News

1. COVID

Source: Nova Scotia Weekly COVID-19 Epidemiologic Summary

On average, more than 1,000 people are testing positive for COVID-19 every day in Nova Scotia.

There were 8,296 positive PCR tests in the province in the eight-day period of March 30 to April 6. On Thursday, there were 1,305 positive tests. Those figures do not include the unknown number of people who tested positive using the rapid test kits.

Table compiled by Tim Bousquet

Also, eight people died over the seven days from March 30 through April 5. That’s a reduction from the peak of 20 deaths for the week ending February 15.

That may be a momentary lull. The Epidemiologic Summary continues to say that the death rate per cases of Omicron is 0.3%, but while that rate has decreased since the first wave, the number of cases has increased dramatically more, so there’s been an increase in the number of deaths — 151 people have died from COVID since Omicron came in December four months ago, compared to 112 in the 21 months from March 2020 through November 2021.

I asked Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang yesterday what he anticipates the future death count will be, but he declined to answer. Here’s our exchange, with Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Shelley Deeks adding her thoughts:

Bousquet: I wonder if you could flesh out a bit the difference between rates and absolute numbers. The weekly report says that the rate of deaths is like 20 times lower than it was in the first wave. But we’re having far more than 20 times as many cases, so the number of deaths is more. There were seven thousand cases last week; if the rate is 0.3%, can we expect 21 of those people to die?

Strang: So that depends. We’ve got additional steps in place in terms of our reporting, early therapeutics or virtual care. So ultimately, the outcome of somebody who’s diagnosed positive depends on how well they are connected to those additional supports. So I think what we have to understand is that, yeah, that rate applies to what is your individual risk and we know of those who are vaccinated, any individual’s risk of getting severe disease is very low. There are factors — age and medical condition — which increase that for some people. We feel we’re in this challenging period where the vast majority of people — there’s going to be lots of them that are have been getting COVID that are not going to get severe severe illness. That is one of the key reasons why we have to balance the strength of our restrictions to control COVID because the vast majority of people are not going to be significantly harmed by COVID, so we can’t do more harm than the other side with our restrictions.

Deeks: Maybe I’ll just add that in the Epi report, you’ll see death presented in a number of ways. So we are looking at it in multiple ways because each number tells us something a little bit different. So we all have the absolute number and then the case fatality rates of the proportion of deaths compared to the total number of cases. We need to look at both numbers, because we know that the total burden of COVID cases in this latest wave is so much higher. So even despite that, even though the absolute number of way of deaths in this wave is high, when we look at the proportion of deaths compared to the total number of cases, it is almost 10 times lower than than it was in the first in the first wave. And then, of course, the death rates which we look at in the age groups have the denominator of the total population. So we can look at the rates by age. And of course, the population size varies by age. So you can’t just look at the numbers by age. We look at it in all those three ways so that we can see the complete story, if you will, of the Epi in this pandemic.

Bousquet: Some other provinces have made their their COVID modelling public. I don’t know if Nova Scotia even has that, but can you tell us what kind of death count we should be expecting?

Strang: So we model — the Nova Scotia Health Authority is our lead on modelling and they’ve modelled case numbers and hospitalization numbers. As I said, you could make some predictions around death, but a lot of that involves factors around clinical care as well, which are hard to model.

I’ve asked the Nova Scotia Health Authority for the modelling, but that was late in the day yesterday and I haven’t yet received an answer.

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2. Police thought killer was “closure motivated”

This item refers to suicide.

One point that I don’t think I’ve stressed enough about the mass murders of April 18/19 is that in the middle of the night, after the Portapique murders but before the killing resumed on Hunter Road, police were convinced that the killer had killed himself.

This was documented in the notes of Staff Sergeant Jeff West, the critical incident commander that night. In the section of the notes excerpted below, this is who West refers to:

“HALLIDAY” is Staff Sergeant Steve Halliday
“I/C” is Incident Commander, so West himself
“CNT” is Crisis Negotiating Team, which is a team of one — Staff Sergeant Al Carroll
“victim” is Greg Blair
“the wife” is Jamie Blair.
“MacCULLUM” is Staff Sergeant Addie MacCullum

0432 hrs- HALLIDAY to I/C and group, from the interviews suspect shoots victim on the deck, shoots the dog, shoots the wife, saw him, knows him and he drove away in a ford Taurus. He has done all this on the way to a familiar area to do himself in. There are no more fires, he was there as the fires were going up.

CNT advised group, suspect appears “Closure Motivated” and that he has had no luck in making contact. I/C noted cars burned, his place is burned and questioned was the Mercedes burned?

MacCALLUM to group advised members did not see a Mercedes.

At 4:32am, West was at the Great Village Fire Hall command post. The officers understood that both the killer and Lisa Banfield’s Mercedes were unaccounted for, but that doesn’t seem to have overly bothered them. Halliday posited that the killer had killed himself. Carroll, the crisis negotiator, agreed, saying the killer appeared to be “closure motivated.”

“Closure motivated” is a term used by police negotiators. As explained in this Ottawa Citizen article:

The calls they [crisis negotiator teams] respond to typically involve three types of behaviours that dictate their response. An instrumental person, [Ottawa Police Sgt. Richard] Dugal said, is somebody who uses the situation or people to bargain. It’s the bank robber who takes hostages and wants a specific dollar amount to release them. That person knows they need to communicate through the police and the people involved are bargaining chips, Dugal said.

Then, there is an expressive person, someone who is highly emotionally involved in what’s happening. They have connections to other people involved, like family members or former lovers. Oftentimes, expressive people are the ones involved in what police call a “barricaded person” call, the quintessential person in distress who may or may not have a diagnosed mental illness and who has barricaded themselves while threatening harm.

“They just come to their worst day for a number of factors,” Dugal said.

Finally, there is the high-risk person, sometimes referred to as “closure-motivated,” who is suicidal or homicidal and is presenting, through their previous history, words or gestures that “they are at imminent risk of violence against themselves or others,” Dugal said.

I want to know more about the training that crisis negotiators get. It looks a lot like other junk science regularly accepted by cops. I mean, how much can be learned in a two-day training seminar that involves several different courses? In the wrongful conviction community, “40-hour experts” are routinely lambasted:

Advanced training and certifications are widely offered to police who learn complex scientific methods in a matter of hours or days, compared to years of formal education required for similar experts in other fields. Designations such as “Certified Fire & Explosion investigator” or “Blood Spatter Analyst” offer the public and police a false sense of expertise. Judges and jurors often assume that, due to the nature and complexity of these fields, training was extensive. This is incorrect.

Can a cop with no experience in psychology or psychiatry — Al Carroll in this case — assess the psychological state of a mass murderer he had never met or talked to, on the fly in the middle of killing spree, based solely on a couple of days of lectures he had taken in a hotel conference room years before? Seems doubtful.

But legitimacy of the crisis negotiating training aside, this is a case of supposition getting ahead of the facts: in the early morning hours of April 19, there was no evidence — none — that the killer had killed himself. It was just a couple of cops (Carroll and Halliday) guessing. And yet, it appears that that guess resulted in a lackadaisical approach to establishing roadblocks around Portapique and the decision to not alert the public about the killer. And so, nine more people were murdered.

Another aspect of the police response that should be investigated is police communications.

It used to be that every newsroom had a radio scanner, and some unfortunate overnight reporter was tasked with chasing down ambulance, fire, and police calls. But some years ago, police departments across Nova Scotia, including the RCMP, started encrypting their radio communications, and so when the Portapique murders happened, there was no reporter listening in as the name of the killer and the fact that he was unaccounted for was broadcast.

There might be good reasons for encrypting police radio — though given that police regularly use cell phones to communicate, I doubt it — but if so, then communications to the public need to be broadened considerably.

The mass murders are the perfect tragic example of the problem. It wouldn’t have mattered that the RCMP didn’t alert the public about the killer had the police radio communications been open — news media would have done the job for them, and more effectively, over multiple platforms. But with encryption, that crucial information was kept from the public entirely.

My guess is the RCMP communication professionals were off work for the night. When they came to work in the morning, they went through a ponderous decision tree before multiple more murders got them to issue clear information to the public. But even then it was on just one platform, Twitter, and of course, as we know, the emergency alert system was never activated.

If there is no one in place to make quick decisions about when and what to inform the public about, or if that process is so cumbersome as to make it irrelevant, then police shouldn’t be encrypting their communications at all.

Heidi Stevenson. Photo: RCMP

This morning, I received 57 files from the Mass Casualty Commission regarding the shoot-up of the Onslow fire hall (I just took a quick scan of the main document, and boy howdy). I expect that later today I’ll be receiving hundreds of more files about the shooting of Cst. Chad Morrison and murders of Cst. Heidi Stevenson, Joey Webber, and Gina Goulet. Those files are embargoed until Monday, so I’ll be spending the weekend reading the thousands of pages of documents and preparing my reporting, which will be published Monday.

Commission staff will be making public the “foundational documents” — their understanding of what happened — for Onslow and the events in Shubenacadie Monday. Tuesday, I’ll receive a bunch more files about the killing of the murderer at the Enfield Big Stop, and those documents will be embargoed until commission staff release their foundational document regarding that incident on Wednesday. Public proceedings are scheduled for Thursday, but I’m not sure what exactly will happen that day.

Public proceedings will next resume the week of April 25, which is devoted to examining the killer’s fake police car and the RCMP’s understanding of and response to the fake car as the killings unfolded.

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3. Regulating Nova Scotia Power

Natural Resources and Renewable Energy Minister Tory Rushton at Province House, April 7, 2022. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Natural Resources and Renewable Energy Minister Tory Rushton has tabled amendments to protect solar homeowners from any new fees that might be imposed by Nova Scotia Power (NSP) in the future and to encourage the adoption of renewable energy by large consumers such as universities and businesses. 

Included as part of the company’s general application for a 10% rate increase was a new “system access charge” of $8 on every kilowatt of solar power produced by a homeowner generating their own renewable electricity. The new charge was greeted with howls of protest from the solar industry and renewable energy advocates and was quickly withdrawn by Nova Scotia Power.

The amendments put forward by the Houston government are designed to ensure that doesn’t happen again. “We are introducing amendments to the Electricity Act and the Public Utilities Act to improve the net-metering programs, support the solar energy industry in Nova Scotia, improve the Green Choice program, and more,” said Rushton.

Solar currently generates only 1% of the electricity consumed in the province. But the industry is growing, and more than 80 installation companies are struggling to keep up with the demand from homeowners and businesses.

If the PC amendment passes as expected:

• Nova Scotia Power will be prevented from bringing in any new charges related to solar energy. 

• Homeowners may generate up to 27 Kw of their own power and any who manage to generate 100% of their own electricity will pay only the the minimum residential charge of $10.83 a month. 

• The former limit of 100kw for farms or businesses such as IKEA who were using solar arrays or wind turbines to generate their own renewable power will be replaced by a higher ceiling to be determined in new regulations. 

• Another amendment will force Nova Scotia Power to implement within one year something called the “Green Button Standard.” It would require the utility to provide ratepayers with all their data on electricity consumption so they can identify where to find savings.

The Progressive Conservatives are also proposing, as the New Democratic Party did last week, to introduce new performance standards around environmental targets, energy efficiency, and serving low-income households. The goal is to make Nova Scotia Power more accountable to ratepayers. 

And although the categories of PC performance standards appear suspiciously similar to ones proposed by the NDP, there is one major difference. 

The NDP “Act respecting the Performance-Based Regulation of Electrical Utilities” would link performance standards to how much profit Nova Scotia Power is allowed to make. Today, NSP earns about 9% profit. The company has requested the Utility and Review Board increase that to 9.5% and allow the company to apply that margin to a much larger share of its assets, generating tens of millions of extra dollars for its shareholders each year. The NDP would lower how much profit NSP can make and reward the company with bonuses or incentives tied to meeting or exceeding performance standards.

By contrast, the Houston government’s performance standards do not restrict Nova Scotia Power profits and are totally independent of earnings. The amendment to the Public Utilities Act would create a new “Performance Partnerships Advisory Table” of people (experts? citizens?) to advise the UARB on what those benchmarks should measure and how much Nova Scotia Power should pay in penalties (fines) if they fail to meet them. 

“There are some good things here, especially the changes to ensure there is no net-metering, which will protect the solar industry,” said NDP House leader Claudia Chender. “But it doesn’t seem to go as far as what we are proposing, especially on the issue of efficiency, which is vital to lowering power bills. Ultimately, we don’t see a lot in here to protect ratepayers.”

A bill introduced by the Liberals would outlaw Nova Scotia Power’s request for higher profits but do nothing to reduce them. 

None of the three political parties have proposed measures that could prevent power rates from rising by 10% over three years beginning in January. 

The NDP is calling for more investment in energy conservation programs to help people use less energy as the price goes up. And the NDP has introduced a companion bill that would prevent Nova Scotia Power from cutting off low-income households who cannot pay the bill — not just in the winter but at any point during the year. 

While the Progressive Conservative amendments should provide a boost to solar companies, it’s unclear whether new performance standards with fines for noncompliance will hold Nova Scotia Power any more accountable than the present standards aimed at reducing power outages. 

That said, the government is proposing one amendment that seems long overdue: Nova Scotia Power will no longer be permitted to charge local farmers’ markets the commercial rate for electricity. Instead, the weekend markets will pay the lower residential rate. And if that seems like nibbling around the edges, Premier Tim Houston continues to remind critics the government intends to be an “energetic” participant in the rate hearing set for September. 

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4. Non-disclosure agreements

Claudia Chender, NDP House Leader, left, Zainab Almukhtar, Equity Watch, and Kristina Fifield, Avalon trauma therapist. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

“Registered nurse and Ontario serial killer Elizabeth Wettlaufer had a non-disclosure agreement with her employer,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

Zelda Perkins had a 20-year non-disclosure agreement with Harvey Weinstein, a movie mogul and serial rapist, before Perkins broke her silence and exposed him.

A private member’s bill introduced in the Nova Scotia Legislature on Thursday seeks to restrict the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in circumstances where people have been the victims of harassment or discrimination.

“In sexual harassment settlements, it has been argued NDAs serve to silence victims and allow offenders to avoid public knowledge and indeed to evade full accountability,” said NDP Dartmouth South MLA Claudia Chender. “They can create a culture of silence in and around workplaces, enable the movement of predators from one environment to another, and discourage individuals from reporting crimes.”

Click here to read “Private member’s bill seeks to limit the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of harassment, discrimination.”

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Views

1. Parking garage

Stephen Archibald walked around downtown and noticed a bunch of things that you can read about on his blog, but he really got going when discussing the new parking garage on Summer Street:

Speaking of my hope for things to be made right, on my way out of town I stopped by the parking structure under construction on the Common to see the new metal scrim I’d heard about. I guess this design results from a Request for Proposals that the province issued in December, asking creatives for design proposals for a metal mesh that was going to wrap the parkade. This could be the first good news coming from a fraught project.

The “sample” that has been installed shows a popular quilt design of a stylized basket cascading down the eight stories of the parkade. Will it represent grandma’s comforting quilt shrouding the structure? We’ll have to wait and see.

Photo: Stephen Archibald

Here are my [Archibald’s] thoughts

Folks (like me) have been complaining about the secrecy around this parkade project since news of it first leaked out. The basic plans the province provided showed a facility that was soul sucking in its cheap functionalism (but parking).

The newly discovered design competition for the building cladding is good news, and the wording in the RFP suggests the province finally recognizes the parkade site is a treasured piece of parkland that deserves respect. So why has the Health Authority not announced this good news? I only learned of the RFP today (thanks Ken), it should have been front page news months ago. Guys, the community wants to help you design a successful building that we all feel good about, AND PARKING.

The new pedway over Summer Street connects the parkade to the hospital. Another fun truss almost as delightful as the structure holding up the Dennis Building. This is not sarcasm, I really am fond of these marvels of engineering.

Photo: Stephen Archibald

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Government

Province

Legislature sits (Friday, 9am, Province House)


On campus

Saint Mary’s

Calling Out Racism: A Reckoning (Friday, 2pm) — virtual event featuring Augie Fleras, with discussion to follow. From the listing:

The catastrophic events of the early 2020s – from the discovery of mass burial sites of Indigenous children at Residential School sites in Canada to the #BLM-inspired aftermath of the George Floyd murder under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer – have ignited a conversation for calling out racism by way of a national re-reckoning. This presentation is themed around the challenge of clarifying the idea of racism as a contested and changing concept in response to evolving realities and emergent discourses.


In the harbour

Halifax
11:30: Conti Contessa, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
15:30: Lian Xi Hu, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
16:00: MSC Annick, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Montreal
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
16:30: ZIM Tarragona, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
19:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
20:00: Oceanex Avalon, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s

Cape Breton
19:00: Marguerita, bulker, arrives at Port Hawkesbury from Searsport, Maine


Footnotes

I’ve been doing reporting and editing triage of late, making decisions (not always good ones!) about where to best use my limited time and energy, which would not be possible were it not for the entire Examiner crew, who are proving their abilities over and over again.


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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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  1. Beselt {and perhaps the rest of the team that went in} also surmised that the killer GW has killed himself based on hearing a gunshot well into their deployment. No explanation about that gunshot since it clearly was not the murderer.

  2. The parking garage artwork is by Halifax designer and quilter, Andrea Tsang Jackson. More artwork on Instagram @3rdstoryworkshop

  3. I’ve asked the Nova Scotia Health Authority for the modelling, but that was late in the day yesterday and I haven’t yet received an answer. Tim, do not hold your breath

  4. It is so good to have Stephen Archibald’s commentary on Nova Scotia’s architectural landscape, what it is, what it was, and what it could be.

  5. The chance to decorate the $30 million dollar Parking Garage was a 2020 RFP. Winning Greenwasher to get $17,500 honorarium for design proposals for exterior cladding. Material already chosen-metal mesh/perforated metal.

    “The structure shall be clad to three dimensional facades to conceal the utilitarian form of the garage and respectfully respond to the surrounding recreational and open space.”

    At that time I’d imagined a willow leaf or a rippling brook or bicycles and horses and soccer balls. Now I see a storm surge, a tent city, high-rises on a marsh etc. framed by rulers. Straight, strict, unbending-centimetres or inches-your pick.