1. Three men die from COVID

Yesterday, the province reported that three men had died from COVID over the weekend. While genetic sequencing has yet to be completed, all three — one in his 60s, one in his 70s, one in his 80s — contracted the disease during the Omicron outbreak.

Their deaths are a reminder that while in most cases Omicron is relatively milder than previous variants of the virus, because it is so very infectious it can result in many hospitalizations and deaths.

We can’t make exact predictions, but hospitalization and death numbers appear to peak about two and three weeks, respectively, after case numbers peak. Nova Scotia saw very high case numbers over the last week, so the rest of the month could be grim indeed.

There were yesterday 59 people in hospital due to COVID, 55 of whom contracted the disease during the Omicron outbreak. (The hospitalized number does not include those who were admitted to hospital for other reasons but tested positive for COVID during the admissions screening, nor those who contracted COVID in hospital outbreaks.)

Besides patients with COVID, many hospital employees have either contracted the virus themselves or are close contacts of people who have tested positive; in both cases they are off work and self isolating, which creates a staffing shortage.

ambulances lined up outside the hospital
On Monday, January 10, 16 ambulances were lined up outside the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. Photo: Tim Bousquet

Those impacts are evident in the long lineup of ambulances outside I saw at the hospitals yesterday — 16 outside the QEII and another five outside Dartmouth General. I’m told that another four were inside bays at each facility, and that there have in past days been even more ambulances waiting for available hospital staff to unload patients.

While the ambulance situation is heightened by Omicron, this is by no means a new phenomenon. Back in 2018, long before the pandemic, Yvette d’Entremont interviewed paramedic Scott Sturgeon:

While waiting in hospital hallways with patients isn’t new, Sturgeon said the amount of time paramedics are spending in backlogged emergency departments has significantly increased.

Sturgeon has personally spent nine to 10 hours of his 12-hour shifts in the hallway with one patient or multiple patients. He said co-workers have often spent their entire 12-hour workdays in emergency department hallways.

“When I first started, the offload time was probably 15 minutes,” he recalled. “You hardly ever waited. And now, even though all ERs have expanded, the wait times have grown exponentially.”

Paramedics piled into hallways, barred from leaving until they’ve handed patients over to the hospital’s care, are not able to respond to emergency calls, something Sturgeon confirmed happens “far more than most people know.”

Jennifer Henderson, too, has been covering the ambulance situation. In September, when Nova Scotia’s low COVID case numbers were the envy of the nation, she reported:

Last month nine out of 10 patients ambulanced to the QEII Health Sciences Centre Emergency Department waited more than six hours to be admitted. Six hours and 42 minutes, in fact.

That disturbing information is contained in the Ambulance Offload Times report for last month prepared for Nova Scotia Health (NSH) and submitted to the Health minister. It confirms what many already knew: the situation on the front lines is getting worse.

Former Health Minister Zach Churchill became alarmed last April when it was clear overcrowded emergency departments were creating a bottleneck. More and more ambulances were unable to respond to new calls because they were tied up outside the emergency department waiting to discharge patients. The grieving families of Kelly MacPhee and April George have spoken out publicly about their frustration watching loved ones die waiting for an ambulance to show up.

The target or benchmark set by the province is 30 minutes to off load 90% of patients arriving at emergency departments. After 30 minutes, the paramedic/ambulance driver is supposed to be free to respond to another call.

That goal increasingly looks like a cruel fantasy.

COVID is obviously a stressor on the health care system, but let’s not pretend this is black swan event that no one could have predicted. There are no doubt many contributing factors to this crisis moment, but the health care system has been under-resourced and under-funded for many years. If it wasn’t COVID that would bring us to this point, it would’ve been something else.

We can’t run hospitals as if they were a “just in time” manufacturing facility, with just enough resources to make it through the projected demands of the current day, and expect them to be able to respond robustly to crises. The doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff are dedicated and caring employees, but they’re stretched to the breaking point.

2. COVID in jail

Inside the jail where there are two levels and an open area with tables.
The North Unit day room at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Photo: Halifax Examiner Credit: Tim Bousquet

El Jones spoke with prisoners at the Burnside jail about the current outbreak of COVID at the facility:

Prisoners describe a facility unequipped to deal with the current rapid rate of infection, and say that they have been told the jail simply does not have the structural ability to deal with so many cases.

Those who test positive have not been removed from the larger population; instead, staff have simply created a “rotation” system where COVID-positive people are let out of their cells at different times than those who are not infected.

However, prisoners say that adequate cleaning is not done between these rotations and that until very recently, they were not provided with any personal cleaning products to sanitize common areas. In particular, they point to shared phones not being cleaned between rotations, and prisoners using socks over the receivers to attempt to protect themselves from spread.

Some of the men say that rather than being informed that they have tested positive, they simply find themselves shifted to COVID protocols and locked into their cells. This leads to heightened stress and anxiety around spread and contacts, as prisoners say they do not have enough information to protect themselves.

Those inside also point to the lack of air circulation. One prisoner in a cell with COVID-positive people on either side of him told me that the air vent system is under the beds, leading him to attempt to stop up the vents to try to prevent infection.

Due to the lack of staff, many of the men say that they have not been able to get clean laundry, and that while the facility eventually issued new bedding, they are unable to clean their clothes. They also say that while they have been issued masks, they are not able to get fresh masks quickly.

Prisoners are concerned as inadequate health care as resources are stretched.

One man recounted checking on a friend and finding him collapsed in his cell covered in vomit; it took over two hours for health care staff to respond.

Click here to read “Here’s what COVID looks like in jail.”

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3. Brian Johnston

Brian Johnston as a new recruit to the Dartmouth Police in 1980. — Photo: Halifax Archives

“Though Brian Johnston had planned to officiate a church service this past Sunday at Zion Baptist Church, the Black church in Truro, those plans did not go forward,” reports Matthew Byard:

Rev. Dr. Cheryl Ann Beals of both the African United Baptist Association (AUBA) and the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada (CBAC), officiated the teleconference service instead.

Though still officially employed as the minister at Zion Baptist, Johnston is said to have stepped aside from ministerial duties following a lawsuit filed against the city of Halifax where he is implicated.

The Examiner first reported about the lawsuit last week. The plaintiff, identified only as X.Y., accuses Johnston, a former municipal police officer for the city of Dartmouth and the Halifax Regional Municipality, of sexually assaulting her while on duty in 1992, when she was 13 years old. She claims Johnston later fathered her child in 2006, while he would have been both a detective for Halifax Regional Police and pastor at Zion Baptist.

Click here to read “Preacher accused of sexual assault steps aside from church duties.”

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4. Don’t mention the former cop accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl

News outlets compete against each other, of course. Usually that’s healthy: we each strive to find stories others haven’t found yet, and that leads to a better-informed public.

Then, after a big story breaks, other outlets jump on it. At its best, the re-reporting builds on the initial story, and as more reporters work on it, more information comes out, and the story grows, and the public is even more informed. Scandal is unveiled, corruption rooted out, and maybe the world gets a little better.

I admit I can get annoyed when a competing news outlet re-reports a story the Halifax Examiner broke without crediting us. We try to credit other media (and specific reporters) when we re-report on a story they broke, though I’m sure we fail to do so sometimes — still, we don’t make a practice of ignoring them, ahem. But so it goes.

But you know what’s worse than not crediting the Examiner for a story we broke? Ignoring it completely.

Sure, not all stories merit re-reporting. And all of us are stretched thin, with not enough staff chasing too many stories; we make tough decisions about what to cover and what to pass on.

However, the Brian Johnston story should rise top to the story list. Consider:

• Johnston is accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl who was then a ward of the province, and of subsequently fathering her child;

• at the time of the alleged sexual assaults, Johnston was a Halifax cop;

• the accuser said she brought her account to the Halifax police department and no investigation was begun;

• Johnston previously worked at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children at a time when it is now acknowledged that staff were abusing children;

• Johnston went on to become the preacher at Zion Baptist Church in Truro, and as a result of the accusation from X.Y., was not permitted to preach Sunday.

Sure sounds like an important story to me, which is why I’ve directed Examiner reporters to dig deep and keep on it.

But the rest of the local news media? Crickets. CBC? Nada. Saltwire? Not a word. TV news? Too busy rewriting police releases.

I can’t explain the media silence around this story. It makes me wonder what other stories they ignore. But this, readers, is why you should support a scrappy independent news outlet like the Halifax Examiner with your subscription.

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5. Race and grief

“A combination of gentrification and assimilation into white society continues to have deteriorating effects on the province’s Black communities, according to Dr. Barb Hamilton-Hinch, an associate professor with Dalhousie University,” reports Matthew Byard:

Hamilton-Hinch, who’s done research on racism and diversity, shared those thoughts and others in a new web series called Our Stories Our Experiences with Rajean Willis. The four-part web series was recently released on YouTube by the Halifax Public Libraries as part of a collaboration with TD Bank for African Heritage Month.

Hamilton-Hinch appeared in the episode titled ‘Exploring the Complexities of Grief and Loss.’ She’s done work in the Black community hosting groups to help people process grief and loss following a number of gun murders in Halifax in recent years. She said grief and loss aren’t always limited to just the loss of life, and that grief in the Black community often goes unrecognized.

“We don’t think about loss with land, we don’t think about loss with education and culture, we don’t think about the impact of … post- traumatic slave syndrome, and how we’ve been impacted by that,” she said.

Click here to read “Dr. Barb Hamilton-Hinch explores the stories of loss and grief in the Black community.”

Hamilton-Hinch is echoing views expressed by Pauline Boss, who has revisited Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s linear “five stages of grief” model:

Perhaps this is why Boss’s work has had a resurgence of interest among researchers and journalists during the past two years, in the wake of the pandemic, George Floyd’s murder and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. In a time when the global community is grappling with questions of atmospheric grief, she has broadened her attention beyond the family, looking — along with her acolytes — out to questions of societal bereavement.

Inspired in part by the queries, “The Myth of Closure” takes a sweeping look at racial unrest and the pandemic while refuting the idea that grief has a prescribed endpoint. In some regards, the book is a testament to the ways in which these researchers have pushed her thought in new directions, particularly on race. “Now, after much thinking since that fateful Memorial Day when George Floyd was killed, here in my hometown of Minneapolis, combined with the questions coming to me from around the world, I have expanded my ideas about ambiguous loss,” she writes. “It can happen to one person, one family, a local community or the global community.”

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6. Fraud

A cat happily rolling around in money.

“An Uber driver from Brampton, Ont., has been convicted of fraud for trying to bilk the Town of Bridgewater, N.S., of nearly half a million dollars,” reports Blair Rhodes for the CBC:

Ayoola Ajibade was accused of posing as an executive with the large Nova Scotia company Dexter Construction, and he persuaded the town to make a direct, electronic payment of $490,930.43 to a Scotiabank branch in Brampton.

Bridgewater was able to recover the money it had mistakenly transferred to Ajibade’s bank account.

The New York Times had a story Sunday about Ron Perelman, the perhaps-billionaire dubbed “the debt king.” It’s a long profile which is worth reading in full, but this part reminds me of the Bridgewater saga:

In 2016, Revlon hired Citigroup to put together a loan package for $1.8 billion, which was then amassed from a group of investment firms, with almost all of its holdings provided as collateral. It largely restricted Revlon from obtaining further loans. Or was supposed to.

When things went even further south, Revlon, in 2019 and 2020, worked out deals with a subset of those lenders to obtain $1 billion more, this time serving up the company’s intellectual property as collateral. Which is the corporate equivalent of getting a mortgage on your house and then, when you cannot make the payments, going back and getting a mortgage for the land underneath.

A number of the lenders who did not provide additional capital revolted. They filed a fraudulent conveyance suit against Revlon and Citigroup, accusing them of “theft.”

Mr. Perelman said the suit was without merit and, as evidence, noted that it was dismissed. It was — though not for reasons having anything to do with its central allegations.

In August 2020, administrators for Citigroup accidentally wired Revlon creditors the entire remaining balance on the 2016 loan. The wrong box got checked and out went $893 million. When Citigroup’s efforts to retrieve the money failed, no need existed for the lenders to continue their own lawsuit against Citigroup and Revlon. “The lawsuit was withdrawn solely because Citibank paid off the loans and not because the allegations were anything other than meritorious,” said Benjamin Finestone, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Given the relative size of the two organizations, I’m thinking some clerk or administrator in Bridgewater wiring a half a million dollars to the wrong account is probably an even bigger screw-up than Citibank accidentally sending $893 million to creditors. The big difference, however, is that Bridgewater was able to get its money back.

I’ve worked at plenty of places where any expenditure of over a small amount of money — as low as $100 some places, but generally $1,000 — has to be approved by two different managers, precisely to avoid such screw-ups.

I’m glad Bridgewater was able to get its money back, but the fact that so much money was erroneously transferred in the first place speaks to some problematic financial controls in the town.

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7. Ebroborg

a ship at a dock.
Ebroborg. Photo: Wiki Commons

Last night, the ship Ebroborg arrived in Sheet Harbour. Ebroborg is operated by the Dutch company Royal Wagonborg, which says that its ships make 800 voyages a year carrying 2.5 million tonnes of forest products annually.

The ship is no doubt in Sheet Harbour to pick up a load of woodchips, likely to export to Europe under the dubious notion that woodchips and other biofuels are fuel for “green energy.” The chips will replace fossil fuels that would have burned for heat, reducing some European country’s GHG emissions — on paper, anyway.

But as Linda Pannozzo has pointed out, biofuels are a GHG accounting scam; as the Environmental Paper Network explains:

Current carbon accounting rules incentivise forest bioenergy by considering biomass combustion as a zero-emission technology, expressed as zero emissions in the energy sector. The assumption is that all emissions are instead to be accounted for when the biomass is logged, placing the burden on the forest producer rather than the biomass consumer. Yet emissions accounting of forests in the land sector is fatally flawed and generally understates emissions. The true carbon cost of biomass burning rarely appears accurately on any country’s balance sheet.

Nova Scotia is a relatively bit player in the biofuel scam — given its climate, the US south is dominating the trade — but this province seems determined to log as much standing forest as possible before the market and/or better environmental regulations put an end to it.

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Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm) — on YouTube


Health (Tuesday, 1pm) — video conference: Impacts of Staffing Shortages in Long-Term Care, with representatives from the Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care, Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, and CUPE Nova Scotia

On campus

No events

In the harbour

03:00: Crimson Queen, bulker, sails from anchorage for Gibraltar
03:30: MSC Donata, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Barcelona, Spain
08:00: Horizon Thetis, oil tanker, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from New York
10:30: Siem Confucius, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
18:30: CMA CGM Thalassa, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
22:00: Augusta Unity, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea

Cape Breton
15:30: NS Consul, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
16:30: Viktor Bakaev, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York


I’m off to do stuff early this morning; carry on among yourselves.

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

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  1. Burning trees for energy production is NOT a climate solution! It is inherently inefficient and expensive and injects more (unaccounted) carbon into the atmosphere per kilowatts produced than fossil fuels. It is also contributing to forest habitat loss and the precipitous decline in biodiversity worldwide. It is indeed a huge and growing global scam and should be banned outright – both for domestic burning (i.e. NS Power/Emera) or for export to foreign countries (i.e. Great Northern Timber – the Sheet Harbour chippers & shippers in this case).