News

1. Tree clearing approved for Eisner Cove wetland

Bill Zebedee of the Save Our Southdale Wetland Society walks over cutdown trees on Clayton Developments property near the Eisner Cove Wetland in March 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Recently, one of the Toronto papers ran a piece waxing on about Nova Scotia’s bold action in solving the housing crisis, cutting through the red tape of hidebound city planning bureaucracy to boldly authorize much-needed new development. (The piece ran a few days ago; I can’t find it right now, and my deadline looms.)

Anyway, Zane Woodford reports that tree clearing in one of those provincial special planning areas has now been approved, despite local residents’ claim that they’ve found a threatened species there:

While the province calls it the Southdale – Mount Hope Special Planning Area, locals call it the Eisner Cove Wetland. In a news release on Friday, they called for “for the immediate cessation of Clayton Developments’ activities” citing the presence of Black Ash trees…

Bill Zebedee with Save Our Southdale Wetland Society/Protect Eisner Cove Wetland said the potential presence of the trees was missing from a “Land Suitability Analysis” (LSA) tabled with HRM in January. Zebedee said the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre identified wood turtles on the property, also a species at risk, and they were missing from the LSA, too.

“It’s time for a proper Environmental Impact Assessment at the Eisner Cove Wetland,” Zebedee said in the news release, “before any further damage can be done to this ecologically significant site. What else in the wetland is being forgotten or ignored in favour of this development?”

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2. World’s first ultra-high resolution endoscope developed by Halifax researcher

Dr. Jeremy Brown’s endoscope was used during a successful surgery in April. Photo: Nova Scotia Health

Yvette d’Entremont reports on a new “ultra-high resolution ultrasound endoscope for guiding surgery,” developed by Dr. Jeremy Brown, a Dalhousie University professor and Nova Scotia Health (NSH) affiliate scientist.

d’Entremont writes:

The tool, about 3mm by 3mm, uses an “ultrafast” imaging platform that enables surgeons to see brain tumours with 10 times the resolution of conventional imaging…

The endoscopic imaging probe was used in its first two in-human surgeries in April at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. One was a brain tumour resection, and the results of that surgery yielded exciting results for the researchers.

“In our first brain tumour surgery, it was quite easy using our very high resolution ultrasound to differentiate tumour from healthy tissue,” Brown said.

“That was going to be the big, big question. ‘Does it look different than the healthy tissue?’ and there’s a very, very stark contrast between the two tissues, so we’re really excited about that.”

The article explores the implications of this technological advance, along with the story of how Brown was particularly motivated to develop the tool after the “devastating” death of his mentor, Dr. Geoff Lockwood, of a brain tumour at age 53.

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3. Out from behind the paywall: Inspection, enforcement and compliance officers move from Environment back to Natural Resources and Renewables

Four months ago, the provincial government quietly shifted conservation officers back to the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) from Environment — a move that puts the 54 officers in charge of compliance in the same department that promotes mining and forestry.

Joan Baxter wrote about the shuffle and its implications last month, and her story is now out from behind the paywall, and free to read.

While you don’t have to subscribe to read this article, your subscriptions support the Examiner’s work. Please subscribe here.

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4. The mass murderer was a thief, a drug runner, and a corrupt tax cheat

The Portapique sign on Highway 2 was adorned with a NS tartan sash following the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

Just moments ago, Tim Bousquet wrote about findings in the latest document published by the Mass Casualty Commission. These include GW’s financial “misdealings”, attempts to swindle others of their real estate, and his friendship with Fredericton lawyer Tom Evans, who represented a man employed by the Medellín Cartel.

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5. Criminalization, disappearance, and death: the results of clearing urban encampments

An eviction notice duct-taped to a tent in a municipal park in Halifax. — Photo: Halifax Mutual Aid

Shaina Luck at CBC has a story on provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner Tricia Ralph’s latest report. Ralph condemns the Halifax Regional Police for withholding information about last year’s encampment clearances:

Halifax Regional Police have blocked public access for almost a year to files about the removal of homeless encampments and protesters from Halifax parks last August, behaviour the provincial privacy commissioner condemns in a newly released public review report.

Luck says CBC requested a number of documents that were denied by the police:

After reviewing the files, Ralph concluded the police withheld 17 pages of the use of force policy, 225 pages of multiple use of force reports, a seven-page “after action” report, and 21 pages of incident/injury reports…

The police force wrote it believes the release could harm the effectiveness of the police’s investigative techniques, harm law enforcement, endanger the safety of a police officer, or be an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy…

One of the narratives we were fed by police and some elected officials after the violence on August 18 was that it was protesters who were violent, not police, and that police sustained injuries. But the force has refused to release any information related to those injuries, citing privacy concerns. Ralph says all they’ve got to do is redact officers’ names.

The police also refused to release their use of force policy — a long-standing issue. It’s easy to claim the policy has not been violated if nobody else can read the policy. The latest twist is that it’s being updated:

One of the documents requested by the CBC was HRP’s use of force policy. Police declined to release the policy, replying that it is “under review and being updated.”

“Currently most of HRP policies also include the details of the related operational procedures. In their current form, they cannot be released,” wrote Insp. Greg Robertson, the FOIPOP co-ordinator for Halifax police.

Ralph said in her report that whether a document is being updated is “irrelevant” to the test for releasing information.

Clearing people living in tents out of public spaces is a phenomenon across North America, and there has been some good reporting on the culture of encampments and what happens when people are thrown out of them.

In Berkeley, California, the Liberty City encampment was dismantled by police in 2016, and the residents of the town’s People’s Park are being removed so the University of California can build more student housing. (The university tried to pave the place for parking in 1979.)

A new paper looks at encampments as a form of intentional community:

Some of Berkeley’s unhoused residents have spoken positively about intentional communities they’ve built in the city; they want to live in intentional encampments.

These tent encampments are in themselves little communities based upon “mutual aid and voluntary cooperation,” as Michael Lee, activist and former Liberty City resident, said in an interview cited in Bacon’s work.

“Here, there’s more acceptance of this subculture of homeless people,” Andre Cameron, another former Liberty City resident, told Bacon. “I think it’s a tribute in some small cultural way to the community as a whole. I’ve never gotten that sense anywhere else.”

Meanwhile (stop me if this sounds familiar) a council member is declaring the clearing of people’s park a victory for the unhoused, because they are getting to live in a motel.

For the New Republic, Tracy Rosenthal investigated what happened to the residents of the Los Angeles Echo Park encampment after they were evicted.

Again, none of this pattern will be unfamiliar to Halifax readers:

As the encampment grew, so did the resentment of nearby home and business owners. A new coalition, Friends of Echo Park Lake, called for its removal. “WE – THE CITIZENS OF ECHO PARK – WILL NO LONGER TOLERATE OUR LAKE BEING DESTROYED ,” announced a Change.org petition. The Los Angeles Police Department and representatives of the mayor, the city attorney, and the council district all took meetings with the group. Ayman Ahmed, who moved to the park in fall 2019, said detractors didn’t see their “common humanity” with unhoused people, or “a kitchen for people who are trying to cook who have nowhere to cook.” They saw “dirty people they don’t count the same as them making their area dirty.” Using the park as a place to survive, unhoused people challenged its standing as a selling point for the neighborhood’s gentrification—a process often euphemized as “cleaning up” Echo Park.

City officials echoed concerns about the park’s appearance and accessibility. They cited the deaths of four people at the encampment as evidence that it had to go. In January 2021, police stepped up their presence. Officers patrolled park paths by day. By night, their headlights lit up the tents where residents slept. Outreach workers made regular visits to offer what interim housing locations existed, in areas as far-flung as Downey, more than an hour away by public transit.

The park was closed for “repairs” as has Halifax’s own “People’s Park.” It’s all the same playbook.

On March 24, 2021, 400 police in riot gear arrested many of those protecting the park, with at least a dozen residents injured and two hospitalized.

Meanwhile, Rosenthal writes:

City officials trumpeted the action as a success. A few days afterward, [Coun. Mitch] O’Farrell called it “the single largest housing event in the history of the city.” A year later, he continued to praise the “warm handoff” of residents into interim housing from the park’s “dangerous, deadly environment.” Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office recently insisted that the event proved the city’s ability to “transition whole encampments into shelter quickly and humanely.”

So, what happened to the residents? Rosenthal describes the horrible, prison-like conditions of “Project Roomkey,” which provided “strictly regulated” hotel rooms, and then provides these figures:

After the anniversary of the eviction, in April 2022, UCLA researchers found just 13 permanently housed, 11 confirmed back on the streets, 51 in Project Roomkey—a program already winding down—and 85 simply missing. At least seven had died.

Rosenthal’s article is a great piece of investigation and feature writing, with implications for unhoused people and their relationship with municipalities far beyond Los Angeles. I encourage you to read it.

On the American West Coast, Melissa Lewis looked at residents calling the police on encampment residents, for Reveal. Lewis digs into the crime and arrest stats, finding that half of all those arrested in Portland are unhoused, the arrests are frequently for old offences, and these offences often reflect the reality of living outside (eg, loitering or drinking in public). In the five cities Reveal looked at, unhoused people were less likely to be arrested for violent offences than the rest of the population.

Meanwhile, residents regularly call the police for non-violent offences, or threaten to kill those without shelter.

Lents resident Martin Johnson complained about the trash left in yards and on streets. “We clean it up. They come back, we clean it up. They come back,” he said. Johnson noted that he and his wife both carry concealed weapons.

“And if it happens in my yard, there’s going to be a problem,” he said. “So if we don’t come up with a solution, you’re gonna have some deaths around here if people are going in people’s yards.”

A few in the crowd cheered, or murmured, “Amen.”

“That’s the truth because we are frustrated, totally frustrated,” Johnson said.

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6. New paper raises alarm on mining’s impact on salmon

Wild Atlantic salmon in the St Mary’s River. Photo: Nick Hawkins

The website phys.org has a piece from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, on a new paper looking at the impact of metal and coal mining on salmon in North America. The paper calls for more science-based policies to protect the fish.

“Our paper is not for or against mining, but it does describe current environmental challenges and gaps in the application of science to mining governance. We believe it will provide critically needed scientific clarity for this controversial topic,” said lead author Chris Sergeant, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and a research scientist at the University of Montana…

The study shows that, despite impact assessments intended to evaluate risk and inform mitigation, mines continue to harm salmonid-bearing watersheds through contaminants, stream channel burial and streamflow alteration. Silt suffocates eggs, and embryos may not survive contaminated groundwater. Heavy metals compromise a salmon’s sense of smell, which affects their ability to react to predators and find their way back from the ocean to spawn.

“Not all mines pose the same level of risk, but our review revealed that harm from mining can be severe and long-lasting. The extent of mining pressures on these watersheds underscores the importance of accurately assessing risk to water, fish and communities,” said Sergeant.

The paper is also critical of mitigation strategies which, it argues, tend to not be broad enough, or, in some cases, take the impacts of climate change into account. The study looked at the West Coast, but I’m sure the mining industry is much more benign and caring for salmon here, so we shouldn’t worry.

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Views

It’s the distraction, stupid

Interior of a 2022 Mazda CX-5. Photo: mazda.ca

How is it that if I pick up my phone to glance at Google Maps, that’s an offence, but if I fiddle with apps on a large screen built into my car that’s no problem? Does that make sense? No, it does not, argues Los Angeles Times journalist Russ Mitchell in a piece called, “‘We are killing people’: How technology has made your car ‘a candy store of distraction.’”

Car manufacturers and cellphone companies say they are making cars safer by integrating phone technology into onboard infotainment systems. But none of them offer any evidence to show that’s the case.

Mitchell writes:

Laws that ban holding a cellphone or texting while driving give the impression that the danger stops there. But… the distracted driving problem is more than mere distraction. The problem is asking the brain to do too many things at once. The technical term is cognitive overload, which includes distraction and multitasking and sensory input from a variety of sources…

Meanwhile, building the distractions into the car has the effect of sanctioning its use in the eyes of drivers. Thomas Goeltz, a Minnesota man whose 22-year-old pregnant daughter, Megan, was killed by a distracted driver in 2016, said that although people know talking or texting on the phone while driving is dangerous, the options offered on a car’s dashboard offer a false basis for complacency. “People think, it came with the car, it must be safe,” he said.

Years ago, I was horrified to hear a radio host say the choice between iPhone and BlackBerry came down to how much you text while driving. If you do it a lot, get a BlackBerry, because it has a tactile keyboard. Touch screens in cars are flat. You have to look at them to see what you’re doing. But even if you didn’t have to, fiddling and talking — it’s all distracting, and deadly, Mitchell says.

Mitchell is the guest on the latest episode of The War on Cars podcast, where he discusses this at more length. He says people are FaceTiming and taking Zoom meetings while driving. (I was on a social Zoom call a couple of months ago, and one of the people in the group was driving while she was on it.)

On the show, he says:

Well, I believe that most of these people are trying to make their systems as safe as possible, but that’s a lot different from making them safe…

Legislators are under pressure to do something about safety. [Banning use of handheld cellphones] is a cheap way to do it because you can use your phone without using your hands, Done. OK. Legislators are done. They don’t have to deal with it anymore. But they’ve only addressed a tiny fraction of the problem. And all these public safety campaigns that show people using their phone, show people texting with their hands — it offers a false sense of what the real problem is. It is a problem to do that, but it’s only a small part of the fuller problem.

Mitchell says when you’re driving a car, the main task is to drive it safely.

 It requires 100% of a person’s attention all the time. Most people, including myself, are not paying attention 100% of the time. But I try. But the more technology that goes into the car, the more distraction there is. So things just are getting worse and worse.

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Noticed: pandemic rages on

Carbon dioxide monitor

A couple of pandemic-related stories have caught my eyes in the last few days.

The first is a report in Montreal’s La Presse, noting that this has by far been the worst summer of the pandemic in terms of both hospitalizations and deaths.

Reporters Henri Ouellette Vézina and Pierre-André Normandin write that from June 15 to August 31, 2021, 54 people in Quebec died of COVID-19. This year, by comparison, 243 people in the province have died of the disease since mid-June.

There are a few things going on here. People are treating the virus as though it is endemic when it is not, the usual seasonality of respiratory illnesses no longer seems to apply, and the combination of an ever-changing virus and the damage SARS CoV2 can cause to the immune system means re-infections are becoming increasingly common.

Dr. Sophie Zhang, a physician working in long-term care, says, “The more this virus changes, the more it’s full of surprises. More and more, it’s uncoupled from the seasonal cycles we’ve seen before.”

“As with previous waves,” Vézina and Normandin write, “young people are spreading the virus, while those who are older pay the price. Two-thirds of those infected are under 60 years old. Most of them come through quite well, with few suffering complications. Conversely, those 80 and over are paying the heaviest price when it comes to COVID-19 this summer. While they account for only 13% of cases, they represent more than a third of hospitalizations and two-thirds of deaths.”

The story quotes UQAM biology professor and virologist Benoit Barbeau, who says we’re acting as though the virus is endemic, when it’s not:

“We are not yet in a position to control the virus, nor to predict it. It’s not cyclical like influenza, for example. That’s what’s surprising us all right now… [The population] has already decided the pandemic is endemic and that we’re moving on. But the reality is that it won’t be endemic as long as we are unable to predict the spread of this virus.”

(The original article is in French, and the translation is mine.)

We seem to have moved into a phase in which public health guidance amounts to “figure it out for yourself.”

So, what do we do? Many of us are still operating on what we learned early in the pandemic. In general, we are not great at adapting to new information. So summer seems safer — even if the virus is showing us that maybe that’s not really the case. And some places still persist in wiping down surfaces, despite the lack of evidence of fomite transmission (that is, transmission of the virus through touching surfaces).

And faced with new variants which are far, far more infectious than earlier ones, and with an alarming lack of data on current case counts, how can we determine what’s safe and what isn’t? A lot of the time, we go on our guts. When I walked into a small music venue, saw it was packed with people, that almost nobody was wearing a mask, there was no ventilation, and all the windows were closed, I left. Sure, I’d paid $20 for my ticket, and apparently it was a great show, but no thanks. On the other hand, I happily sat through another show at the Metro Centre, even though almost nobody was masked, figuring the building was large and ventilated, and probably it would be OK. Was that a reasonable assessment? I don’t know.

This is where carbon dioxide monitors come in handy. You can carry around your own hand-held model, of course, but that’s not really practical (or equitable). So I was interested in this story by New Zealand journalist Farah Hancock.  It’s called “Whose breath are you breathing?” and it involves Hancock going to various places with a portable carbon dioxide monitor, testing the air, and then discussing the results with University of Auckland aerosol chemist Dr Joel Rindelaub.

Rindelaub explains that outdoor CO2 is about 420 parts per million, or ppm. If you’re indoors and it’s below 800, you are in a well-ventilated space. Over 2,000 is “a huge red flag.”

Here’s a summary of what Hancock finds.

Crowded bus with closed windows:  5,737 ppm.

School classroom: 1,373 ppm.

Offices: 587-1,167 ppm. Much depended on the size of the rooms and number of people in them, of course. Closed meeting rooms fared much worse than desks by doors that opened regularly.

I was surprised to learn that cafes did quite well, with no readings over 800 ppm. Hancock figures this is because people are coming and going frequently, meaning doors are opening a lot.

I was not surprised to learn that bars had some of the highest CO2 levels. (Remember the days of the COVID exposure advisory? Remember how often bars were on the list?) The highest bar reading was 2,624 — and the place wasn’t even crowded.

Also bad? Gyms (particularly group fitness classes), and cabs:

“Cars are gross,” says Rindelaub. “You’re in a tiny area, there’s no ventilation if the windows are up. So these CO2 ratings and these particles are going to get super high super quick, especially if you have more than one or two people in the car.”

The highest reading of 5040 ppm was taken in an Uber with a driver and one passenger.

We can’t all carry around our own carbon dioxide monitors. Wouldn’t it be great if they became a fixture? If I walked into that small music venue and could see actual data instead of going on what I felt was safe, that would have been great. Sure, we can all play a role in reducing transmission, but individual choice takes you only so far. Hancock again:

Rindelaub encourages everyone to take personal responsibility and wear the best possible mask to reduce risk.

But he’s also keen to see priority given to a longer-term public health measure: better indoor ventilation.

“We spend 90 percent of our time indoors whether it’s at the office, at the home, in a car or transport between the two. It’s really important to have fresh air all the time.”

He worries even though we now know the dangers of letting breath particles linger inside, not enough attention is given to improving ventilation.

She also quotes Joey Fox, of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers:

“Distancing, lockdowns; those aren’t practical solutions going forward, but making buildings safe, improving ventilation and filtration everywhere, that’s something that we can do,” he says.

He adds that it shouldn’t be up to individuals to suffer the burden of filtering every particle of air they breathe so they’re less likely to get sick.

“It’s an obligation on society [and] on the building to provide safe spaces for people.”

Hancock followed this story up with more in-depth looks at air quality in bars, schools, and gyms. You can find those stories here.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — agenda here

Open House and Public Meeting – Case 23617, Upper Hammonds Plains Land Use Designation Review (Tuesday, 6pm, Upper Hammonds Plains Community Centre) — Planner: Maureen Ryan, 782-640-0592, ryanm@halifax.ca

Wednesday

License Appeal Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — agenda here

Virtual Public Information Meeting (Wednesday, 6pm, online) — Case 23408 Application by Stephen Adams Consulting Services to rezone the property at 378 Shore Drive, Bedford

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

PhD Defence – Biology (Tuesday, 9:30am, online or in Room 3107 of the Mona Campbell Building) — Laura Steeves will defend “Feeding Physiology of Suspension-Feeding Bivalves: Inter-and Intraspecific Plasticity.”


In the harbour

Ships will be updated later. Possibly.


Footnotes

Saw someone sporting a “The War on Cars” t-shirt on Salter near Barrington this weekend.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. The Eisner Cove Wetland issue is one which illustrates the systemic corruption – sorry there is not a more appropriate use of the word – that is embedded in the development process here in Nova Scotia. We saw it with Owls Head and fortunately enough public pressure was put on to kill that. Now we see it with Eisners Cove which has nothing whatsoever to do with affordable housing and everything to do with making a small handful of rich people richer. Beyond the well proven and documented environmental destruction associated with this “project”, a fundamental question has to be addressed: How did public owned land get sold to a private developer at a significantly discounted rate without full public review? There is a cabal of senior bureaucrats who are behind this and they need to be called out. Public Land should never be first of all sold without a full and open process and also should never be discounted the way it was for this property.