This is a somewhat abbreviated Morning File as I’m tied up with another project; I hope to finish that project soon, maybe even today.


1. Peter MacKinnon

Yesterday, there was a welcoming reception for new interim Dalhousie President Peter MacKinnon at the Dal Arts Centre. A group of students dressed in black and carrying signs calling for MacKinnon to step down also attended. The students issued this press release:

K’jipuktuk (Halifax, NS): Today, Dalhousie Students engaged in a silent action to address Interim President MacKinnon’s blatant support of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism along with other forms of oppressive rhetoric, both within the academy and our institution. Dalhousie University students are here today to express our disappointment with the administration’s decision to appoint Peter MacKinnon as the Interim President of Dalhousie. Both Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) and non-BIPOC students, united our efforts, vision, and concerns for our university, took action into our own hands today. We hope that this demonstration strikes a meaningful dialogue with our university and beyond, and that our university delivers on tangible actions in order to address both individual and systemic racism on our campuses. We do not believe this appointment was made with the University’s best interests in mind. Despite being the biggest stakeholders in the university, students were not consulted in this decision.

The students are particularly riled over MacKinnon’s book, University Commons Divided: Exploring Debate & Dissent on Campus. The book was checked out of the Dal library yesterday, but I’ve looked at excerpts and reviews.

The students have four concerns. The first is MacKinnon’s “dismissal of racism.” In his book, MacKinnon condones, or at least downplays, white students wearing black face. He cites three incidents — in 2009 and 2014, white University of Toronto and Brock University students respectively dressed in black face and wore costumes as the Jamaican bobsled team for Halloween parties, and last year, Queens University students went to a party wearing “stereotypical national costumes.” The wearing of black face by white people, notes MacKinnon, “has a long history, and one frequently, though not always, viewed as racist.” He goes on to note the resulting controversies on each campus, and sums up that section as follows:

If there was insensitivity to issues of race in the selection of costume by party goers at the three universities, there was also a lack of proportion in the responses to them. These were Halloween parties, not cultural misappropriations, Nazi mimicry, or manifestations of disapproval of other peoples. So describing them risks diminishing real problems of intolerance, discrimination, and racism. It also risks backlash from a bewildered public observing these episodes. No country in the world has adapted to multiculturalism more successfully than has Canada; most Canadians know that and appreciate our diversity. They would also remind us that the episodes described here were just Halloween parties.

Um, no. As someone on Twitter noted (sorry, I can’t find it this morning in the avalanche of comments about black face), insisting that wearing black face isn’t really racism is the ultimate in white privilege. Black people are telling us firmly and repeatedly that they are, in fact, insulted by it, always. It harms no one, and helps a hell of a lot of people, to hear that message and end the practice.

The students’ second concern is that MacKinnon “has attempted to silence boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movements on campus.” I cannot this morning find more details about that.

Their third concern is about statements MacKinnon made concerning the Dal Dentistry scandal, in which he doubted the role of restorative justice.

The fourth concern is about his attitudes towards Divest Dal. He writes:

Divest Dal is joined by divestment campaigns at more than thirty other universities in Canada. The themes are common ones: divestment petitions that are categorical in their terms, and condemnation of university leaders who do not accede to their demands for lack of either principle or courage, or both.

Pleas to do the right thing are more complicated. The money is not the universities’ to deal with as they wish. Their investment portfolios consist mostly of pension funds and endowments, and both carry responsibilities and expectations that must be respected. With the former, investment policy must be aligned with commitments to present and future pensioners, and with solvency and other rules applicable to them. With the latter, it must honour the purposes for which donors made their contributions, and be managed so as to meet the purposes for which endowments are established. Harvard president Drew Faust reminds us that the endowment “is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.”

I would add a fifth concern to the students’ four: MacKinnon is antagonistic towards faculty unions. I suspect that was the primary reason why he was hired.

2. Citizenship

Abdoul Abdi

“Nova Scotia has changed its policies for children in the care of the province, in an effort to make sure another child will not suffer a repeat of what happened to former child refugee Abdoul Abdi,” reports Shaina Luck for the CBC:

On May 1, 2018, Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services quietly introduced a policy change that requires social workers to note a child’s citizenship when a child enters into the care of the state.

Social workers must reassess the child’s immigration situation at least every 90 days. If the child is in the permanent care of the province, staff now have the power to apply for Canadian citizenship on their behalf and must decide on a case-by-case basis whether to do so.

This change came about because of the hard work and relentless activism of the people who advocated for Abdi.

3. Cornwallis Task Force

“The co-chair of the task force examining the commemoration of Halifax’s controversial founder is asking people to reserve their judgment on the group’s work till it’s done its final report,” reports Zane Woodford for StarMetro Halifax:

After a smudging ceremony led by Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Morley Googoo, the first order of business was to change the group’s name from “Advisory Committee” to “Task Force,” to “reflect the equal partnership” between Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs (ANSMC).

The ANSMC sought to take over half the cost of the committee, up to $25,000 each for ANSMC and HRM, and to create a more flexible governance structure.

The task force will meet monthly, usually on the third Monday of the month, alternating locations and responsibility for organization between HRM and ANSMC. It will hold three types of meetings: public meetings where there’s a presentation, public engagement sessions to gather ideas and members-only meetings.

This is shaping up to be an interesting exercise.

4. Sportsplex

A press release from the city:

The Halifax Regional Municipality is pleased to announce the Dartmouth Sportsplex will officially reopen next month as the Zatzman Sportsplex.

The name change comes after a $750,000 donation to the facility, announced today by Mayor Mike Savage and the Zatzman family.

The well-established Dartmouth family was looking for a way to honour their patriarch, Joseph Zatzman, and the newly revitalized sports facility was a perfect fit.

“Our father’s life and devotion to Dartmouth was remarkable in many ways,” said Michael Zatzman. “His consistent goal throughout his life was to make Dartmouth a better place to live and work. This new facility — and what it means to the community — aligns perfectly with Dad’s life mission.”

The five-year donation ($150,000 per year) to facility operations includes a commitment to programming that will enhance and expand the community’s access to, and involvement in, the sports complex.

“The Zatzman family has been building community, especially in Dartmouth, for many years,” said Mayor Savage. “Joseph Zatzman’s remarkable life was marked by perseverance, success, and generosity — both as a citizen and as a dedicated public servant. I am delighted that the Zatzman family has chosen to recognize his great contributions by supporting the new Dartmouth Sportsplex.”

Dartmouth Sportsplex board chair Brad Smith said there’s something special about linking the Zatzman name to the recreation centre. “The Zatzman family has such a strong history of supporting and building the Dartmouth community. And to have this heritage continue with their support in the newly revitalized Zatzman Sportsplex is fitting of this legacy.”

The new Zatzman Sportsplex will reopen on Nova Scotia Heritage Day (Feb. 18), with regular operations starting on Monday, Feb. 25.

When fully operational, the facility will include a new double gymnasium, new fitness centre, new pool attractions — such as a new large waterslide, climbing walls, children’s splash area — and new community spaces.

As the sale of naming rights goes, this is the least offensive — at least it’s not another fucking bank, right? And Joseph Zatzman has the added benefit of being dead and buried, so there’s that.

I never knew Zatzman, and haven’t studied his political career, so for the sake of argument, I’ll assume he was the upstanding great guy everyone was gushing about yesterday. Good for him.

But even this least offensive form of selling naming rights is problematic, for two reasons.

First, recreational facilities should be fully funded by tax dollars. We shouldn’t have to sell naming rights, not to fucking banks and not to upstanding great guys, in order to operate what should be a fundamental city service; our city should be financially structured to collect the tax revenue needed as a normal course of business.

Second, we shouldn’t glorify rich people; we should tax them. There are lots of ways to be successful in this vale of tears — one can succeed with artistic endeavour, by welcoming strangers, by helping the sick, by raising or teaching non-shithead children, by brightening others’ days, by overcoming challenges. But our perverse society privileges one form of success above all others — monetary success, the least worthy form of success. As we see with the obscenity now occupying the Oval Office, neither brains nor decency are required for making a lot of money, just a completely amoral view of the world and unrestrained avarice. And yet we still put the wealthy on pedestals, and plaster their names on public buildings. When we do so, we are in fact structuring our society to further reward the rich.

Besides, everyone’s still going to call it simply the Sportsplex.

5. Death and journalism

Costas Halavrezos made me aware of the following tweet:

Today 1936 George V was dying at Sandringham.But he wasn’t dying fast enough. It was 11pm, the Palace wished to announce in morning’s Times (if deadline missed, news wd be in ‘low’ evening papers). So doctor despatched the King w huge dose of morphine & cocaine- &Times got story

— Prof Kate Williams 💙 (@KateWilliamsme) January 20, 2019

Which sent me to the Wikipedia entry on George V:

By 20 January, he was close to death. His physicians, led by Lord Dawson of Penn, issued a bulletin with words that became famous: “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close.” Dawson’s private diary, unearthed after his death and made public in 1986, reveals that the King’s last words, a mumbled “God damn you!”, were addressed to his nurse, Catherine Black, when she gave him a sedative that night. Dawson, who supported the “gentle growth of euthanasia”, admitted in the diary that he hastened the King’s death by injecting him, after 11.00 p.m., with two consecutive lethal injections: 3/4 gr. morphine followed by 1 gr. cocaine shortly afterwards. Dawson wrote that he acted to preserve the King’s dignity, to prevent further strain on the family, and so that the King’s death at 11:55 p.m. could be announced in the morning edition of The Times newspaper rather than “less appropriate … evening journals”.

Speaking of obits, my friend Dion died recently. His obit is neither hyperbolic nor selective; he really was this large of a personality. And this is how you write an obit.




Public Information Meeting/Workshop – Case 20871 (Tuesday, 6:30pm, Maritime Hall, Halifax Forum) — WSP Canada Inc. wants to build five buildings on five acres at the corner of Robie and Almon Streets (6016-6070 Almon Street, which is everything from the corner to the old bus terminal site). If approved, the buildings will range from two to 22 storeys in height.


Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — here’s the agenda

Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Prospect Road Community Centre) — here’s the agenda

Public Information Meeting -Case 21295 (Wednesday, 7pm, Cafeteria, Auburn Drive High School) — currently, there’s a convenience store at 272 Auburn Drive in Westphal, which is across the street from the parking lot for Auburn High School. In documents submitted to the city, lawyer Lloyd Robbins accuses the store of selling cigarettes to kids, but that’s neither here not there, as the store owner doesn’t own the property. Rather, Robbins wants the property rezoned for his unnamed client, the property owner, so that allowable uses on the site are expanded to include “food take out/variety store, office use including professional business, retail use, day care, medical clinic or personal service shops, and apartments within the existing building.” There’s no actual development application, but in drawings submitted, “bike storage” will be provided, so we know it’s going to be hip and sustainable and such so just approve it already.


No public meetings Tuesday or Wednesday.

On campus



No public events.


Thesis Defence, Earth Sciences (Wednesday, 1pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Harold Kuehn will defend his thesis, “Along-trench segmentation and downdip limit of the seismogenic zone at the eastern Alaska-Aleutian subduction zone.”

Official Launch of the new Imhotep’s Legacy Academy Learning Centre and Makerspace (Wednesday, 1pm, Room J134, Sexton Gymnasium Building) — from the listing:

Imhotep’s Legacy Academy (ILA) is dedicated to increasing the representation of traditionally-marginalized students in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) studies and careers. ILA, established in 2003, began as a university-community collaboration to build STEM capacity in the African Nova Scotian community, using volunteer professors to train university students who act as mentors to students in junior high and high school.

RSVP here.

Elina Vähälä

Elina Vähälä, Strings Masterclass (Wednesday, 5pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — catch her Symphony Nova Scotia performance Thursday at 7:30.  Her website.

Rebecca Tiessen

Ethical Considerations for International Volunteers and Interns (Wednesday, 5:30pm, Room 1014, Rowe Building) — Rebecca Tiessen from the University of Ottawa will speak.

Dying with Dignity in Canada (Wednesday, 7pm, Room 105, Weldon law Building) — Jocelyn Downie will speak.

Saint Mary’s


The Bayers Lake Mystery Walls (Tuesday, 7:30pm, Burke Theatre A) — Jonathan Fowler will talk.



Anne Carson

Lecture on the History of Skywriting (Wednesday, 7:30pm, Alumni Hall, New Academic Building) — Anne Carson will speak. Book signing at 6:30. Info here.

In the harbour

05:00: AlgoNorth, oil tanker, moves from Pier 9 to Imperial Oil
05:30: Delhi Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:00 Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, St. Maarten
11:30: Delhi Highway sails for sea
16:30: Tropic Hope sails for sea
17:00: Salarium, bulker, sails from Bedford Basin anchorage for sea
19:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea


Tuesdays still suck.

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  1. One of the concerns that Dal students who object to the appointment of Peter MacKinnon as interim pres cite is his questioning the role of restorative justice in the Dal Dentistry School Facebook scandal. Is restorative justice necessarily a mark of progressive thinking?
    Two potential problems with restorative justice. It may let perpetrators off too easily. And it can treat matters of great moral wrongs as the occasion for group or family therapy.

  2. I like the idea of recognizing Joe Zatzman in the naming of the Sportsplex. It seems particularly fitting in that I wonder if he and his family (being Jewish) would have been able to join some of the local sports-related clubs when he became mayor. Certainly, during his lifetime that would have been the case.

    1. I believe the Wag didn’t start allowing Jews until at least the mid-1960s. A current Jewish member said he remembers the ban from his youth, and that some of his friends still don’t think he should belong out of principle–but he said he likes to swim there.

    2. Dartmouth wasn’t Halifax, completely different culture. And Joe was a Liberal in a place where Mayor and council was very much Liberal/Conservative.with the odd NDP member. Catholics usually voted Liberal. Besides all that, Joe was well known in the community and very approachable. You knew your vote was safe with him.
      Halifax had a Jewish mayor before Dartmouth, Leonard Kitz 1955-57.

  3. MacKinnon sounds like a real asshole.

    How is it old white guys like this still get into positions of authority? Oh wait, it’s Canada.

  4. Re: Cornwallis.

    As the founder of Halifax, one wonders whether there will be any experts on Cornwallis’ non-indigenous activities when considering the continuing presence of his statue in a public place? If so who are these experts? Just asking.

    1. This is a good point.

      Besides his atrocities against Canadian indigenous, he also led 320 British soldiers in burning families alive in their homes in the Scottish highlands.

      1. This is why I have a hard time understanding why he ever went up in the first place. Objections from the Mi’kmaq people were not likely to be listened to back when the statue was erected, but the various Scottish societies and individuals had lots of political and social clout.

        Was it because so many of the mainland Nova Scotia Scots were Presbyterians, and perhaps hostile to any nostalgia for the rebellious Jacobite times which Cornwallis helped suppress? (Or perhaps were descendants of those clans which supported the Hanoverian cause?) Even so, there were enough descendants of Catholic Highlanders and islanders in the province to speak out.

        Or was the statue mainly a Halifax thing, presumably influenced by its history as a British garrison town and Royal Navy port, which people elsewhere in the province either didn’t know about or couldn’t be bothered about?

        It is interesting that, like the Confederate monuments and statues in the United States, Cornwallis was put up years after the fact. It isn’t like anyone put up a statue of him in his lifetime, or in the lifetimes of local people who knew him. I know around the time the statue went up, Canada was slowly starting to change, and those who wanted to cling to the former Imperial connection and the old ways were pushing back. Putting up a statue of the city’s alleged “Imperial founder” may have been part of that pushback, but I still don’t understand why the local Scots wouldn’t have objected.

        1. I fine summary of the historical background behind the erection of the Cornwallis statue in 1931. The British Imperial allegiances of the Halifax elite before 1960 can scarcely be underestimated: reflected in Archibald McMeekin’s 1927 over-the-top celebration of Cornwallis in the Dalhousie Review, and the Herald’s obsequious celebration of all things British and the Crown in the days when Graham Dennis ran the Herald and Mail. I have discussed both issues in FRANK.

  5. My Dad was in a blackface minstrel troupe back in the 40s and 50s. I have a photo of them all on stage in the local theatre, in full blackface. And a photo of the jalopy they used to promote their shows, driving around town in blackface and costume, hollering and singing. Years later, we could never convince him that these performances were racist and offensive- in fact he was astonished and hurt that his children would look on it that way. He saw it as all in good fun, and a “homage” to the black performers he liked. I suspect those still doing blackface look at it the same way, from their perspective alone.

    As for naming rights, I still call that ugly concrete pit in Toronto “Skydome”. That’s the name that was chosen in a public naming contest,back in those innocent days before paying for naming rights. I refuse to use the current name, that of a company notorious for its terrible customer relations. But I’m not sure why anyone would want their corporate name associated with such a building.

  6. Joe Zatzman was a very down to earth person. Humble should have been his middle name. He drove a Cadillac after retiring from his real estate business and would stop and talk to anyone he knew, particularly pople from Dartmouth. A very good man with an abundance of common sense.
    ” …..neither brains nor decency are required for making a lot of money, just a completely amoral view of the world and unrestrained avarice.” Tell that to the HRM Pension Committee, they need to find a lot of money and soon. And thanks to the election of Donald Trump the stock markets went galloping ahead and have significantly improved the status of the Platinum Plated Pension Plan. Should the Dow end lower this year taxpayers may be looking at higher taxes to support the PPPP.

  7. Great work on the Abdi case by El Jones et al. If the Cornwallis case has resulted in a 25000$+ ‘taskforce’ Please remove all references to the man asap. There’s no excuse for blackface and no white person should be defending it, let alone a dean in print. That said, universities should be places where dialogue/debate/discussion can be fostered without fear/intimidation. Admittedly that’s a lofty goal. Asking for someone’s expulsion/firing every time there’s a disagreement of opinion doesn’t seem like the best approach. As a pressure tactic to keep the extremes in check, perhaps it’s a good one? Divesting seems entirely reasonable.