1. John Risley’s South African adventure

Sometimes I get whiff of a story and just have to dive into it. This was one of those times:

On December 26, Boxing Day, I received an email with the subject line “JOHN CARTER RISLEY given his outrageous behaviour and bringing others to book in a huge scandal.” I quickly scanned the text of the email, and saw that, like the subject line, it contained lots of all caps, run-on sentences, and nonlinear thoughts.

I get a lot of such emails and assumed this was from just another crank or attention-seeker. Besides, I had family visiting for the holidays and was taking a bit of time off work, so I set the email aside.

My family left later that week. Then, on New Years Day, it snowed. I shovelled the walk, made a fire, and settled in, catching up on old email, including that odd email I’d set aside.

I read it over three or four times, parsed the sentences, and tried to work through to understanding. It was from someone named William Humphreys, who claimed to have been a lawyer and a personal friend and advisor to John Risley, the Nova Scotia billionaire.

With a distinctive style I’ve since come to recognize — heavy on all caps and winding asides — Humphreys told me about a complex arrangement involving an apartheid-era arms sales, and the subsequent involvement by Risley and others respecting an outstanding debt an arms dealer named Jorge Pinhol says is owed him.

Frankly, I didn’t believe it. But there was something about the tale that tweaked my interest and kept me wondering: could this story actually be true?

So I spent the next few weeks investigating Humphreys’ claims.

The result was a seven-week investigation; a trip to London, England; the expenditure of many thousands of dollars; multiple hours-long confabs with my lawyer; and, finally, the longest news article I’ve ever written, a 10,000-word story. It’s very long-form journalism.

You, subscribers, made this possible, and I very much appreciate it.

Click here to read “John Risley’s South African adventure.”

The subheadline:

How did a Nova Scotia billionaire end up as the cash and clout behind an international court battle claiming a South African government-owned arms company owes hundreds of millions of dollars to an international arms dealer who claims he lost money after Nelson Mandela’s new democratically elected government refused to honour the arms dealer’s deal with the apartheid regime? How indeed?

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I started the Halifax Examiner for a lot of reasons, but top of the list was my desire to dive into reporting in a way that almost all news outlets don’t make possible for their reporters. I think I did that with the “Dead Wrong” series, and I hope I did so with this Risley story.

But I don’t know. Maybe this story is too long, too complex, too abstract for most readers. I know that the story went directions I didn’t expect it to go, and while I think that actually makes it a better story, I’ll leave it up to readers to decide whether it was worth the effort.

One thing I need from this enterprise called the Halifax Examiner — which is to say, one thing I’m expecting from you subscribers — is the freedom to follow my instincts, to chase down a story, to see where it goes and, hopefully, to translate my research into a readable and interesting article for you.


The Examiner could produce more of this kind of work if more people subscribed. More subscriptions both allows me to hire more writers for investigations and frees up my time so I can work on more in-depth stories. One story comes to mind right now — I’ve been sitting on it for about two months simply because I haven’t had the time to get to it or the money to pay someone else to do it. There are lots of these.

Anyway, as I say, I do very much appreciate those who have already subscribed.

2. Barho fire

The Barho family. Photo: Ummah Masjid And Community Center/ Facebook

“The mother of seven children killed in a house fire in Halifax told two people the blaze started when a baseboard heater caught on fire,” reports Zane Woodford for StarMetro Halifax:

The Syrian refugee family had complained twice in the last month about the heating system in the seven-year-old house, and twice someone had come to fix it, according to a family friend.

Natalie Horne, vice president of HEART [the citizen group that sponsored the Barhos’ refugee move to Canada], has been at the hospital with the Barhos. On Wednesday, she said no one will be sure what caused the fire until the investigation is finished, but Kawthar told her through a translator that a baseboard heater in the living room caught fire.

“The baseboard heater was behind the couch,” Horne said. “The couch or sofa soon caught fire as well and it spread quickly toward (upstairs), where the children were sleeping at that point.”

Ibrahim Al-Shanti, an imam at Al-Barakah mosque in Fairview, said Wednesday that Kawthar also told him the fire started next to a heater.

Woodford does important work here. Read the whole article and subscribe to StarMetro to support his work.

3. Dartmouth High

Police responded to a weapons complaint at Dartmouth High School yesterday. The school was under lockdown from about 3pm to 5:30pm, and streets around the school were closed as a great number of police officers responded to the scene.

A 15-year-old boy was arrested, and an “imitation handgun” was seized. It was a bit of a scare for everyone (including me; I had family members in the school), but thankfully no one was injured and all are safe, although of course the arrested boy faces challenges.

The school issued the following statement later in the evening:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

We have many people to thank for assisting us during the lockdown today.

First and foremost, we thank our students and staff who displayed amazing poise throughout the entire event.

We thank the police who responded quickly and took all steps to ensure everyone remained safe while they conducted their investigation.

In the course of their investigation, police did take a young person into custody and an imitation weapon was found. Police do expect charges to be laid.

We thank the Halifax Regional Centre for Education for sending communication to parents/guardians on our behalf during the lockdown. The HRCE will be providing additional supports in the school tomorrow.

We thank Stock Transportation and their drivers for rerouting their buses to take our bused students home after the “all clear” was given.

And last, but definitely not least, we want to thank our parents/guardians for your patience and cooperation during a very stressful period of time.

We expect classes to resume as regularly scheduled tomorrow [that is, today] but if you feel your child may require additional support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the school.

Eartha Monard

Police appear to have responded promptly and worked their way professionally through the scene. I imagine (I don’t know) they train for exactly this kind of situation.

The public, however, oh boy.

I understand that everyone was stressed out and scared, but there was no need to post downright false information on Twitter. Posting “I’m worried about Dartmouth High” or “Pray for the students” is perfectly OK. Posting “Active Shooter at Dartmouth High!” or “Multiple gunmen!” when that information is not coming from police or other reliable sources is dangerously irresponsible.

4. Palace coup

Mipham Mukpo

The Shambhala Acharyas are “individuals that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has empowered to represent him and the Kagyu, Nyingma, and Shambhala lineages he holds. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche chose these individuals because of their knowledge, wisdom, and commitment to the confluence of teachings found in Shambhala.”

The Acharyas have revolted.

The Acharyas have sent a letter to the Shambhala “sangha,” or community. The letter calls on Mipham Mukpo — the “Sakyong,” in effect, the Shambhala king — “to step back from his teaching for the foreseeable future. We are shifting our emphasis from our role as representatives of the Sakyong to fully supporting the journey of the sangha. We will continue to teach and offer vows and transmissions for the benefit of the sangha and to help preserve the lineage.”

I don’t know… couldn’t the Shambhalians form an autonomous collective or an anarcho-syndicalist commune? Seems to me the whole preserving the royal “lineage” thing necessarily preserves the violence inherent in the system.

How’d Mukpo get to be king, anyway? By exploiting the workers! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society!

YouTube video

Sooner or later, usually sooner, pretty much everything can be reduced to a Monty Python scene.

5. Liberal cowards hide again

The five Liberal cowards on the Public Accounts Committee.

“Nova Scotia taxpayers are on the hook for renovations and border security at the ferry terminal in Bar Harbor, Maine, but the government doesn’t want to talk about it,” reports Bruce Frisko for CTV:

The Yarmouth ferry will use the terminal this season and on Wednesday, opposition parties tried to get the transportation minister to appear before the legislature’s public accounts committee — but politics prevented that from happening.

Opposition members introduced a motion to summon the transportation minister to the meeting to talk about the ferry, but after a quick huddle, the government side amended the idea, referring it instead to another committee: resources and economic development.

“We meet soon, and I will ask the clerk to put it on the agenda for a future meeting,” said Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, the Liberal MLA for Lunenburg.

But Halifax Needham NDP MLA Lisa Roberts said that’s not good enough.

“Having that topic come to that committee is not a substitute for it being at the public accounts committee,” Roberts said.

6. Weather

Weather today, they say.




Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — the Bus Stop Theatre is looking for government assistance:

[T]he Bus Stop Theatre Cooperative proposes a five year project that will entail the purchase of the properties in question, as well as the expansion of its facilities to include a new second performance space, two new rehearsal/gathering halls and new office space for arts organizations and non-profits. This project will require funding support from all levels of government and the private sector. The first and critical phase of this project is the purchase of the properties before the end of this year.

Also, Lake Banook will host the 2022 World Sprint Canoe Championships, and so a group called Canoe ’22 is looking to upgrade the various racing facilities on and near the park. The unsigned letter to the committee reads:

To improve the already highly regarded but dated Lake Banook competition course (Field of Play) and Back of House Facilities (surrounding shoreline areas of Lake Banook). To rival and exceed the best water sport facilities in the World.

We are thinking of this planning project the way we would think if we were building a stadium. The project will include infrastructure scope that covers the entire area around the lake:

  • Race course: buoy system, start lines, start towers, return lane
  • Parks: Grahams Grove Park, Birch Cove Park, Oakwood Park
  • Buildings: judges tower, annex
  • Docks
  • Power and Information Technology – wifi, fibre network, media network, power, video distribution and presentation
  • Spectator area on Prince Albert Road
  • Medal presentation area

Public Information Meeting – Case 21880 (Thursday, 7pm, South End Baptist Church, 60 Hastings Drive, Dartmouth) — application by T.A. Scott Architecture and Design Limited requesting to enter into a development agreement for two six-storey mixed-use buildings at 358-364 Portland Street, Dartmouth, and to rezone lands and enter into a development agreement for one four-storey residential building at 36A Rodney Road, Dartmouth. Case website.


No public meetings.


No public meetings today or Friday.

On campus



The Memorialist: Keynote Address (Thursday, 7pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — from the listing:

…a performance that accompanies the exhibition The Memorialist by D’Arcy Wilson. Departing from the lecture hall as a traditional site of knowledge exchange and academic research, Wilson employs the podium to deliver a lecture about the first public zoo in North America: Andrew Downs’ Zoological Gardens. Yet, facts break down into storytelling, oscillating between truth and whimsy, while addressing Andrew Downs’ early ideals of wildlife conservation. The hour-long PowerPoint is comprised of imagery and new media created and collected by Wilson, that laments the colonial mistreatment of nature, presenting narratives of conflicting care and harm that fueled the artist’s research.

Free admission, limited seating. Reception with cash bar to follow in the Gallery, with a community welcome to Laura Ritchie, Director/Curator of MSVU Art Gallery. Facebook event here.


Molecules Under Torture: Lasers, Forces, Voltages, and Beyond (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Ignacio Franco from the University of Rochester will speak.

Saint Mary’s


David Comissiong. Screenshot from Youtube.

Towards an understanding of Reparations as a creative, holistic and powerful tool of Black Liberation (Friday, 7pm, Room 265 in the building named after a grocery store) —  David Comissiong will speak.

In the harbour

06:00: Jennifer Schepers, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
07:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 41 from Saint-Pierre
16:00: Drive Green Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
16:45: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Boston
21:30: Jennifer Schepers sails for Kingston, Jamaica


We’ll be publishing an article written by Joan Baxter later today.

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

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  1. “Sooner or later, usually sooner, pretty much everything can be reduced to a Monty Python scene.”

    I knew I subscribed to the Halifax Examiner for a reason. But seriously, thanks for what you do and I’m looking forward to reading 10K words on John Risley.

    Oh, and peak Spitting Image:

  2. I tried subscribing to Star Metro when they had a promotion last week, but I had questions about it, so I emailed and my email bounced back. I searched their site to find the right address (.ca instead of .com) and got an ambiguous answer to my question, and then had to email a second time to clarify. In the meantime I tried calling the 1-800 number which gave me a weird busy signal and then a hangup. I missed the deadline for the promotion. I’m happy to pay for some news but work with me here, Star Metro.

    1. I too had problems. Even after I subscribed successfully, I kept getting pop-ups telling me to subscribe. It’s good now on desk top, but mobile is still messed up. Perhaps they should contract the Examiner to supply IT services.

      1. I subscribed 5 months ago and the mobile app still defaults to Toronto news though the masthead says THESTARHALIFAX and my profile location is Halifax.

        Love Zen Woodford’s local coverage but the online experience leaves quite a bit to be desired.

  3. The homes in Quartz Drive,Spryfield are where cold winds sweep across an elevated and barren area. Fires from baseboard electric heaters are rare if they are properly installed and clear of curtains and furniture. Plug in heaters are a greater risk. The cost of electric heating this winter will be high; our oil consumption this winter is significantly higher than previous years and we are not living in an exposed area.