1. When the hammer drops

If all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that aphorism — attributed both to psychologist Abraham Maslow and philosopher Abraham Kaplan, but it’s probably as old as hammers and nails — as I watch the Mass Casualty Commission.

It’s just a plain fact that most every problem in our society is addressed by more cops! The neighbour won’t cut his grass, sic the police on him. Someone strange walking the streets, call 5-0. Homeless people in the park, summon the SWAT team. Distressed person is off their meds, dispatch a carbine-trained officer.

It didn’t take a psychic to predict that the call for “defunding the police” would result in increasing the police budget.

And so, I fear that’s what’s going to happen in response to the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020. The Mass Casualty Commission will make, say, 200 recommendations. Fifty of them will be focused on social issues like better identifying potential murderers by picking up cues like intimate partner violence and making sure people report illegal guns. A second fifty of the recommendations will be about mental health supports for those directly affected by traumatizing events like mass murder, and better processes for next of kin notifications. A third fifty of the recommendations will be about how emergency services should respond in the moment of an active shooter situation. And the final fifty recommendations will be about better training and equipment for police, and increasing the numbers of officers assigned to rural areas.

The government will politely accept the commission’s recommendation, and then ignore the first 150 recommendations, but the final 50 will be pursued with enthusiasm, and the same police agency that failed miserably during the mass murderers will be rewarded with more staff, lots of fancy equipment, and big budget increases.

All we have is hammers.

Last week, El Jones, who was part of a panel discussion at the commission, provided a nuanced view of policing and the problems with simply addressing all problems with more equipment:

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Jones explained that people want police to have the equipment they need to respond to situations like an active shooter, but the problem is the resources provided to police are then turned onto racialized communities.

She used as an example that after the Moncton shootings, there was a stated need for the RCMP to have armoured vehicles — she called it a “tank,” which while inaccurate is the common term for such vehicles. So Nova Scotia RCMP obtained an armoured vehicle.

Certainly, the use of the armoured vehicle in Portapique was warranted; it was used to evacuate the Blair and McCully children, and then Lisa Banfield. (It turns out the shooter was long gone by those evacuations, but the police on the ground had no way of knowing that.)

But you can’t just have an armoured vehicle sitting around collecting dust, can you? You have to justify the expense of it, have to train officers in its use. So from time to time the RCMP has loaned that armoured vehicle to Halifax police, and recently it was used to execute an arrest warrant in Uniacke Square. Here it is roaming the Square:

An armoured police vehicle
An armoured police vehicle in Uniacke Square. Photo contributed

“There’s been some gun violence in the community,” noted Jones. “People are already traumatized by that and feel that rather than being provided health or resources, or the police being able to deal with that scenario, what they get is a tank in the middle of their community, people pulled out in their underwear. That further traumatizes the community, it furthers broken trust, people are upset and feel powerless. That’s an example of an instrument of force that was supposed to be used for things like [critical incidents] are now being used to execute warrants in a black community.”

People like to argue about the term “defund the police,” but as I explained above, even the slogan results in increasing police budgets, not decreasing them — fear not, scared person, no police budgets are going to be cut. There’s always money for hammers.

But even the smarter police officers recognize that simply giving cops more and better doesn’t solve the issues facing police.

Staff Sergeant Addie MacCallum was a witness at the commission on Wednesday. I’ve been quite critical of other RCMP officers, but MacCallum struck me as the capable one in the room during the mass murders. He understood the mapping programs the other officers couldn’t figure out, and because he was very familiar with the communities affected, he made smart decisions on the ground. His testimony was thoughtful; he tearfully acknowledged mistakes that were made, and had important insights.

At the end of his testimony, federal crown lawyer Patricia MacPhee asked MacCallum if he had any recommendations:

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“Policing is — we are the community, we are an extension of the community and to do that we have to have communication, we have to have interaction,” said MacCallum. “The role of the police officer has become muddled… that we’re losing focus on that… police officers are being asked to be something for everyone; we’re going to calls for service that are probably better suited by non-police officers.”

“I can speak for my officers,” continued MacCallum. “They want to be driving around, they want to be going to River John and Blue Mountain and areas that are deep into the rural area, but they’re crushed beneath tasks and paperwork and requests and files for assistance — I just don’t think it’s a good use of police officers’ time…

MacCallum concluded: “we really don’t need any more police officers; we really don’t need any more money. We just need more time to do the job we’re supposed to be doing.”

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Commissioner Michael MacDonald followed up on that statement and asked MacCallum directly about mental health calls.

“If someone could say tomorrow that I didn’t have to have any of the officers go to mental health [calls], I think I could give up two positions,” responded MacCallum. “I know there’s a certain time where mental health and public safety intersect, but for the most part — the 10, 12% of our call volume that we deal with mental health — there must be a better way.”

And this is exactly what the defund the police movement has been about. Sure, maybe “defund” isn’t the best way of putting it, but for the most part, the goal of the defund movement has been to redirect the “always more money for cops” so as to better resource “better ways” to address a litany of issues that are now being handled solely by police. Properly funding mental health services such that people are provided the supports they need before their distress becomes a criminal issue. Lifting people out of poverty such that they don’t need to commit petty crimes just to survive. Making sure government services are equitably distributed across the entire community. And more.

Not all the world is nails.

•          •          •

It was a very busy week at the commission, the busiest yet, and so I’m behind. I started diving into more documents, but haven’t properly digested them yet. I can say, however, that there is yet another important story buried in the docs, and I hope to get that out either later today or over the weekend.

If you support our reporting on the mass casualty commission, please consider subscribing. This work takes an awful lot of time and money, and both are a bit scarce right now. Thanks!

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A graph with a jagged blue line
Weekly reported COVID deaths since January. Note that because of a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has only six days.

The province is reporting 21 new COVID deaths.

The Department of Health & Wellness plays a little reporting game with deaths — whenever the death count is high, the department tells us something akin to “oh, it’s not as bad as it sounds, as these deaths occurred a while ago and are only now being reported, so it’s not like there are a lot of deaths right now.” But when death counts are low, they don’t tell us “yes, that’s a small number, but probably a lot more people died and they’ll be reported later.”

This is the language used in yesterday’s release:

There were also 21 COVID-19 deaths reported in Panorama, public health’s disease information system during this seven-day period, including two deaths that occurred last week. There is typically a delay in reporting deaths and the remaining 19 occurred between April 25 and May 30. Nineteen (90 per cent) of the 21 people were at least 70 years old.

But deaths are deaths, and moving the date of death around on the calendar doesn’t somehow make the reality of death any less real, and moving the deaths back in time doesn’t necessarily mean that the situation is less dire right now — sure, “only” 19 of the 21 recorded COVID deaths occurred in the last two weeks, but how many other deaths during that period will be reported as COVID deaths two weeks from now?

I’m not going to play the department’s death pea-and-cup game. I’ll continue to report the number of deaths public reported in any given week and leave it at that.

By age cohort, the newly reported deaths are:
• 50-69: 2
• 70+: 19

Additionally, 49 people were hospitalized because of COVID in the most recent reporting period.

By age cohort, those hospitalized are:
• under 18: 1
• 18-49: 4
• 50-69: 19
• 70+: 25

Nova Scotia Health reports the COVID hospitalization status yesterday (does not include the IWK):
• Currently in hospital for COVID-19: 34 (4 of whom are in ICU)
• Currently in hospital for something else but have COVID-19: 164
• Currently in hospital who contracted COVID-19 after admission to hospital: 63

By vaccination status, the 21 newly reported deaths are:
• unvaccinated/ 1 dose: 1
• 2 doses: 5
• 3+ doses: 15

By vaccination status, the 49 reported hospitalizations are:
• unvaccinated/ 1 dose: 5
• 2 doses: 16
• 3+ doses: 28

Given Nova Scotia’s very high vaccination take-up, most COVID deaths and hospitalizations are going to be among vaccinated people. What matters isn’t so much the absolute number, but rather rates of death and hospitalization by vaccination status, and as the following chart shows, vaccination provides very good protection:

Age-adjusted hospitalization and death rates by vaccine status, December 8, 2021 to present. Note that due to incomplete data, some hospitalizations are missing from this chart.

Several people have asked me to explain the chart. Speak to a statistician to get a complete explanation, but as I understand it, “person-years” means the number of people over a set period of time. So, if you study 100 people over 1 year, there are 100 person-years, and if you study 10 people over 10 years, there are also 100 person years. In this case, the people are being studied over six months (Since Dec. 8), and the “crude rate” is the number of people who were hospitalized or died in each category, per 100,000 in each vaccination status.

If you’re still following, “age-adjusted” recognizes that Nova Scotia’s population skews elderly so, were all things otherwise equal (they’re not — we’re much better vaccinated) probably would have a higher rate of death and hospitalization than does Canada as a whole. To make meaningful comparisons, then, the data reflect what the rate would be if Nova Scotia reflected the “standard” Canadian age distribution.

The “risk reduction” means simply that — for the population as a whole, those who have three doses are 92.5% less likely to die than those who are unvaccinated. Of course, if you’re dead, you’re dead, and all the complicated math comparisons in the world won’t change the simple reality that although death is far less likely for fully vaccinated people, it still happens occasionally.

If I have this wrong I’m sure someone smarter than me will better explain it in the comments.

A graph with a broken blue line
Weekly lab-confirmed new case count since January. The gap reflects a temporary change in testing protocols that make weekly comparisons meaningless. Also, because of a change in the reporting period, the week ending April 11 has just six days.

Moving on, in the most recent reporting period, there were 1,474 lab-confirmed (PCR testing) new cases, a slight decline from 1,563 the week before. This does not include people who tested positive with only the rapid take-home tests, or those who didn’t test at all.

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3. Mountain Equipment, Northern Pulp, and Nova Scotia

A bird flies over the glassy water in front of the Northern Pulp mill
Northern Pulp Mill during a shutdown in October 2019. Photo: Joan Baxter

“Mountain Equipment Co-operative is no more,” writes Joan Baxter:

In September 2020, Mountain Equipment Co-operative filed for creditor protection. A month later, a judge ordered that the co-ops’ assets be sold to a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, and Mountain Equipment Co-operative became Mountain Equipment Company.

Now, the same federal law that was used to dismantle Mountain Equipment Co-operative is being cited by Paper Excellence in its lawsuit against the province of Nova Scotia related to the creditor protection of Northern Pulp. And Paper Excellence’s lawsuit is being heard by the same judge who ordered Mountain Equipment sold.

If Paper Excellence is successful, it could be awarded $450 million — that is, $450 from every Nova Scotian.

At issue, explains Baxter, is the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), which was apparently written by bankers for the sole “protection” of banks, all other considerations be damned. As reader tymbernz acutely observes in the comments, “If you make a poor business investment, you lose your money. If a bank makes a poor business investment, they get their money. It’s codified. We don’t live in a country that represents the interests of its citizens.”

This Part 1 of a two part series. Later today, we’ll publish Part 2, which looks specifically at the Paper Excellence-Northern Pulp bankruptcy case and how that could affect Nova Scotia.

Click here to read “The demise of Mountain Equipment Co-op could spell expensive trouble for Nova Scotia.”

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No meetings

On campus



No events


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Working While Black – the Phenomenon of Walking Through the Door (Saturday, 2pm, Collaborative Health Education Building) — screening of TAIBU Community Health Centre’s documentary

Special event:

Lucasville Greenway Society Walk and Fun Day Fundraiser (Saturday, 10am, Wallace Lucas Community Centre) — an event to raise money for an active transportation trail to connect Lucasville and surrounding communities

In the harbour

05:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
05:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
06:30: MSC Brianna, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
07:30: San Martin, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
08:00: MSC Mattina, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
12:00: MSC Mattina sails for sea
15:30: San Martin sails for sea
16:30: Morning Caroline, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Goteborg, Sweden
19:45: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
21:30: Morning Caroline sails for sea

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures.


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

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  1. Tim, you wrote: “Certainly, the use of the armoured vehicle in Portapique was warranted; it was used to evacuate the Blair and McCully children, and then Lisa Banfield.” Please explain how the armoured vehicle was used to evacuate the Blair and McCully children. According to Cst. Grund, he and Cst. Neil walked in to rescue the children and he (Grund) drove the children out of Portapique to Great Village in Lisa McCully’s old rickety vehicle that he said felt like it was going to fall apart.

    1. Yes, you’re correct. The armoured vehicle was used for other evacuees, but not the children. I regret the error.

  2. Your work on this file is enormously valuable, Tim. Thank-you for your commitment, but do take the time you need to process. It can’t be easy psychologically to take all of this in, and even more challenging, try to make sense of it. Were I in the neighbourhood, I would buy you a pint and lend you an ear.