1. Portapique: 13 dead in 40 minutes, children left alone for hours

An aerial view of the Portapique area.
Portapique, look north (bottom) to south (top). Graphic: Brian Cobett / Mass Casualty Commission

This article includes graphic descriptions of intimate partner violence, multiple murders, and trauma to children.

Tim Bousquet and Jennifer Henderson report on documents released by the Mass Casualty Commission, laying out just what happened in Portapique on the night of April 18, 2020.

That’s the night the perpetrator of the mass shooting killed 13 people in a community of houses, then drove away in his fake police car. Much of this information has been previously reported, but, Henderson and Bousquet write, “the summary’s detailed timeline of events includes new disclosures from witnesses and poignant descriptions of how people reacted to the crisis.”

These disclosures include disturbing details about traumatized children, some of whom had just witnessed their parents being murdered, left alone for hours. They also reveal that 911 calls revealed early on that the killer was driving what appeared to be a police car:

In the two minutes before the perpetrator entered her house, killing the family pets and then firing multiple shots through the bedroom door where she was standing, Jamie Blair told her boys to hide on the floor behind the bed. That quick thinking saved their lives because the killer never saw them.

Before suffering a fatal gunshot wound, she also managed to identify the killer as “Gabriel” and tell the 911 operator “there’s a police car in the fucking driveway.” The 911 transcript says, “there is a police car…but he drives…he’s a denturist…it’s decked and labeled RCMP …but it is not a police officer.”

The Blair children took shelter nearby, with Lisa McCully’s children. McCully had gone outside, where she was killed at the edge of her property.

At 10:21, the eldest Blair boy reports the boys had returned and told them “he’s shooting everybody.” In a heart-stopping line, the summary reveals the two youngest kids “hid in a deep ditch” and “we watched him go back and forth…Gabriel in his car.”

At 10:30, the operator is told the children saw a car go by “but it’s not Gabriel’s.’” The kids observed (correctly) that the killer’s car would blend in with the police because “he has a cop car.”…

From 11pm to 12:22am, the four children were directed to remain in the basement, in the dark, hiding in a closet. Three times during the evening, at 10:53 and 11:09 and 11:27, a couple of police officers came to the back door to speak with them. On the third visit, the kids were told to lock the back door and not open to anyone unless they heard the word “pineapple.” 

Finally, almost two and half hours after their ordeal began, RCMP officers Grund and Neil arrived to take the children to safety… The question of why it took RCMP so long to rescue them will undoubtedly be raised at a later point in the public process.

One of the still unanswered questions is where the perpetrator, who the Halifax Examiner refers to as GW, got his money. From the story:

Neither was it explained how GW was able to reverse his financial circumstances so quickly to pay off the loan. And consider that by 2020, GW owned a veritable fleet of vehicles: a Jeep, a Ford F150, four Ford Tauruses, (including one fully decked out as an RCMP cruiser), lots and lots of motorbikes (one of the neighbouring kids counted 16), some side-by-sides, and a backhoe. Lisa Banfield owned a Mercedes. Additionally, GW owned two adjacent properties on Portland Street in Dartmouth (he bought the crack house after it burned down), three properties in Portapique, and had $705,000 in cash. Not to mention a lot of expensive weapons.

It appears that GW inherited some property from New Brunswick lawyer Tom Evans, and sold them for about $300,000 in 2010, but even that revenue doesn’t appear to explain his considerable holdings in 2020.

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2.  Seven new COVID-19 deaths reported

This is a close up of an old Olympia manual typewriter, blue grey in colour. There is a sheet of white paper in it, and the word COVID 19 has been typed in capital letters.
Photo: Markus Winkler/Unsplash

The province is reporting the deaths of 7 Nova Scotians from COVID-19:

The deceased are:
• a man in his 30s who lived in the Central Zone
• a man in his 60s who lived in the Central Zone
• a woman in her 60s who lived in the Northern Zone
• a man in his 70s who lived in the Northern Zone
• a man in his 80s who lived in the Northern Zone
• 2 women in their 80s who lived in the Central Zone

In his update, Tim Bousquet notes that this does not mean the deaths occurred in the last day or two. He quotes information from the Department of Health and Wellness:

Data on deaths comes from Panorama, public health’s disease information system. It is entered into the system only after the death is identified to be COVID-related, which can take days or weeks to investigate and report. The majority of data on deaths is reflective of virus activity in the past, at the point of infection, and not the situation today, at the point of reporting.

Over the next few days, we are likely to see an uptick in the number of positive cases reported, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are actually more people infected. The province stopped doing PCR tests to confirm rapid test positives when the number of cases was overwhelming the system. Now, those who have a positive rapid test can also get a PCR test. Or, as the province puts it:

“There will be an increase in new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported,” explains the Dept. of Health. “This is expected and is a result of people with positive rapid tests being able to get a confirmatory PCR test. New cases reported will now show a greater proportion of overall cases in the province.”

Proof of vaccination requirements have now been lifted for most activities in the province. Having been to Quebec last fall, our vaccine passport requirements seemed like a joke. The system was essentially useless without the QR code scanners. In Montreal? Ubiquitous. Here? Never saw one.

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3. Cops to get names sewn into uniforms, like kids going to sleepaway camp

A Halifax Regional Police officer with no name tag pepper sprayed protesters who were sitting on a wall helping others who’d already been pepper sprayed on Aug. 18, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Because police officers can’t seem to resist removing their badges while doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing, they are now going to have their names sewn into their uniforms, Zane Woodford reports.

He quotes Halifax Regional Police chief Dan Kinsella, from yesterday’s virtual meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners:

[Officers] will have to two methods of identification moving forward: both number and name. Name tags will have officer last name and number clearly visible.

We are going to be providing a combination of name tags that may be sewn on. The vast majority will be sewn onto garments so there’ll be no issues when officers need to change clothing. It will allow flexibility to transfer name tags in certain situations, and it will assist the officers in their day to day duties as they often have to change outer layers of clothing, uniforms, or equipment depending on the role or response.

Woodford writes:

While Kinsella didn’t present it as such, the change is clearly a response to the events of August 18, 2021. Several police officers working that day outside the former Halifax Memorial Library — arresting and pepper-spraying people protesting the removal of emergency homeless shelters by municipal staff and contractors — removed their name tags and refused to identify themselves.

The way the name tags work made it easy for officers to avoid public scrutiny: they’re fastened by hook-and-loop (Velcro) and easily removed.

Woodford’s story also reports on the board’s striking a subcommittee to review the recommendations of the subcommittee on defunding the police, chaired by El Jones, and Jones’s reaction.

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4. Eckhardt pleads not guilty to extortion charge

A white man in an attic, possibly in a house. The ceiling is lined with plastic. Behind him are wobbly plastic or metal shelves, sparsely stocked with small packages of stuff. You can see a few boxes of stuff on the floor behind him.
Frank Eckhardt in a ZDF documentary on preppers

Survivalist and extremist Frank Eckhardt, whose company helps “new settlers” move from Germany to Cape Breton, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of extortion, Joan Baxter reports. He appeared in court in Port Hawkesbury yesterday. Eckhardt has yet to enter a plea on weapons charges. Here’s what the police found at his house, while executing a search warrant:

3) discharged Nosler .308 Rifle ammunition cartage
Savage Model 10 – .308 bolt action rifle
JP Sauer & Sohn, .22 rifle
Carl Gustafs Sweedish Mauser, 6.5x55mm bolt action rifle
Winchester 1300XTR 12 gauge pump action shotgun
Kragg Jorgensen 30-40 bolt action rifle
Norinco JW2000 12-gauge, double barrelled shotgun
(2) Remington 12-gauge shotgun shells
Sig Sauer P320 $D S&W semi-automatic, handgun
Glock 35 Gen4, 40 S&W semi-automatic handgun
Glock magazine, w/ 10 X 40 S&W pistol rounds
Alfa Proj 22 calibre revolver w/ leather holster
(84) 22 WM ammunitioBlack leather belt with (2) Gryphon pistol holsters
Thompson Centre percussion pistol, 45 caliber
Percussion pistol — unknown make, stamp — W Germany
Brown envelope with $80,000 CDN currency
Sig Sauer magazine 40 S&W w/ 5 rounds ammunition
(12) boxes 40 S&W ammunition — Blazer Brand
(11) boxes 40 S&W ammunition — Blazer Brand
(10) boxes 40 S&W ammunition — PMC Brand
(9) boxes Winchester Super X 6.5x55mm ammunition
(9) boxes 22 WMR annunition — CCI Brand
(2) boxes .308 ammunition — Browning Brand
(2) 1000 gram containers of black powder — Swiss Powder Brand
(41) boxes 22 WM ammunition — Hornandy Brand
(5) boxes 40 calibre ammunition — Remington Brand
(4) boxes 22 calibre ammunition — Sellier & Bellot Brand
(1) box 6.5x55mm ammunition ‚ Federal Brand
(23) boxes of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition — various brands
(19) boxes .308 ammunition — Hornandy brand
Firearms registration/licence documents — 2 pieces
Black pouch w/ $29,050 CDN currency
Large envelope with $100 CDN currency
Envelope w/ $3,300 CDN currency
White envelope w/ $3,500 CDN currency
Amazon envelope w/ $21,300 CDN currency

That’s a lot of guns and cash.

Baxter writes:

Eckhardt also operates an “Eco Village,” and a website that boasts about the advantages of life in Cape Breton “without W Lan [Wifi], vaccinations, 5G, free learning and without the need for school, in the middle of nature, that is almost nowhere else,” and the “networks with like-minded people.”

A pre-trial hearing on the extortion charge is set for March 31, while Eckhardt will face the weapons charges in court on April 25.

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5. Former IWK CEO Tracy Kitch found guilty of fraud

A headshot of a woman with shoulder length blonde hair smiling.
Tracey Kitch. Photo: Career Women Interaction

Michael Gorman reports for CBC that Tracy Kitch, the former CEO of the IWK Health Centre, has been found guilty of fraud over $5,000. Kitch paid for $47,000 worth of personal expenses using a corporate credit card. Those expenses included flights to visit family, a rental car, parking tickets incurred while driving that car, data overages, iTunes and Netflix fees, and more. Gorman is the reporter who first broke the story.

Gorman writes:

[Judge Paul] Scovil said Kitch, as CEO, signed documents acknowledging that the corporate credit card was not to be used for personal charges, yet did so anyway.

“Additionally, each and every expense claim contained certification that they were proper charges. They obviously were not,” he said.

The judge went on to note that Kitch “assured two separate board chairs that her expenses were in order, when they clearly were not.”

Kitch has since repaid the expenses, but Crown attorney Peter Dostal told reporters, “We’ve been saying all along that the notion of just simply paying it back later at one’s own convenience is not a defence to this.”

Three thoughts on this story:

  1. Tracy Kitch could easily have afforded to pay for things like her Netflix subscription herself. She was earning over $290,000 a year. I would love to know the psychology at work here.
  2. I know writers who don’t expense perfectly legitimate items because they feel like somehow it’s wrong, or it’s too small an amount to bother with. (Small amounts add up.) Then you’ve got folks who will be like yeah, I’m putting my mum up in a hotel and the hospital I work for can pay for it, no biggie.
  3. Has the Kitch case resulted in more scrutiny of expenses for people in other fields?
  4. Boards really need to take their financial oversight responsibilities seriously (as I imagine most do).

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The stickiness of harmful habits

A woman works on her laptop but is also checking her phone
Photo: Maxim Ilyahov / Unsplash

A couple of years ago, a journalist friend recommended the New York Times podcast, The Daily. I had never heard of it, and I wasn’t particularly interested. (It is now one of the world’s most popular podcasts, although it trails Joe Rogan by a lot.) I tried listening. Host Michael Barbaro was irritating as hell. My friend said once you get over that it’s worth listening, because they cover good stuff. I persisted. Soon, the podcast became a key part of my morning. So much so, that I felt like something was wrong if I didn’t listen. A rare occurrence.

I listened while writing the Morning File. I listened while making coffee. I listened while showering. The theme music had a soothing effect. “Shoot it straight into my veins,” I remember thinking one morning. The conversation was often smart and sometimes enlightening. Reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr became an anchor of pandemic coverage — before being disgraced over racist and sexist remarks made to teenagers on a trip to Peru. (It’s not clear to me whether he was fired or asked to leave.) I talked about what I heard on The Daily. I recommended it to others. I listened even on days that I hated the coverage.

There were downsides. For one thing, starting off the day with what was often stress-inducing coverage was bad for me. “For the first time in ages,” I texted my friend, “I decided not to listen today.” Six months later, I texted her, “I’ve just about had it with Michael Barbaro.”

Now, most days, I open up my podcast app, look at what’s on The Daily, think nah, and get on with other things. Sometimes I’ll consider a different news podcast. Most of the time I put on some jazz. I do tend to listen when Apoorva Mandavilli, who replaced McNeil, is on.

It went from being an essential part of my life to barely being a part of it at all.

Habits are like that. We develop patterns that can serve a purpose for us, but sometimes they can also be damaging. I was thinking about this reading a piece by freelance copywriter and ghostwriter Alexander Lewis, who decided to give up social media for a year.

In my business, this is not an easy thing to do. Lewis writes that social media tools are among the most effective marketing tools out there for a freelancer. How else are you going to find work? Share your work?

But like many creatives, I’ve also found social media to be a major source of unwanted distraction. These channels are magnets for attention, often pulling me away from my most important work. A few years ago, I began taking this pull more seriously. How much more writing could I accomplish in a week without social media’s constant drag on my time and attention?

I tried many short-term solutions. I took social media fasts. I deleted the apps from my phone. I logged out of my profiles so that I would have to type the password each time I wanted to log in.

None of these tactics offered a permanent fix. At best, they helped me push through a single day, week, or (occasionally) month. In the end, I always returned to the habit of mindless news-feed scrolling.

I too have done this. I do have Instagram on my phone, but it doesn’t hold my attention for long. I don’t have the Facebook or Twitter apps. Realizing how often I just pick up my phone and mindlessly scroll through Twitter, I’ve taken to logging out of it on my phone and on my laptop as well. But, of course, logging in is just a click or fingerprint away, thanks to my password manager.

Lewis found he was actually more prolific by staying off social media:

Taking a break from social media helped me develop greater patience with my ideas. If I liked an idea, I didn’t have the option to publish the one-sentence version. I was forced to sit with it, research it, and ultimately turn the idea into something of substance. Only then could I release the idea to the world.

The result: I was prolific in 2021. Beyond having more client work than any year before, I found the time to write and publish about forty articles across my blog and various guest posts. All this distraction-free writing culminated — I believe — in stronger prose in both personal and client projects.

He doesn’t pretend this is the solution for everything — there is a “cons” section of the post as well, and he has now returned, in a very, very limited way.

Somehow, the good habits seem much harder to make part of our daily lives than the bad ones (I recognize that one person’s “good” may be another person’s “bad”). Somehow, they are less sticky. After years of a primarily chaotic approach to work planning — largely centred on actively avoiding things that were stressing me out, resulting in my becoming more stressed out — I bought a large planner, and started not only making lists of things I need to do each day, but also mapping out larger projects, breaking them down into what tasks need to be done, and when I need to do them. In October of last year I ordered this year’s planner. “What is happening to me?” I wondered.

But here’s the thing. I know this exercise is helpful. I know it has had huge benefits for me. And yet there are days — weeks even — when the planner sits unopened on my desk, or I avoid looking at that nice list of tasks I’ve broken down into manageable pieces. It hasn’t become a habit the way listening to The Daily became a habit. Same with writing in my journal. Same with exercise. Eventually I come back, but it’s harder to make it stick. Sitting in a living room chair and doomscrolling until I’m so overwhelmed I just want to fall asleep? That’s easy to get back to any time though.

So I’ve been working on trying to cultivate these positive habits. Little things.

These days, my partner and I get up, make coffee, sit on the couch, and each solve the day’s Wordle puzzle. (I usually get it; she has yet to fail.) It’s cozy, pleasant, enjoyable, and non-stressful. It seems to reinforce something positive. It’s (for now) a good habit.

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Protestors hold signs against public health mandates and chat with a man draped in a Canadian flag.
Protestors at a Halifax rally against vaccine mandates and COVID restrictions. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

On her blog, The Mind Wanders, Barbara Darby looks at a case from 1930, to explore what constitutes an unlawful assembly.

The case centres on a parade in Hamilton, Ontario, where the unemployment rate for men was 30%. To draw attention to the plight of workers, and ” to show the public of the city what we are or how many were unemployed,” the Hamilton Workers’ Council decided to hold a parade downtown. After applying for a permit and being refused, they decided to go ahead anyway. Darby writes:

The parade of about 700-800 people went ahead. There was an offer of cooperation by the police to the gathering: it was told to steer clear of a “restricted area,” and if they did so, there would be no policing. The parade reached the intersection where the restricted area started. [William] Patterson, in the lead, refused to turn. The police testified that “traffic was being tied up all four ways at the intersection, a busy one” and “the crowd behind became quite unmanageable.” “There was continual pushing ahead and shoving, and in the result Patterson and the crowd had their way, and, pushing the police aside, carried the parade through the restricted area.”

Mr. Patterson was arrested, charged and convicted for of being “unlawfully a member of an unlawful assembly”:  Rex. v. Patterson was his appeal.

The court, Darby writes, had to consider two very different sides:

The Court states explicitly that this is a matter of choosing between two sides: “on the one side” is the view that a peaceable crowd, seeking to “forward a cause dear to them” shouldn’t be deemed unlawful because of those who seek to “interfere and provoke disturbance merely because of their innate love of a row.”  To criminalize the assembly is to allow “evil to triumph over good under the protection of the law.” In 1882, the Salvation Army that was acquitted because while it was involved in a gathering that ended in clashes and tumult, its aims were peaceful at the outset.

The other side: preservation of the crown’s peace takes precedence, and even a well-intentioned cause, where there is a “probability or possibility of a tumult resulting,” is unlawful. Quotes the Court, this branch of “preventative justice” rests on the maxim “’”Salus populi suprema lex,” in pursuance of which it sometimes happens that individual liberty may be sacrificed or abridged for the public good.’” The health of the people should be the supreme law.

The case gets into all kinds of fascinating stuff, including the notion that a peaceable assembly becomes unlawful if a counter-protest may turn violent, and that “the likelihood of tumult is sufficient to lay a charge.” The standard for the perception of threat to peace is a man who is both rational and courageous:

We don’t lay charges based on an unusually nervous observer. The combination of this interpretive guidance, along with the site-specific language of the Code is so interesting. The police are being placed in the position of making a judgment that includes a geographically narrow perspective of the neighbourhood, combined with the impossible viewpoint of the reasonable, ideal, calm, courageous, [male] neighbours to an assembly. Do we mean “neighbours” literally? Say, for example, those within a few downtown blocks of an assembly? One thinks of pipeline protests in remote areas, for example. Can they be unlawful assemblies if no neighbours are around to be fearful? And does the requirement for a “neighbourhood” analysis suggest that the true object of this crime prevention is to protect property and not a more nebulous notion of public peace? Or is the neighbourhood, in some cases, the populace broadly?

As always, Darby writes about these issues in a way that is thoughtful and accessible.

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Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am) — virtual meeting


Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am) — virtual meeting

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting



Community Services (Tuesday, 10am, Province House) — also via video conference; Wrap-Around Supports for Homeless Nova Scotians, with representatives from the Department of Community Services, Shelter Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Society, and United Way


Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — also via video conference; Housing Repair Program for Low Income Seniors, with representatives from the Department of Seniors and Long-term Care and the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing

On campus



No events


Gene flow in microbial eukaryotes: highways and bike paths (Wednesday, 4pm) — John M. Archibald will talk

Saint Mary’s

Isthmus Engineering: A Case Study on Worker Co-op Governance (Tuesday, 1pm) — online webinar with Ole Olson and Margaret Lund:

This panel brings to life a case example of a worker-owned co-operative in a technical field. Learn about how the co-op manages participation and governance, project management techniques to streamline democratic decision-making, running meetings that work and other aspects of worker-ownership and governance.

In the harbour

o6:00: Contship Leo, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
08:30: CMACGM Mexico, container ship (149,000 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Port Klang, Malaysia
10:30: IT Integrity, supply vessel, moves from Pier 9 to Irving Oil
13:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 9 from Saint-Pierre
14:30: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
15:00: IT Integrity sails for sea
16:30: Contship Leo sails for Kingston, Jamaica
22:00: CMACGM Mexico sails for New York

Cape Breton
08:30: CSL Metis, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
11:00: Algoma Victory, bulker, sails from Coal Pier (Sydney) for sea
11:00: Seacalm, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Es Sider, Libya


My partner made delicious pancakes for breakfast.

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

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  1. Absolutely sickening way the police were able to act with impunity to the citizens who pay their salaries.

    What psychological harm did they perpetrate on citizens blasted with pepper spray? Wait, I’m sure those officers are the ones whining about the stress they are under.

    If you are under stress look for help. Don’t take it out on a 10 year old child or a woman trying to do her shopping at a local store or a wooden pantry at a homeless enclave.

    At the risk of inflicting more emotional distress on our deeply, deeply flawed police force, that’s behaviour only Vlad could approve of.

  2. Hey Philip,

    Great job as always!

    In relation to the expense scandal (“Has the Kitch case resulted in more scrutiny of expenses for people in other fields?”), I can say anecdotally yes it has. As an employee of NSH, they are definitely looking at things more carefully now.

    In terms of getting things done, I’m terrible at it too. One thing I found that helped me a lot was an app called ToDoist. It’s on both my computers and phone. It’s 100% made me less anxious about tasks and has helped me keep organized. Check it out. Also, although I haven’t finished reading it yet, I’d recommend “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.