1. Mass Casualty Commission: police passed up access to province’s emergency alert system years before shooting
One of the earliest questions to arise from the mass shooting of April 2020 was how the police took so long to notify the public that a man driving a replica squad car was on a killing spree.
One reason, newly released documents show, is that RCMP don’t have direct access to the federal emergency alert system. Jennifer Henderson reports:
Although Nova Scotia had been part of federal alerting system since 2010, the rules around when and how to issue a warning to the public were too slow and too cumbersome to be of much help during the mass murders, which began when 13 people were killed in Portapique Saturday night, April 18, 2020, and continued on the next day as nine more people were killed over a 100-kilometre stretch across the middle of the province.
In fact, the gunman was shot and killed before the EMO decision-tree could sign off on the wording of a message from the RCMP warning people to be on the lookout for a killer possibly dressed as a police officer driving a replica police vehicle.
The RCMP had tweeted out that information at 10:21am Sunday after the gunman had killed half a dozen more victims in Wentworth and Debert. An EMO official called to see if they might assist. Had the RCMP contacted EMO officials, an alert could have been much more widely broadcast to everyone who owned a cellphone.
In theory, that is accurate. In reality, the RCMP and EMO operated in separate silos and the RCMP would have had to have reached out to EMO much earlier in the day.
Why doesn’t the RCMP have direct access to the emergency alert system? They were offered it years before the mass murder, but declined. Henderson takes us through the history of how RCMP decided not to accept access to the emergency alert system, and why that delayed warnings to the public on that tragic weekend in April 2020 in her latest article from the Mass Casualty Commission.
2. National survey: majority of respondents say long-COVID has had negative impact on brain
“When Tanaeya Taylor became infected with COVID-19 in March of 2020, she never imagined she’d still be struggling with the effects two years later,” writes Yvette d’Entremont in her latest piece on long-COVID, or COVID cases that persist well after diagnosis.
Three months after first contracting the virus, Taylor found herself battling dizziness, severe motion sickness, numbness on the right side of her body, chest pain and pressure, ongoing rapid heart rate (tachycardia), tremors, and extreme, overwhelming fatigue.
“Even lifting my arms or lifting my cell phone was too tiring. I was so exhausted. That was probably the scariest thing for me because I thought I was dying, literally, because I just could not stay awake,” Taylor said in an interview.
The symptom that’s persisted the most, Taylor told d’Entremont, is what she calls a “brain fog.” It’s kept Taylor, who’s 25, from working, driving, and exercising.
“I don’t feel fully alert,” said Taylor. “I feel drunk. I haven’t found a better way to explain it. I literally feel like I had too much to drink. I just feel out of it. I know I’m here, but it’s like my brain is slowed down.”
Sadly, she’s not alone.
More than 80% of respondents in a new national survey described long-COVID as “having a negative or very negative impact on their brain health.” And, of those experiencing neurological or psychiatric symptoms, 80% said it negatively or very negatively impacted their daily lives.
In her report on the survey, d’Entremont not only breaks down the findings, she goes beyond the stats to show stories like Taylor’s, and examine what’s being done to help the Canadians who’ve had lasting effects from COVID infections.
3. Beechville development approved six years after proposal
Six years ago, Parkdale Developments Ltd. applied to develop a property in Beechville. The owner of that company has since died, but his family took over and the development has finally been approved, Zane Woodford reports.
It will be a 39-unit apartment building near St. Margaret’s Bay Road.
Almost half the property will remain undeveloped to provide parkland, as is required.
The community council considered the impacts of the development on traffic, but chose to approve it anyway. Recent changes to the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter allowed the community council to approve both the land-use bylaw amendments and the development agreement at the same meeting, meaning a final approval won’t be necessary.
4. Wildfire burns through Yarmouth County; Newfoundland and Labrador sends aid
A news release from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) published around 5pm Tuesday reported a wildfire in Yarmouth County near Horseshoe Lake, which crews have been fighting since Monday, was continuing to grow.
The release stated the size of the fire was 350 hectares and the province was requesting assistance through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. Three hours later, at 8pm, the department tweeted an update, estimating the size of the fire had grown to 1,000 hectares. The update also said a water bomber from Newfoundland and Labrador had responded to the request for aid, and water was being dumped on the fire until dark.
Smoke from the out-of-control fire caused Environment Canada to issue an air quality warning for Yarmouth County, which was updated early this morning. Those with lung conditions or trouble breathing are urged to stay inside.
Kara McCurdy, DNRR’s wildfire prevention officer, spoke with Alex Cooke at Global Halifax on Tuesday, saying the cause is unknown, but likely the fire was started by people. Weather conditions are dry in the province right now and burn restrictions are in effect. The Yarmouth County fire is one of nine forest fires currently burning in Nova Scotia.
“The fire’s been hard to contain because the winds are very high down in the western region, and our humidity’s super low right now,” McCurdy told Global.
“[Crews] could be there for up to a week.”
5. Liquified natural gas: back on the table in NS?
“It became apparent that cost pressures and time constraints due to COVID-19 have made building the current version of the LNG Project impractical,” read a statement from Pieridae at the time.
“We will now assess options and analyze strategic alternatives that could make an LNG Project more compatible with the current environment.”
This morning, Frances Willick at CBC reports that Pieridae’s LNG plant proposal could be back on:
Pieridae Energy, the company behind the Goldboro LNG project, is in discussions with the federal government about how to move the project forward.
The proposed LNG terminal in Goldboro, N.S., was previously pitched as a $13-billion land-based facility that would bring in gas from Western Canada and then ship it to Europe. Pieridae shelved the project last summer due to cost pressures and time constraints.
But after Russia — a key supplier of oil and gas to Europe — invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the federal government approached Pieridae to see if the company could assist with efforts to ramp up energy exports to help wean Europe off Russian resources.
The last time Pieridae spoke to the feds the company was asking for a billion dollar handout. Oh, and there’s a Texas energy company that’s agreed to purchase Bear Head Energy and its proposed (aka in development for over 15 years) LNG project near Port Hawkesbury.
Whatever the circumstance, should we really help Europe wean itself off one fossil fuel by supplying it with another?
Led by Joan Baxter, the Examiner has reported extensively on the environmental and financial harms that come with bringing LNG to Nova Scotia. A quick search of the word “Pieridae” or “Goldboro” on this website will give you enough reading for a week. (Joan Baxter’s “Goldboro Gamble” parts one and two are a good crash course for the unfamiliar).
But ignore the financial boondoggle, the legal threats and SLAPP suits, and the fact that Goldboro’s never had the financing to put one shovel in the ground. We’re in the middle of a climate crisis, and the Goldboro plant alone would add 3.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere each year, “setting the province back half a decade,” as Gurprasad Gurumurthy at Ecology Action Centre told the Examiner last year.
To quote Tim Bousquet when he wrote about the end of the Goldboro plant proposal last summer: “Natural gas’s time has passed. The public hates it, governments won’t finance it, and no one is buying.”
Someone tell the federal government.
6. IWK expense scandal: Crown drops charges against Stephen D’Arcy
Michael Gorman at CBC is reporting that Crown prosecutors are dropping the case against Stephen D’Arcy, the IWK’s former chief financial officer who was charged in relation to an expense scandal involving the hospital’s former CEO, Tracy Kitch. The Crown cited insufficient evidence in its decision.
Back in 2017, an investigation from Gorman found Kitch had charged tens of thousands of dollars personal expenses to a corporate credit card. Charges included $3,219.97 spent at the Bay, $2,000 on cab and limo services, and charges from her iTunes and Netflix accounts.
Following Gorman’s story, the IWK board formed a committee to review the expenses and ultimately demanded Kitch’s resignation. The audit found Kitch had charged the IWK $47,273.32 in personal expenses. Kitch eventually repaid those expenses and is scheduled to be sentenced August 10.
D’Arcy, who resigned in September 2017, had been charged with breach of trust, unauthorized use of a computer, and mischief in relation to data. His trial was originally slated for the end of the month. From Gorman’s Tuesday article:
D’Arcy was charged in 2018 after a police investigation found he allegedly obstructed access to information requests related to the personal expenses of the hospital’s then CEO Tracy Kitch. Kitch was later convicted of fraud over $5,000 for expensing personal charges to the hospital. She’s scheduled for sentencing in August.
Outside the courtroom Tuesday, [Crown attorney Peter] Dostal told reporters it’s common for new information to present itself in the lead-up to a trial, which “can often take the form of witnesses remembering new aspects of their evidence, they want to revise their statements or otherwise elaborate on things they did not remember and did not bring up at their initial interviews.”
“In many cases that come into court, they all have weaknesses, they all have strengths, and sometimes this new information will bring a case that may have its weaknesses down below the threshold that we have to apply to determine whether to continue,” he said.
“And, in effect, this is one of those cases.”
For a fuller recap of the IWK expense scandal, you can find Tim Bousquet’s summary report from 2019 here.
7. Charlottetown discussing how to get rid of CAO Peter Kelly
Charlottetown city council will meet today to discuss the fate of the city’s CAO, former Halifax mayor Peter Kelly, the Canadian Press reported yesterday. This will be the second such meeting this week; councillors met behind closed doors Monday, but couldn’t reach an agreement on how to send Kelly out the door.
Kelly, who’s been Charlottetown’s CAO since 2016 and is no stranger to scandal — see concert scandal, estate scandal, unauthorized spending as CAO of an Alberta municipality — is under scrutiny over accusations he fired a chartered accountant for “raising concerns around financial irregularities, adherence to city bylaws and possible breaches of provincial law,” as Kerry Campbell reported for CBC in April. After his termination, the accountant gave council a list of 18 areas of concern where he said the city was either breaking its own financial rules or not complying with the province’s Municipal Government Act. He also said Kelly often exceeded his authority, sometimes authorizing expenditures that needed council’s authorization.
Charlottetown’s mayor, Philip Brown, has confirmed Kelly will be leaving his role as the city’s CAO, Steve Bruce reported Tuesday morning for CBC. But the terms of his departure are still unclear.
Tim Bousquet has written a number of pieces on Kelly’s past misconduct and gave his own opinion on this latest controversy in PEI when CBC broke the story in April.
Since Kelly was hired by the city of Charlottetown, I’ve been contacted every few months by people who wanted me to investigate his handling of finances and personnel issues with the city. I went to PEI once to meet with someone with personal knowledge of the situation, and I even went to a Charlottetown council meeting. Another time, I met with someone else here in Halifax who had concerns. But I’m stretched thin as it is here in Nova Scotia, and it’s a three and a half hour drive one way to Charlottetown, plus the tolls. Besides, I get angry that he keeps inserting himself into my work life — so I had to pass on more Peter Kelly reporting and leave it to others. I’m glad Campbell is taking the torch.
But no one should be surprised at any of this. Kelly’s entire career — from mayor of Bedford to Halifax mayor to Westlock CAO to Charlottetown CAO — has been characterized by charges of financial impropriety, staffing irregularities, and worse.
Perhaps word will finally get around. Or maybe, as before, Kelly will just pack his bags and take his grifting elsewhere.
One small step for the Lahey Report
“I’ll admit that when I first heard the Liberal government’s announcement just a few days before the May 2017 election,” Linda Pannozzo wrote for the Examiner in December 2018, “that if elected it would initiate an independent review of forestry practices, I was not only frustrated, but highly skeptical.”
She had a right to be skeptical.
The independent review she was talking about, dubbed the Lahey Report after the university president who led it, has led to little to no action on the ground in the nearly four years since it was published.
And why was it commissioned in the first place? There was already a review in place with recommendations that would change forestry practices for the better: the Natural Resource Strategy.
“The Natural Resources Strategy,” Pannozzo wrote in that same article, “was the direct result of months of genuine public consultations that took place about a decade ago.” She wrote:
People were angry because clearcutting dominated forest practices; forests were getting significantly younger and the old forests were nearly gone; species dependent on intact, un-fragmented forests were under relentless assault and the number of forest-dependent species at risk was on the rise.
The forests were being managed to provide what the pulp mills wanted.
But Stephen McNeil’s Liberals abandoned the Natural Resources Strategy and its citizen-led targets — a move that amounted to one of the worst public policy failures in this province’s recent history.
That strategy, and its target to reduce clearcuts to half of all tree harvesting in Nova Scotia, was “abandoned” in 2016. That year, 80% of harvested public land was clearcut. (For a quick summary of forestry practices in Nova Scotia, check out Joan Baxter’s 2017 article in The Coast).
So why start over with a new report? And will the 45 recommendations in the new report — recommendations meant to create forestry practices that allow us to continue having forests in the future — go the same way as the recommendations in the old report?
At the end of April, three premiers after the Lahey Report was published, there was finally some positive news.
The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) released a statement saying the majority of practices outlined in the Silvicultural Guide for the Ecological Matrix (SGEM, or for those who don’t speak bureaucrat, that’s the guide that tells us how to put the environment above industry when we cut trees) will be required by June 1.
“We are moving ahead with a fundamental shift in how forestry is done in this province, placing a higher priority on biodiversity and protecting healthy ecosystems within our provincial forests,” Tory Rushton, Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables, is quoted saying in the release. “We’re supporting that shift through broad-based training for our staff and forestry operators and projects that help private woodlot owners explore how they can adopt ecological forestry.”
So any Crown land that isn’t fully protected or designated for clearcutting (the Lahey report recommended forestry on public land be divided into three zones) will adhere to the ecological practices prescribed in the SGEM.
This is a small first step. And anyone with any knowledge of the forestry industry in this province and government’s response to it will likely be wary about the announcement. Fair enough.
In the leadup to this announcement, Minister Rushton and DNRR have been about as transparent as the last two governments when it comes to forestry changes and small cutblocks sized 10 hectares or less will be exempt from the new guidelines.
Additionally, the cutblock near Beals Brook in Annapolis County, where protestors have been camped out since December, asking that an approved harvest be stopped in the name of wildlife habitat for moose and other species at risk, will still be acceptable under the new guidelines. The province is ignoring the fact that, although it’s a small site of only 24 hectares, it’s surrounded by a sea of cutblocks, and the larger area must be taken into account. Harvests shouldn’t just be approved under the new rules on a case by case basis. The province needs to see the … what’s the expression about forests and trees?
These rules need to be enforced, too.
The Beals Brook site had to have its harvest approval amended after protestors alerted the province to the presence of endangered lichen species on the trees there. This, despite the site review that was said to take place there before WestFor was given the go ahead. If DNRR reviews future cutblocks with the same thoroughness, who’s to say the ecological forestry practices we hope for won’t be practiced on paper alone?
Still, this announcement shouldn’t be met with cynicism. Rather, it should be strongly encouraged. The public should maintain pressure to shift forestry practices has to sustain until it becomes the norm for biodiversity, wildlife, soil, and forest health to trump industry interests.
Public pressure recently protected the only habitat on the planet for Atlantic whitefish, stopping a planned cut on the bank of Lake Minamkeak this week. The Examiner has criticized the “public consultation” process the province uses to allow input on proposed cuts, the Harvest Plans Map Viewer, which seems designed to obfuscate and drain away public concern. Yet public outcry actually reached government ears this time. A small sign of progress. Just like this announcement — the first real announcement by any government — on pushing forward Lahey’s recommendations.
Perhaps we finally have a government that can be pushed by the public as much as it can be pushed by the forestry industry. We’re certainly due for one.
The fact remains that transparency is still lacking and industry interests are still prioritized too highly. Our forests and soils need time to rest, heal, mature, and grow if we want to maintain both our province’s natural splendour and, in the long run, our forestry sector.
The journey of a thousand miles might finally be starting.
A friend of mine’s returning to the workforce this week.
And before you get frustrated or suspicious of why she hasn’t been working, let me assure you she’s not one of those lazy millennials you hear about who used a world-wide pandemic as an excuse to sit home and funnel government cheques directly to her landlord, grocery store, and gas station. She’s just been off on maternity leave since the summer.
COVID had mostly kept her from going out with her baby or accepting visitors, so I hadn’t seen her for a while when I visited her a few weeks ago. I was eager to catch up and ask how she felt about getting back to work. What was it like raising a baby in the pandemic? How did she spend her days? Was she excited to get back outside?
She said she was excited for some adult communication and a change of scenery. Her days, she told me, had been spent on the floor — playing with blocks, making faces, cleaning messes, and generally trying to keep her child occupied and alive.
One thing her days didn’t include, at least not when her baby was awake, was television. The boy was born into a world of phones, tablets, and endless content, so she and her husband decided they won’t let him watch screens until he’s a bit older. That meant a lot more one-on-one time between mother and baby when dad was gone. She was sticking with her no-TV rule, but it drove her crazy at times. Actually, she admitted, she’d broken it a handful of times when absolutely nothing would pacify him.
Though not a parent myself, I can understand the temptation.
I worked a summer at a daycare during university, meaning, unlike actual parents, I got to walk away from the tears, tantrums, and general chaos of young children as soon as 5 o’clock rolled around each day. Eight hours was exhausting enough. If that was my life 24/7, I’d probably turn on Paw Patrol whenever the going got tough or I needed a moment.
I thought of my friend and her noble no-screen decree while I lounged this past Sunday morning and flipped through the New York Times — an activity writer Zadie Smith calls “the luxury of the childless.” In it, I came across an article from David Segal about Moonbug Entertainment, a London company that produces 29 of the world’s most popular online children’s shows. One of those shows, CoComelon, is the second biggest channel on YouTube. The way they produce those shows, programming meant for children up to six-years-old, is off-putting at best.
For the article, Segal sits in on a Moonbug research session.
Once a month, children are brought here, one at a time, and shown a handful of episodes to figure out exactly which parts of the shows are engaging and which are tuned out.
For anyone older than 2 years old, the team deploys a whimsically named tool: the Distractatron.
It’s a small TV screen, placed a few feet from the larger one, that plays a continuous loop of banal, real-world scenes — a guy pouring a cup of coffee, someone getting a haircut — each lasting about 20 seconds. Whenever a youngster looks away from the Moonbug show to glimpse the Distractatron, a note is jotted down.
“It’s not mega-interesting, what’s on the Distractatron,” said Maurice Wheeler, who runs the research group. “But if they aren’t fully focused, they might go, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ and kind of drift over. We can see what they’re looking at and the exact moment when they got distracted.”
I never saw that Mr. Rogers documentary, but I doubt this is how he put together his shows.
Also, if you were wondering, Moonbug’s research has found kids love yellow buses, objects with a little dirt on them, and minor injuries.
“The trifecta for a kid would be a dirty yellow bus that has a boo-boo,” David Levine, one of Moonbug’s executives, told Segal. “Broken fender, broken wheel, little grimace on its face.”
I’m sure the war against screens began shortly after the first black-and-white broadcast, with parents worried about literacy, attention spans, physical health and anything else a parent can worry about. Philip Moscovitch wrote a piece for Morning File last year that looked at fears that pinball machines and radio broadcasts would rot youthful brains.
I grew up without streaming or (as far as I know) kids’ shows that were designed for maximum addictiveness and assembled in a laboratory. And my parents told me all the time how harmful TV could be. But that didn’t stop them from pressing play on my VHS copy of the Lion King until the tape wore out. I didn’t grow up in some tech-free, natural utopia.
So, what’s wrong with a little screen time for kids?
A better question: is there a problem with creating content that will optimize the amount of attention we can grab from kids? That seems a little more suspect. Here’s my favourite part from Segal’s article:
[I]t’s moms and dads who generally hit “play” on these videos, suggesting that many either like them or have surrendered to them.
Is that so terrible?
Jordy Kaufman, who runs the Babylab research facility at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, said the impact of screen time on malleable young minds is “a big question without clear answers.” There’s a tendency, Dr. Kaufman said, to assume that screens are bad for infants because humans didn’t evolve with them. And the way that shows are tweaked for maximum addictiveness can make them seem like the audiovisual answer to junk food.
That said, it’s better for a child to experience something rather than nothing, he added, and given that youngsters will mature in a world where screens are ubiquitous, watching videos might help prepare them to navigate life.
Research or not, that argument is wild. The options aren’t put your baby in front of a screen or leave them in a sensory deprivation tank. Should you let a kid smoke because experiencing something is better than experiencing nothing? That’s got to be the weakest, most meaningless argument I’ve heard for anything in a long time. And if watching videos all the time prepares you to navigate life, is that even a life we want to prepare for?
In moderation, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with putting kids in front of a screen. I don’t know if it’s beneficial, but I don’t think it’s going to destroy brain cells. Not any more than falling off a bike or making yourself sick spinning in circles, anyway. And maybe these “factory-made” shows can be of some value. That’s what Moonbug hopes.
Many Moonbug shows urge viewers to get outdoors, and all come with unsubtle lessons about compassion, empathy, altruism and resilience. Whether these messages sink in, there’s no doubting the power of the shows to all but instantly tranquilize even the most discombobulated kid.
Like that 2-year-old in the blue T-shirt at the Moonbug office one recent afternoon. He’d shown up in the midst of a tantrum, which ended the second he heard the “CoComelon” theme song on that television.
It was no surprise to Wheeler, the head of research. “Ninety-nine percent of kids,” he said, “if they’re having issues when they get here, once that ‘CoComelon’ song comes on, they’re like, ‘Ah, life is OK. All is good with the world.’”
It’s that ability to pacify — combined with the modern algorithm-driven style that’s meant to mesmerize eyeballs as long as possible — that’s so unsettling. There’s nothing wrong with a little distraction. And the ubiquity of screens in today’s world is a problem for adults as well as kids; there’s no appropriate age to start losing yourself in a screen all day. But common sense should tell us using distraction to deal with emotions is an unhealthy approach to life, for ages 0 and up.
Anyway, I wanted to share a bit of this article for a good laugh. Or a good cry. Your choice.
Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am) — virtual meeting
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Funding to Community-Based Health Organizations, with representatives from the Department of Health and Wellness, North End Community Health Centre, Nova Scotia Association of Community Health Centres, Our Health Centre, and Sexual Health Nova Scotia
Moose Hide Campaign Day Kiosk & Workshops (Thursday, 10am, Student Centre) — live and virtual events:
The Moose Hide Campaign was founded on the side of the ‘Highway of Tears’ in response to the injustices and violence faced by women and children in Canada, particularly those who are Indigenous. What started 11 years ago with a small gathering of men and boys intent on raising awareness of the crisis of violence against Indigenous women and children has now become a national ceremony inviting all Canadians to join together to end gender-based violence.
Register here for virtual workshops and live-streamed ceremonies.
In the harbour
05:00: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
07:45: ZIM Vancouver, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
10:30: Morning Lena, car carrier, arrives at Pier 9 from Southampton, England
11:00: Snoekgracht, cargo ship, sails from Pier 27 for sea
13:00: John J. Carrick, barge, and Leo A. McArthur, tug, arrive at Cherubinin dock from Montreal
15:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal
16:30: Atlantic Sun sails for Liverpool, England
18:00: Morning Lena moves to Autoport
12:00: CSL Metis, bulker, moves from Port Hawkesbury anchorage to Aulds Cove quarry
12:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
13:00: Paul A. Desgagnes, oil tanker, sails from Government Dock (Sydney) for sea
19:00: Algoma Value, bulker, sails from Coal Pier (Point Tupper) for sea
- Speaking of the New York Times, Wordle got in some hot water this week. Monday’s answer, which was chosen months ago, was “FETUS.” It was quickly changed to a five-letter word less relevant to American news. Even puzzles can be politicized. Welcome to the 21st century.
- Facebook group/pandemic lifeline Ultimate Nova Scotia Kitchen Party won an East Coast Music Award for Industry Innovator of the Year over the weekend. Good on the ECMAs for recognizing them. Personally, when it comes to media that helped get me through the first months of the pandemic, only ZOOM rivals the Kitchen Party. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of Nova Scotians, ex-pats included.