News

1. Nearly 84% of Nova Scotia public schools had elevated levels of lead in water

A water fountain in a Halifax-area school in September 2020. Photo: Contributed

Zane Woodford reports on the results of the testing done on drinking water in schools across Nova Scotia. The results were finally released by the provincial government on Wednesday. And according to the numbers, 84% of public schools in Nova Scotia had elevated levels of lead in water flowing from at least one tap in the past year.

Last year, an investigation  by Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, in partnership with the University of King’s College journalism school, the Toronto Star, the now-defunct StarMetro Halifax, and Global News, found most of the schools it looked at had never tested their drinking water for lead.

The Examiner took all the PDFs of the data published by the province and created spreadsheets, which are very easy to search.

Woodford reports the worst result came from a water in a gym office at Central Kings Rural High School. The drinking water there had lead levels 4,000 times the Health Canada guideline.

Only one school, Cumberland North Academy in Amherst, had no lead in its water.

Click here to read Woodford’s entire article.

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2. Enrolment up at Dal

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

The emergence of the pandemic that abruptly brought the academic school year to a halt last March left the province’s 10 universities wondering what this fall would bring. Would students continue to come and pay for instruction that has increasingly migrated online and seen tuition fees increase by 3%? Would students come back to residence at a time when COVID has made roommates a relic of the past? What masking and hand-washing protocols would make students and professors feel safe on campus?

Well, preliminary enrolment figures released by the region’s largest post-secondary institution this week reveal numbers surprisingly better than the university anticipated back in May and June. Something to “celebrate,” said Dalhousie University president Deep Saini in an internal memo sent to Dalhousie faculty and staff this week.

“As of September 20, our overall enrolment has increased 3.8% over the same time last year, with a 4.8% increase in domestic students and a 0.6% increase in international students,” said Saini in an email.

The immediate impact of the increase in student numbers is that Dalhousie has told the Dal Faculty Association, which represents instructors, and the NSGEU, which represents staff, that ongoing contract negotiations will no longer include the threat of wage rollbacks. Rollbacks had been on the table back in the spring and while Dal is by no means out of the woods, the rebound in student numbers is encouraging.

“Though we still expect an overall shortfall in some revenue streams that will need to be addressed, results will be significantly better than originally anticipated,” continues the memo from the Dalhousie president obtained by the Halifax Examiner. “We also acknowledge that there are still significant financial risks to be managed through this pandemic. Revenue declines are anticipated in several ancillary areas, enrolment and retention numbers could soften through the academic year, and we do not know how provincial funding might change given current government deficits. We need to keep an eye on the long-term impacts of a prolonged pandemic, be mindful of a possible resurgence of the virus and be prepared for knock-on impacts on Dalhousie of weakened Canadian and global economies.”

The email offered no suggestions or potential explanation for why enrolment is up from the 17,291 full-time undergraduate and post-graduate students who registered in September 2019. Those numbers were reported by the Association of Atlantic Universities last October.

MSVU Budget highlights

“We are pleased to report that our fall enrolment is stable,” says a message to staff and students on the website of Mount Saint Vincent University. “Though we do have a slight and anticipated decline in our incoming undergraduate class, we are currently reporting a small overall increase in registrations (i.e. units; generally speaking, a half unit is the equivalent of one single-semester course), largely due to increased graduate enrolment and strong student retention.”

Mount Saint Vincent University spokesperson Gillian Batten says overall, the university has seen a slight increase in the number of international students enrolled this year.

Saint Mary’s University and Acadia University have not yet responded to a request for preliminary information about 2020 enrolment. The Association of Atlantic Universities collects enrolment data from across the region and will publish a comprehensive report in about another month.

Back in 2017, a study by Gardner Pinfold prepared for the Council of University Presidents determined that international students —who are charged double or triple tuition fees to attend university — contributed over $300 million a year to the region’s economy through the purchase of goods and services. Last year about 14,000 international students attended universities in Atlantic Canada.

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3. Halifax council approves living wage requirement for contractors

In what is some of the best news this week, Halifax Regional Council has approved a living wage requirement for most of its contractors. The motion passed 13-4 at Council’s meeting last night. No votes came from Councillors Steve Streatch, David Hendsbee, Matt Whitman, and Paul Russell.

Zane Woodford reports on the motion, and includes a response from Coun. Lindell Smith, who’s spent a lot of time waiting for this policy to go ahead. Smith told the meeting last night:

To me it’s simple. It might be costly, but it’s simple. Providing a living wage … to folks who are living on the edge is important, and I cannot imagine what families are dealing with when they have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

And we have had employees in the past, you know, specifically some of our cleaners … who we would see during the day at city hall and then you go to the grocery store and you see them at the grocery store working overnight cleaning as well because that’s what they have to do to pay their bills. And for a living wage, we at HRM could be a leader in that.

The policy doesn’t cover every contractor though. For example, the construction industry is exempt, as are some summer projects and other contracts:

This approach would exclude construction services which are generally constrained by collective agreements with the thirteen (13) building trades unions affiliated with the Mainland Nova Scotia Building Trades Council and instead focus on contracted services,” Terry and MacDonald wrote.

Also exempt from the living wage requirement: “students, interns and practicum placements for summer projects;” “contracts requiring fewer than 120 total person-hours of service per year;” “ad hoc contract work (for example emergency or non-recurring repairs or maintenance where no standing contracts are in place);” “volunteers;” “employees of organizations (for profit or not-for-profit) that lease property from the City;” and “social enterprise.

Click here to read Woodford’s entire article.

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4. Halifax council approves grant program for non-profit housing in regional centre

Halifax City Hall in August 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford reports that the municipality will give grants to non-profit organizations building or renovating affordable housing, through a new program that was approved by Halifax Regional Council on Wednesday.

As Woodford reports, under a density bonusing policy, developers have to provide a public benefit to access maximum development rights on their properties. One of those public benefits is affordable housing. Developers can pay the municipality rather than providing the benefits on site and 60% of those funds have to go toward affordable housing. Now that money will go into a new reserve account and will be used to pay non-profits through the new grant program. Woodford writes:

In the staff report to council this week, municipal planners Ben Sivak and Jill MacLellan wrote that deposits to the account are expected to total $2.1 million this year, and an average of $1.1 million annually in the first seven years.

“They can be expected to double in the following years,” Sivak and MacLellan wrote.

Click here to read Woodford’s entire story.

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5. Questions for candidates: Districts 12 and 13

The latest round of questions for candidates focus on those candidates in District 12 and District 13. Woodford sent five questions to every candidate running in the municipal election. The Examiner is publishing their answers unedited. The questions are:

  • What should Halifax be doing to create more affordable and accessible housing?
  • Would you support a reduction of the Halifax Regional Police budget for fiscal 2021-2022? Why or why not?
  • Should Halifax require contractors to pay workers a living wage? Why or why not?
  • In response to the climate crisis, Halifax regional council passed an action plan, HalifACT 2050, in June. How will you support accomplishing the plan’s goals?
  • How often do you use Halifax Transit?
The candidates for District 12 (from left to right): John Bignell, Eric Jury, Iona Stoddard, and Richard Zurawski.

There are four candidates running in District 12: John Bignell, Eric Jury, Iona Stoddard, and incumbent Richard Zurawski, who won the election in 2016. Click here to read all of their responses except for Zurawski, who didn’t respond to the questions.

Some highlights: Eric Jury thinks living wages are the same as minimum wage increases, which are handled by the province. He also wasn’t sure about the transit question, but says he uses it because parking downtown is too expensive. Bignell tries to take transit, but the schedules don’t work well with shift work. And responding to the question about the reduction in the police budget, Stoddard says as a woman of colour, she’s experienced racism and would like to see HRP learn about systemic racism and intergenerational effects of slavery on Black Nova Scotians.

In District 13, there are nine candidates running: Tom Arnold, Derek Bellemore, Tim Elms, Robert Holden, Nick Horne, Darrell Jessome, Pamela Lovelace, Iain Taylor, and Harry Ward. Arnold, Jessome, and Ward didn’t reply. Why aren’t candidates responding to the questions? Click here to find the answers from those candidates who did respond.

Some highlights: Bellemore would like to see more spending on social programs and community initiatives, but also thinks body cameras for police can be helpful. Elms says there could be a new emergency service with social workers and other health experts who can provide help to people in a mental health crisis. But he’s also a fan of body cameras for police, as well as GPS tracking. Lovelace supports a reduction in the police budget and a living wage. Taylor says the city should support a living wage policy for those employers working for contractors that aren’t unionized. Many of these candidates said they didn’t use transit, including Holden, who said there is no transit to get around District 13.

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6. Kousoulis first to enter Liberal leadership race

Labi Kousoulis

Labi Kousoulis, the MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, is the first person to officially enter the race for the leadership of the provincial Liberal party. Jean Laroche with CBC was at Kousoulis’ campaign launch yesterday, in a church hall in Armdale. Kousoulis also resigned his position as labour minister to run for the leadership.

At his campaign launch, Kousoulis says he wants to be premier of Nova Scotia to help the province’s economy.

I was fortunate to find work here in Nova Scotia with Scotiabank, and I spent a number of years working in Amherst and Truro. My clients were farmers, woodlot owners, manufacturers, retailers, to name a few. My work at Scotiabank was to help rural businesses succeed, and my goal as your premier is to do the same.

Kousoulis says as premier he’d more open with union leaders.

I would sit down and talk to them. I believe we have common ground with our union leaders. I believe we want the same thing, which is to provide good services to Nova Scotians.

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Views

1. Why people still believe in the myth of tampered Halloween candy

It’s October 1 and I’m a little early on this topic, but with some people concerned about how COVID-19 will affect Halloween this year, there’s one myth around the holiday that still scares the bejesus out of people, even when there isn’t a pandemic.

On Monday, I talked to Joel Best, a professor of a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, who’s been studying reports of tampered Halloween candy since 1985 (his research goes back to 1958 and is at his website here). Best chuckled when I contacted him; he says he’s used to getting these interview requests every October, but usually not until the middle of the month.

I’ve been giving the same interview since 1985. This has just been a seasonal job for me. Every year on October 14 I think, ‘Maybe this is the year it dies down,’ but then wham.

I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s and heard these stories about poisoned candy and razor blades in apples, too. But I never knew a single person who got tampered candy or a razor blade in an apple.  The scariest thing about Halloween back then was those plastic masks with the tiny eye holes that left your face all sweaty. Or that your siblings would steal your candy.

I also have a kid, and other parents like to share their concerns around poisoned Halloween candy. I hear it every year.

The stories about tampered candy are what Best calls Halloween sadism, which is a form of contemporary or urban legend. Best says people have always been fascinated by scary stories and these stories about tampered candy are just the latest versions.

If you think about it, we used to tell scary stories. You know, like Brothers Grimm — Goldielocks, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, all go into the forest and bad things happen there. We stopped believing in ghosts, goblins, and talking wolves and such. Now our scary stories are about criminals. We watch a lot of pop culture and when we slip out of the normal zone, we start thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, terrible things could happen.’ This plays into Halloween because it’s a spooky holiday and it also plays in the very high levels of anxiety we’ve had probably for the last 50 years about children safety … child abuse, child pornography. Here’s a night we send tens of millions of kids out into the dark and we become anxious.

So, are those stories about tampered candy real? Best says he hasn’t found a single case of a child been killed or seriously injured from a treat they got from trick or treating on Halloween. Check out the numbers of Halloween sadism Best found in his research, which goes back to reports in 1958. The numbers each year are low, although look at the number of incidents reported in 1982. In his research, Best says the numbers often increase in a year when there was a public health scare before Halloween. What happened just before Halloween in 1982? Several people died after taking poisoned Tylenol.

Best says he only knows of one case that was purposeful in which a child died from tampered Halloween candy. That happened in the 1970s. Ronald O’Bryan lived in a suburb of Houston, Texas and was the father to a eight-year-old boy, Timothy. Before Halloween, O’Bryan bought some poison and mixed it into a Pixy Stix, a slim tube of granulated sugar, which he gave to his son. Around the same time, O’Bryan also took out a life insurance policy on the young boy.

After the father and son returned home from trick-or-treating, O’Bryan told Timmy he could have one treat before bed, and encouraged him to try that Pixy Stix. Timmy ate the Pixy Stix and died.

Joel Best is a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware and a leading authority on Halloween sadism and the studying of urban legends around tampered Halloween candy.

Best says police showed up and they had heard stories about tampered candy, too, even though they didn’t see it for themselves. After investigating for a few days, police couldn’t find another case of poisoned Pixy Stix in the community. And they also learned about that life insurance policy. O’Bryan was tried, convicted, and executed for the crime. “He never owned up to it,” Best says.

Best says there have been other kids who became ill or died at Halloween whose deaths were first attributed to tampered candy. In one case, a boy got into an uncle’s heroin and the family tried to cover it up. In another case, a girl had a congenital heart condition and died while out trick-or-treating. Her death was originally connected to tampered candy. Says Best:

You get these cases and the stories that a kid’s been poisoned always plays near the front page and the retraction that says this happened from natural causes or something else always appears on page 87 of the newspaper. A lot of people will tell you they’ve seen pictures, you know, but you can never find these pictures. They’re never there.

And about those razor blades in apples? Says Best:

On the face it, this isn’t likely to be to be true. And you have to ask yourself, ‘Why would anybody do that?” And the answer is, ‘That’s just the kind of thing they do.’ And that’s always the answer, the motive in urban legends.

Best says one of the biggest changes in how these stories get shared is that the stories now come via social media.

Anybody can get a nail, stick it in a candy bar, and take a picture of it, and say, ‘This is what I found in my bag of treats.’

Best says that happened in a little town in Pennsylvania, not far from where he lives. A young boy said he found a nail in a piece of candy. Best says the police went out to find other instances of nails in candy, but couldn’t find any. The kid eventually fessed up that he did it himself.

Best says there are some common themes he’s found in urban legends like tampered Halloween candy.

The most common one that certainly works with this is: “You just can’t be too careful.” Urban legends always have a conservative overtone. The world’s gotten dangerous, we need to protect ourselves, etc.

Best says there are lots of stats to prove the world is actually less dangerous, but what’s different is the children themselves. That is, we’re having fewer of them.

Best says more than a century ago, life expectancies were short and young children died often. And before then, Best says almost half of children didn’t make it to their fifth birthdays.

With scientific advances like sanitation, improvements in drinking water, and vaccinations, people start to live longer, so the death rate began to drop. For a short time, the population grew quickly because people were still having lots of kids. But then children started living longer, healthier lives, and families eventually got smaller. Parents became more invested in protecting the fewer children they had. Says Best:

There’s a sense that we have higher stakes in these children. In the old days if you had eight children and one of them died, it was not a nice thing, but you understood it. It was never a good thing that a child died, but it was part of the world. If you have one child or two children today, and one of them dies, it’s an unspeakable tragedy. So, we’re very frightened about what could happen. We’re more scared, but we’re not in more danger. We’re actually in a lot less danger. Water is safer, cars are safer, crime is down, and we’re in a tizzy that it could fall apart any second.

Halloween can be dangerous for kids, though. Says Best:

If you look at Halloween it has by far the most kids going into emergency rooms of any other holiday. They’re not being poisoned; they’re being hit by cars. Having masks they can’t see out of, costumes that are too long that they trip over. Kids absolutely do get hurt on Halloween. We’re sending tens of thousands of kids out into the dark. But they aren’t dying of poisoning.

Best says when his now-adult children were kids, he never checked their candy for tampering. And he says this year, he’ll be handing out treats from his home in Delaware.

If it makes someone feel good to check their kids’ treats, that’s fine. We take all kinds of precautions. I don’t think it’s necessary.

I’ll be handing out treats, too. I’ll also be ignoring those stories about tampered candy that we’re sure to see in some media on Nov. 1. Just ignore it and go out and buy some perfectly safe and discounted Halloween treats instead.

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Noticed

Fenwick Towers in the south end got a makeover. On Tuesday, Brett Huskin at CBC shared a video of a new sign on the side of the high rise, which advertises the building’s new name, The Vüze. On Tuesday, the sign was flashing in different colours. Here’s the latest version of the sign, which is no longer flashing.

It turns out the flashing was a mistake:

According to Templeton’s website, the “luxury” apartments now have six stainless steel appliances, and modern flooring and cabinets. Templeton says, “The Vüze will be the beginning of what will be known as the South Village. Where together we can grow, flourish, and create history.” That seems like a lot to ask from the Fenwick.

But check out the rents:

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Government

City

No meetings.

Province

No meetings.

On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities (Thursday, 12pm) — The first forum of this series will focus on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion in Canadian higher education. Continues Friday. More info and registration here.

First Wave: Atlantic Canada’s Chief Medical Officers Discuss Lessons From COVID19 (Thursday, 7pm) — a live stream panel discussion featuring the Chief Medical Officers of the Atlantic Bubble who will explore the responses to COVID-19 in the Maritimes and ask

How did the Atlantic provinces work together? What did we learn that we want to keep and what should we not continue? How did we work with our provincial, territorial and federal counterparts?

More info and links here.

Friday

National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities (Friday, 12pm) — The first forum of this series will focus on anti-Black racism and Black inclusion in Canadian higher education. More info and registration here.

Florence Ashley. Photo via Twitter.

Can Health Law Help Protect Trans Youth from Conversion Therapy? (Friday, 12:10pm) — Florence Ashley from the University of Toronto will talk. Zoom webinar link here. More info here.

The Whip and the Hoe: Violence, Work, and Productivity on Anglo-American Plantations (Friday, 3:30pm) — Justin Roberts will talk. For link, draft essay, and Stokes Seminar schedule, check this page.

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

ESG and the Role of Institutional Investors (Thursday, 11am) — Catherine McCall, Executive Director of the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance, will talk. Info and webinar registration here.

Uncover the Right Idea (Thursday, 1pm) — Florian Villaume will present the second event in the Virtual Networkshop Series. Info and registration here.

Searching Library Databases (Thursday, 4:30pm) — register for this webinar to learn how to successfully search over a hundred library databases.

#BLM and Steps to Become Anti-Racist (Thursday, 1pm) — Rachel Zellars will will discuss the urgency of our current political moment and the work we should be doing if we stand, truly, in solidarity with Black lives. More info and webinar link here.

SMU In Action: Black Lives Matter Nova Scotia (Thursday, 6pm) — a webinar to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, with a special focus on community supports and activism taking place in Nova Scotia. Speakers include Trayvone Clayton, Andre Anderson, Delvina Bernard, and moderator Rachel Zellars (photo above.) More info and webinar link here.

Friday

Prototyping Workshop (Friday, 12pm) — an interactive webinar. More info here.

Searching Library Databases (Friday, 12:30pm) — register for this webinar to learn how to successfully search over a hundred library databases.

Putting the “Science” into Forensic Science (Friday, 1pm) — Timothy Frasier will discuss how forensic science has “a bit of an identity problem.” Info and webinar link here.

El Jones, Sue Goyette, amanda Jernigan, and shalan joudry.

Poetically Speaking (Friday, 6:30pm) — an AfterWords Literary Festival event featuring El Jones, Sue Goyette, Amanda Jernigan, and shalan joudry. More info and registration for Zoom event here.


In the harbour

05:30: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
12:00: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
15:30: Atlantic Star sails for Liverpool, England
16:00: Torrens, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Southampton, England
17:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport


Footnotes

Remember: No one is tampering with your kids’ Halloween candy.

Please subscribe, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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  1. I wonder if enrollment will remain high at Dalhousie as the generation of high school climate strikers enters university age. Especially considering Dalhousie’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels (not to mention weapons manufacturers, private prisons, and tobacco – a substance that isn’t even permitted on campus). The hypocrisy is just too much.
    https://www.divestdal.org/dalhousies-investments-1 (Link to all investments included)

  2. Why did I KNOW as soon as I read that 4 Councillors voted against the living wage motion that Matt WItless was one of them? How does this guy actually hope to get elected?

  3. My son got a small fish hook caught on his finger in ’80’s Hallowe’en Smarties box. Got it out with minimal skin damage, and did report it. Fortunately, have known of no others.

  4. Labi Kousoulis as Premier? Will people really consider this dim witted knucklehead? He has that incredible mix of ignorance and arrogance that so many politicians in this province have.

    Labi Kousoulis is literally the problem.

  5. Just want to say I love the new little bios under each story with a photo and contact information for the author.

  6. Those rents are bizzare – where are they finding enough tenants to fill that place at that can pay that much? Given the building’s past issues with bed bugs are they completely relying on people from away to not know about its past as a vertical student slum? With only a few organizations controlling the majority of rental units in Halifax, what is to stop them colluding to normalize $1500+ rents?

  7. One of the tampered candy ones I read last year or the year before said it involved “full sized chocolate bars” but apparently they couldn’t isolate which house gave them out. Let me tell you, every kid out that night would be able to tell you which house gave out full-sized chocolate bars. I suspect most kids could remember which house gave them which candies…kids tend to keep good mental record of such things when it involves free candy and chips..