1. COVID-19 and provincial jails

The renovated North Unit day room at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Provincial jails have not seen a major breakout of COVID-19. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the jails have improperly infringed on prisoners’ rights, and the programs, policies, and supports that were implemented in order to prevent COVID infections in jails have been defunded; as a result, the province may not be prepared for an expected second wave of the disease.

The situation in the jails is laid out by Dr. Adelina Iftene, an assistant professor at the Schulich School of Law and the associate director of the Health Law Institute in a memo Iftene wrote to provincial officials charged with overseeing jails. The Halifax Examiner has obtained a copy of the memo; you can read it here.

Iftene says a main reason for the lack of a COVID outbreak in jails is because the province successfully depopulated the jails by 45%:

Nova Scotia has been one of the most successful provinces in preventing prison outbreaks. The court systems, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and advocates worked together to ensure the release to the community of almost half the incarcerated population. In place of four institutions operating at full capacity, there are now only two, and both have been operating significantly under-capacity during the pandemic. They are the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility (CNSCF) and the Northeast Correctional Facility. Only one incarcerated person is known to have been infected, and detection came soon after admission, while they were in isolation, reportedly to treat a pre-existing injury. This incredible result is likely to be attributable to both the swift decarceration efforts and the DOJ and Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA)’s work with Dr. Lisa Barrett, the Authorized Prescriber for COVID-19 in corrections, who created the COVID-19 protocols.

Other Canadian jurisdictions have not been as successful. In places where decarceration was not pursued, and the status quo continued, notably at the federal level, and in Ontario and Quebec, the consequences for prisoners, staff, and the community have been devastating. This is a testimony to both the importance of decarceration actions and the difficulty of containing the spread of the disease once there is institutional transmission. Thankfully, Nova Scotia’s ability to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the corrections setting has not been tested. Even if incarceration numbers remain low, given the risks posed by the prison environment, it should not be taken for granted that outbreaks will be prevented during future waves simply by replicating what was done during the first wave.

The pre-pandemic population of the jails was 452; by mid-April that population was reduced to 251.

The success of decarceration was not because the jail doors were opened and prisoners let loose onto the world, but rather as a result of a remarkable coordination of efforts across different agencies:

The main support for released individuals during the first wave of the pandemic came from not-for-profit organizations. In supporting released individuals, John Howard Society Nova Scotia (JHSNS) had expenses exceeding $40,000 in 4 months. Elizabeth Fry, in providing groceries alone to 54 families, spent in excess of $65,000…

During the pandemic, the amount of funding provided to these societies has been inadequate. The United Way Halifax was a consistent contributor. A federal government program called “Reaching Home” had a small amount of funds allocated into provincial programs. At the time of writing, the province had not contributed any funds during the pandemic, outside of a $15,000 contribution from the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women (“Status of Woman Nova Scotia”). Agencies serving men have not seen any provincial contribution.

With the funds received through Reaching Home, three organizations (JHSNS, E Fry Mainland, and Coverdale Courtwork Society (“Coverdale”)) launched an emergency housing project (“JEC”) which safely housed, in hotel rooms, 20 people exiting jail during the pandemic, for a total of over 30 people… The individuals housed through JEC are just a small segment of the people who relied on these societies for support. JEC became an addition to these societies’ reintegrative casework of about 60 plus individuals per society. This placed an incredible strain on their already stretched thin resources. JEC offered staffing from 9:00pm to 11:00pm, 7 days a week, including wellness checks on the people staying in the hotels. These checks were to deal with any immediate issues. Halifax Public Library staff offered assistance on-site, at the hotels. JEC offered three meals a day, with other supports being provided by the agencies themselves to the extent the limited funding would allow. Every client was also supported by a specific JEC caseworker. The caseworkers deal with long term housing issues, mental health supports, access to medication, medical appointments, etc. Addiction support was also provided by peer mentors, who themselves were formally incarcerated. None of the individuals that were decarcerated and supported through JEC breached their conditions of release.

The fact that nearly half the prisoners in provincial jails could be released, seemingly without incident, and that all of those — to a person — who were supported by the agencies successfully kept to the court-mandated conditions of their release, suggests we could radically change how we use jails in this province. We could improve the lives of the prisoners themselves, and save lots of money besides.

But Iftene raises the alarm: the funding for this innovative approach ran dry at the end of June: “The provincial government did not finance or otherwise support this housing initiative, nor did they provide other forms of emergency housing to those released.”

The concern, writes Iftene, is that “the number of incarcerated people in NS will increase before a second wave, at which point the decarceration efforts will need to recommence,” and by then it may be too late.

Meanwhile, those left in the jails faced severe human rights violations. Only one person in the jails tested positive for COVID, and that was a prisoner who was being isolated for other medical issues. The policy, as best Iftene could discover, is that all prisoners brought to the jails are self-isolated for two weeks:

Indiscriminately isolating everyone for two weeks upon admission to an institution, as appears to be the practice in Nova Scotia, may raise legal and ethical issues. We are told that currently every new prisoner, as well as anyone suspected of having COVID-19, is isolated for two weeks… the practice of isolation is concerningly similar to the solitary confinement regime. Any existing isolation protocols and their application will need a significant review and must be brought in accordance with human rights norms before the second wave. An isolation protocol must include all situations where isolation may be mandated and how this is practically different than solitary confinement, as well as any measures taken to mitigate the potential negative consequences of isolation.

Iftene makes specific recommendations to policy makers. The entire document is worth the read.

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2. “Affordable” in Dartmouth

A rendering of the Armour Group’s planned 15-storey apartment building in Dartmouth. Photo: HRM/Armour Group/Architecture49 Credit: HRM/Armour Group/Architecture49

“One-fifth of the units in a new 15-storey apartment building in Dartmouth will rent for less than market value, and 20 units will be accessible — as long as the developer secures financing with the federal government,” reports Zane Woodford.

Woodford gets into how “affordable” is defined, and what it means for this building:

Coun. Sam Austin asked what the area for total median income includes and was told it’s the census tract for the area.

That census tract includes Crichton Park and had a higher total median income ($43,746) than the Halifax average ($36,089) in 2015, according to Statistics Canada.

Assuming that figure, the most recent currently available, is used to calculate rents, they’d have to be less than $1,093.65.

Click here to read “15-storey Dartmouth apartment building approved, including some federally-financed affordable and accessible units.”

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3. The Governor

“The municipality’s Design Review Committee has approved Killam’s plans for the corner of Hollis and Bishops streets more than two years after it approved a slightly larger proposal for the same site,” reports Zane Woodford:

Killam applied through WSP Canada to build the seven-storey, 13-unit residential building with some commercial space on the site in front of its 24-storey building, the Alexander. The real estate investment trust also owns the heritage property to the north of the lot, Benjamin Weir House.

Click here to read “Committee approves Killam’s ‘high-end luxury’ proposal for downtown Halifax for the second time.”

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4. Secession, and possibly: War

The CBRM Civic Centre

“There are six candidates for mayor of the CBRM,” reports Mary Campbell for the Cape Breton Spectator:

Before I discuss them, however, I must note that four of them — Chris Abbass, Archie MacKinnon, Kevin MacEachern and Amanda McDougall — are members of a 3,848-member Facebook group called Cape Breton Autonomy Group (I Support CBI Self-Governance). (A number of candidates for council also belong to this group, but as today’s focus is on the mayoral race, we’ll put a pin in that for now). The “About” section of the Autonomy Group page states:

By joining this Group you acknowledge that you support the Cape Breton Island self-governance [sic] and truly believe that Cape Bretoners deserve better!

I don’t believe a candidate could be held to that in a court of law, but the degree to which any of these candidates intends to re-litigate the 1820 annexation of Cape Breton by Nova Scotia seems like information worth knowing, and will be a question I will ask of them.

Click here to read “Election 2020: Mayoral Candidates.”

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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5. Racism in cottage country

A picture on of the sign on a cottage property in Queens County. Photo: Angela Bowden / CBC

“A racist sign in the backwoods of Nova Scotia’s Queens County has been dragged into the public eye, after being photographed by a visitor,” reports David Burke for the CBC:

The round sign features a noose with the words “Redneck Hangout.” around it, and was attached to a small building near a cottage in the woods.

“When you place that on your cabin deep in the woods, what I’m seeing is: ‘N-word beware you are not welcome here, we will kill you.’ That is the clear message that I got. ‘You are not safe out in these woods, here’s why, here’s the noose, we will hang all of you,’” said Angela Bowden of Bedford.

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Nineteen years ago today, two airplanes smashed into the World Trade Center in New York, a third hit the Pentagon in Washington, and a fourth, en route to Washington, crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Thousands died. And the world shifted.

At the time, to most of us, to me certainly, the 911 attacks came out of the blue. We were confused, uncertain. A lot of Americans’ first impulse was to help; within hours, people lined up hundreds deep at makeshift blood donation centres all over the country, to give of their body, to save the lives of unknown innocents. While I wouldn’t call the exercise pointless — selfless action brings value to the individual and collective soul — the blood sadly served little purpose, as most of the victims of the attacks died immediately.

And then we tried to make sense of it. I remember watching the TV news the evening of the attacks. Something called the Northern Alliance was moving its military into someplace called Kabul — I had never heard of either before, but there was a vague sense that all of this was connected. I remember being pleasantly surprised that most of those around me weren’t immediately seeking revenge. People started buying books on Islam, on Blowback, began discussing American history and imperialism. But all that desire for a nuanced understanding of what just happened was soon hijacked by the warmongers and authoritarians, who tapped into darker instincts and plunged the nation into decades of endless war, endless death, endless pain.

It’s no wonder there’s an entire industry devoted to promoting 911 conspiracy theories. But maybe enough time has passed to finally get a better understanding of what really happened that Tuesday. And that’s the promise of a new podcast called Blindspot: The Road to 911. Reporter and host Jim O’Grady shows that 911 was not just some random attack out of the blue, but rather decades in the making. O’Grady outlines the schisms and internecine warfare within the New York Muslim community, and how a handful of radicals perverted the meaning of jihad and took aim at western culture. O’Grady also explains how security and intelligence officials were onto the story — and even had informants working within the radical organizations — but failed to fully connect the dots and so were unable to prevent the attacks.

I’m only two episodes in, but so far Blindspot is a worthy listen. Hopefully, I’ll come out of the podcast better understanding that fateful day that changed everything.

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No meetings.

On campus

No events.

In the harbour

05:00: ZIM Yokohama, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
06:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from New York
14:00: Atlantic Kingfisher, tug/supply vessel, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
15:30: ZIM Yokohama sails for New York
16:30: Tampa Trader, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Kingston, Jamaica
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
17:30: John J. Carrick, barge, arrives at MacAsphalt from Montreal with tug Leo A. McArthur


A big chunk of my email is some version of “how come you didn’t answer my previous email?”

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

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  1. My definition of affordable differs greatly from that of Armour Group as based on census data. Thank you for the explanation of how just under $1100/month for rent was calculated. Now I know for future developments.

    When I last tried to get money from a bank, I was told that my housing costs shouldn’t be more than 35% of my net income. Assuming that is still true, obviously the people that will be living in this new building will be making at least the living wage as reported in an earlier edition of The Halifax Examiner.

    This area is nice and features lots of trees and greenspace and a few nice places to walk, but the major retail outlet just across the street is lacking one thing I look for when considering where to live – a grocery store! MicMacMall used to have one many years ago. Now the nearest stores would be Atlantic Superstore on Braemar, a nice walk on a good day if one doesn’t have too much to carry, or Costco and Walmart in Dartmouth Crossing, which, in my experience, would be easier with a car although it can be done using MetroTransit.

  2. It is worth noting that the official 9/11 narrative is, well, a theory about a conspiracy. It is pointless to speculate about what really happened, because nobody who can talk freely about it actually knows. It was certainly a day of amazing coincidences, big insurance payouts, billions in missing DoD money being forgotten about and my favorite – the hijacker’s passports miraculously being found on the street outside the building they flew into with an airplane full of jet fuel.