June subscription drive

As you can see from the first four items below, we’re still on the fire beat, even now that the fires are either out completely or at least pose no further risk to life or property.

That’s what we do — when an emergency event happens, we drop everything to report on the response and relate info that will help those affected, and all the while we take an independent look at causes and context. That latter work will continue for weeks and months as we do the investigative work required.

There’s a guiding principle in this reporting — the public has the right to know what’s going on. The public has the right to know what’s happening when it’s happening, and not just from government PR professionals whose job it is to put government agencies in the best light possible, even if that means withholding information or shading the truth. And the public has the right to a diverse range of independent investigations into the historical, economic, and political contexts of the fires.

But some people don’t understand this principle of reporting. The Examiner has been criticized for raising issues about, say, the planning failures in the years before the fires that led to the building of subdivisions with inadequate firefighting infrastructure. We’ve been criticized for publishing photos of the fire scenes. We’ve been criticized for critiquing the use of the emergency alert system.

We stand by all that reporting. We believe that you, reader, are intelligent and can process information on your own, without government PR professionals deciding what you get to know and see, and holding your hand as you read the bits they deign worthy of public release.

And we believe you value our reporting. That’s why twice a year we make an extra effort to ask you to support our reporting financially, for the cost of maybe two lattes a month.

It’s your subscriptions that make this work possible. We use your money to pay reporters and to do the investigative work that keeps you informed.

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1. More fire evacuation orders will be rescinded today

The area around Hummingbird Lane remains evacuated as of 9am Monday. Credit: HRM
Parts of the Westwood Hills neighbourhood are still under evacuation orders as of 9am Monday morning. Credit: HRM
The Yankeetown Road area remains evacuated as of Monday at 9am. Credit: HRM

Yesterday, Halifax Regional Municipality said that today the evacuation orders for some streets in the Tantallon Fire zone will be rescinded, including:

• Nicole Court – partial
• Shelby Drive – partial
• Hummingbird Lane – partial
• Jenna Lane
• Hemlock Drive
• Fullwood Lane
• Wyndham Drive

The municipality will continue to lift evacuation orders for a combination of individual properties and streets when it is safe to do so. As such, the provincial emergency alert system will no longer be used. 

Future openings will be communicated via a public service announcement, social media posts, updates to halifax.ca/fire as well as outreach from municipal staff to individuals whose properties are located in the areas where the evacuation orders are being lifted. Detailed maps can be found on the web page.

To accelerate the re-entry process, no identification is required for homeowners to return to their communities where evacuation orders have been lifted.

The remaining areas of significant impact or areas that have not yet reopened continue to have checkpoints, as well as a presence from a combination of municipal staff and security as roving patrols.

Residents who do not live within the Tantallon and Hammonds Plains areas are asked to avoid travelling in those areas to not impede traffic.

Nova Scotia Power continues to reconnect power to affected streets and houses. As the evacuation area gets smaller it becomes more time consuming to isolate. Numerous homes with partial damage will require a follow-up inspection before it is safe to restore.

So, if there’s an Emergency Alert issued today, pay attention to your phones — it might be an actual emergency.

For many years, after firefighters stood down from a scene, a simple “Property Release Form” was issued to property owners. You can read it here. The form listed the property, and advised the owner if the fire department had concerns about structural damage, air quality, or a catchall “other,” which could be expounded upon in a written comment section.

But last Thursday, as evacuation orders in the Tantallon Fire zone were rescinded, the Property Release Form was revised significantly. You can read the new form here. As you can see, the revised form includes a long liability waiver that the property owner must sign, relieving a long list of fire and city employees and politicians of any responsibility for the accuracy of the fire department’s investigation of the state of the property.

I’m not a lawyer, but I’m not sure that the average citizen is in an informed position to agree to such a waiver, so I doubt the revised form carries legal weight. But it probably is enough to scare some property owners away from considering post-fire litigation, should there be problems with the inspections.

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2. Fires aren’t a ‘natural’ disaster

Clouds of white and grey smoke billow in a blue sky across a rural highway that is lined with forests on either side.
Smoke from fires in the Shelburne and Barrington areas of Nova Scotia. Credit: Department of Natural Resources and Renewables/Twitter

Joan Baxter has spent the past week speaking with foresters — Wade Prest, Jamie Simpson, Mike Lancaster, and Anthony Taylor — about the recent fires and their causes.

Long story short, all four agree that the damp and diverse Wabanaki-Acadian forest, with its uneven mix of hard and softwoods, that covered the Maritimes pre-colonization, was by its nature a pretty good fire retardant. But primarily through forestry practices like clearcutting and the use of herbicides to kill off deciduous hardwoods in favour of softwood tree plantations, that old Acadian forest is just about gone.

More important, all four agree, is that climate change has introduced dry conditions that make large fires inevitable.

The most pessimistic of the four is Prest:

“All my work for 40 years making it uneven-aged, with more and more valuable species, is sort of for naught.”

“Our forest structure is going to be very different in the future because of the change in climate, and because oceans are warmer, and probably going to get even more so,” Prest says. “There’s no reason for any of us to think this isn’t going to get worse.”

Prest doesn’t think even a healthy diverse Wabanaki-Acadian forest can cope with the kind of extreme weather events and droughts that climate change brings.

He explains that if the woods are too dry, an uneven-aged tree stand that has softwood in the understorey or mid-storey is susceptible to fire because the spruce and fir species constitute a “ladder fuel.”

“They enable a ground fire to get carried up into the canopy to become a crown fire,” Prest says.

But Prest doesn’t want his fear to translate into an attitude of giving up on a healthy forest entirely.

Click here to read “The NS wildfires are not ‘natural’ disasters: climate change, forest management, and human folly are all to blame.”

Baxter’s article is depressing but essential reading. It underscores how we got into this fire situation to begin with, outlines the challenges, and details the importance of fire education.

On that last point, I’m struck by how clueless Nova Scotians are about fire safety — having no extensive experience with wildfires, the public doesn’t comprehend basic safety measures that are common elsewhere. Like, for instance, fireworks and campfires:

“I’m always particularly elated when it rains during holidays because that’s usually the highest risk time,” Lancaster says. “People are lighting off fireworks, which I think very few people associate with a large risk of wildfire. But it is. Just like campfires.”

“It doesn’t really matter if there’s a fire ban on the Canada Day or Natal Day or Labour Day weekends,” Lancaster says. “If it’s a nice weekend, it’s pretty hard to avoid. There will be a fire … whether or not there is a fire ban.”

On Friday, the RCMP charged a Lantz woman $28,872.50 for violating the fire ban by having an unsupervised fire burning in a firepit, reports the Canadian Press.

Still, as I’ve said before, humans are humans. People will ignite fires, whether intentionally or carelessly or mistakenly. At this point, we should understand that fires are inevitable and plan to reduce damage and prepare strategies to fight them.

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3. Paul Irving says he warned us about fire risk, was ignored

A man in a firefighter outfit holds a blue hat.
Firefighter Paul Irving in 2018. Credit: contributed

Reports Jennifer Henderson:

“I knew this day would come and unless there’s change, it’s going to come again.” 

As wildfires raged through subdivisions in Tantallon, Hammonds Plains, and Bedford two weeks ago, retired Halifax Regional Municipality firefighter Paul Irving was filled with frustration and sadness for the 151 families who lost their homes. 

Irving believes some of those homes might have been saved if HRM Fire had embraced a short report he wrote in 2004 — almost 20 years ago — about a program known as FireSmart

“The biggest thing about FireSmart,” says Irving, “is it provides homes with an opportunity to survive, even if you can’t stop the fire.”

There’s nothing profound in Irving’s report — it simply restates strategies that were well known at the time in places that had long traditions with fire. But Irving further alleges that his advice was “brushed off,” suggesting that the old-school firefighting attitude of “when the alarm goes, we are going to respond,” never mind hardening houses and neighbourhoods for fires that run beyond the fire department’s ability to control.

Perhaps the most troublesome of Irving’s allegations is this:

At one point, after the Herring Cove fire in 2009, his superiors asked for a copy of the FireSmart report because insurance companies preparing to sue the city on behalf of homeowners found out about it through a Freedom of Information request. 

Sometime after he handed over all the information from the Wildland project, Irving says he learned every word of his FireSmart report sent to the deputy chief was redacted or blacked out as “personal.”

I’ll ask for a copy of the information that was turned over to insurance companies to see if that allegation can be substantiated.

Click here to read “Retired Halifax firefighter Paul Irving says he urged that the FireSmart program be adopted in 2004, but was ignored.”

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4. Is the Tantallon Fire a ‘Betsy Boomerang’ moment?

Three men wearing red firefighter uniforms are working in the woods.
Three firefighters with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency work to put out fires in the Tantallon area on May 30, 2023. Credit: Communications Nova Scotia

“I have come to think of it as the Betsy Boomerang — that moment when something you didn’t know, had forgotten, ignored, dismissed, avoided or pretended wasn’t something… suddenly becomes a thing that you desperately need to understand and can no longer forget, ignore, dismiss, avoid or pretend wasn’t anything,” writes Stephen Kimber:

Until that moment passes too, and we’re back where we began.

Back in the day, which is to say the 1980s and ’90s in Nova Scotia, Chambers was a little-known but quietly determined independent journalist. 

So, when Bernie Boudreau, then a Liberal opposition MLA, stood up in the House of Assembly to report that some Westray miners had become so concerned about mine safety a few had even “voted with their feet and quit,” Chambers knew it was a story.

On October 23, 1991, the Evening Newspublished Chambers’ in-depth interview with an experienced hard-rock miner who’d quit after just four days at Westray. “Some things are more important than money,” he told her ominously. 

Chambers followed up with the Department of Labour, which blithely dismissed the miner’s concerns about coal dust. (In fact, although they published her story, the editors of the Evening News were hometown-quick to defend the company’s “safety precautions” in an editorial contradicting Chambers reporting.)

Despite that, Chambers refused to back off. The next day, she served up yet another exposé. The son of the Labour department’s supposedly independent safety inspector had been quietly hired by the mine’s owners. Of course everyone involved — the Labour minister, the company spokesperson — dismissed the notion that this hiring represented a blatant conflict of interest and the likelihood the department’s inspections may have been less than rigorous as a result.

After that, Chambers’ story died. No one else followed up. Until it was too late.

Click here to read “Will the Tantallon Fire lead to change or one more ‘Betsy Boomerang’ moment?”

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5. Thousands of citizens’ info stolen in MOVEit hack

Natasha Clarke, Nova Scotia’s Deputy Minister of Cyber Security and Digital Solutions, speaks with reporters about the MOVit hack via video link on June 9, 2023. Credit: Nova Scotia government / Zoom

On Tuesday, the province of Nova Scotia announced that 100,000 public employees had their personal and banking data stolen in the MOVEit hack,” I reported Friday:

Today [Friday], the province announced that the ongoing investigation of the hack has discovered that additionally, tens of thousands members of the public had their data stolen. 

They include:

  • about 55,000 records of past and present certified and permitted teachers in Nova Scotia, including name, address, date of birth, years of service, and educational background. The information does not include social insurance numbers or banking information. The list includes people born in 1935 or later.
  • about 26,000 students, aged 16 years and older, including date of birth, gender, student ID, school, civic address and mailing address. This information was in the database because it was shared with Elections Nova Scotia.
  • about 5,000 short-term accommodations owners in the Tourist Accommodations Registry. The information stolen included name, owner’s address, property address, and registration number.
  • about 3,800 people who applied for jobs with Nova Scotia Health, including their demographic data and employment details. Social insurance numbers were not included.
  • about 1,400 Nova Scotia pension plan recipients. Their names, social insurance numbers, dates of birth, and demographic data were stolen.
  • 1,085 people issued Halifax Regional Municipality parking tickets. Names, addresses, and licence plate numbers were stolen.
  • about 500 people in provincial adult correctional facilities; name, date of birth, gender, prisoner ID number, and status in the justice system were stolen.
  • about 100 Nova Scotia Health vendors, including product and pricing information. Vendors’ banking information does not appear to be included.
  • 54 people issued summary offence tickets; names, driver’s licence numbers and dates of birth were stolen.
  • 54 clients of the Department of Community Services, including names, addresses, client ID and transit pass photos.
  • about 1,330 people in the Department of Health and Wellness client registry, including name, address, date of birth, and health card number.
  • at least 150 people in the Department of Health and Wellness provider registry, including doctors, specialists, nurses, and optometrists. Assessments are ongoing. The information taken includes names, addresses, and dates of birth. It does not include social insurance number or banking information.
  • about 60 people with the Prescription Monitoring Program, including names, addresses, dates of birth, health card numbers, and personal health information.
  • 41 newborns born between May 19 and 26. Information stolen includes last name, health card number, date of birth, and date of discharge. Parents will be notified.

Click here to read “Teachers, high school students, people who got parking tickets, even babies: MOVEit hackers stole their personal data.”

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Grants Committee (Monday, 10am, online) — agenda

Advisory Committee on Accessibility in HRM (Monday, 4pm, online) — agenda

North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, Sackville Heights Community Centre) — agenda


Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, online) — agenda


No meetings

On campus

Mount Saint Vincent


Exhibitions (Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm, MSVU Art Gallery) — from the listings:

Portals: until September 1

This exhibition of new work by Kayza DeGraff-Ford showcases their recent digital experimentation in virtual reality programming. Part of an ongoing story within DeGraff-Ford’s practice, this immersive installation features a cosmic aqua-portal via the humble entry point of bathroom plumbing. Channelling the literary genre of Magical Realism and exploring African diasporic and trans experiences, Portals takes the viewer through a healing wormhole in time.

Everything We Have Done Is Weather Now: until August 19

Lisa Hirmer’s gorgeous photographs of weather data bridge the divide between everyday conversations about weather and the enormity of the climate crisis, thereby helping to open up possibilities for imagining different futures for our planet. The exhibition is organized and circulated by the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery and is part of The Weather Collection, a network of digital and in-person exhibitions, hands-on art making, research, and artist projects that use visual art to encourage creative perspectives on the environment and build new relationships with the future of the planet.

In the harbour

07:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
07:30: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal
16:00: CSL Kajika, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
16:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, moves from anchorage to Gold Bond
16:30: Taipan, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
16:30: Atlantic Sea sails for New York
17:45: Zaandam sails for Sydney
18:00: Scotia Tide, barge, and Atlantic Elm, tug, sail from Dartmouth Cove for sea

Cape Breton
16:30: Algoma Value, bulker, arrives at Pirate Harbour anchorage from Sydney


We’re back to the disturbing nightmares, which is always fun.

I think I need to reexamine my relationship with Sleep. I mean, Sleep and I have lost that magic that we had for so many years. Sleep just isn’t upholding their end of the relationship, and it makes me angry and resentful. Even just a few kind gestures from time to time — the occasional uninterrupted REM cycle, say, or some pleasant dreams now and again — would go a long way.

A relationship is a two-way street, is what I’m saying. I give Sleep everything. Hours and hours of my day, a complete willingness, nay, eagerness to submit completely, but time and again, Sleep pushes me away, rejecting my come-hithers and sweet nothings.

But just as I’m ready to reject Sleep entirely, I find myself drawn back to Sleep, a love I can’t quit.

I’m going back to bed. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

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

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  1. “…the public has the right to know what’s going on.”
    It is more than a right, the public has a duty to know what those with power are doing with that power.
    Thank you journalists!

  2. Let’s have a study, probably headed by a private sector company, then let’s contract out more responsibility for government services to the private sector, that’ll improve things! Above all, don’t hold the private sector accountable because … you know, they can run things so much better than government.

    As for sleep, I don’t have a problem but I hear melatonin can work.

  3. I am continuously bemused by the elitist idea that “the public has a right to know” is some sort of social commandment that is immutable and the most self-evident of anything that is self-evident. In my experience, which includes editing two newspapers, the “right to know” is never at the top of the list of concerns for “the public”–and often not on it at all. The supposedly hallowed right to know and the right to free speech and free thought are shibboleths and talismans dear to the heart of all self-appointed defenders of liberal democracy–which is not really democracy at all. Most regular, everyday working folks never think about them at all. The more most of us who are volunteers in the fight to make life more decent for more people fail to understand that, and fail to adjust our appeals to embrace things that are important to “the people,” the more we will be ignored.

    As Mark Twain once observed: “In our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either.”

  4. “There’s a guiding principle in this reporting — the public has the right to know what’s going on. The public has the right to know what’s happening when it’s happening, and not just from government PR professionals whose job it is to put government agencies in the best light possible, even if that means withholding information or shading the truth.”

    Totally agree.
    I imagine Examiner staff must be enjoying the “Secret Canada” project currently running in The Globe and Mail. Many’s the time I’ve seen Tim or someone else from the Examiner decry the walls thrown up to their freedom of information requests – the right of the public to see its own information, denied them by its own government, run by some party who promised transparency and accountability at the last election.

    No wonder voters become cynical.