1. War is the wrong metaphor

Over the weekend, 55 new cases of COVID-19 were found in Nova Scotia, bringing the total caseload to 236.

The Examiner tracks the spread of COVID-19 graphically daily, and reports on the daily briefings given by Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang.

McNeil and Strang are at their best when they’re cheerleading, encouraging us to rise to be our better selves. “Be kind,” they’ve said. “Ask if people need help.”

But as the disease spreads, the tone of the briefings has tilted increasingly towards scolding.

After Strang encouraged people to go to the park two weeks ago — “If you’re in self-isolation just because of travel and you’re feeling well and you don’t have any symptoms, you can still take your dog for a walk, go for a bike ride, take your kids to the park” — McNeil called out those who did go to the park, and last week he cited reports from Google that showed an increase in people going to the park. But that increase was compared to the frozen month of January (Jan. 3 to Feb. 5) to just mostly before but also just after the broad shutdowns announced on March 22, with no baseline comparisons to previous years, so it was meaningless.

If two people went to visit a park on a snowy day in January, and four people went on a sunny day in March, that’s a 100% increase, but if 200 people went last March, we’d have seen a 99% decrease in travel to that park. Looked at from one perspective, the data show a citizenry largely and flagrantly violating the restrictions. Looked at from another perspective, people are mostly falling in line with the restrictions.

I’m not encouraging people to go to parks, and clearly the decision to close high-trafficked parks like Crystal Crescent was the right thing to do, because especially in parking lots and along connecting paths, it’s impossible to maintain social distancing.

I also think it was right to slightly roll back the initial announcement and say that it’s OK for people to use trails in their neighbourhoods. We’re in this for a very long haul, several months at least, and while the pandemic is the immediate and most urgent public health consideration, as this thing develops and people are isolated longer, we’re going to see other public health considerations become increasingly important — people’s mental and physical health, domestic violence, nutrition, and so forth. To the extent that continued social distancing can be maintained, people will need sunshine and exercise.

But while I recognize the need to close high-trafficked parks, I found the use of ambiguous Google data a little frightening. It’s not just that Google is tracking our every movement (which should be a concern even when there’s not a pandemic) but also that that data is now being used for state surveillance, and at least for some degree of state control.

The use of data for surveillance fits into the militarization of this disease, I think.

As I wrote yesterday:

It’s always the case that everything is seen through a social lens. But it’s at precisely times of crisis when we have to rein in our worst instincts. And for many people, the first instinct is to militarize the situation, by calling the cops on people perceived as bad citizens.

For a while now, the struggle to contain the coronavirus and limit its spread has been couched in militaristic terms — we should be on a “war footing,” and other military analogies are being employed to describe the struggle.

This is odd. It’s true that we need to come together with purpose as a society, and we will all need to sacrifice personally in order to control the pandemic, but why is war the most handy analogy? While personal sacrifice has been involved in every conflict (just ask the families of those killed in battle), Canada hasn’t had to make collective, societal-wide sacrifices for war in 75 years. Sure, too many soldiers lost their lives in places like Afghanistan, but no one was rationing gas, there weren’t nighttime blackouts, rubber drives, and the like. For most people, life went on pretty much as normal.

I say this as a military brat. Dad was involved in the horrific war in Korea, and remained scarred emotionally by it for the rest of his life. Mom was pregnant with me when Dad was deployed to respond to the Cuban Missile Crisis; had there been a US invasion of the island, Dad would have been among the Marine aviators leading the charge. A few months after my birth, I’m told, Dad was asked to deploy to Vietnam, but he cited his six (later to be eight) kids at home and instead was given a desk job until his retirement in 1966. The struggle between his desire to be an exemplary soldier and his home responsibilities created yet more emotional turmoil for Dad, I think now.

As the Vietnam War progressed, young men in my neighbourhood were being plucked away and sent to the jungle to die. And the draft had its sights set on my older brothers. I was too young to fully comprehend it, but Death was looming around every corner.

But Dad’s sacrifices were personal, and we dealt with it the family unit. And at least in my family, fear of the draft could be ignored, the elephant in the room that no one mentioned. Otherwise, life went on more or less as life should. I went to school. I played in the neighbourhood. I participated in team sports. I kissed a pretty girl when I was 15. I got a job at a pizza shop. All allowable for a teenager growing up in a military family, unlike for teenagers living now.

So the military analogy just doesn’t work.

So why is it used? I think in part because we don’t have an adequate analogy for these times, and while there’s not much living memory of true societal-wide sacrifice, our culture is soaked in militarism. I don’t think it’s fair to criticize people for using the analogy, as that’s their world. But I do think it’s worth pointing at it.

But as COVID-19 progresses, I hope we think about what we value, how we value things, and why we value things. War probably shouldn’t be our go-to analogy.

In fact, we need to frame things in a way that celebrates cooperation, collective action, and personal sacrifice, without positing other people as enemies. The Chinese are not our enemy. The people on the cruise ship are not our enemy. The homeless are not our enemy. People who crack under restrictions are not our enemy. Even the coronavirus is not our enemy — it’s just an unthinking amoral strand of RNA.

How we go about this struggle matters, and the words we use matter. It’s fantastic that we are rising to the challenge, that we’re able to sacrifice our economy, give up our everyday actions, spend trillions of dollars to control the disease, care for people who need care, watch out for each other.

We’re facing another crisis — the climate change crisis, which calls for similar response. And if we get things right during the struggle to contain COVID-19, we can apply those lessons to the struggle to minimize climate change. First off: there are no enemies. This is not a war.

2. Masks

A N95 mask.

Writes Stephen Kimber:

Welcome to the COVID-19 wild, wild west. Welcome to transnational economic globalism meets Trumpian political nationalism. Welcome to our post-COVID Job 1 — rethinking the way we’ve thought about the world for the last 50 years. Welcome to tomorrow. Welcome to today.

Click here to read “Mask, mask, who’s got the mask? And other global games from the coronavirus killing fields.”

3. Increased surveillance of Black people during COVID-19

Photo: Halifax Examiner

OmiSoore Dryden, who is an associate professor of community health and epidemiology and the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine, witnessed the arrest of a young Black man in Victoria Park Saturday.

Dryden says as she saw it, the young Black man was the victim of a crime, but white passersby called police on him because he was running to retrieve his property from someone else. Writes Dryden:

But in that moment, on South Park, I saw the look on white people’s faces and how they recoiled from the young Black man who was running. Of course, the white woman with the ponytail called the police. It never once occurred to her to ask the young Black man what was wrong and how she could help.

The premier has stated often that people should call the police (in relation to COVID-19). And this statement works exactly like many of us thought it would, to increase the surveillance of Black people. The white woman with the ponytail, and perhaps others, called the police. And the police did not de-escalate the situation. They arrested a young Black man who was trying to get his stuff back. The white woman physically distanced herself from the young Black man, only to break that distance a short time later as she stood closely with the other white people giving statements against the young Black man.

Besides the disputed arrest, Dryden says police inappropriately broke social distancing:

Another officer approached me and asked if we had witnessed what had happened. I informed the officer that he was standing too close to me and needed to maintain physical distancing. In that moment the officer said that this requirement did not apply to officers. I asked the officer if he could assure me that he did not have COVID-19 or assure me that he could not transmit COVID-19. I also took a step away from him to re-establish the distance between us.

Click here to read “Victoria Park arrest was example of increased surveillance of Black people during COVID-19, says Dal prof.”

4. “Gold standard”

COVID screeners greet people entering Family Practice Associates in Halifax. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

“A Halifax physician who has worked on the frontlines of previous epidemics around the world says the province is doing an exemplary job navigating COVID-19,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

But he also issued a stern warning that public cooperation is key to keeping us all safe, and failure to do so could have devastating results.

“For me personally, and I’m talking from a disaster management perspective not as somebody who’s living here, I think Nova Scotia is probably a gold standard,” Dr. Sundeep Chohan said in an interview Thursday.

“I think here for once we are right at the forefront.”

“[But] it won’t take much to put this province on its back if people do not continue to comply [with restrictive measures], and I think it’s disrespectful to the thousands of people that are out of work at the moment and the hundreds of businesses that have closed if people don’t comply,” he said.

“This is not life as normal. Everybody has to make a sacrifice. You’re doing this for your community now. Hold. That. Line. This is a community effort. This is more than medicine. This is about working together.”

Click here to read “Disaster medicine specialist: Nova Scotia sets the ‘gold standard’ in COVID-19 response.”

5. Murder

According to the RCMP, at 2:40pm on Thursday, police were called to a home on Glen Arbour Way, where a woman had died. On Friday, police arrested 45-year-old Stephen Beckett for second degree murder.

Police have not identified the woman.

6. Old people in prison

John Foote, 69, stares out the window from his prison bed. Photo: Tim Gruber / ACLU.

“Canada’s public health agency has warned older adults, i.e. anyone over 65, to take extra precautions to guard against their increased vulnerability to COVID-19,” reports Moira Donovan:

But roughly 25% of Canada’s federal inmate population is part of this vulnerable group — and unlike those in the community, they have few options to protect themselves.

Due to conditions in prisons and jails, and the traumatic backgrounds of many incarcerated people, an ‘older adult’ in this context means anyone over 50.

In prisons, practicing physical distancing is all but impossible; in Mary’s case, she said her 72-year-old father has told her that his range is more crowded than usual, since prisoners who were previously away on programs are now back (all programming, as well as any additional health services like counseling or dental appointments have been suspended).

Click here to read “Old people in prisons are facing a COVID-19 ‘death sentence.’”

7. Digital divide

“Even at the best of times, Canada’s so-called ‘digital divide’ prevents millions of people from easily accessing the information they seek,” reports Moira Donovan:

But amid the situation created by COVID-19, advocates and service providers in Halifax say those without access to internet and phone services have lost the thread connecting them not only to their community, but also to the information they need to keep themselves and others safe.

“If you don’t have wi-fi or a phone in your home, then you don’t actually have access to all these [public safety] announcements,” said Michelle Malette, a housing support worker with Adsum House. “It is really important that we’re all staying home and we’re all doing the same things, and not everyone has equal access to all of this information.”

Click here to read “Bridging the digital divide: ‘I know more than 100 people who don’t have a phone.’”

7. Cruise ship season

Not unexpectedly, the Halifax cruise ship schedule as been decimated, at least for the first part of the season. As of this morning, two of the smaller boutique cruise ships (the Hanseatic Inspiration and Pearl Mist, each with fewer than 250 passengers) are still scheduled to arrive in port on May 20, but the entire month of June has been wiped clean. The Port of Halifax still seems to think the season will pick up in July, but that’s doubtful.

8. Mary Brown’s

Writes Mary Campbell in the Cape Breton Spectator:

It is far too early to announce the winner of the “Weirdest Result of COVID-19” award but Wednesday’s announcement by Postmedia — the American hedge fund-owned, Canadian government-assisted, 200-plus outlet media chain that includes the National Post — is on my longlist for now.

Like most news organizations, we have been asking our readers to support our journalism by paying to access our content online. The only exception has been coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, which we have been offering outside our pay wall as a public service.

Now, we are pleased to offer all of our relevant, credible news and information free of charge, thanks to a partnership with the Canadian company Mary Brown’s Chicken, which is based in Markham, Ontario and has about 170 locations coast-to-coast…

Thanks to Mary Brown’s partnership, you can consume as much content as you want without being asked to pay until the end of April.

I like the implication that readers will still be asked to pay for all its non-relevant, incredible news and information.

Postmedia offered no details on the “partnership” — as some have noted, it might involve payment in chicken for all we know — but this isn’t an April Fool’s prank, the content is free and Postmedia is somehow being compensated for making it so. It’s churlish, I know, but I would suggest Postmedia’s hedge fund owners could probably manage this without the support of a purveyor of fried chicken — they’ve probably figured out a way to profit from the pandemic by now. That is, after all, what hedge funds do — see “activist” investor Bill Ackman’s spectacular $2.5 billion coronavirus win.

I’m curious as to what this means for media outlets like SaltWire that pay for Postmedia content (although I’m not seeing much Postmedia content in the Cape Breton Post these days — just Reuters — which is probably all I need to know to satisfy that curiosity).

I hope Mary is treating her workers right — paying them well, supporting them if they need to self-isolate, ensuring cooks and delivery workers take all possible precautions and have all possible protections.

If she’s not, I don’t imagine we’ll be hearing about it from Postmedia.

Click here to read “In love with Mary Brown?”

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.
White space


1. More spring

At the best of times, I have a short little span of attention, and THESE times are not helping. So while we isolate here at home, maybe I can show you what I’m noticing in the spring landscape, and around the site, cause that is mostly what I’m doing anyway,” writes Stephen Archibald in italics, and I’m worried for him both for his use of all caps and because he longer DMs me about his most recent posts, hence I missed this post that went live last Wednesday, which was an eternity ago.

Photo: Stephen Archibald

But, he gives us pretty pictures:

Sheila likes to point out that much of our garden was once a red maple swamp. A remnant of that time is a big red maple we see from our kitchen window. At this moment it puts on quite a show, as dots of red (buds) appear in the haze of grey twigs. Damp weather plumps up lichens growing on the tree, for extra hits of colour.

2. Hand washing

“I wonder when Strang got handwashing religion,” writes Gus Reed:

Four years ago, wheelchair users asked Strang to weigh in on enforcement of the province’s food safety regulation requiring “washroom facilities for staff and washroom facilities for the public available in a convenient location” in restaurants.  He was indifferent:

  • “There is agreement that your concern is best handled through the NS Building Code. I suggest that you contact Mr. Joe Rogers, Building Code Coordinator, Office of the Fire Marshall in the Department of Municipal Affairs.” he wrote me in March, 2016

Thus began a four year detour through the depths of justice and human rights in Nova Scotia.  More on this later.

So for most Nova Scotians, the very best antiviral measure is, “WASH YOUR HANDS”.  For wheelchair users, “Call Joe”.  Why the difference?  Wheelchair users are used to it, and we call it discrimination.



All scheduled subcommittee meetings are cancelled. Halifax council will have a virtual meeting on Thursday.


No public meetings, virtual or otherwise.

In the harbour

01:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for Savannah, Georgia
01:00: Radcliffe R. Latimer, bulker, moves from anchorage to National Gypsum
03:30: MOL Magnificence, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
05:00: YM Evolution, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
05:30: Siem Cicero, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
10:30: Grand Diamond, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 9 from New York
13:00: Bylgia, anchor handling vessel, moves from Pier 9 to Wilson’s fuel dock
15:30: Siem Cicero sails for sea
15:30: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
16:00: YM Evolution sails for Rotterdam
16:00: Radcliffe R. Latimer sails for sea
16:30: Grand Diamond sails for sea
17:00: Bylgia moves back to Pier 9


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  1. I’m glad to see your opinion that war is the wrong metaphor for the collective struggle against COVID-19. Nova Scotia Voice of Women for Peace has also looked at this issue. We wrote a piece entitled, “Warwashing the Virus: Using the Language of War or Peace?” We have submitted it to the Chronicle Herald, but as far as I know, it hasn’t yet been published. We also sent it to Prime Minister Trudeau and all Nova Scotia MPs. Here it is:

    Warwashing the Virus: Using the Language of War or Peace?

    The language of war is surging in the daily media headlines. As our fears crest in this pandemic, we are being roused to defeat the enemy on the battlefield. Hospitals are described as war zones for our frontlines. We’re told to order seeds online for victory gardens. Are we warwashing our collective response to COVID-19 by militarizing it? Reaching back to World War II rhetoric builds on a false foundation for what could become a better world.

    We are in an unprecedented situation. Our understanding of safety, security and vulnerability is shifting under our feet. The pause button is stuck under the weight of COVID-19, and this collective limbo means our normal plans and goals are on hold. Some of us are actively engaged in protecting and helping, others are watching from the windows. Before we start revving the engines once again (hopefully retrofitted for green energy), let us take a moment to reflect on the language of war we are using during this stillness.

    Warwashing uses the language of war to describe the real heroism in our hospitals in these exceptional circumstances of a world brought to a halt by the virus. Why are we normalizing a weaponized and aggressive description of the humanitarian response to the global human dilemma we are facing? There is no enemy far away. This virus has no geographical or human barriers and its impact can’t be refashioned through the rhetoric of patriarchy. It is not selective. It is not fought on distant shores. In fact, it is teaching us what global really means.

    If we do reference WWll, we need to remember what that war was like for everyone—not simply the victors and not only the soldiers. We know that women’s experience on the receiving end of a war-threat system was anything but glorified. Evoking ‘the war’ metaphor without any reference to intersectionality, gender and power dynamics, is an attempt at erasure. Lest we forget, some of the ‘successful tools’ of WWll, and every war since, have been rape, the use of terror and the destruction of infrastructure.

    Lest we forget. War organizes around and develops weapons that kill. Soldiers are trained in battlefield skills for killing, even as they are surrounded by death. In order to kill, empathy has to be checked at the door. And for this, the warriors themselves may later pay a high price in the currency of PTSD. Health care administrators, researchers, and patient-care workers organize, develop tools and are trained in the healthcare field to save lives and alleviate suffering for all. For the work of healing to take place, empathy must be present, and it is manifesting in the incredible concern and self-sacrifice that we are witnessing throughout this land.

    Another myth that warwashing generates concerns resources. The military does not have stockpiles of the medical supplies needed in this emergency, yet we believe it is ready to defend us. We pour funding into the Department of Defence as if our future conflicts will be solved by the military. In fact, future conflicts will look just like this pandemic. Don’t imagine that there is defence against a nuclear holocaust either. The irony remains that we do have tools of negotiation and human hope to lessen the risk of human-made instruments of destruction. However, we seem to be paralyzed from reaching possible solutions because we imagine our ‘enemies’ are selective targets ‘out there’. But the virus is teaching us that the enemy is not out there beyond an imagined border. We are moving into brave new territory and in this post-COVID-19 world, safety is being redefined for us. In a post COVID-19 world, investing in hospitals, decent wages for caregivers, ventilators, masks, gowns and medical expertise are the acts that can provide real protection. Practicing prevention would include signing the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

    Realizing that the Department of National Defence can’t actually defend us, we might question the plan to increase military spending by 73% to C$32.7 billion by 2026-27. How can we consider spending 19 billion for 88 fighter jets? Instead, we should be budgeting for COVID-19 relief efforts, military families and veterans. We have to re-think protection in a post pandemic world hunkering down in a climate crisis. What we need is medical equipment and facilities on this unceded, Indigenous land right now, rather than Gripen jets consuming fossil fuels at a cost of US $4,700 per flying hour. How many doctors and nurses could we train for the cost of one fighter jet? If we thought clearly, we could see that the primary function of our nation’s military could be providing troops and equipment to deal with natural disasters and pandemics. There are endless possibilities for the dedicated personnel of the military in this changing world. We acknowledge that efforts in this direction have begun.

    Maybe, just maybe, the language of UN Resolution 1325, a language of gender inclusion and peace, is better suited to the challenge of these days. This landmark United Nations Resolution on Women, Peace and Security stresses the importance of equal participation and full involvement by women in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. In post-crisis re-construction, all voices are needed. Participation, prevention and protection in decision making and helping one another will be critical. And let us not forget the incredible protection that women are providing us right now. Four out of five hospital workers are women.

    Let’s leave behind the language of fight or flight, and move toward the language of tend, mend and befriend. Daily we read about caring and concern for one another in our communities. Our leaders are leading from the heart, and our gratitude is rippling out to the heroes of the day – our health care teams, our farmers, truck drivers, grocery store and sanitation workers, and yes, our politicians. We are grateful. We will remember. Let’s shower their footsteps in light and goodness by heeding any measure humanly possible to protect all of us and our families. And, yes, let us plant gardens – peace gardens.

    Before we go order Dr. Strang t-shirts online to match the periodic table dress (à la Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Health Minister) with that great polka dot blazer (à la Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer), we want to be clear. We have been propelled into the arms of public health care. Let’s accept the arms of care instead of the boots marching on the ground. The incredible efforts all around us on behalf of humanity are not acts of war. They are acts of love. The white peace poppy is looking pretty good on that blazer.

    Sandy Greenberg and kathrin winkler
    Nova Scotia Voice of Women for Peace

  2. I’m a big supporter of distancing and very compliant, but I strongly agree with Tim that as this goes on, we wiil need exercise and air and light. I was going up to Fort Needham in my hood for the strong breezes, view, and wide open space. No one was on play structures. No cars in the parking lot. Other than couples, people were keeping distant. Now there’s police tape and regular ticketing. As this goes on, could we not have some volunteers or even police to oversee distancing in parks, so we could get some exercise other than walking on our sidewalks? People are not congregating. They’re recreating at a safe distance.

  3. I thought Nova Scotia borders were CLOSED on land, air, and SEA to all those who do not reside here, except for essential workers and those with hospital appointments. Why are there ANY cruise ships still scheduled to come here ??? That will re-open many facilities which should stay closed, and also invite more social participation…. not just by cruise ship travellers, but by Nova Scotians. That will bring the next wave of the virus. I’ve read elsewhere there should probably be a mandatory shutdown until July. Many sources expect an Autumn wave of Covid-19, followed by a Winter wave of Covid-19. This might avoidable if we act now. Personally I would rather go through 3 more difficult months than see a year of disastrous illness and increasing death.

  4. The war analogy is really business as usual – it is the way media frame the news; it is the way politicians and businesses frame encounters with the competition. The language of war is pervasive – war of words, the battle in the House of Commons, navy blasts captain, leader of the opposition fires the first shot.
    The language intensifies disagreement and raises anxiety.
    I wish we would/could stop.

  5. Cudos to Strang and MacNeill for stepping up every day and delivering more bad news but they need to lighten up a bit and give us some good news – the recovery rate, etc. All this talk of war just scares the shit out of people. Nobody’s shooting at us.

  6. McNeil’s authoritarian streak is showing regularly these days. As Tim noted over the weekend, in response to a question from a CBC reporter about what assurances McNeil could give that the police would not target black and indigenous communities, the mentally ill and homeless, McNeil launched into a tirade that basically sent a signal for the police to do just that. He ended by telling them all to just stay home. Are these people connected to reality at all? Thank goodness for Dr. Strang and the public health officials.

    1. “In a statement, the health agency says it was notified about the condition of some crew members on March 17 and the vessel was denied entry to the port under the federal Quarantine Act… The health agency says it is continuing to monitor the situation and has advised the ship and its shipping agent that the vessel won’t be granted entry to the port until 14 days after the last date symptoms appeared in the crew.”

      So two weeks ago was March 23, six days after the March 17 date.

  7. They may have rolled back the announcement about people using trails in their neighbourhood, but this doesn’t seem to be interpreted the same everywhere. Apparently HRP are constantly monitoring Needham Park (one long paved trail in a very open area, even more space to give each than on typical sidewalks). I heard from neighbours that they issued 4 tickets ($700) each there on Saturday – one to someone whose house backs on to the park.

    1. Some trails are open, but not the parks; if it was called Needham trail instead of park, it would probably be open now 🙂