1. Prisoners and the Chronicle Herald

As I noted earlier this month, Examiner contributor El Jones has often discussed the usurious fees charged to the families of people in prison for phone calls from their loved ones:

Last week, Jones noted on Facebook that prisoners in provincial jails are now facing increased phone fees:

Calls from North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility (Pictou) are $7 for 20 minutes and $1.35 just to connect. As Burnside in Halifax does construction on the North unit, hundreds of prisoners are being moved to Pictou — not for disciplinary reasons, conflict, or the requested change — but because of construction beyond their control. They are now two hours away from family paying for long distance calls. We should be demanding that the justice minister address the issue of predatory charges on phone calls that make contact with families nearly impossible. Now prisoners from Halifax/Dartmouth are forced to move not because of any behaviour issues — yet they are penalized for the jail’s construction by facing impossible prices for calls. The province needs to end the practice of exploitive phone contracts that steal money from families.

In response to the high bills, an online petition was started to simply ask that the cost of prisoner phone calls be standardized across the province, which seems to me a perfectly reasonable demand:

Therefore, be it resolved that those on the outside, in solidarity with prisoners on the inside, demand that the Minister of Justice end exploitive phone charges and create a standard list of costs to be applied uniformly across the province.

Enter the Chronicle Herald.

I’ll let Robert Devet take it from here:

The anonymous Herald reporter simply quoted several paragraphs from the online petition and a few comments, and then allowed the spokesperson for the department of Justice to systematically deny and dismantle all the prisoners’ complaints unchallenged.  

Prisoners were not asked about their experiences and they were not given a chance to validate doubtful assertions by the Department of Justice spokesperson. Nor were they asked if they even wanted the Herald to tackle the story.


“In the petition the prisoners mention how they need the issue addressed from the outside because ‘their voices only reach as far as these confined walls,’ and then the reporter doesn’t even bother talking to them,” says Jones.

According to Jones, who has talked with the prisoners since the Herald article was published, the Department of Justice response that prisoners get two free five-minute calls a week is not something inmates are aware of.

And contrary to what the Department of Justice says, prisoners have seen no evidence that fees paid by the Texas company [that operates the phone system] are used  for things such as “winter clothes for prisoners about to be released.”

“They didn’t talk to any prisoners, not even to advocates, they could so easily have talked to the Elizabeth Fry Society, they could have spoken to some of the prisoners’ families, they could talk to me,” says Jones. “I know how much they pay for calls. To say calls are not expensive, that’s a lie.”

2. Queen’s Marque

The Queen’s Marque development is being built entirely on public land, and so I emailed Kelly Rose, the Waterfront Development Corporation media contact, to ask for a copy of the lease for both Queen’s Marque and the Bishop’s Landing sites. I wanted both leases for comparison’s sake, because I suspect that the WDC lease to the Armour Group for Queen’s Marque is an obscene give-away of public land.

Rose’s response:

Under the FOIPOP [Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy] Act, we are unable to provide the information you have requested. 

She included a link to the FOIPOP Act — not any particular section of it, but the entire Act — and gave no further explanation.

I’ll go through the usual motions of filing a formal FOIPOP request, getting denied, appealing it, etc., and maybe three or four years from now I’ll get some heavily redacted document that tells me nothing.

So, public, your public land is being used for private commercial profit, and you have no right to know your end of the deal.

3. Decolonize

Photo: Bruce Wark

“A prominent activist at Mount Allison says the graffiti messages, ‘Decolonize’ and ‘Enough Lip Service,’ spray-painted last night outside the university library, reflect students’ frustrations at what they see as the administration’s inadequate response to their demands for fundamental changes,” reports Bruce Wark:

Tina Oh, an organizer with Divest MTA, says the student group did not sanction the graffiti and she does not know who’s behind it, but its messages resonate with those who believe the university isn’t truly acting on calls for action from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Oh says the university’s pledge to focus on indigenous issues and knowledge — a pledge first made a year ago by President Robert Campbell — is only a form of lip service.

4. Free speech

“The controversy over Lorne Grabher’s personalized licence plate, which reads ‘GRABHER,’ could be settled in court now that a group of lawyers has decided to sue the Nova Scotia government,” reports Kieran Leavitt for the Canadian Press:

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said Thursday it plans to file a court application later this month, saying the government officials were wrong to withdraw the man’s plate when they deemed it offensive to women.

“We had hoped for a reasonable … response which would be to reinstate the plate,” said John Carpay, president of the Calgary-based lawyers group. “Instead we received a letter from the Nova Scotia government, which essentially invites us to sue them.”

Carpay says his group, which is dedicated to defending constitutional freedoms, wanted to take on Grabher’s case because it concerns free speech.

“If we have a right to free speech, then we do not have a right to be free from offence — you can’t have both.”

I don’t give a damn about the GRABHER licence plate. Vanity licence plates seem like a weird hill to die on, if you ask me.

I bring an American sensibility to free speech issues — I’m something of an absolutist on it — but I’ve got big problems with most “free speech advocates.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is typical, often concentrating on campus “political correctness” and the like. We’ve seen this locally as well, and the script is well-worn. Some asshole — and my right to free speech includes the right to call an asshole an asshole — some asshole racist or imperialist or misogynist lands an invite to speak on campus, and then a group of students object, saying “we shouldn’t be tolerating this asshole on campus.”

Most often, the “affront to free speech” comes in the form of students exercising their own free speech: calling out the asshole as an asshole, holding up signs, protesting, and the like. Simply calling an asshole an asshole is not violating anyone’s right to free speech, and anyone who says visiting speakers are owed some sort of “decorum” doesn’t understand the first damn thing about free speech.

By then, however, the issue has become not about the speaker being an asshole, but rather about the students not respecting free speech. The narrative is turned, such that the students are now the assholes, and the actual asshole is the victim.

After 20 or 30 years of this same mini-drama being performed, students should probably understand that they’re being played, and they should gear their responses accordingly. That’s not a criticism, and I don’t really have a better idea, just throwing it out there.

Regardless, here’s the deal about most free speech advocates: their sympathy for people who have supposedly had their free speech rights violated seems to extend only to racists, imperialists, and misogynists, and no further.

Take, for example, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. As reported in 2015:

In an astounding move, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has lined up with Stephen Harper and Steven Blaney in calling for a ban on discussion of a boycott of Israel on Canadian campuses.

It is one thing to oppose the growing international movement to boycott Israel called BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) or to be uncomfortable with it. Many Canadians, even those who disapprove of a lot of what Israel does, still feel awkward about calling for a boycott of the Jewish state. They worry that it may be unfair, or one sided.

But it is entirely another thing to say, as Trudeau has done, that discussion of Israeli human rights violations, and what the appropriate response should be, should be banned from Canadian campuses. This is a remarkable statement in favour of curbing free speech.

It’s one thing for a sophomore gender studies student at the Obscure University of Podunk to say “hey, my student fees shouldn’t be paying for Ann Coulter to speak here!” and quite another thing for the leader of a major political party (and now prime minister) to say that an entire subject of political debate is off limits at all Canadian universities.

So what was the response of the usual chorus of free speech advocates to Trudeau’s tweet? Crickets.

Most “free speech advocates” have made it clear that they’re really about free speech for their favourite assholes, and not so much about free speech for people with differing political views.

So you know, fuck ’em.


1. Colour Me Mexico

“We had not expected the port city of Campeche to be so charming,” writes Stephen Archibald. “Gulf of Mexico oil money has apparently made the community prosperous.”

While we were stuck in dreary Nova Scotia, Stephen Archibald was in colourful (and warm) Mexico.

2. Cranky letter of the day

To the Cape Breton Post:

I figure I’m wasting my time writing this because I’m sure the baboon sitting behind me at Centre 200 (Section 8, Row F) on Tuesday can’t read.

But maybe someone can read this to him.

What a contest between the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and the Gatineau Olympiques. With Game 7 of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff series going into overtime and the Eagles pulling out the win, how much better could it get?

Well, maybe not having a bully shouting all night at the Gatineau players and calling them cowards and yellow would have helped. It’s not a great example for the kids around us, one of them being my grandson.

Holler at the refs, sure. They’re adults. They can take it. But leave the kids who are playing alone.

It was a hard-fought series and Game 7 was a great show by both teams. I was so glad that I decided to make the 2.5-hour drive to see the game.

Fortunately, the kids on the ice were a class act. Not so the guy behind me. Shame on you. Cheer on our team? Oh yeah. Throw such disrespectable remarks towards the kids on the other side? Nah. For God’s sake, they’re kids.

You’re a bully and you’re lucky one of those kids didn’t come over the boards and shut you up. Of course they probably would have had to chase you up the stairs because bullies are just cowards in hiding. They can look after their affairs on the ice. They don’t need your advice.

Thanks to the Eagles and Gatineau for putting on such a great show for us. Some of us truly appreciate you.

Scott MacKinnon, Cape North


No public meetings.

On campus



Erin Wunker. Photo: Bart Vautour

Notes from a Feminist Killjoy (Friday, 12:30pm, Room 2021, Marion McCain Building) — Erin Wunker will speak.

Free Radicals (Friday, 1:30pm, Chemistry Room 226) — Yvan Guindon will speak on “Synthesis of Bio-active Agents Using Free Radical Chemistry.”

In the harbour

There are about 60,000 ships on Earth. Map:

6am: NYK Romulus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
7:15am: NYK Meteor, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
8:30am: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
8:30am: Sophie Oldendorff, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Sydney
8:30am: Toscana, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Southampton, England
11am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Autoport from St. John’s
4pm: Hammonia Antofagasta, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
4:30pm: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 36 for Saint-Pierre
10pm: Hammonia Antofagasta, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York


I wanted to write a bit about David Jones’ defence of the Starr Manufacturing site in the face of the Shubenacadie Canal enthusiasts, which is the very best kind of local political war. But, I’m old and tired and overworked and behind and such, so maybe someone else can write it, eh?

I think I’ll goof off today. Maybe Russell will most assuredly get Examineradio published later this afternoon.

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

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  1. re: The free speech stupidity

    I wonder where all the pearl clutching national columnists and the ridiculous think tanks are regarding the story of a Ryerson’s president condemning the academic work of students just because it was critical of income disparity in Niagara?

    Or why aren’t the middle aged cranks worried about campus free speech outraged that Canada has barred the Italian philosopher Antonio Negri from speaking in Canada?

    People are just fighting for their right to punch down.

  2. “Regardless, here’s the deal about most free speech advocates: their sympathy for people who have supposedly had their free speech rights violated seems to extend only to racists, imperialists, and misogynists, and no further.”

    Tim, this suggests you are unfamiliar with the world of free speech advocacy. There are many people in this country advocating in an inclusive way and daily for everyone’s Charter right to free speech.

  3. I’m fine with people protesting against speech they find offensive, that is fair game. I don’t agree with people that assume if they find speech offensive that it should be silenced. If you support free speech then you should support the right of others to express ideas you find offensive.

    There seems to be lots of support for “politically correct speech” and rightfully so. But less so for offensive views. I mean who wants to be called an insensitive misogynist for supporting Lorne Grabhers’s right to free speech, or an anti-semite for supporting BDS? Or have it implied that you side with racists, imperialists, etc because you support the right to express offensive views?

    1. David, there’s a difference between protesting someone and shutting down someone. See the youtube video I linked to for an example of shutting down someone you disagree with. Obviously I support the right to protest.

      1. I think we are in agreement here. I don’t agree with protesters shouting down people they disagree with. It seems a common tactic though on both the right and left.

  4. “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” George Orwell

    “We live in a free country where people have as much right to express outrageous and ridiculous opinions as moderate ones.” Mr. Justice Ian Binnie, WIC Radio Ltd. v. Simpson, 2008 SCC 40.

  5. Thanks for the sane words on free speech. I’m not a fan of the sort of free speech advocate that only shows up when their brand of racism ect is not being allowed. The trends on university campuses are disturbing:

    If Peterson comes to Halifax will you report honestly on the protest if there is one, Tim?

    Regarding Israel, well, that’s a bit of a third rail, now isn’t it? How many are free to make even modest criticisms of that country without losing their jobs? Is it antisemetic to point out that nearly all of Bush and Cheney’s inner circle were Israeli dual citizens and they might have had ulterior motives in Boy George’s Big Iraqi adventure? Or for instance, what about last night’s missile strikes in Syria? Did Kushner have anything to do with that? Could it be that it’s in Israel’s interests to be the only functional country in the neighbourhood? Of course North American and European oil interests in the region are important too – I’m not laying all of this at Israel’s feet.

    There are plenty of organizations which would call my previous paragraph an anti-semitic rant based on nothing but irrational hatred of Jewish success and alt-right conspiracy theories and see me silenced or made unemployable for writing a few words critical of Israel.

    Free speech is how we release tension in society with our words so that we don’t let things fester until they manifest themselves violently. The problem with things which must not be criticized is that much worse things take refuge within those things – which is why the whole pronoun thing with Peterson is about something much greater and harder to define. You might say the whole issue of Israel – the entirely reasonable notion of a Jewish country and the freedom from persecution of Jews (and everyone else) – creates a massive safe space for western imperialism in the middle east. This is a bit of a stretch – obviously there’s racism and the fact that we need their oil to power our lifestyles etc, but how many recent western military adventures have been justified in relation to Israel?

    It seems like we need to go a bit beyond boycott-divest-sanction and ask hard questions about politicians and other powerful people who manipulate western countries into doing Israel’s bidding.

  6. Great piece on ‘free speech’. Readers might want to read Nat Hentoff’s Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee. Although focusing on US first amendment rights and court decisions, it has lots of application here, in Canada. I especially liked reading about the various courts’ decisions made with respect to what some call prurient speech. Hentoff’s brilliant examination of speech on campus is revealing too. Check it out.

    1. I didn’t have time to get into it, but there are lots of other interesting examples of free speech advocates ignoring real abuses of free speech, like when the US refused to allow the Guantanamo inmate to publish his autobiography. I should start collecting these.