News

1. RCMP Commissioner tried to “jeopardize” mass murder investigation to advance federal gun control efforts

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki. Photo: Government of Canada

The latest string of shootings south of the border, Uvalde and Buffalo chief among them, has stirred up the same debates in the United States this past month. More gun control versus freedom to live (and die) as Americans choose. Among the plethora of arguments that move the needle a millimetre one way or the other, a prominent one you’ll hear is this: don’t use these tragedies to politicize the gun debate. It usually comes from the gun-toting side.

I’ve never seen a convincing argument for keeping politics out of it. Parents who’ve lost children, students who’ve lost their friends and sense of safety, and anyone who’s lost loved ones or who now fears going to public places has the right to demand political action to reduce gun violence. It’s not political expediency just because it’s in the wake of a calamity. It seems perfectly reasonable, if not expected.

Such incidents have galvanized legislation in this country. Recently, spurred by those aforementioned shootings in the US, Canada’s federal government introduced a bill to freeze the purchase, sale, and import of handguns in this country. Fair enough, I say, even if you argue the effectiveness of the proposed law.

But, as a Tuesday report from Jennifer Henderson shows, maybe there is a time to keep politics out the gun debate. And maybe someone should have told the RCMP and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Before this latest bill from Trudeau’s government, you may recall another federal ban. In May of 2020, in the wake of the April mass murder that rocked Nova Scotia and the rest of the country, the federal government moved to immediately ban 1,500 models of military-grade and “assault-style” weapons in Canada (owners of those guns have been allowed to hold on to them until October 2023).

Canadians may be more willing to part with guns than our American neighbours, but there was still blowback to these announcements. One criticism of the 2020 ban, announced May 1 and tabled in a bill last month, was the lack of a legal definition for “assault-style” weapons.

Perhaps that factored into RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s promise to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office to leverage the mass murders of April 2020 to advance gun control law.

“A week after the (April 18/19) murders, Lucki pressured RCMP in Nova Scotia to release details of the weapons used by the killer,” writes Jennifer Henderson in Tuesday’s article. “But RCMP commanders in Nova Scotia refused to release such details, saying doing so would threaten their investigation into the murders.”

Those commanders were concerned about the extent to which politics threatened to interfere with a cross-border police investigation into how the killer managed to obtain four illegal guns used to commit many of the 22 murders, and smuggle them into Canada.

At a news briefing on April 28, 2020, Nova Scotia Supt. Darren Campbell told reporters he “couldn’t get into details” about the firearms the killer used because the investigation was “still active and ongoing,” though he did confirm the gunman had several semi-automatic handguns and two semi-automatic rifles. 

Henderson explains what happened shortly after that news conference:

Campbell, Asst. Commander Lee Bergerman, Leather, and Nova Scotia Communications director Lia Scanlan were summoned to a meeting. RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and a deputy from Ottawa were on the conference call. Lucki was not happy.

Campbell’s handwritten notes made immediately following that meeting describe what happened:

The Commissioner was obviously upset. She did not raise her voice but her choice of words was indicative of her overall dissatisfaction with our work. The Commissioner accused us (me) of disrespecting her by not following her instructions. I was and remain confused over this. The Commissioner said she told Comms to tell us at H Division to include specific info about the firearms used by [the killer]….However I said we couldn’t because to do so would jeopardize ongoing efforts to advance the U.S. side of the case as well as the Canadian components of the investigation. Those are facts and I stand by them.

Campbell noted that Lucki went on at length and said she was “sad and disappointed” that he had not provided these details to the media. Campbell continued:

The Commissioner said she had promised the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP (we) would release this information.

Both Blair (during question period Tuesday) and Lucki (in a statement) denied yesterday that there was any political pressure exerted on the RCMP during the ongoing investigation. As did a Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed, speaking on behalf of his party last night on CBC’s Power and Politics.

How long did the RCMP have information about victims before making it public?

Another document released by the Mass Casualty Commission Tuesday shows this wasn’t the first source of tension between RCMP Headquarters and Ottawa and Nova Scotia’s ‘H’ Division. In the hours and days following the shootings, the national and provincial RCMP grappled for control of what information would be made public concerning the victims.

The number of victims reported by both were inconsistent, changing multiple times before an official count of 22 was released on April 21. Notes now show investigators had confirmed this number by the night of the April 19. Police knew the names of all 22 victims by Monday, April 20, but didn’t release them until news outlets, including the Examiner, had reported them independently.

I only summarize here. Jennifer Henderson has thoroughly outlined the internal conflict between National RCMP Headquarters and ‘H’ Division, as well as the timeline showing when police confirmed what they knew about the victims and the weapons, and when they finally reported it to the public.

As I continue to read the Examiner’s reporting on the Mass Casualty Commission, led by Henderson and Tim Bousquet, I’m always grateful and impressed by their ability to sift through mountains of information to clearly lay out what happened during and after that terrible weekend in April 2020. This is another sterling example.

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2.  HRM missed Transport Canada deadline to comment on Dartmouth Cove infilling; nearly 500 others got their input in on time

Dartmouth Cove in August 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

“The federal government received nearly 500 comments about an application to infill part of Dartmouth Cove, but the municipal government missed the deadline,” writes Zane Woodford.

Woodford’s been following this story from the beginning, but for those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s some background. From Woodford’s article:

As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, a numbered company owned by Bruce Wood has applied to fill in part of Halifax Harbour at the cove with excavated rock from construction sites, including pyritic slate. More than 150 people in the community, many of whom use the cove and the walking path next to it, went to a public meeting at the Zatzman Sportsplex to express their opposition. At a meeting the next day, Halifax regional council passed a motion from Dartmouth Centre Coun. Sam Austin to add the municipality’s voice to the opposition, “during the application’s comment period.”

Austin’s motion continued: “The submission should consider the surrounding land uses, proximity to railway operations, what development rights the resulting property would have under the recently approved Centre Plan, and the potential negative implications for the greater public of disrupting access to the Harbour Trail.”

Despite Austin’s concern, and the large public response from locals, HRM missed the June 10 deadline for submissions, then took a week to respond to the Examiner’s questions about it.

This article is for subscribers only. You can subscribe here. 

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3. NS auditor general: province’s public housing ‘severely lacking’ proper governance and oversight

Mulgrave Park in 2018. Photo: Zane Woodford

“The Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing does not have an effective governance structure in place for public housing and is failing to provide adequate oversight of the regional housing authorities. There are few performance measures, and there is no clear accountability or action taken when targets are not met.”

That’s one of the high-level conclusions from a new report submitted by Auditor General Kim Adair Monday. The report, “Oversight and Management of Government Owned Public Housing,” contains 20 recommendations, all accepted by government, aimed at improving the governance of the province’s five housing authorities, Zane Woodford reported on Tuesday. 

The province currently owns over 11,000 homes, but nearly 6,000 Nova Scotians are still waitlisted for public housing. The average wait time for placement is about two years, though it can be longer depending on the location and size of housing an applicant needs.

The lack of oversight has led to a number of inefficiencies, the report finds. Two big ones:

  • Units are sitting vacant between tenants longer than the target turnaround time of 60 days. The average turnaround is more than double that number, meaning some places are sitting empty for months.
  • Some people have been placed in units that are too big for them. For example, single people are taking up multi-bedroom units that could house families. An estimated 1,500 units fit into this category.

One reason for the lack of proper governance of this much-needed public housing: Housing Nova Scotia has gone through three department changes since 2019.

“Each restructuring has involved a new Minister and there have been five Deputy Ministers responsible for the housing portfolio over the three-year period from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2021,” the auditors wrote. “During this same period the Executive Director, Housing Authorities has directly reported to numerous senior leaders, including five different people in five different positions.”

Auditor General Adair said more public housing is probably needed, but her report is only meant to audit what’s already in place. And what’s already in place needs better management.

“That is definitely a question that I’m sure that the department and the government is struggling with,” Adair said. “But what’s important is that the existing units that we do have the 11,000 in this public housing program are used as efficiently as possible and we’re finding that they can do better.”

Though the report was mostly damning, it found some good. Adair said the government is already making positive moves. Based on a recommendation from the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission last year, the province is requesting proposals to replace Housing Nova Scotia with a new arm’s length provincial housing entity.

In a statement, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr said the new “entity will be accountable and solely focused on improving public housing for Nova Scotians from one end of the province to the other.”

Woodford looks at everything you need to know from the audit in his article.

Included in that article is this quote from Liberal housing critic, MLA Lorelei Nicoll, responding to the audit’s findings. I think it really shows how personally impactful these findings are to more and more Nova Scotians:

“It’s alarming but yet it’s not surprising at the end of the day, what what she tabled here today,” Nicoll said, “because we see it in many ways and we know with the current economic structure that’s going on, any day, anyone can find themselves unhoused.”

In Monday’s Morning File, Tim Bousquet wrote about the growing need for non-market housing as affordability grows ever-more out of control. It’s worth a read if you missed it. What he writes there is only bolstered by the findings in this audit. Considering the dire need for housing stock in this province, Nova Scotians should be seriously concerned that the housing we actually own, housing that exists right now and that isn’t being used to its full potential.

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4. Nova Scotia Power fined for Tufts Cove oil spill

The Tufts Cove power plant in Dartmouth does not burn coal. Photo: Halifax Examiner

On August 2, 2018, a corroded pipe at the Tufts Cove power plant in Dartmouth leaked 24,000 litres of oil into Halifax Harbour.

Now, almost four years later, a provincial court has ordered Nova Scotia Power to pay a $175,000 for the spill, according to CBC News.

The company pleaded guilty to one charge under the Fisheries Act last week and Environment and Climate Change Canada says it’s added Nova Scotia Power to an environmental offenders registry.

In January 2021, Jennifer Henderson reported on an audit of the plant, and the lack of explanation for how that pipe became corroded.

The auditor reported Nova Scotia Power said the Heavy Fuel Oil system was “out for maintenance” in the fall of 2018. That was after an August 2 oil spill from a corroded pipe, which eventually saw 24,000 litres of heavy oil leak into the harbour. The auditor noted the company refused to disclose “the root cause” of the pipe break because it was considering taking legal action. (The regulator has since ordered NS Power to provide the regulator with the “root cause” of that spill and the company has committed to do that; almost 2.5 years after the incident).

Still no word on that root cause. The spill’s long since been cleaned. A fine will be paid. Maybe a deeper explanation will be made public.

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5. Province looking to Ukrainians to help fill jobs in health care

Signage the IWK Health Care Centre. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

A group called Atlantic Canadian Hosts for Ukraine has received “a number of inquiries” from those fleeing the war who are trained health-care professionals and want to work in Nova Scotia, reports Jonathan MacInnis at CTV Atlantic.

“They are nurses, they’re gynecologists, they’re doctors, lots of health-care professionals with concerns about the qualifications they would need to work in the Nova Scotia health-care system,” Rick Langille, a volunteer with the host group, told MacInnis.

Health Minister Michelle Thompson said she’s more than open to the idea.

Thompson says they’re currently looking to recruit Ukrainians to help fill a variety of roles in the province’s health-care system, but adds filling those job vacancies isn’t a simple process.

“We also have a credentialing requirement, so we would look at the program that they took and we would compare it to the requirements for here and then we would look at whether or not there is a gap that needs to be bridged as a result,” Thompson says.

“We could help them, but the flipside is, maybe they are helping us more than we are helping them, so it’s a good situation,” Langille says.

The Examiner has reported frequently on the desperate need for more health care professionals to relieve an overburdened health care system in Nova Scotia: struggles to recruit nurses, emergency rooms over capacity, and excessive backlogs due to staff shortages, to name a few issues. We could certainly use the help.

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Views

Taking the first steps on the drastic plastic problem

Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Remember that movie American Beauty? It won the Academy Award for best picture in 1999. But like everything that came out 20 years ago, modern reevaluations might deem it problematic.

Why?

Because it examines the relationship between a grown man and a minor? Lolita is still held up as a pinnacle of English prose (deservedly so), despite covering the same ground.

Because Kevin Spacey stars in it? Depends where you stand on the “separate the art from the artist” debate.

For my money, the film no longer holds up because of this famous scene.

How could anyone consider a plastic bag the most beautiful thing they’ve ever filmed? (Yes, I’m being facetious).

This week, the feds announced single-use plastics are on their way out in Canada. Well, some of them anyway. Six categories of single-use plastics — including plastic bags (no change for this province) — will no longer be manufactured or imported in Canada by the end of the year. By the end of 2023 they’ll no longer be sold, and by the end of 2025 it will be illegal to export them. Aside from checkout bags, five other categories of single-use plastics will be banned:

  • Cutlery
  • Stir sticks
  • Straws (some exceptions for medical reasons)
  • “Foodservice ware” containing “problematic,” hard-to-recycle plastics
  • “Ring carriers,” or the plastic that holds a six-pack together and chokes baby sea turtles

It’s a start.

A government release Monday stated the ban would remove “over 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and more than 22,000 tonnes of plastic pollution” over the next decade. A recent shoreline cleanup in Barrington Municipality removed 20,000 pounds of debris from Nova Scotian beaches, Kathy Johnson reported for SaltWire Tuesday. The largest haul, at Baccaro Point, removed 18,100 pounds of debris; plastics made up about 1,000 pounds of that pile.

In The Canadian Press’s reporting on the ban, journalist Mia Rabson notes three items on the prohibited list (bags, straws, and takeout containers) are among the top 10 items most commonly found in shoreline cleanups. Other commonly found items, not on the ban list, include bottles, cigarette butts, and coffee cups.

Removing items like those last three I listed reveals how difficult it is to remove plastics from our lives.

Cigarette butts have the most obvious solution: stop people from smoking. No alternative needed. Easier said than done, but it’s more of a health issue than an environmental one.

How about coffee cups? The ubiquitous daily trash-filler. It’s likely many models of coffee cups won’t be allowed under the new ban, since so many contain “hard-to-recycle” plastic (most lids are as recyclable as Styrofoam, and many cups are lined with polyethylene). As I wrote last April, switching to biodegradable cups isn’t an easy solution either. Most of those models require industrial composting to biodegrade, they often still end up in the trash, and the lids are still single-use.

Vancouver has tried adding a 25-cent fee for single-use cups to deter their use, but that raised concerns over how it was impacting the city’s homeless and low-income citizens. Not everyone can afford to buy a reusable mug. Though I urge those who can to bring one to the café or just make it at home.

That leaves bottles. They’re recyclable, to an extent, and have a ready-made alternative in glass. But glass containers have a higher overall environmental impact in the long-run. Despite being endlessly recyclable, they’re heavier, and add more carbon emissions to the atmosphere when they have to be transported over long distances.

Earlier this month, Kelly Oakes at the BBC wrote an article that considered a plastic-free world.

The benefits are obvious. Cleaner oceans and less pollution.

Photo: Brian Yurasits/unsplash.com

“Of the 8,300 million tonnes of virgin plastic produced up to the end of 2015,” writes Oakes, “6,300 million tonnes has been discarded. Most of that plastic waste is still with us, entombed in landfills or polluting the environment. Microplastics have been found in Antarctic sea ice, in the guts of animals that live in the deepest ocean trenches, and in drinking water around the world. In fact, plastic waste is now so widespread that researchers have suggested it could be used as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene.”

Less plastic is better for the climate, too. At the world’s current rate of plastic production, plastic could account for 20% of oil production by 2050, she writes.

But reducing plastic wouldn’t just require cleaner alternatives. We’d need to change our way of living entirely. Shortening supply chains to reduce packaging, buying fresh local food and using it faster, shifting away from fast fashion and the throwaway economy mindset, improving drinking water infrastructure in areas where only bottled water is safe, the list goes on.

Luckily, changing patterns of behaviour is something we humans do with ease…

Some areas of life will be almost impossible to change though. Health care needs plastic. Just think of all that PPE we’ve gone through in the last two years. And it’s unlikely people will give up phones, tablets, and computers to save the planet.

Canada has taken the easiest step in reducing plastic in our environment. It’s commendable and it’s necessary. But the multi-year timeline and the limited list of banned items are indicators of just how difficult it will be for us to cut plastic out of our lives, lands, and waters. Not to mention what it will take to clean up what’s already out there.

Still, better to start with the good then wait for the perfect.

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Noticed

When Halifax took out the old parking metres in 2020, Tim Bousquet tested out the new system. It was a masterclass in frustration.

We’ve had them well over a year now, and I don’t mind them. You don’t need change if you don’t have it, which we increasingly don’t (the MACPASS is great for this also, as Examiner commenters have pointed out to me). You don’t need to download and set up an app. The screens are dim, and it’d be nice to have more signage to tell you where the closest pay machine is, but it’s cleared the streets of metres and added more ways to pay without requiring a phone or credit card.

The new pay system isn’t progress for progress’s sake. It still benefits the user.

Contrast that with my recent parking experience in Buffalo.

In a rush to catch a show downtown, I circled the block around the stadium looking for a parking lot. There were plenty around, all charging a little less than a parking fine, but I was willing to pay the tax for running late in that situation. The problem was, I couldn’t pay. I had my wallet. I had money in the bank. Unfortunately, each lot I passed only took payments through a parking app.

I had no data to download a new app or make a payment over it, but I was short on time, so I eventually parked at one of these lots and ran for Wi-Fi. I found a Tim Horton’s and put another storage killer on my phone. I created an account with another password I’ll never remember, put in my credit card info, and processed the payment. That easy. None of the hassle of giving a person or machine money and getting a ticket.

The whole ordeal made me later than I already was. Thankfully my phone was charged.

First, let me say I’m not against increasing automation, digital transactions, or app-provided services. I don’t wax nostalgic for long bank lines. If I can pay my parking ticket online instead of going downtown at lunch, I’ll do that. But I’d like the option. Even for the most introverted and technologically savvy among us, sometimes it’s easier and faster to do things in person than go through the digital hassle.

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend tried to make a hair appointment in Toronto. Salons were booked solid, but it took a long time to discover that. That’s because the businesses she tried all had online booking systems. So for each one she checked, she had to create an account with her information, make a new password, and login, only to do the same thing for the next salon when she couldn’t find an opening. What could have been accomplished quickly with a few phone calls became an afternoon event.

Taking payments and providing services in person requires, well, people. It also requires payroll.

I wonder if it’s the same idea behind the slow crawl to reopen water fountains and public bathrooms this late in the pandemic. Providing people to provide services requires wages and little extra effort. Why not save a little money and let the consumer deal with the difficulties.

But just as I was getting worked up about the lazy, greedy way some companies and services shift everything online so we have to do all the work, I saw last night that Cineplex is adding a $1.50 charge to online ticket purchases. No such fee will apply to customers who buy movie tickets at the cinema. And I groaned in disbelief, along with Canadians across social media. My thoughts echoed this disgruntled Tweeter:

Is @CineplexMovies joking with this new online booking fee? I have to pay MORE to use the method that doesn’t require an employee do anything? The method that doesn’t even require them to print tickets? It’s a “final straw” reason to stay home & stream movies!

— Lauren Ferris (@SoulOfTwit) June 21, 2022

I took a breath and thought about it for a second. Maybe there’s just no situation in this life where I’m meant to be happy.

Or maybe I just want the option to go about my life digitally or in-person as I choose. Is that so much to ask?

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Government

City

Wednesday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Regional Centre Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — agenda

Thursday

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — agenda

Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm) — virtual meeting

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Campus Garden Tour (Wednesday, 12pm, in front of Hicks Building) — hosted by the Dalhousie gardeners

Thursday

Meet SuperNOVA! (Thursday, 10am, Brunswick Street) — third session, this one is in-person

Art Exhibition Tour with Frances Dorsey (Thursday, 6pm, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — from the listing:

Join Plant Kingdom curator Frances Dorsey for a tour of the exhibition at Dalhousie Art Gallery. Dorsey will discuss some of the ideas that prompted the exhibition and the works included. The tour will highlight the ways that the different artists approached their artworks and the ways they interact with the plant world through both theme and material. No registration is required.

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

No events

Thursday

Voces de la Pandemia (Thursday, 7pm, Canadian Museum of Immigration, Pier 21) — launch of the upcoming e-book, a collection of stories written by members of the Hispanic and Latinx community in Atlantic Canada, and a collaborative project between CLARI, Latispánica Cultural Association and different Hispanic studies programs at Dalhousie, MSVU, STFX and Saint Mary´s University.


In the harbour

Halifax
05:30: SFL Composer, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
07:15: MSC Pratiti, container ship, moves from anchorage to Pier 42
09:30: Humen Bridge, moves from Fairview Cove to Bedford Basin anchorage
11:30: SFL Composer sails for sea
13:30: CMA CGM J. Adams, container ship (140,872 tonnes), sails from Pier 41 for New York
14:30: Vistula Maersk, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from anchorage
15:00: MSC Alyssa, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Sines, Portugal
16:00: Navarino, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Sines, Portugal
16:00: MSC Pratiti sails for sea
22:30: Humen Bridge, sails for Qatar

Cape Breton
06:30: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Charlottetown, on a seven-day cruise from Montreal to Boston
16:30: Zaandam sails for Halifax
22:00: Nobleway, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
23:00: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York


Footnotes

The days are getting shorter now. Sorry. I need to change my perspective.


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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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7 Comments

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  1. The days are not getting shorter. Hours of daylight are. Distinctions like this get increasingly important as you move toward the final exit. Just sayin.

  2. Single use plastic bans are feel-good visible steps that don’t accomplish much. Plastics are a tiny portion of landfill volume (construction and demolition debris are the big contributors), and harmless when properly disposed of. Proper disposal has become more challenging with cities sorting waste and charging tipping fees. Intended to reduce waste, they have instead encouraged illegal dumping. As for microplastics, they come from things like clothing and tires. Reducing plastic container use is a good thing, but we might accomplish more by reducing plastics in clothing and tires (or reducing consumption of these), and making it easier to get things into landfills.

    Regarding the complexity of apps for everything…many young web developers (and the people that hire them) seem unaware of a universal app that is already installed on every mobile device. It can collect information, handle financial transactions, and automatically complete user details. This marvel of computing can replace almost every app, and can be cheaper to set up than an app. It’s called a web browser.

    1. Maybe one of the Examiner staff can chime in here on how often they’ve been asked why the Examiner doesn’t have an app.

  3. I too have been impressed with the MCC coverage

    Perhaps someone could also look into the discrepancies between the Enfield Big Stop videos and Felix Cacchione’s SIRT report on the gunman’s final moments?

    1. The full SiRT report files on the MCC website are interesting. They are enormous files but the Use of Force reports in particular are worth looking at.

  4. Leaving aside the issue of the RCMP being used as a political tool, our gun laws in Canada are not rational. As it stands, anyone with a non-restricted PAL can buy a rifle that is functionally the same as an AR-15: A lightweight semi auto rifle with a folding stock and pistol grip that takes cheap 5.56 ammo with interchangeable box magazines. You can still buy 30 round magazines that have an easily removed rivet restricting them to the legal limit of five rounds.

    I don’t really think there’s a good reason for people to own guns like that. Instead of systematic rules about the actual capabilities of legal firearms, we have emotionally driven legislation that primarily targets legal gun owners.