid Lake, Windsor, Hants County in the Province of Nova Scotia.
Nature of the emergency:
Nova Scotia has experienced unprecedented wildfire activity in multiple areas of the Province since May 2023. Out of control wildfires have damaged homes and destroyed large tracks of land. Residents have been forced to evacuate and to remain displaced when fire gets too close. The current ground and forest conditions together with the longer-term precipitation forecast result in an extreme risk of fire in the Province and the imminent possibility of another fire emergency occurring. The Provincial government is monitoring the availability of essential water resources in the Hants County area for fire suppression purposes. These circumstances require the continuation of prompt coordinated action or regulation for the protection of property and for the health and safety of persons in Nova Scotia.
I am satisfied that an emergency, as defined in clause 2(b) of Chapter 8 of the Acts of 1990, the Emergency Management Act, continues to exist or may exist in the Province and requires the further continuation of the state of emergency in the emergency area identified above.
While under a Provincial State of Emergency, I may require any or all of the actions specifically listed under clauses 14(a) to (m) of the Emergency Management Act, or anything else I determine is necessary for the protection of property and the health or safety of persons in the Province.
The Directions issued from June 1, 2023, until today shall continue in place under this renewal unless terminated or changed by me in writing. Further Directions may be issued and posted for the public throughout the State of Emergency. [emphases added]
Under the powers he assumed with the state of emergency, Lohr issued a directive that the aboiteau at the Windsor causeway be closed, thereby refilling the artificial Lake Pisiquid:
“This aboiteau has caused Lake Pisiquid to completely dry up, posing a significant risk during this wildfire season,” said Minister Lohr. “At a time when wildfires across the province continue to spread out of control, we need to take every precaution to prevent further fires, protect communities and maximize the water supply resource available for our ongoing response.”
Even on June 1, the justification that the lake was needed for firefighting purposes was thin, but with on June 29?
Let’s repeat Lohr’s justification for extending the state of emergency:
The current ground and forest conditions together with the longer-term precipitation forecast result in an extreme risk of fire in the Province and the imminent possibility of another fire emergency occurring.
Yesterday, when Lohr issued the order, this was another flat-out lie.
As @HRMFireNews points out on Twitter:
I’m not following the Pisiquid Lake situation at all but that statement is absolutely 100% false at the current time. The scientific measurement of fire risk (FWI) is at or near 0.0 in virtually the entire province right now and there’s rain in the forecast every day for a week.
Lohr reissued the emergency order just as monsoon-like winds and rain were pelting my Dartmouth home. It’s been raining across the province more or less non-stop for three days. Here’s Environment Canada’s forecast for Windsor, Nova Scotia:
Let’s be clear: Lohr is using the Emergency Measures Act for political purposes.
People can disagree and argue about whether the aboiteau should be open or closed and whether Lake Pisiquid should exist or if the Avon River should run free for fish, but the use of the Emergency Measure Act to achieve political goals is outrageous.
The Act itself says that an:
“emergency” means a present or imminent event in respect of which the Minister or a municipality, as the case may be, believes prompt co-ordination of action or regulation of persons or property must be under- taken to protect property or the health, safety or welfare of people in the Province;
No serious person can argue that wildfires are now “a present or imminent event.”
There are many problems with using the Emergency Measures Act in this fashion, but the biggest is that it erodes public trust in government generally and the government’s implementation of emergency processes in particular. I fear what may happen if the distrust of the government’s use of emergency measures rises to the point of the public ignoring government orders in an actual emergency.
The level of distrust in government is already so high that using the Emergency Measures Act for political purposes may very well lead to a crisis of legitimacy for the government.
On July 18, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia will hear an application by fisherman Darren Porter to overturn the state of emergency. This in itself would be an extraordinary use of judicial power, but surely there must be some recourse to respond to Lohr’s blatant abuse of the emergency powers of his office.
Let’s recap: Lohr had no compunction in lying as justification for declaring a state of emergency in the first place, then lying again to extend the state of the emergency, solely so that he and his government can affect a non-emergency policy that they couldn’t reach through normal government operations.
This is damnably shameful.
2. The ‘freedom convoy,’ ‘mootness,’ and torturing prisoners
Yesterday, Supreme Court of Nova Scotia Justice Peter Rosinski published his decision in response to the Nova Scotia Civil Liberties Association’s request that the court rule that the province’s use of the Emergency Measures Act in 2022 to ban the “freedom convoy” from blockading highways was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The state of emergency related to COVID was declared in March 2020, but the particular directive related to the convoy wasn’t put in place until Feb. 4, 2022, after all that mess in Ottawa and as various freedumb types were talking on social media about blocking the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border.
On March 4, 2022, the province declared that the state of emergency would end on March 20, 2022, which meant that all emergency directives, including the ban of the convoy blocking highways, would also expire on March 20.
(It’s not like suddenly the convoy people can now block highways willy nilly and without penalty, but the emergency directive carried with it an enhanced fine of “between $3000-$10,000 for individuals and between $20,000-$100,000 for a corporation per incident.”)
But on March 17, 2022, the NSCLA petitioned the court for a hearing on the directive. I don’t know the exact date, but a few days later the court ruled that since the emergency and its associated directives were expired, the issue was moot.
Since then, the NSCLA has filed another petition, acknowledging that the issue is moot, but asking the court to rule anyway, as the NSCLA considers there to be an overriding public interest in having the court rule on the issue.
There might be merit in that argument. But Rosinski ruled that not only is the issue moot, but also that the NSCLA has no standing, and between the two, his court wasn’t even going to consider it.
I have no particular love for the convoy people, and I’d think they’d probably lose on the merits, had the case been heard — blocking the sole transport truck route into the province for potentially days is of several orders of magnitude more harm than, say, blocking the Macdonald Bridge for an hour.
Still, I think the courts too often take the easy way out and declare an issue “moot” simply to avoid addressing it.
I’m thinking particularly of the prisoners who file habeas corpus petitions with the court, which happens with distressing frequency.
What typically happens is a prisoner, or a group of prisoners, or the entire jail is confined to close quarters — this can range from being in a special segregation cell (loosely, “solitary confinement”) or simply locked in their own cells for very long periods of times, not allowed to go out on the range to socialize with other prisoners, or use the telephones, or go to the tiny wire cage that serves as outdoor recreation.
In response to these conditions, prisoners will use paper and pencil to write their own habeas corpus petitions to the court, and then hand them to a guard to deliver to the court. These petitions vary in both substance and gravity, but the gist of them is that severe conditions have been unfairly imposed on them outside the normal operations and procedures of the jail, and indeed, illegally. But it typically takes a few days for the petitions to get before a judge, and by that time the increased restrictions have been eased, and so the judge declares the issue moot — there’s no current restriction of liberty, and so therefore nothing the judge can order to grant the prisoner relief.
Some of these petitions can be quite painful to read. One, from a prisoner named Thomas Downey, came before Justice Christa Brothers recently, and she issued a ruling earlier this week — it should surprise no one that Brothers ruled the petition was moot because conditions have changed. But even while doing so, Brothers expressed extreme concern about what is happening at the jail.
Downey was jailed on Feb. 17, and convicted on March 13, sentenced to 165 days in jail, so will be released on Aug. 24, although with good behaviour could leave as early as today. On the day he entered the jail he was 36 years old, 5 foot 4.5 inches tall, and weighed 135 pounds.
Downey has not violated any jail rules, but he’s been repeatedly confined to his cell for long periods — not because of any disciplinary record against him, but rather because the jail is short-staffed; without enough guards, it becomes a safety issue to have prisoners congregating together on the range.
As a result, Downey has had very little time in daylight, very limited social interaction with other prisoners, and hasn’t been able to telephone his lawyer. He additionally hasn’t been able to shower much, and often when he does, he has to put back on the same filthy clothes he was wearing before he showered.
“He is not being treated differently or more harshly than anyone else in custody at CNSCF,” notes Brothers. But, she continued:
Mr. Downey testified that he finds it difficult because he is not able to exercise. He said he is stressed because he cannot talk to his family, and he cannot contact or see a doctor. He has been attempting to see a healthcare professional but has never been seen. He testified that he feels that the lockdowns are almost every day, and the situation is very difficult on his mental health.
Downey himself testified that:
I’m 36 years old. I have never, ever in my life reached 200 pounds. Just sitting in the cell eating, laying down, eating, laying down, I weigh 210 pounds. That’s because I’m not exercising. I have never ever weighed 200 pounds or more.
Mark that: in four months, Downey has gained 75 pounds.
Although Mr. Downey’s application cannot succeed, it has given the court the opportunity to express its deep concern about the routine use of rotational lockdowns to respond to staffing challenges at CNSCF. I accept that these lockdowns are having a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of the people in custody. These individuals are being confined to their cells for reasons that are outside their control. They never know from one day to the next how much time they will get outside of their cells, as the decision is made each morning when the unit captains arrive for their shifts. There is nothing that a person in custody can do to earn more time outside of their cell. This situation adds an extra layer of stress and anxiety to the day-to-day experience of persons in custody and staff, and can increase tensions in the dayrooms, as reported by D/S Ross [Deputy Superintendent Brad Ross].
When courts sentence offenders to prison, they do so with the hope that those individuals can rehabilitate themselves and successfully reintegrate into the community. That is the premise of our criminal justice system. Confining persons in custody – many of whom may have pre-existing mental health issues – to their cells for exorbitant periods of time does nothing to assist and support their rehabilitation. Mr. Downey provided persuasive evidence of the toll this is taking on his mental and physical health. Even a person with robust mental health would find it challenging to be regularly confined to a cell, often for more than 20 hours per day, with little notice and no ability to earn more time out. This practice is dehumanizing, and it is setting these individuals up to fail. They deserve better.
Staffing issues at CNSCF have been ongoing for over three years. I was provided with very limited information on this application concerning concrete steps being taken to alleviate the staffing shortage. While I accept that administrators like D/S Ross are doing the best they can with the available staff, this is cold comfort to Mr. Downey and others who have recently filed habeas corpus applications in relation to the rotational lockdowns at CNSCF. Nor will they find comfort in the fact that their onerous conditions of confinement are no more restrictive than those faced by their peers in protective custody and general population.
The court has no power on this application to order the government to increase its efforts to hire and retain more staff. That said, there are striking similarities between the conditions of confinement at CNSCF during rotational lockdowns and those that were held to constitute cruel and unusual treatment in Trang, supra [an Alberta case that found the extended use of close confinement had severe mental health effects on prisoners]. If creative and effective measures to hire and retain staff are not pursued, there may come a day when, in a suitable procedural context, the court can provide some form of remedy.
We are torturing prisoners in Nova Scotia.
3. The Renoviction Files: Phil Arab edition
“A Halifax man who was given a notice to vacate his South End apartment and still hasn’t found a new place to live said he has concerns about how the renovation work was handled and wants compensation for having to leave,” reports Suzanne Rent:
Phil Langille has lived at Tower Arms Apartment at 1104 Tower Rd. for the last three years. The bachelor apartment where he currently lives is the second one’s he’s rented in the same building, which is owned by Phil Arab.
Langille said signed a yearly lease the November when he rented the first unit in the building, and doesn’t recall signing a new lease when he moved to his current apartment.
Langille said he was given a notice to vacate on April 1 this year. That notice was a letter from Arab saying Langille had until noon Friday, June 30 to leave the apartment.
Under new rules around renovictions, landlords must give tenants a DR5 form: Agreement to Terminate for Demolition, Repairs or Renovations, at least three months’ notice, and one to three months rent as compensation, depending on the size of the building.
Langille said he never received a DR5 or compensation to leave the building.
4. Super predators
“New research has found that humans prey on 300 times more species than other predators, use more than one-third of all vertebrate species on Earth, and threaten almost 40% of them,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
Published Thursday in the journal Communications Biology, these are among the findings of an international team of scientists from 14 institutions, including Dalhousie University.
Researchers found that regardless of conservation approach, humanity must fully recognize the effects its “outsized” predatory niche exerts on target species and their ecosystems.
“Although humanity’s predatory niche is seemingly unrestricted, exploitation rates need to be constrained if >45,000 contemporary vertebrate species and the ecological processes they support are to be safeguarded,” the report’s authors wrote.
5. First Lake development
“Developers who proposed a 22-storey tower in Lower Sackville last fall have revised their plans and are instead proposing two six-storey buildings for the First Lake Drive site,” reports Yvette d’Entremont.
6. Nurses file for conciliation
This item is written by Yvette d’Entremont
Unions representing Nova Scotia’s acute care nurses have filed for conciliation after talks ended without an agreement on Thursday.
In a media release, the four unions behind the Nova Scotia Council of Nursing Unions (NSNU, NSGEU, CUPE, and Unifor) said talks that began earlier this year with Nova Scotia Health and the IWK Health Centre had reached an impasse.
The unions represent more than 10,000 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and nurse practitioners. They work in hospitals, public health, and satellite clinics throughout the province’s acute and community care sector.
The unions said the nurses have been without a contract since November 2020. They’ll now file for conciliation, and the Department of Labour will appoint a conciliator to resolve outstanding issues.
“Both the employers and the unions worked hard throughout the process. Council representatives say they remain committed to negotiating contract language that will improve work-life issues, but also begin to provide the competitive wages and benefits Nova Scotia’s nurses deserve,” the release said.
The council of nursing unions said it held a total of 29 face-to-face bargaining sessions with nurse representatives from all four unions and the employers.
This comes on the heels of news earlier this week that unions representing health care administrative professionals in the province’s hospitals have voted in favour of strike action. They work as equipment operators, administrative assistants, transcriptionists, clerks in all departments, health record technicians, and in other posts.
“There isn’t a single member of the public that goes to the hospital in Nova Scotia and does not interact with one of these members” Bev Strachan, co-chair of the bargaining team, said in a news release on Monday.
“Without them, hospitals don’t run.”
7. Wild turkeys
In 2001, hunters lobbied the province to introduce wild turkeys into Nova Scotia. The proposal was taken seriously, with a lots of public input. On one side were hunters; on the other side were the Bird Society, egg producers, and ag orgs.
In 2004, the province announced will turkeys would not be introduced. “We’ve reviewed the matter carefully and are satisfied that we’ve come to the correct conclusion based on the current situation,” said Chris d’Entremont, then the minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, in a press release. “If, at some point, new information is presented to us to suggest otherwise, we’ll revisit the issue.”
Well, there’s new information: probably due to climate change, wild turkeys are expanding their range. They’ve marched from Maine right across the border into New Brunswick, and there’s speculation that they’ll show up in Nova Scotia soon enough.
At least, some unknown (to me) person filed this freedom of information request:
I’m seeking information on wild turkey’s (sic) in Nova Scotia.
I’m looking for logs or reports of DNRR having to dispatch or trap Wild turkeys crossing the border from New Brunswick into Nova Scotia.
What policy does DNRR have to deal with this issue of Wild Turkeys entering into Nova Scotia. Occurrence logs and dispatch logs or data would help.
Unfortunately for the requester, the department has no such data, and no policy.
Lots of people see what they think are wild turkeys running around Nova Scotia, but in reality these are domestic turkeys that have been released into the wild, usually with the misguided assumption that releasing the domestic turkeys will lead to a wild turkey population. But according to this interesting discussion thread among hunters, those domestic turkeys will make it more difficult to establish a true wild turkey population in Nova Scotia.
I’m agnostic. I don’t share the hunters’ enthusiasm for introducing wild turkeys, but neither do I condemn it. I think it’s likely that like armadillos (have I mentioned armadillos???), sooner or later, they’ll show up here all on their own.
In the harbour
This Pilot Authority’s website appears to be down, so I’m unable to discover the schedules for ships.
I got up at 5am today thinking I’d have plenty of time to write about everything I wanted to write about, but alas, no.
I’m on Mastodon
The Halifax Examiner is on Mastodon