1. Gold and silver awards for Examiner contributors at the Atlantic Journalism Awards

Several trophies on a shelf
You don’t actually get one of these for winning an Atlantic Journalism Award. Photo: Ariel/Unsplash

Congratulations to the members of the Examiner team who won gold and silver at yesterday’s Atlantic Journalism Awards. Rather than being held in-person, of course, the event was online, with winners announced via YouTube videos.

Yvette d’Entremont won gold in the Excellence in Digital Journalism: Breaking News category, for her body of work in covering the pandemic. She has been all over this since day one, reporting on so many different stories and angles. It’s dizzying. One of the two silver finalists in this category was the entire Halifax Examiner news team for coverage of the mass murders. As someone who rarely covers breaking news, it was amazing to me to watch on Slack as all these superb reporters chased leads, asked brilliant questions, and produced story after story with new insights.

Rob Csernyik won gold in the Business Reporting: Any Medium category, for his superbly researched feature “The casino crapshoot.” It looks at how Nova Scotia went from trying to sell its casinos as world-class tourism destinations to taking money out of the pockets of local gamblers. (I helped edit Csernyik’s piece, and it was a real pleasure.) Congratulations also to Csernyik and Cape Breton Spectator editor Mary Campbell on winning gold for a companion piece on the Sydney casino at 25.

Joan Baxter earned silver in the Excellence in Digital Journalism: Enterprise/Longform category for her monumental three-part “Port Wallace gamble” series. It looks into the toxic history of gold mining in Nova Scotia and its ongoing legacy, including heavy contamination from arsenic and mercury in places where people play and developers want to build.

Finally, Stephen Kimber took home silver in the Commentary: Any Medium category for his scathing piece “Shopping while strolling,” on the SIRT investigation into Santina Rao’s violent arrest at a Halifax Walmart. Kimber also won Atlantic Magazine: Best Profile Article, for a piece for Atlantic Business Magazine.

I have only attended the AJAs in person once, and it was I think 2015, while the Canadiens were playing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs. Uber-fan Stephen Puddicombe, then still with CBC, got to his feet, held up his phone, and loudly announced every Canadiens goal. Worth the price of admission.

Your subscriptions pay for this award-winning work. The best way to support the Examiner and keep the stories coming is to subscribe.

(Copy link for this item)

2. Hello, Peace and Friendship Park, and more from Halifax council

A 1931 photo of CN’s Halifax Hotel, showing Cornwallis Park. Photo: Nova Scotia Archives

Zane Woodford reports on yesterday’s council meeting, which included a unanimous vote to accept a staff recommendation and rename Cornwallis Park to Peace and Friendship Park.

The name refers to the Peace and Friendship Treaties signed between the Crown and the Mi’kmaq, starting in the 1720s. (Coun. David Hendsbee moved that the word “treaty” or “treaties” be added to the name, but was the only one to vote in favour.)

The Cornwallis Building on Spring Garden Road quietly had its name changed several years ago (it’s now the Bond Building). Can we do the street next?

Well, maybe. Councillors made it clear this is the start of a process, not the end of it.

Woodford writes:

Councillors tacked on an amendment too, looking to create a process for future renaming of municipal assets.

“We dealt with Cornwallis,” Coun. Lindell Smith said. “But now in the Hydrostone area I’m dealing with things like Stairs, Columbus, Stanley, and there’s probably a lot more in the municipality that people will question the future, whether or not they should be named.”

Smith made a motion for another staff report to address the creation of a new process where a citizen could request a street be renamed, and it passed unanimously.

Councillors also discussed ways to help support downtown Halifax businesses, including covering HotSpot parking app fees, offering limited free downtown parking, and offering limited free ferry rides.

The roadside memorial for Mary Elizabeth Chaulk, a teenager who was struck by a car and killed on Portland Street. Photo: Contributed

A bylaw on roadside memorials also passed first reading. The municipality currently does not allow memorials to those killed on the streets, even as they have (sadly) proliferated. This issue municipality was, if I recall correctly, very contentious when it first came up. The new bylaw will legalize the memorials, but impose time limits. Woodford writes:

 Staff recommended the roadside memorials be allowed as long as they’re under one metre tall and 1.5 metres wide, the person placing the memorial provides HRM with contact information, and the memorial is only there for 18 months.

The source of most debate was around the time limit. Councillors debated removing it altogether and allowing the memorials to remain as long as they’re in a state of good repair, but ultimately settled on a new time limit of 24 months.

The new policy will come back to council for second reading before becoming law.

(Copy link for this item)

3. Will the city finally stop using a technology that is useless at best and extremely harmful at worst?

Polygraph machine
Image from

A machine can’t tell if you are lying. But investigators can convince you the machine knows more than it does, and that can intimidate you into providing them with information you would otherwise keep to yourself.

Evidence from polygraph machines is not admissible in Canadian courts, but police departments continue to use them on suspects and Halifax uses them for routine hiring, too.

Now, Zane Woodford reports, Coun. Shawn Cleary has asked for a staff report on the municipality’s use of the machines for routine employment screening:

At the end of council’s meeting on Tuesday, Cleary gave the following notice of motion:

That Halifax Regional Council requests a staff report on developing an evidence-based formal policy for polygraph testing for the purposes of human resource management, especially during the selection process for any or all employees of the municipality. The report should provide a jurisdictional scan and include peer-reviewed academic literature on the efficacy of polygraph testing for employment. The report will include recommendations for use or not of polygraph testing in all departments and business units at the Halifax Regional Municipality, as well as with contracted services.

Woodford goes on to share links to earlier stories on polygraphs and the questions they raise. One section of his story jumped out at me, because I remember noticing it (and being amazed) the first time it was reported:

During the budget process this year, councillors asked HRP Chief Dan Kinsella to justify the spending.

“Polygraph is a tool, and it’s a tool that’s used primarily investigatively,” Kinsella said. “I’m not an expert on it. I don’t know all the details, but I do know that it is a tool that has value to our investigative ability. I’ll leave it at that. Subject to different opinions on it, or whether it’s good or bad, there are a number of police services across the country that use polygraph investigatively.”

Kinsella also confirmed HRP uses polygraph testing “as an employment screening tool to ensure security clearances for candidates for work.”

Got that? Give us money for an unethical technology that doesn’t work, but I can’t really tell you anything about it is what Kinsella’s quotes come down to.

In the story, Woodford also shares a story, first reported by Matt Stickland at Committee Trawler, about a man whose life was torn apart after he truthfully replied to questions asked during polygraph testing for a routine custodial job with the city.

(Copy link for this item)

4. IWK not seeing broadly “alarming pandemic-related mental health trends,” but eating disorder admissions and mental distress calls are up

Headshot of woman with shoulder-length hair in a blue sweater, with a curtained background.
Dr. Alexa Bagnell, chief of psychiatry at the IWK Health Centre and professor and head of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Dalhousie University. Photo: IWK Health Centre

Yvette d’Entremont continues her award-winning pandemic coverage with a story on pandemic-related mental health trends among youth.

d’Entremont speaks with Dr. Alexa Bagnell, head of psychiatry at the IWK Health Centre, on what changes the hospital has seen when it comes to mental health concerns. She writes:

While the numbers tend to fluctuate month to month, Bagnell said they’ve seen no increase in the number of patients coming into the IWK who’ve attempted suicide or who are struggling with suicidal ideation …

From January until the end of April, however, Bagnell said the IWK had seen a 15% increase in the number of mental health-related visits to the emergency department. Despite this, there has been no overall change in admission rates.

The one area in which there has been a consistent increase throughout the pandemic is eating disorders:

“Looking across all our categories of why people are seeking service that’s the one that I can say ‘Yeah, that’s a real change with the start of the pandemic.’”

Bagnell said from the first few months of the pandemic, centres across the country were reporting similar trends. The Halifax Examiner reported on the increase in eating disorders amid the pandemic last year here and here. While there are many theories, Bagnell said no one knows for certain why it’s happening.

“It’s been consistent. It’s real. In referrals, presentations, admissions … We’ve had to move more resources into eating disorder treatment and that’s been helpful,” she said. “It hasn’t been a steady increase, it just increased and it stayed persistent. It’s really the only area.”

In the story, d’Entremont also goes deeper into some of the challenges for parents and guardians in supporting children and teens during the pandemic, and speaks to Bagnell about ways to overcome those challenges.

This is one of the things I appreciate about the Examiner: writers who take what could be a pretty simple and straightforward story and go a bit deeper.

(Copy link for this item)

5. Five Little Indians: Calling Canadians to account

Michelle Good

It is always a pleasure to see a new commentary by Evelyn C. White in the Examiner. White is incredibly skilled at drawing on her own experiences and drawing connections between them and current issues. And that’s what she does in her article Five Little Indians: Calling Canadians to account.

White writes:

Spurred by reports about the remains of Indigenous children found on the grounds of a former Indian Residential School in BC and the search for graves on the site of the now demolished Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia, childhood memories have weighed on my mind.

For instance, as a 1960s Black girl growing up in a working-class community in the American Midwest, I learned to pity two groups of my peers: Black youths who were dispatched every summer to visit relatives in the Deep South and Black kids who attended Catholic schools.

For it was generally understood that Black children who travelled to Dixie ran the sizeable risk of never returning home alive.

She moves from the experiences of Black youth in the South and in Catholic schools to this year’s Governor General’s Award winner for English-language fiction: Five Little Indians, by Cree writer Michelle Good. The book, White writes, “recounts the experiences, over several decades, of five Indigenous children who are removed from their homes and dispatched to a remote Mission school in BC.”

I don’t want to excerpt too much of White’s piece, because you should read the whole thing, but here she is on why Good decided to write this book:

As it happens, I was honoured to interview Michelle Good (via Zoom), last fall. Trained as a lawyer, the daughter of a residential school survivor told me that Five Little Indians stands as her response to those who kept asking why Indigenous people “can’t just get over it?” “It was clear to me that they didn’t understand the depth of the suffering” she said.

In press accounts since her GG win, Good has elaborated on the truths that the Canadian government, the Catholic church, the RCMP, and “old stock” settlers have systemically denied or minimized. “They’re asking us to forget 150 years of taking our children away,” she told a reporter. “It’s 150 years of children between the age of 6 and 16 being raised by institutions, taken from their family, taken from their community under great threat. … How could anybody forget that?”

How indeed, we might wonder as we read further down the page, as White provides shameful quote after shameful quote from Canadian politicians.

(Copy link for this item)

6. 17 new cases of COVID-19 announced yesterday, and AstraZenecans start booking earlier mRNA vaccine appointments

Photo: Quinten Braem/Unsplash

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free. Please help us continue this coverage by subscribing

Tim Bousquet has your daily COVID-19 roundup here. We seem to have settled into low double-digit cases every day, which a few months ago would have struck us as alarming, but now seems less so. This is probably because of almost all the cases are close contacts of previous cases.

In terms of total numbers, Bousquet writes:

There are now 171 known active cases in the province; 17 people are in hospital with the disease, seven of whom are in ICU; 28 more people are considered recovered today.

People who received a first dose of AstraZeneca are being contacted to reschedule their follow-up shots. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang recommends that those who received AstraZeneca as their first shot get an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) for their follow-up. Bousquet noted that he is one of the people who has been moved up for a second shot.

Almost every day I see questions raised on Facebook and Twitter that either express or spark outrage about one aspect or another of the province’s current handling of the pandemic. Are there any reasons to be critical? Sure. But what strikes me about a lot of these “Why isn’t the province doing x” or “What are they hiding” sorts of questions is that they refer to issues that have been clearly addressed or explained before.

For instance, the McDonald’s in Tantallon is apparently closed. (I say apparently, because I don’t know if it still is today.) Several people have asked why it’s closed on Facebook (COVID-19 exposure), followed by those wondering why it hasn’t appeared on any exposure lists. There’s no deep conspiracy here. As Bousquet has repeatedly noted:

Public Health only issues potential exposure advisories when they think they may not have been able to contact all close contacts at that locale. The large majority of potential exposure sites never make it onto a public advisory.

I’ve seen people say we should be asking Dr. Strang why the province has no walk-in clinics for vaccines (he’s said it’s because the risk of wasted doses is much higher). And I noted in the comments on Bousquet’s roundup from yesterday someone wanting to know why, as an AstraZenecan, he gets to jump the queue for the second dose. I have a feeling we will see this type of question a lot in the coming days, so I think it’s worth quoting Bousquet’s reply:

Well, I jumped the queue on the first shot, I guess. Had I waited “my turn” for the Pfizer, I would’ve gotten it around the middle of May. Instead, I got it April 14. Anyone my age could’ve done that. I did, lots others didn’t. I honestly looked at it as not so much as a personal benefit, but as doing my part at getting us collectively to herd immunity a bit earlier, and I was willing to take on the uncertainty of the AstraZeneca to get us there.

So now, they’re moving me up, basically, the same as the age group that got the Pfizer and Moderna on April 14. I just look at moving my second shot up as a small reward for taking on the uncertain risk of getting the AZ instead of waiting my turn to the Pfizer or Moderna.

Everyone else will get moved up in their age cohort, 4 weeks for the oldest, a bit less for the rest, but still moved up. Doesn’t seem unfair.

There’s a COVID briefing at 3pm today. Tim Bousquet will live-tweet and you can watch the briefing here.

(Copy link for this item)

7. What happens to Canadian TV if C-10 dies?

Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

I have a new piece this morning on C-10, the bill introduced by the federal government to update the 30-year-old Broadcasting Act. The rough outlines are this: Canadian TV broadcasters have an obligation to put money into producing Canadian TV shows. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime do not. But as broadcaster advertising revenue has dropped, so too has the production of scripted Canadian content.

C-10 was meant to remedy that. But the bill has run into trouble, with critics saying it overreaches. After seeing a lot of these concerns around regulation in my social media feeds, I decided to talk to people representing creators to get their take on this. I also look at what some of the concerns with the bill are.

From the story:

Introduced by the federal government after years of study and two rounds of consultation, the act aims in part to regulate streaming services by mandating that they invest in developing Canadian shows and do more to make Canadian programming easier for viewers to find. But some critics and witnesses at the Standing Committee of Canadian Heritage, which is holding hearings on the bill, argue it represents dangerous overreach, threatening free speech, and limiting Canadians’ choice.

That has [Maureen] Parker, [executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada] and others in the creative sector worried that the bill will die. And that years of lobbying for more Canadian comedies and dramas will go down the drain.

“I’ve become increasingly concerned that there won’t be any Canadian content left,” Parker said in an interview. “We’ve been through ups and downs before, but this is a very long downward curve. And I’m very worried if we do not get this bill and we do not get this money — I really don’t know what the future will bring for Canadian screenwriters.”

One of the critics of the bill, Mark Buell of The Internet Society, is sympathetic. But he thinks the government is taking the wrong approach:

“I sympathize with Canadian content creators, and they do desperately need help … The internet has been incredibly disruptive to a lot of industries, including the traditional broadcasting industry, and there certainly is a need to level the playing field,” Buell said in an interview. But he is opposed to C-10 because, he said, “As it’s written, it essentially captures all online content, regardless of where it was developed in the world. You know, you think about what the bill was intended to capture — content on sites like Netflix and Facebook and Twitter and the like. They represent only a small section of all the content online. So really, the net is cast so far and wide it will essentially capture everything.”

It can be a challenge to write policy-related stories without getting drawn too deeply into details that will confuse a general readership, so I hope I’ve got the right balance with this one.

(Copy link for this item)


1. Cheery missionary history

Catholic crucifix lying on a table
Image of crucifix from, the international website of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Several years back, I interviewed a former priest for a story. He was an interesting guy — a member of the Oblates who became a teacher, then went to graduate school in the US, where he started a long-running relationship with a married woman. Eventually, he left the priesthood, lived in various places in Canada and India, and then retired in Nova Scotia.

I am embarrassed to say that at the time I had no idea of the role the Oblates order played in running residential schools. During my research in the lead-up to interviewing my subject, I wound up reading archival copies of Oblate newspapers, and they painted rosy pictures of their missions to the “Indians.” I wish I could remember where online I found the papers. I don’t remember any details from their stories, but I do recall that, of course, there was no indication of the horrors that took place at residential schools.

It’s one thing to not see a reckoning of the harm caused by residential schools in what were essentially newsletters to for those running them and their supporters. But the Oblates — more formally, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate — are still around today, and the anecdotes section of the order’s international website shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness.

The Oblates ran the Kamloops residential school, where the graves of 215 children were found last week, from 1893 to 1969. They ran a slew of other schools across the country, too.

When you search OMI, the order’s international website (there are sites for individual countries too), this is the banner image on the results page.

Sepia photo of five men in cowboy style hats on horsebakc.
Banner image from

There are thumbnail sketches of many of the Canadian missions, including a few lines about the schools.

Lake Athabasca:

The mission was visited by hundreds of Montagnais and Cree Indians. In his report to the general chapter of 1879 Bishop Clut wrote: “These Amerindians are generally good Christians. There is not even one pagan among them and that is true for a long time.” Father Faraud and his collaborators visited several outposts and some of these were some hundreds of kilometres distant: Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Fort MacMurray, Notre-Dame des Sept-Douleurs in Fond-du-Lac, Saint-Henri in Fort Vermilion, Saint-Andre in Fort Dunvegan, Saint-Isodore in Fort Smith, etc.

The Sisters of Charity from Montreal opened a boarding school. A new church was built in 1910. The mission had a printing press with syllabic letters, a sawmill and a workshop for boat building.

There’s a cutesy story about an Oblate brother who was one of the order’s “famous sharpshooters” along the banks of the Mackenzie River, and a talented trapper. This was an important skill, because the lives of the people at the school seems to have depended on it:

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the survival of the Oblate missions on the banks of the Mackenzie depended in great part on the skills and the dedication of the brothers, justly known as “Unknown Apostles.” Providing food for hundreds of persons, religious men and women and their students in boarding schools, required very skillful hunters and fishermen.

A number of the missionaries, like Florimond Gendre, founded or taught at a number of different “Indian” schools:

From 1862 to 1866 he worked in mission of Sainte-Marie, about 50 kilometres from New Westminster and there he founded an agricultural and industrial school for the Indians. He was director, treasurer, teacher of English, writing, arithmetic, geography, master of agriculture and supervisor for the 60 pupils. During the summer vacation period he visited the Amerindians along the Fraser River.

In 1866, because he was suffering from exhaustion, he was sent to Immaculate Conception mission on Lake Okanagan and there he remained until his death. He founded a school there for the Indians, but it lasted only a few years. For a time each year he visited eight mission centres including Kamloops, He was ill during the winter of 1871-1872 but succeeded nevertheless in visiting Kamloops in the summer of 1872 and again in November. It was there that he became seriously ill. Father J. M. Baudre brought him back to Kamloops where he died on January 29, 1873.

In 1873, the writer of the report on the vicariate of British Colombia has this to say: “What am I to say about Father Gendre, this model of the perfect missionary and perfect religious? In spite of his vigorous constitution, he exhausted himself by excessive work. He died the victim of his dedication for the sake of these beloved Savages whom he loved more than life itself”. (Missions OMI, 11, 1873, p. 340).

Some stories just casually mention the schools. Some of the others, particularly those that get into the details of missionary activity, are just drippingly patronizing. This is from “Father Lacombe frees a captive woman“:

After a moment of silence, he spoke once again: “Very well, my dear Crees, and you, young warrior, who will not grant my request, I’ll remember this. When they come to steal your women and your horses, and you can no longer defend yourselves, you will come to me to beg for protection. I’ll have to respond: ‘What can I do? The Cree had no pity for others… Now, I can do nothing for them, for never forget: The Great Spirit has no pity for those who want to harm others.’… That’s what I’d say.”

This short speech had an amazing effect. The young man, fearful of a curse from the man of prayer, hurriedly released his captive in return for three horses and a rifle. All during the discussion, the poor Blackfoot woman had remained fearful and trembling, since she didn’t understand the Cree language. The missionary took her by the hand, and brought her by his side, saying: “Do not fear, young lady, you belong to me, I bought you. Soon, I’ll bring you back to your own people, who will be all the more happy to see you since they believed they had lost you forever.”…

Then the priest confided his protégée to a good mixed-race family and began her religious education. Since she was intelligent, and full of admiration for her liberator, the young woman did not hesitate long before accepting Baptism. When Spring came, the Oblate decided to try a mission to the Blackfoot tribe, who had a reputation for being hostile to our religion…

Then, Father Lacombe cried in a loud voice: “Marguerite!” At once Marguerite came out of hiding and threw herself into the arms of her tearful parents. She said weeping: “Dear parents, I’m so happy to find you again! Thank this Man of Prayer. He’s the one who rescued me from the hands of the Cree. Now I’m a Christian.” The daughter was returning from so far that she just had to be listened to. The missionary profited from this occasion to sow an abundant crop of the Gospel among the Blackfoot tribe.

I did not, of course, read every entry on the Oblates’ website, but I was struck by the blitheness of the mentions of the schools. I did see one exception, in the entry on the life of Constantine Scollen, an Irish Catholic who felt out of place in the mission:

He witnessed the tragedy of the change in the Native Americans of the plains of Canada and the USA, as the buffalo were exterminated by the Europeans, practically every treaty broken, and the Canadian Government forced the children into European style schools, where their language and culture were destroyed.

The Survivors Speak: A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada” is, of course, available online, and shares many, many stories of residential school survivors.

If you are tempted to comment below that some Indigenous children had positive experiences at residential schools, let me point out there is a section of the report called “Warm Memories.” It doesn’t constitute an argument against the enterprise as a whole.

As the TRC report says:

Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.

In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.

No amount of cutesy stories about dedicated missionaries and their service change that.

(Copy link for this item)

2. Strong feelings about libraries

Hardcover copy with red dustjacket of The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

People have strong feelings about libraries.

The two stories I wrote recently about the library, which are here and here, and objections raised to a new book in its collection, raised more strong feelings than probably anything else I’ve written in years.

I didn’t wind up using this full quote in either story, but I was struck by it. It’s from Mila McKay, who started a petition asking that the library remove the book. McKay talked about her lifelong connection to libraries: “I really care about my library. It’s always been a part of my life. I grew up in Saskatchewan, and the library there was a big part of my life … I was a bit of a nerd, I was homeschooled, and it was an educational resource.”

McKay’s family moved to Nova Scotia, and she was a regular at the Sackville branch of the library. “In my teens, I would go to a lot for the youth programming. They have good youth programming in Sackvillle … Teen zone was an important part of my life.”

I also have fond memories of biking to the library as a kid and riding home with a pile of books. When we moved to Halifax, in 1998, the library was a lifeline. We had no local branch at the time, but eagerly waited for the Bookmobile’s regular visits. When the kids were small, we had boxes overflowing with library books in the living room.

At the same time, there are people who think the library is superfluous in the age of Google and Amazon, and municipal and provincial governments often see libraries as an easy place to cut.

I co-host Dog-eared and Cracked, a podcast about books, and in our new episode my co-host Jay and I discuss The Library Book, by Susan Orlean. Jay had made some dismissive comment to me about libraries at one point, so I wanted him to read this book. Orlean weaves together the history of public libraries in the US, the fire that damaged and destroyed hundreds of thousands of books at the Los Angeles Public Library’s central branch in 1986, the changing scope and reach of public libraries, and more. Definitely worth reading, and I think it led to some interesting discussion.

One of the things that surprised me about the book was how far back many library innovations — ones I thought were relatively recent — go. The whole idea that libraries are about more than books is nothing new. It goes back many, many decades. Reading the book, I was reminded of a keynote speaker at the 2013 Ontario Library Association conference who pissed off all the librarians in the room by telling them they needed to innovate and offering examples of new kinds of services they should offer. The trouble was, these were all things libraries were already offering.

Listen to our episode if you like, and if you have a book you’d love to hear us discuss, let us know.

(Copy link for this item)

Noticed: MoviePass’s galaxy brain thinking

Plush red movie theatre seats
Photo; Kilyan Sockalingum/Unsplash

You may have heard of MoviePass, one of of many startups with an utterly baffling business model. The American company offered a deal that was too good to be true: pay 10 bucks a month and watch as many movies as you like! But, as a new piece by Matt Levine for Bloomberg notes, there are a few problems with this model:

MoviePass had maybe the greatest business model of the 2010s venture capital boom. The model was:

  1. You paid MoviePass $10 a month.
  2. In exchange, you could see as many movies as you wanted, in theaters.
  3. MoviePass had no particular deals with the movie theaters; it just went out and bought whatever tickets you wanted at retail prices.
  4. The retail price for a movie ticket was about $10.
  5. If you saw more than one movie a month — as you probably did, if you bothered to sign up for this service — MoviePass lost money on you.
  6. But MoviePass supposedly collected data! Data is valuable! I don’t know.

Since MoviePass was not set up as a way to, for instance, absorb Saudi money, the company (now bankrupt) had to figure out a way to make this absurd business model work. And so, Levine says, they hit on a brilliant plan: Just don’t provide customers with the tickets they’ve bought:

What if MoviePass collected your $10 each month and then, when you asked it for movie tickets, it ignored you? Then it could keep collecting your $10 a month without spending money on tickets. Eventually you’d get annoyed by not getting what you paid for, and you’d try to cancel your membership and get your money back, but MoviePass could ignore that too and keep collecting the $10. Giving people unlimited movie tickets for $10 a month is a good way to get rapid customer growth; telling people you’ll give them unlimited movie tickets for $10 a month, but not actually doing it, is a way to pivot to profitability.

Of course, many subscribers got annoyed and decided to cancel their accounts, but in a move that could come as the new definition for chutzpah, MoviePass changed users’ passwords on 75,000 accounts so subscribers could not close them. All this came to the attention of the US Federal Trade Commission. Levine quotes from the FTC complaint:

Under Respondents’ password disruption program, Respondents invalidated the passwords of the 75,000 subscribers who used the service most frequently while claiming that “we have detected suspicious activity or potential fraud” on the affected subscribers’ accounts. …

The password disruption program impeded subscribers’ ability to view movies because MoviePass’s password reset process often failed. … Indeed, when discussing the password disruption program, a MoviePass executive acknowledged that subscribers using a common smartphone operating system would encounter technical difficulty in resetting their passwords.

When subscribers attempted to contact MoviePass’s customer service about their inability to reset their MoviePass passwords, Respondents often responded weeks later or not at all.

In a great score-one-for-late-capitalism mode, the FTC settled with the owners of MoviePass. The settlement does not involve a fine. Levine writes:

They really changed people’s passwords so they couldn’t use the service, and their punishment is that they have to promise not to do it again.

(Copy link for this item)




Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — live on YouTube

Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — live on YouTube


Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am) — dial-in or live broadcast not available

Community Design Advisory Committee (Thursday, 11:30am) — virtual meeting, more info here

Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — live on YouTube

Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Thursday, 5pm) — live on YouTube

Public Information Meeting (Thursday, 6pm) — Case 22896, application requesting amendments to the existing development agreements for lands known as Seton Ridge, located on Seton Road, Bedford Highway, and Lacewood Drive, Halifax



Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am) — video conference: Fraud Risk Management and Cybersecurity Re: 2020 Financial Report of the Auditor General, with Geoff Gatien, Joanne Munro, Andrea Anderson, and Ted Doane

On campus



Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Seminar (Wednesday, 4pm) — PhD candidate Spencer Jones will talk about “Investigating the role of the core SWI/SNF sub-unit Bap60 during long-term memory formation in Drosophila melanogaster”; PhD candidate Nicholas Raun will explain how “The methyltransferase Trx regulates critical energy genes in memory neurons”. More info here. Bring your own Bap60 and/or Trx.


Coffee Chat with Dr. Saini and Special Guests (Thursday, 10:30am) — livestreamed on YouTube; Dal President Deep Saini will talk with Frank McKenna, and Karen Hutt from Emera, about “how leveraging challenging situations can strengthen your approach to leadership.”

(I kind of feel like I want to add something snarky here, but it’s too early for me to think of anything clever.)

Improving Ocean Sustainability through Science Commercialization (Thursday, 8pm) — register here.

With an accelerating global population, growing demand for ocean resources, and heightened sustainability imperatives, we must act now to make a positive impact on the oceans and humanity. Innovative businesses will be a primary catalyst and solution to the world’s largest ocean sustainability problems. This discussion will explore the opportunities for commercial ventures to make a positive impact on ocean health and sustainability. We will discuss the many pathways for ocean science commercialization in Canada and speak with three outstanding founders that have established companies that will make a positive impact on the oceans.

In the harbour


I made a short Spotify playlist called Less Famous Montreal Bands (it still needs a lot of work) and listened to it while writing this. “Contra Rebel” by the Asexuals still gets the blood pumping.

Please subscribe, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. Tim and those who received Astra Zeneca did actually jump the queue. I received my vaccine (Moderna) on April 14 the same as Tim but will have to wait much longer to book the second shot, despite being considerably older. I assume the reasoning is they think Astra Zeneca is less effective and they want to use it up in the unlikely case someone wants it for a second shot. But the much heralded vaccination by age cohort seems to be out the window. And of course we are nowhere near the timeframe recommended for second doses by the manufacturers – no more than 6 weeks.