During this subscription drive, I’ve been telling you about different members of the Examiner crew because they are the ones who make this operation both possible and worthy. Without them, the Halifax Examiner would have long ago collapsed into nothingness. They are the Examiner.

No one exemplifies the team spirit better than Zane Woodford.

By title, Zane is the Examiner’s municipal affairs reporter. That means he covers City Hall, the police, and related issues. He does this with the thoroughness and tenacity of the best beat reporter; nothing much gets past Zane.

In some ways, he reminds me of myself from, say, 15 years ago, when I was covering Halifax City Hall day in and day out. Except, well, Zane does it better. Unlike me, he isn’t easily distracted, and writes clearly and succinctly. He’s incredibly productive, pumping out articles most every day, and some days two or three articles.

That’s Zane by job title: municipal affairs reporter.

But at the Examiner, Zane’s so much more than his job title. He contributes to the success of the Examiner in ways that go far beyond being “just” a reporter (as if that isn’t worthy enough in itself).

First of all, Zane is self-directed. He doesn’t need to consult with me about what he’s working on — he just goes and does it, without micromanaging from me. Oh, we do consult with each other, but most of the time, it’s me consulting with him. He’s become an adviser, a good colleague to bounce stuff off.

And he does that with the rest of the crew. When a reporter needs help with an article, or a second set of eyes to consider an issue, Zane is there. He provides insight and advice, leading to us all upping our game.

He’s also taken over most of the searching of court records that I used to do, which is why you often see his name on the resulting articles. (I still do a bit of this, but he’s the mainstay.)

Zane also has amazing photography skills. This was an unexpected delight to discover. And Zane has used those skills to add considerably to the Examiner’s growing photo library, and he taught us how to better organize that library.

Zane is a valued member of the Examiner. We need Zane at the Examiner.

We’re able to have Zane on staff thanks to your subscriptions. And we’ll be able to better compensate him and better support him if we can increase the number of subscribers.

If you also value Zane, please consider subscribing to the Examiner.

Thanks!


NEWS

1. Nova Scotia Power

The smokestacks at Nova Scotia Power’s Tufts Cove Generating Station, seen from Springhill Road in Dartmouth on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. Credit: Zane Woodford

“A new regulation under the Public Utilities Act announced by the Houston government now gives Nova Scotia Power 18 months to address complaints from the province’s largest manufacturers or face a maximum fine of $25,000 a month,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

According to background information provided by the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, the new performance standard is in response to “years of complaints” from companies such as Michelin, Lafarge, Highliner, and Oxford Frozen Foods that take their electricity directly from the grid and are unhappy about the money they lose when they experience a short-term power bump and all their equipment and systems go down. The news release from Wednesday compared the situation to the “blips” homeowners experience when a power disruption leads to resetting clocks and microwaves. 

Additionally:

Nova Scotia Power is waiting to learn whether the Houston government — which last month passed a law temporarily restricting an increase to its 9.25% annual profit — will take bolder action. The utility could face a fine of up to a maximum of $10 million under the province’s Renewable Energy Standards legislation for failing to generate more electricity from green sources. Since last May, in quarterly reports to its shareholders, Nova Scotia Power’s parent company Emera has flagged the fact it is unlikely the company will be able to comply because of delays and under-deliveries of anticipated hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador. 

The original target of electricity made from 40% renewables by the year 2020 was altered by the McNeil Government in May 2020 because the hydro project was late. The target was revised to an average of 40% renewable sources over three years from 2020-2022. In each of the past two years, Nova Scotia Power has generated 30% of its electricity from wind, hydro, and biomass. Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Jacqueline Foster says in 2022, 37% of electricity was generated from renewable sources as of the end of June, the first half of this year.  

That’s short by a long shot. 

Click here to read “New regulation pushes Nova Scotia Power to address company complaints or face fines.”

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2. Police Review Board hearing continues

Halifax Regional Police Const. Jason Wilson at a Police Review Board hearing in Dartmouth on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Credit: Zane Woodford

“A Halifax police officer says he saw two of his colleague’s hands around a woman’s throat during an arrest last year,” reports Zane Woodford:

Const. Olivier Duquet-Perron testified at a hearing of the Nova Scotia Police Review Board on Tuesday. It was the second day of the hearing, where Susan Doman is accusing Const. Jason Wilson of using excessive force during her arrest in April 2021.

Click here to read “Halifax cop had two hands on woman’s throat during ‘takedown,’ fellow officer testifies.”

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3. COVID

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This is where I was supposed to tell you about the latest COVID data. But, I won’t.

See, the province releases the monthly COVID Epidemiologic Summary on the 15th of the following month — so August’s data was released on Sept.15, and September’s data was released on Oct. 15. October’s data should have been released on Nov. 15 — yesterday — but wasn’t. There’s no explanation for why that data wasn’t released. Maybe it’ll be released today? Maybe later this week? Maybe never? Who knows.

With heightened concern about burgeoning patient numbers in hospitals, you’d think keeping the public updated about the COVID situation would be high on the list of priorities. But you’d think wrong.

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4. Empire hack

The Sobeys grocery store on Lower Sackville’s First Lake Drive in July, 2021. Credit: Yvette d'Entremont

“Nearly 10 million Australians have had their private health data hacked — with sensitive medical records detailing treatments for alcoholism, drug addictions, and pregnancy terminations already posted online — in a cyber-attack believed to have been coordinated from Russia,” reports Ben Doherty for The Guardian:

The Australian Federal Police have said they know the identity of the Russian ransomware criminal organisation that hacked into the databases of Medibank, Australia’s largest private health insurer, stealing customer data over weeks inside the company’s computer systems.

After Medibank refused to pay a demanded ransom of US$9.7m — US$1 for every one of the 9.7 million people whose information has been compromised — the hackers have begun releasing sensitive data on the dark web.

Two initial tranches were posted on Wednesday to a dark web blog linked to the REvil Russian ransomware group: a so-called “naughty list” that detailed people’s treatment for drug addictions or mental health issues, and a “good list” that contained more generic hospital procedure claims. Each list contained data from about 100 Medibank customers.

On Thursday, the hackers posted another file labelled “abortions.csv” containing more than 300 claims made by policyholders in relation to the termination of pregnancies, including non-viable pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy and miscarriages.

On Friday, a further list was posted on the dark web — “boozy.csv” — containing files associated with 240 customers related to alcoholism-related treatment.

Medibank has said the data of 9.7 million current and former customers has been hacked: they have had their names, dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses and addresses stolen. Some customers’ unique numbers for Medicare – Australia’s universal public healthcare scheme – have also been stolen, along with the passport information of international customers.

This story is alarming because the hack of Medibank in some ways resembles the hack of the Canadian firm Empire, the corporation that operates Foodland, IGA, Lawtons, Needs, Safeway, and (locally) Pete’s Frootique, among other brands. In particular, the firm’s pharmacies have been affected. Might the Empire hackers similarly release the health data of Canadians?

Most of the high-profile hacking operations over the past several years have been traced back to Russian gangs that affiliate with other gangs, mostly in Eastern Europe (North Koreans and others are comparatively bit players). It’s a shadowy world, with shifting allegiances and internal dissension.

The Australian hack was conducted by the REvil Russian gang — “REvil” is a contraction of “ransom” and “evil” — which started operating in 2019, apparently as an offshoot of another gang called GandCrab. REvil became known for its tactic of double extortion — if the hacked company doesn’t pay the ransom, then the hacked info is released publicly on “shame sites” on the internet.

In July 2021, REvil hacked Kaseya, an IT provider for over 40,000 organizations globally, about 1,000 of which were affected by the hack. REvil demanded US$70 million to de-encrypt the files. But a hack of that magnitude gained the attention of governments, and US president Joe Biden leaned on Russian president Vladimir Putin to take action. In January 2022, Russian authorities arrested 14 people associated with the gang.

“For a brief time, Western observers hoped the Russian action might be effective in constraining future ransomware attacks by the group,” writes Andrew Goldsmith for The Conversation. “But since the invasion in February this year, any pretence of cross-border cooperation in tackling these Russian groups has evaporated. Moreover, those arrested are believed now to likely be free and back in business.”

Empire was hacked by another Russian gang, called Black Basta. There doesn’t seem to be a direct link between REvil and Black Basta, except perhaps that both can operate without much interference from Russian law enforcement in return for (purportedly) sharing information with Russian intelligence.

This article relates the complex history of another Russian gang called Conti, which may or may not have evolved in Black Basta. Or, perhaps, some Conti dissenters established Black Basta. In any event, when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, a Ukrainian hacker released internal Conti chat logs, which revealed fascinating debates about whether the organization should attack global health care systems, hospitals, and the like. Evidently, that debate has been superseded by events — Conti seems to have broken into a number of smaller groups, and REvil, Black Basta, and others have no compunction about attacking health care organizations.

Which brings us back to the Empire hack.

Sobeys ransom notes (Redflagdeals, Reddit)

The company is being irresponsibly silent about the attack. It needs to tell us specifically whether customer health data has been obtained by Black Basta, what that data are, and whether that information is being held for ransom. Is it possible that, as in Australia, details about Canadians’ health care could be published on the dark web? And if so, what if anything can we do to protect ourselves?

And how’d this hack happen in the first place?

“A deep dive analysis into Black Basta ransomware reveals that the cyber criminals’ ransomware appends the extension ‘.basta’ at the end of encrypted files,” explains the cybersecurity firm Avertium. “According to Cyble Research Labs, Black Basta is a console-based executable ransomware that can only be executed with administrator privileges.”

“The employees who spoke with the CBC said ransomware was indeed the cause of the problem,” reports Frances Willick:

“Somebody higher up got an email and basically clicked a link they weren’t supposed to,” said the front-end Safeway employee. “I don’t know the exact dollar figure, but I know it was like millions, like several millions.”

The troubles began overnight Thursday, Nov. 3 into Friday, Nov. 4.

What was an administrator doing on a company computer system that included customer health data in the wee hours of the night?

Without direct and clear information from Empire, we are only left with speculation. But it appears the company either has not updated its internal security software, or has not instituted training for best practices for those with access to the system, or that someone with administrative privileges was mucking around with the system when they shouldn’t have been — or some combination of the above.

For all of these reasons, the hack needs to be fully investigated by both regulators and law enforcement.

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Government

City

Today

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda

District Boundary Resident Review Panel (Wednesday, 3:30pm, City Hall) — agenda

Tomorrow

Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda

Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm, Power House Youth Centre) — agenda

Advisory Committee on Accessibility in HRM Annual Town Hall (Thursday, 6:30pm, Halifax Central Library and online) — agenda

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Today

Smooth Sailing or Stormy Seas: Tourism makes a comeback (Wednesday, 11am, online) — registration required:

As the tourism sector recovers, what lessons did it draw from the pandemic? How do we put the sector on a more sustainable footing? How will the sector overcome labour shortages, transportation & logistics challenges, and heightened concerns over health?

The tourism sector contributed significantly to the Canadian economy, employing 9.8% of the working population and generating $43.5 billion in GDP in 2019. COVID-19, however, devastated the sector. In 2020, the number of jobs directly supported by tourism fell by as much as 70%, while tourism-generated GDP fell 47.9%. The sector is now making a comeback.

It will also mark the launch of a new report by the MacEachen Institute in partnership with the ACCA on scenario planning for the cruise sector in Atlantic Canada.

The Passion of Joan of Arc, with the Orlando Consort’s Voices Appeared (Wednesday, 7:30pm, St. Andrew’s United Church) — live performance accompanying Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent film; $15/$35, more info here

Tomorrow

Structural Inheritance within the Laurentian Realm of the Northern Appalachians (Thursday, 11:30am, Milligan Room, Life Sciences Centre) — Shawna White from Saint Mary’s University will talk

Allogeneic stem cells and immunomodulatory biomaterials for cardiac repair and regeneration(Thursday, 11:30am, 3H1, Tupper building) — Sanjiv Dhingra from the University of Manitoba will talk

Canada’s National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence (Thursday, 12pm, online) — This online panel presentation will highlight the recommendations for Canada’s National Action Plan generated from the MARCO-VAW Study and the perspectives of VAW leaders from across the country; with Alexa Yakubovich, Dalhousie University and Nova Scotia Health; Priya Shastri, Women Abuse Council of Toronto; Krys Maki, Women’s Shelters of Canada; Ann de Ste Croix, Transition House Association of Nova Scotia; info and registration here

Open Dialogue Live: How policy impacts food security (Thursday, 6:30pm, Room 153, Cox Institute, Agricultural Campus, Truro, and online) — with guests Cassie Hayward, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada, and Phoebe Stephens, Gumataw Abebe, and Chris Hartt, Dalhousie; info and registration here

Old Beginnings: The Scene of Decolonisation (Thursday, 7pm, Room 127, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Priyamvada Gopal from the University of Cambridge will examine the foundational Bandung Conference which took place in Indonesia in 1955 and its legacies; RSVP here

Carol Bruneau in conversation with Michelle Butler Hallett (Thursday, 7pm, via Zoom) — annual Raddall reading featuring Hallett, winner of the 2022 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award for her novel Constant Nobody (Goose Lane Editions)

3D Star Beading Workshop (Thursday, 10:30am, Ko’jua Okuom, Killam Library) — two-part workshop led by Michelle McDonald, a beader originally from Sipekne’katik; continued on Nov. 24; more info and registration here

King’s

Today

Abolitionist Intimacies (Wednesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall) — the launch of El Jones’ book. Details here.

Tomorrow

A Psychedelic Resurgence: Lessons from the Past (Thursday, 7:30pm, Alumni Hall) — Erika Dyck from the University of Saskatchewan will talk:

Psychedelics have resurfaced in the 21st century. The American FDA declared both MDMA (Ecstasy) and psilocybin mushrooms to have breakthrough status for their capacity to outperform their pharmaceutical competitors in clinical trials. Health Canada has allowed for select uses of psychedelics, while Alberta has boldly supported psychedelics in therapy beginning in 2023. Researchers and journalists alike claim that we are experiencing a psychedelic renaissance. In this presentation Dyck will examine the historical roots of this moment, from Ancient and Indigenous uses of plants for healing and spiritual purposes, through the medical experimentation of the 1950s and the countercultural embrace of psychedelics that some argue resulted in their prohibition. Dyck asks, what has changed to warrant a retrial and what is at stake in this resurgence?


In the harbour

Halifax
10:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
11:00: Maersk Idaho, container ship, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Pier 42
11:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Autoport from St. John’s

Cape Breton
01:30: Front Cascade, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for Baybay, Philippines
06:30: Nordbay, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from New York
07:00: Polar Prince, tender, transits through the causeway, en route from Mulgrave to sea
11:30: CSL Koasek, bulker, sails from Steel Pier (Sydney) for sea
12:00: CSL Kajika, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
16:30: Algoterra, oil tanker, arrives at Government Dock (Sydney) from Corner Brook
18:00: Dee4 Nerium, oil tanker, sails from Port Hawkesbury Paper for sea


Footnotes

Is there a word for having so many things on the go at once that you can’t properly get into any of them? I don’t want to trivialize ADHD, but maybe it’s that?

Speaking of which, I’ve obtained some fantastic video this week for a project I’m working on. I’m super excited about it, and I wish I could just publish it today, but alas, it will take several more months to fully develop this story. Cryptic, I know! But your subscription money is making it possible for me to take a very, very deep dive into a Halifax story that you should know about.


Tim Bousquet

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

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