In the harbour
1. Terrorism and suburbia
With reports of the planned “mass shooting” coming in, it’s important to keep On The Media’s Breaking News Handbook on hand. Read the whole thing (it’s short), but the most important point for today is #1: In the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong. So, breathe deeply, relax, and take everything with a grain of salt — including this post — for a couple of days, until more reliable information comes out.
Here’s what we think we know so far. The police released this statement last night:
On Thursday morning, information came forward to police regarding a potential significant weapons-related threat. RCMP and Halifax Regional Police officers from the Criminal Investigations Division began an investigation. We want people to know we became aware, we acted quickly and intercepted a threat.
Information suggested that a 19-year-old Timberlea male and a 23-year old Geneva, Illinois female had access to firearms and it was their intention to go to a public venue in the Halifax region on February 14th with a goal of opening fire to kill citizens, and then themselves. Evidence also suggested that two other males, ages 20 and 17, of Halifax and Cole Harbour respectively, were involved. Their role is still to be determined as part of the investigation.
Last evening, investigators located the 19-year-old male suspect at a Tiger Maple Avenue residence and at approximately 1:20 a.m., the Emergency Response Team entered his residence and found him deceased. As we previously issued in media release this matter has been referred to the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team for investigation.
At approximately 2 a.m. this morning, police arrested the 20 year-old male and 23-year-old female suspects without incident at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Shortly after 11 a.m., police went on to arrest the 17-year-old male suspect without incident at a Cole Harbour residence. All three suspects remain in police custody at this time and the Integrated Criminal Investigations Division continues to investigate.
We believe we have apprehended all known individuals in this matter and eliminated the threat. We are not seeking any further suspects at this time in relation to this investigation.
Further, CBC published a transcript of a press conference with Nova Scotia RCMP Commanding Officer Brian Brennan. I think this is the relevant part:
QUESTION: Can you say if they were of a jihadist nature? Evangelical, right-winged nature?
BRENNAN: I can tell you that it’s not culturally based.
QUESTION: But you aren’t ruling out whether this is terrorism?
BRENNAN: We’re not ruling anything out until the investigation is concluded. But our investigation is not leading us down that particular avenue at this time.
The AP gives a little more context to the story:
A senior police official says police foiled a plot by two suspects who were planning on going to a mall and killing as many people as they could before killing themselves on Valentines Day in Halifax.
The official said Friday the suspects were on a chat stream and were apparently obsessed with killing and death and had many photos of mass killings.
The official said one of the two suspects, a 23-year-old American woman from Geneva, Illinois, was arrested at Halifax’s airport and confessed to the plot. The official said she tweeted a number of pronouncements to be tweeted after her death.
The official also said the 19-year-old male suspect shot himself after police surrounded his parent’s home. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Again, let’s wait for better information before coming to any definite conclusions, but at this early stage it looks like a couple of young people were caught up in a perverse attraction to each other and pointless mass murder, and all that was brought together in a plan for a Valentine’s Day massacre.
Thankfully, some as-yet-unnamed responsible person got wind of the plan and alerted police, who seem to have responded appropriately.
What I find interesting is Brennan’s statement that the police don’t consider this a terrorist plot.
A couple of people shooting up a shopping mall is undeniably terrifying. But the word “terrorism” has morphed away from simply meaning “stuff that terrifies people” and into a specific subset of terrifying stuff: scary shit that’s done by radical Islamists. Nothing else is now considered “terrorism.” The people of Moncton were clearly terrorized by Jason Bourke’s rampage, but Bourke wasn’t charged with any terrorism-related crimes. James Eagan Holmes shot up a Colorado movie theatre, killing 12 people and wounding dozens, but that wasn’t considered terrorism. Adam Lanza killed a room full of five-year-olds, but under our limited definition he was just a deranged person, not a terrorist.
Limiting the definition of “terrorism” to only “scary shit done by radical Islamists” serves a social function. Namely, it allows the scary Islamists — a foreign, impossible-to-understand “other” that has nothing to do with our society — to be used for political purpose, an excuse to restrict civil liberties in the name of vigilance and safety.
But truly terrorizing acts are committed far more by people in our own communities who look like us than by scary Islamists, and this has always been the case. The biggest school massacre in North America was committed in 1927, when Andrew Philip Kehoe, upset about high taxes going into education, blew up a school in Bath, Michigan, killing 44 people, mostly children. The iconic terrorizing moment when I was growing up in the US was Charles Whitman’s random shootings from the Tower at the University of Texas in 1966, where he killed 16 people.
School shootings, mall mayhem, and other mass murder events at the hands of our fellow citizens have been with us for decades, if not centuries, and yet we’ve not allowed them to cloud our judgment. We’ve recognized them for what they are: horrible events, yes, terrorizing events, yes, but exceptions to our common day-to-day experience, not something that should stand in the way of a free and open society, a democratic society that values privacy and even unpopular dissent.
When Brennan said the plan to shoot up a Halifax mall wasn’t terrorism, and that the plan was “not culturally based,” I’m guessing he meant that the plot wasn’t the work of scary Islamists, but rather just some fucked up kids from the suburbs. It mostly seems to be kids from the suburbs that do this stuff — Geneva is the most saccharine suburb of Chicago, and Timberlea is a wide spot on the St. Margaret’s Bay Road, where middle-class parents can live within an easy commute of downtown and yet their kids can still ride ATVs out in the woods. By all appearances, the kids in these suburbs are “just like us,” and incapable of the narrow definition of “terrorism.”
By that narrow definition of terrorism, Brennan’s right. And even by a broader definition that includes kids from the suburbs doing fucked up shit, as terrorizing as it can be, we shouldn’t lose our heads. Bad stuff happens. We should be aware of it and, like the unnamed responsible intervenor in this case, step in when we can, but let’s not use terrorizing events as an excuse to turn back the free and open society we’ve built.
2. Sunday hunting
It’s illegal to hunt on Sundays in Nova Scotia, but that may change:
The Department of Natural Resources is considering lifting the ban that prohibits Sunday hunting. Currently, the Nova Scotia Wildlife Act states that, for the most part, no one is allowed to go hunting on Sundays. The exceptions are fur harvesting, bear snaring (both allow the use of firearms to dispatch animals in traps/snares), snowshoe hare snaring, and falconry. In addition, the Mi’kmaq have the right to hunt on any day.
Lifting the ban would mean that anyone with a license could hunt on Sundays
At first glance this seems like an antiquated blue law restricting people’s activities on Sunday so, they can give proper observance to the sky god. But the Sunday hunting ban has a very definite upside: people can hike in the woods without fear of getting shot down by yahoos.
The vast majority of hunters are responsible, but there are still far too many who go out in the woods, get trashed on Budweiser and shoot at anything that moves. I’ve heard hunters talk about “brush shots” —when they hear something rustling around in the brush and shoot at it, and they can find out later what they killed. The Sunday ban at least provides a bit of peace for non-hunters wanting to enjoy the woods.
I was hoping the public consultations on overturning the Sunday hunting ban would involve a bunch of shotgun-wielding, plaid-jacketed woodsmen sitting in small groups and scribbling on sticky notes, with a “facilitator” using rhyming couplets and woo-woo music so as to make sure the woodsmen were properly sedated and not, you know, blasting the hell out of a conference room. But, alas, the consultation is entirely online.
A police release from yesterday:
Halifax Regional Police is requesting the public’s assistance finding the owner of a large sum of money found in Dartmouth earlier this week.
On February 9, officers responded to a Dartmouth thrift store [Value Village] after an employee located several thousands of dollars hidden inside a bundle of folded drapes. The money was contained within several sealed envelopes and the information inside indicates that the money would have been withdrawn in 2006 from a Guysborough County bank. Officers followed up with the bank, but given the time since the withdrawal, it was not possible to obtain more information on the owner. It is believed that the drapes were donated sometime in January 2015 in Nova Scotia but it is impossible to determine where the donation was made as the store buys donated material in bulk.
The owner or anyone with information regarding the owner is asked to contact Halifax Regional Police at 902-490-5016. In order to claim the money, the person must be able to specify the amount of money and in what denominations, and the bank or bank account number.
The most remarkable thing about this story is that the undoubtedly poorly paid Value Village employee turned the money in.
4. Free lice
Katy Hines wants to turn the Sullivan Pond area into a scarf giveaway Sunday, reports CBC:
“If we can have a scarf tied around the tree then the people who are cold can come and grab one whether it’s because you don’t have a scarf or have no access to warm clothing — or even if you’re late for the bus, it’s for everybody.”
Hines was inspired by similar events happening in Charlottetown, Winnipeg and Regina.
I know these sort of playful urban exercises are all the rage nowadays, and I know I’ll catch grief from readers for saying this, but I find them tedious. That’s not to single Hines out; there are a whole range of these games, from the red swings to the etch-a-sketch dealy on Barrington Street to putting completely useless umbrellas around town to painting intersections and so forth. I mean, sure, whatever, have fun, but can’t we have a grown-up city and a decent urban fabric without infantilizing the citizenry?
Also, too, wash those scarves in hot, hot water. This is prime lice season.
Next winter I’m going somewhere warm.
1. Fire hydrants
Social media yesterday had great fun with Halifax Water’s refusal to make public a map of fire hydrants. Such a map would help people find hydrants buried under snowbanks so that public service-minded citizens could dig them out, but Halifax Water says making that info public would assist terrorists. Because we have to be afraid of everything, you know.
But of course anyone with a pair of eyes, or even one eye, can simply see the hydrants. And after Andrew Bourke started a google map of hydrants in Halifax, lots of people joined in on the crowd-sourced effort. So far it looks like this:
Readers can add to the map, if they wish. I added a couple of hydrants, using Google Street View to find them, and tweeted out screen shots of the Street View photos of hydrants in front of Province House, the police station, City Hall, and other public buildings, jokingly saying I was assisting the terrorists.
And then Stephen Archibald, who notices everything, noticed that some of the hydrants I was tweeting about are in the exact same spot as hydrants he’s seen in 19th century photographs. Take for example this Google Street View photo of the hydrant outside Province House:
And compare it to an 1871 photo of the same street corner:
“I don’t know much about hydrants or the city water system but it is perhaps not surprising that locations would remain the same over time,” writes Archibald. “It is appropriate to acknowledge these little pieces of our infrastructure that we ignore until our house catches fire.”
As for Halifax Water’s secrecy, the prevailing Twitter wisdom, first articulated by Peter Ziobrowski, is that the reluctance to publish a map of hydrants probably doesn’t have much to do with the laughable terrorist concerns the utility cited, but rather a worry that a map would reveal inadequacies in the system. That’s just speculation, but a citizen-produced crowd-sourced map might allow us to test the theory.
2. Cranky letter of the day
Let me start by stating that I do not know Martin Turpel and I am not related to him by blood or marriage. However, I have driven trucks, and still do, for over 56 years.
I lived for a time in Toronto and a much longer time in Ottawa where they passed the same bylaw, but at least Ottawa grandfathered it for the drivers that had been taking their trucks home for years. If Truro is trying to emulate the big cities it would be so ludicrous as to be hilarious.
Yes, in the past all trucks were quite noisy; some extremely so. I would start up my truck to warm it up and could hear it through the wall of my house. Not anymore! The truck I have been driving is a newer model and I cannot hear the idle sitting by the window next to my driveway. Exhaust emissions have also been greatly reduced in the past 10 years.
May I respectfully suggest that council look into this if they do not have the age-old perception that truck drivers are mostly uneducated, ignorant, foul smelling, disheveled, bar room brawling orangutans. Maybe a couple should take a drive in one of these newer model trucks to see for themselves if they would like to be perceived as being fair. Some, no doubt, would not want to be confused by facts.
You are allowing someone, who I suspect has a personal issue with Turpel, to have you do his/her dirty work. How come it has taken some 10 years to enforce this bylaw and since he has been the only one charged, is this not discrimination? This bylaw should be amended exempting vehicles less than five years old and Turpel should be grandfathered.
Gary Schofield, Brookfield
Not noticing anything today.
In the harbour
NYK Meteor, container ship, to Fairview Cove
Have a good weekend.
Re: What is terrorism.
I have one point to add to all the good points you make.
Making the word terrorism exclusive to scary “terrorists” who live somewhere else and are on a blind, crazed crusade to kill us all also plays into the myth that all these “terrorists” are in league with each other (from the Phillipines, to Pakistan, Cechnya, Turkministan and so on and so forth) and that they are more organized than Hitler’s legions. This is, of course, idiotic. But, if they are organized and not just random actors following their own quixotic visions, then we’ve got to get even more organized to meet that threat. And that always means us giving up some portion of our own freedoms.
A definition of terrorism:
the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
A definition of terror
violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion
It is possible to feel terror. But generally the act of terrorism is about a political aim. By converting every shooting incident into terrorism we play to the perpetrator. The recent Quebec and Parliament Hill shootings could be recast as incidences of mental illness, or failure to control guns. In almost all cases these horrific events are unsuccessful attempts that only gain traction as ‘terrorism’ by the widespread media coverage, and politicians descriptions, of them as terrorist. Who benefits from calling it terrorism? By not calling it failure of gun control or lack of mental health services?
The RCMP seem correct that these are not terrorist events and in no way do the stability of the governments of Halifax or Nova Scotia seemed threatened. One can feel terror without it needing to be called terrorism.
You’re missing my point.
On political motivation: when people blow up an airplane or whatever in the name of whatever cause, they may say they’re doing it for political ends, but really they’re just nihilists. It appears these fucked up kids were a certain kind of anarchists, but really just also nihilists. There’s as much political aim in stupid kids shooting up a mall as there is in Timothy McVeigh blowing up the federal building. Neither one advances a political agenda in any meaningful way. They just wanna see people die. If politics enter the equation, it’s just an excuse.
My point is that terrorism, whatever the excuse, has been with us, is with us, will always be with us. And no, I’m not playing into political ends; I’m doing just the opposite: we have to understand that these ugly events are the exception to our normal life, and not let them pervert our free and open societies.
For years I have been hiking in areas where hunters enjoy their pass time. I almost always go on Sundays because the odds of not getting shot are much better. If they open up Sundays to hunters, I will still go out and enjoy my pass time. However, parents with young children will probably not take the risk, thus depriving their children of an activity that is enormously healthy for both mind and body. From this initiative and other DNR news (clear cutting in particular), it is obvious that the collective mindset at DNR is that nature exists to be exploited and not to be nurtured, enjoyed or appreciated. As others – Bob Bancroft, former DNR employee, for one – have stated; it is time to replace the bureaucrats at the top of DNR with people who have a 21st century attitude and an understanding of the need to treat our diminishing flora and fauna with respect.
Apparently one of the prospective shooters has a Tumblr blog, which offers a little insight into their ideology & motivation (NSFW):
Check out the photo used by Natural Resources on their hunting survey page. Are they supposed to be typical hunters? A father with his two daughters perhaps? The way this “survey/opinion poll” is being done makes it incredibly easy for hunters to stack the results.
ps I would post the photo but this comment section does not give me that option. Perhaps Tim will add it . . . (hint, hint, hint)
Great work on the Valentines Day Plot. Much appreciated. I am so proud to contribute to your work and learn so much from your words. Thanks, thanks thanks.
Tim, your thoughts concerning red swings and scarves on trees strike me as pretty cranky. Those red swings were one of the most human, playful and thoughtful community-based actions I’ve ever seen in recent history. They made me smile and as there is one close to my workplace, I saw them used and enjoyed.
Sorry to hear you find people engaging in acts of care and thoughtfulness tedious and infantilizing. How is painting a street infantilizing? Who becomes an infant when people gather to beautify, be communal and do something with one purpose? This is how you build community. Come on dude.
Your words cast a pall across all of these small acts of humanity which occur at the cross-roads of creativity and small “a” activism. Small acts are important. Beauty and playfulness are lacking in all aspects of urban culture and for many people, these undertakings are as close to compassionate public service as they will come. Have a coffee, eat a snickers and quit acting like a baby. 🙂
The real hero is the tipster.
Who really wants to hunt on Sundays?
Zach Churchill, Minister of Natural Resources, says “In my travels across Nova Scotia, I’ve met various people who wish to discuss the prospect of Sunday hunting.”
“Various people” WTF does that mean?
According to the “Sunday Hunting” page on the NS website:
“Hunting is also a significant economic activity in North America, and generates millions of dollars of revenue in Nova Scotia for retailers and service providers through the responsible use of this resource.”
“Various people” want to wrap the hunting “resource” in another layer of post-colonial legislation so they can message non-native people that the woods are open for hunting on Sundays. But this message would be just another neo-liberal social engineering scheme designed to sell more hunting licenses, guns, amos, and plaid shirts.
No one cares if people actually hunt for animals in the woods. The concern is that people spend money buying hunting related goods & services. Sunday hunting is about the Department of Natural Resources hunting for consumers to revive a dying “industry”.
The Sunday “hunt” has more to do with free trade and Sunday shopping than it does with hunting. The motivation is not to get more people out in the woods hunting & killing animals in autumn, but that more people start shopping to generate revenue for the “retailers and service providers” who are impacted by the declining interest in hunting.
And, according to the Chronicle Herald, the primary target for the Sunday hunting market in Nova Scotia is “young people” who apparently have very little interest in hunting.
But the Herald also pointed out that money is lost when people stay away from the woods during hunting season because they are afraid of getting shot.
Another interesting bit of info in the old Chronicle hunting article raises the question of who owns Nova Scotia:
“Nova Scotia, unlike most other provinces, is mainly — 70 per cent — privately owned.”
Anyone know of any maps that break down who owns Nova Scotia?
You’re a clever guy Tim.
Thank you for your take on the #Timberlea murder plot. You’re my number one trusted news source.
Happy Valentines Day if you buy into that stuff.
“….95%of all suicide bombings are not religion based…” This weeks Freakonomics podcast looks at modern terrorism and has some really interesting data. Worth checking out.
Thought about the Austin, Texas, tower shooting during current debate around snipers and “American Sniper” movie. As you point out, terrorism is about perspective and definition. We must not allow those with agendas to define it for us.
KUDOS! Führer Harper has put more quasi-FASCIST but barely-noticed restrictions on our democratic rights than all of the Prime Ministers preceding him combined. At the same time, he has CANCELLED almost all of the hard-won PROTECTIONS of health and well-being afforded by once-strict labelling laws, blocked progressive social legislation, and «sold the farm» to WorldCorp capitalists so we can become feudal peasants. Shades of «bread and circuses». Interesting to note, though, that his obsession to replace CBC with Sun Media has fallen flat. One small victory for the intelligentsia!
Should we be concerned that Halifax police have an agenda to refuse to label terrorism as not terrorism because the wrong “culture” is involved?
I’m not concerned. Tim makes great points about the use of the word terrorism. It has been framed by politics and the media to be a covert word for islamic radicalism. But lots of words have had their meanings distorted over time. Queer originally just meant odd, puzzling, questionable.
I think in this case the only police agenda is to keep people calm. The spokes thingy dude couldn’t go out and bluntly say “These are wankers with no long term political goals”. I am not in support of the government having mass surveillance on it’s people, but the fact that an accomplice was in the states means that we may have been tipped off our neighbours to the south.
There are a lot of grey areas and this is all conjecture.
Just because Islamic terrorists have made the most news recently doesn’t mean that anyone thinks that terrorism = only scary stuff Muslims do. Halifax Police deserves credit for not conflating a mass murder for the sake of mass murder with terrorism. If these people had an ideology other than to commit suicide in the most horrific and destructive manner possible, then they could reasonably be considered terrorists.
Anything other than a very strict definition of terrorism (violence or credible threats of violence motivated by religious, cultural or political differences with the victims) leads to the dilution of the word and further erosion of both our rights and our abilities to deal with actual terrorists.