1. Sackville shelter
“A few dozen people attended a public meeting in Lower Sackville Tuesday night to learn more about a warming centre and microshelters in their community,” reports Suzanne Rent:
Beacon House Interfaith Society, which organized the meeting, operates a warming shelter at the former St. Elizabeth Seton Church on Metropolitan Avenue. The centre now also has four microshelters that sit in the parking lot.
Jim Gunn and Cheryl Newcombe, two members of the leadership support team at Beacon House, were on hand at the meeting Tuesday night. This was the second meeting the group hosted for the community to learn about the work to help the unhoused.
Gunn handed out fact sheets to the group and talked about the background of the shelter, which first opened in the winter of 2022. The warming centre is now open from 6pm to 8pm each night, and a 20-bed overnight shelter operates from 8pm to 7am.
This year, Beacon House partnered with the Department of Community Services, so the shelter has several staff members, including two social workers. Beacon House got a grant from the Mental Health Foundation to pay for a mental health support worker on a six-month contract. Local businesses have supported the shelter with donations of showers, furniture, and money. Gunn said they’re always looking for more volunteers to help out.
“The way I’ve been seeing this the past year is this is a community taking care of its own,” Gunn said.
One woman at the meeting who said she was from Sackville said she’s worked in the shelter system in Halifax for more than 20 years ago.
“There was never a place in Sackville for anybody to go,” she said. “We always had to bring people into Halifax by cabs, which is horrible. This is really great. I’m happy this is in my community. I’m sad that we need it but so happy this place exists.”
2. Proposed Bridgewater affordable housing project fails
“An affordable housing project in downtown Bridgewater likely won’t go ahead as planned after the non-profit behind the project was denied a tax exemption from town council,” reports Suzanne Rent:
As the Examiner reported in December, Art Fisher, the executive director of Family Service of Mi’kma’ki, made a presentation to Bridgewater town council for a tax exemption, among other requests, for its affordable housing project on King Street.
But back taxes are owed on the property, and the Bridgewater council declined to give the organization an exemption.
“The town is going to be on the wrong side of history,” George Buranyi, chair of the board of Family Service of Mi’kma’mi, told Rent:
We have a housing crisis across the nation. Here was an opportunity to support a potential 68 units of deeply affordable housing in a community that has, per capita, a high a homelessness rate as almost the city does. So, where are all those people going to go?
“Beginning Wednesday, Feb, 1, 11 pharmacies across the province will start booking appointments for people to get treatment for minor ailments or chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, and COPD,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
It’s a pilot project aimed at allowing pharmacists to use their full training — what’s often called their “scope of practice — while easing some of the pressure on doctors. Pharmacies chosen for the project must have additional staff as well as additional space that can be allocated to see patients in a clinic setting within the store.
[Health Minister Michelle] Thompson said this project is one piece of the “transformation” of the health care system. Gary Burrill, the NDP member representing Halifax Chebucto, said one of the most important things about the announcement is that people will no longer have to pay out of pocket.
“We have seen pharmacists able to provide services, but they had to be paid for outside the MSI system. That meant there was a financial barrier to accessing the care,” Burrill said. “So, at the core of this announcement is that money will not change hands between patients and care providers. This will be a publicly provided service.”
4. 911 outage
The 911 system for the Maritimes was out of service for over two hours yesterday.
In an afternoon press conference, Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr said it’s too early to know if any emergencies were missed because of the outage — we can all envision someone having a heart attack, 911 being called and there being no response.
Paul Mason, the executive director of the Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office (EMO), also spoke at the press conference. Mason was interviewed by the Mass Casualty Commission last year, and told the commission that:
In the Maritime provinces, there’s a dedicated 9-1-1 telephone switch in Fredericton with a backup in Moncton. And those switches do all the 9-1-1 calls for P.E.I, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. So what happens is when someone calls 9-1-1 they call from wherever they’re at, on the originating network. The call goes up to and hits the 9-1-1 switch in Fredericton, and that’s where it gets on the 9-1-1 network.
So it’s not considered a 9-1-1 call until it hits that switch. That’s why lots of times people say 9-1-1 is down; 9-1-1 technically has never been down. What has happened is there are interruptions to the originating network basically, so it’s kind of like — I get the frustration because people are like, “Well I can’t call 9-1-1, what good does that do me?”
But the bottom line is the regulatory environment and redundancies of originating network versus the 9-1-1 network are very different from a costing perspective.
Well, all those regulations and redundancies failed yesterday, and technically and actually, the 9-1-1 network was down.
The point of yesterday’s press conference seemed to be to place all blame on Bell (which operates the 9-1-1 switches) and to stress how seriously the government is taking the outage. Which is fair enough, I suppose, but I had this exchange with Mason:
Bousquet: You had given an interview with the Mass Casualty Commission and you addressed much of the structure of the system with the switching system in Fredericton and back up Moncton. And reading that interview this morning, I saw that you were adamant that that was something that could not break and had not broken. And yet here we are. Do you have any insight into how an infallible system, which is pretty much how you were describing it, could fail?
Mason: Well, no, With the caveat I put in, there is no system of force is infallible when it comes to the 9-1-1 network. It’s treated separately from the general telecommunications or telephone network, which is the originating network. So it’s regulated differently from the CRTC to a much higher standard with redundancies from that switch in Fredericton. There’s dual connectivity down into all the public safety answering points with, of course, the backup facility in Moncton. So it’s built to a much higher level of redundancy than the regular phone network due to the regulatory environment that it operates in. But to the Minister’s [Lohr’s] point, that’s what’s so unique about today, to my knowledge. You know, we’ve had situations where there’s been interruptions in telephone service to the originating network where individuals may have challenges or difficulties reaching the 9-1-1 network, but the 9-1-1 network always continued to operate. What’s unique about this event is it was on the 9-1-1 network, or the 9-1-1 network was what was impacted. So it is a very robust system and we’ve never had, to my knowledge, an incident like this before. But obviously, you know, there was an issue here today, and I think that it bears looking closely at to see how it can be improved.
Bousquet: I have a follow up and I’m almost afraid to ask it. But given the recent history of terrible events in Nova Scotia, is there a concern that the 9-1-1 infrastructure on the Bell side could be affected by bad actors?
Mason: Well, like any piece of technology, that is a valid concern. I mean, there’s been lots of media internationally around cyber incidents and we’ve seen some locally — City of Saint John, Newfoundland Health. So, of course, that is a risk. I know our partners in this case, Bell, have a vast amount of subject matter expertise looking to defend against those. And I know that the profile of that network from an Internet perspective is very low and very secure, But it’s a risk that has to be managed as it is with with all large corporations and infrastructure.
I didn’t have cyber attacks in mind. These teleconferences can be frustrating because I’m only allowed one question with a followup, and wasn’t able to clarify the intent of the question. So I’ll explain here what my great fear is.
In the mass murders of April 2020, we saw a very bad actor disguise himself as a police officer during his murder spree. (This isn’t the first time this has happened — the Norwegian killer did the same.)
One of the many documents made public by the Mass Casualty Commission was the killer’s bidding history on the Canadian government’s auctions of surplus goods, and I noted that at one point he had placed a bid on a helicopter. He wasn’t successful, but it got me wondering: what if he had had a helicopter during the killing spree?
These killers learn from each other and evidently try to outdo each other, and game the systems in place to respond to them (by, for example, driving fake police cars).
There is evidently a vulnerability in the 9-1-1 system. We don’t yet know what that vulnerability was, but if it could potentially be exploited by a killer during a murder spree — well.
Another question I wasn’t able to ask: Is Bell going to be fined?
5. There are dozens of spaceport projects around the world; they probably won’t bring the economic salvation backers promise
A spaceport to be operated by the aerospace company Orbex is now under construction in Melness, Scotland, reports Thomas Weber for Wired.
Weber gets into great detail about the history of the Highland Clearances and the challenges of the displaced people ever since, including disputes over economic development and property.
Much of the nearby property owned by the billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, who made his fortune in the environmentally destructive “fast fashion” industry but now styles himself an environmentalist:
He has acquired thousands of hectares of land around Melness, citing a mission to rewild the landscape and repair the damage caused by overgrazing. But his ideas for developments—including a brewery, an events space, and luxury resorts for “forest bathing”—are targeted at ultra-wealthy ecotourists. In the eyes of many locals, his investments bring to the fore the ballooning cost of real estate in the area.
Povlsen has spoken about being a custodian of the landscape and about his deep love for the area. He claims to be repeopling as well as rewilding, generating work in hospitality and construction. His company hires local construction firms and employs 20 people in the Melness area, a figure that will grow as his new developments open. Many residents, though, would prefer to have a diverse economy. Some are furious, seeing Povlsen as the Highlands’ latest arrogant landlord.
According to [Dorothy Pritchard chair of the local governing association], Povlsen treats the area as a tourist village. “He’s not from here, and he doesn’t understand the culture,” she told me.
Yet another case of salvation by billionaire. At least Povlsen isn’t a golf course promoter.
Citing potential environmental damage to the peatlands, Povlsen funded the local opposition to the spaceport, but then invested millions of pounds in a competing spaceport project in the Shetland Islands. Billionaires will be billionaires.
There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of spaceport projects in some stage of planning or development around the globe. Weber explains that:
According to Orbex and the development board, the economic benefits will outweigh these risks. They expect the spaceport to create around 40 jobs—from security and engineering to marketing roles—in an area with a population of several hundred. Some workers, they think, will commute from bigger towns on the north coast, but others may settle in the Melness area, boosting the school rolls. A report commissioned by the development board predicted that during the first two years of its operation, the spaceport would add several million dollars worth of gross value to Melness and Tongue’s economy, and attract thousands of visitors—a big boost for tourism.
Spaceports, though, are rarely a solution to the problems faced by marginalized areas, and they have a history of leaving local communities in the dust. They require sparsely populated land, usually near the equator, to profit from the higher speed of the earth’s rotation at equatorial latitudes, or in the far north or south, for easy access to polar orbits. They tend to be situated, then, in places like the Highlands—places that have long been considered peripheral and where the land carries fraught histories of marginalization, oppression, and colonization.
Yet to the crofters, the spaceport has come to represent their independence. Melness will need some development if it is to survive. Faced with a choice between another landowning capitalist and a spaceport, the crofters tend to side with the spaceport.
And so the spaceport was approved.
“Will the spaceport save Melness?” asks Weber:
For a community that has long been a forgotten corner, the promise of a cosmic horizon has metaphorical force. It may not, however, be the fix locals are counting on. The new Scottish space industry is enriching the high-tech economies of cities like Inverness, but it is doubtful that the first wave of engineering jobs will go to locals, as Pritchard hopes, due to a lack of relevant expertise. Ultimately, it is difficult to justify increasing the threats to the fragile carbon sink. Plus, NASA has found that as many as one in 20 rocket launches end in failure; to those under the azimuth, that is not a reassuring number. And yet, in spite of all of that, Sutherland Spaceport, as it is now known, represents a rare victory for the downtrodden in one of the most unequal parts of the Western world.
Change just a few of the particulars, and Melness looks a lot like Canso, while Orbex sounds a lot like Maritime Launch Services, albeit Orbex is much further along in the development process and has substantial funding and an operating rocket factory.
The article does a good job looking at the struggles — social, cultural, economic — that people in rural areas hope to resolve via a spaceport.
But I think Weber is far too optimistic about the success of any spaceport, including the Melness operation — Orbex is already at least two years behind schedule for its first launch. And even with his cautious caveats, I think he’s far too optimistic that the Melness spaceport will make a substantial positive economic impact on the lives of nearby residents.
Parker Donham draws my attention to Tanvir Mann’s efforts to avoid the deportation of her husband Jaskirat Sidhu.
Sidhu was the truck driver who in 2019 drove through a stop sign in rural Saskatchewan and struck a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, killing 16 of them. To avoid causing the families of the deceased the additional harm of hearing the event re-hashed in court, Sidhu pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm, and accepted a sentence of eight years in prison.
This was an excessive sentence — Donham correctly calls it “grossly excessive.” Careless drivers run down pedestrians all the time across Canada and receive at best a fine of a couple of hundred dollars, and no one much bats an eye at it. Sidhu was certainly careless, but the collision was not intentional. As well, it occurred at a poorly designed rural intersection that had seen a previous deadly crash.
At the time of the crash, Sidhu was a permanent resident, intending to obtain citizen. (Mann is a citizen.) But government officials are now working to deport Sidhu to India.
Fighting such a deportation proceeding is very costly, and Mann has started a fundraising page to help pay legal expenses. You can find that page here.
Land Lease Community Project (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Sackville Heights Community Centre) — snow date Feb. 8, 6:30pm, same location; more info here
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda
Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, Alderney Gate and online) — agenda
Opening Reception: 68th Student, Staff, Faculty, and Alumni Exhibition (Wednesday, 5pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — featuring works of art in a variety of media, and showcases the creative talents of our Dalhousie and King’s College communities. Also opening is ‘A Few of our Favourite Things: Selections from the Permanent Collection.’ Refreshments will be served. The exhibitions will be on view until 16 April 2023. Free Admission.
MAiD in early 2023: Where are We Now and Where are We Going? (Wednesday, 7pm, online) — 17thDalhousie Mini Medical School
External Controls on Deep-Water Sediment Deposition in Offshore Tanzania (Thursday, 11:30am, Milligan Room, Life Sciences Centre) — Graduate Student Symposium from Marina Dottore Stagna, PhD candidate, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Molecular Logic of Synapse Organization and Plasticity (Thursday, 12pm, Tupper Building, 3H1) — Tabrez Siddiqui from the University of Manitoba will talk
The Cunning Little Vixen (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre, Dal Arts Centre) — DalOpera production; until Feb. 5, $15/10, more info here
In the harbour
05:00: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
09:00: BBC Topaz, cargo ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
09:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
11:30: Elektra, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
15:00: NYK Virgo, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:00: Atlantic Sun sails for New York
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Autoport
20:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41
05:00: AlgoTitan, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Halifax
07:30: Shelia Ann, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
10:00: SFL Trinity, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from New York
Still experiencing intermittent post-COVID exhaustion.