1. Court Watch
This week, Christina Macdonald looks at the Kobylanski trial, a Kentville meth lab, and how the Stewiacke election demonstrates why we shouldn’t trust electronic voting.
Click here to read Court Watch.
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so is available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
2. Justin Brake and press freedom
The Newfoundland & Labrador Independent issued the following release last night:
HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, LABRADOR — On Wednesday a Supreme Court judge ruled Nalcor Energy did not have an obligation to inform the court when it applied for an injunction during the Muskrat Falls occupation that one of the names it was putting forward to the court was that of a journalist.
Justice George Murphy of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador released his decision regarding an Application from Justin Brake that the Oct. 24 injunction naming Brake, and subsequent civil contempt charge the injunction brought, be thrown out. Brake’s lawyer Geoff Budden argued in court on Feb. 14 that the injunction should be vacated because Nalcor Energy, when it applied for the injunction, did not meet its obligation to inform the court of the known material fact that Brake was a working journalist actively covering the events unfolding on the Muskrat Falls site.
“Mr. Brake did not have any special status in this case because of the fact he is a journalist,” Judge Murphy wrote in his decision.
“Mr. Brake’s status as a journalist was not a material fact and there was no obligation on Nalcor to bring that fact to the attention of the Court on their application for the Injunction Order or the Contempt Appearance Order,” he said.
“Further, even if Mr. Brake’s status as a journalist was a material fact which ought to have been brought to the attention of the court, in the circumstances of this case I would not exercise my discretion to vacate either the Injunction Order or the Contempt Appearance Order.”
Brake, whose reporting on the Indigenous-led resistance to Muskrat Falls earned him a nomination for the 2016 N.L. Human Rights Award, says he’s “disappointed by the decision.”
Brake believes his status as a journalist was relevant.
“While I was in the midst of covering a story of enormous public interest, Nalcor used the law in such a way that effectively prevented me from continuing to show tens of thousands of readers and viewers, through my journalism, what was happening inside the occupied Muskrat Falls site.”
Budden is reviewing Judge Murphy’s decision. He and his client are considering how next to advance Brake’s interests, either through an appeal or other legal steps.
Brake’s first appearance on the criminal charges is scheduled for April 11 in the provincial court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and the civil matter will be back in court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on May 5.
More information is here; you can contribute to Brake’s legal defence fund here.
3. A very tenuous Halifax connection to the Trump-Russia scandal
A Palm Beach (Florida) Post article suggests that the relationship between Donald Trump’s cabal and the Russian oligarchy runs even deeper than previously suspected. Evidence of that relationship is a ridiculously lavish yacht called the Sea Owl that appeared in Halifax Harbour two years ago.
“Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev last week disavowed any contact with President Donald Trump,” reports the Post:
But speculation again was stoked when his state-of-the-art yacht Anna sat anchored in the British Virgin Islands on Friday night and another equally resplendent luxury liner, the Sea Owl, sidled up, according to a website that tracks the movement of yachts.
The owner of the dark-hulled yacht? President Donald Trump’s biggest financial supporter and Breitbart News moneyman, Robert Mercer.
Now one of the president’s chief financial backers during the campaign has been spotted within one-tenth of a nautical mile of oligarch Rybolovlev in the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean. The yachts stayed near each other on Saturday then later motored away from each other, but were in the same vicinity during the weekend.
A source provided The Palm Beach Post photos of Mercer’s Sea Owl and Rybolovlev’s Anna anchored off the North Sound near Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. One photo shows the two yachts separated only by a few sailing vessels between them.
The two vessels were a couple hundred feet away from each other on Friday and about 1,000 feet apart as late as Monday, according to data from www.marinetraffic.com obtained by the Palm Beach Post.
I wrote about the Sea Owl and Mercer back in 2015:
The Sea Owl, which is that ridiculous yacht that’s been tied up at Salter Block for the last week, is sailing off today:
Superyacht Sea Owl is a 62 meter displacement yacht with a steel hull and an aluminum superstructure. The yacht was delivered in 2013 to her owner by Royal Van Lent. Both her exterior lines and her interior design is done by Andrew Winch Designs. Sea Owl features a jade mist green and oyster white colour scheme, the same color scheme as the owners’ previous superyacht. Besides the owners stateroom, the yacht has 3 guest cabins, two kid’s cabins and a nanny cabin. The luxury yacht has a crew of 18.
The thing is owned by Robert Mercer, who is the CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund management company, which is as horrible as it sounds:
Renaissance Technologies LLC is a Long Island – New York based hedge fund sponsor, founded in 1982 by mathematician James H. Simons. The company employs about 275 people – mostly mathematicians, astronomers, physicists and computer scientists. It has offices in East Setauket – New York and in San Francisco and Berkeley – California. Between January 1993 and April 2005, RenTech’s flagship Medallion fund had only 17 losses out of 148 months. The yearly Sharpe Ratio has been recorded at 1.68 and the Medallion Fund had never a down year in its history. RenTech’s total assets under management stood at about $25.5 billion as of June 30, 2011.
Renaissance employs mathematical and statistical models for high frequency trading and tries to exploit market inefficiencies when large transactions take place. One of their trading algorithms tries to establish if large transactions have been executed and front runs it. This in turn pushes up transaction costs and related expenses. The hedge funds managed by RenTech charge 5% fixed fee and 44% performance fee – one of the highest in the hedge-fund investment world.
As a trader who’s always trying to predict price movements, RenTech tried to rediscover fundamental quant laws such as the Efficient Market Hypothesis. RenTech believes markets are difficult but not impossible to beat. “Efficient market theory is correct in that there are no gross inefficiencies. But we look at anomalies that may be small in size and brief in time. We make our forecast. Then, shortly thereafter, we reevaluate the situation and revise our forecast and our portfolio. We do this all day long. We’re always in and out and out and in. So we’re dependent on activity to make money,” [Renaissance founder James] Simons told a Greenwich Roundtable in 1999.
In other words, the company provides no socially useful products or services. It is a leach, sucking money from the financial system because its astronomers (!) have learned how to game the system. And the CEO has been gracing us with his presence. Begone! says I.
Dmitry Rybolovlev is every stereotype of a Russian oligarch: he’s worth billions, having taken control of some of the former Soviet state enterprises (notably, the potash industry), he consorts with crime bosses, he has been suspected of having people whacked, he lives in a villa in Switzerland, his daughter is a jet-setting socialite, he’s tied up in the Panama papers, etc.
In 2012, his daughter, Ekaterina Rybolovleva, a tabloid editor’s dream, bought a $88 million dollar flat at 15 Central Park West in New York, a 15-minute walk from Trump Tower. At the time of the purchase, reported the New York Post:
She has at least one fan already.
Trump said he didn’t remember much about meeting Dmitry last year, but at least one thing stuck in his mind. “The daughter was beautiful. I’m looking forward to them being my neighbors.”
For his part, Mercer is even worse than I thought back in 2015. Says the Palm Beach Post:
How important was Mercer to Trump being elected president? He supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, before throwing his support to Trump.
Along with Mercer’s support came Stephen Bannon, the man who ran the right-wing website Breitbart News. Bannon took over Trump’s campaign and engineered the biggest upset in American politics in decades. Now Bannon serves as chief strategist to President Trump.
Now enter Robert Mercer, who along with his daughter Rebekah, have supported right-wing causes, whether it be Breitbart or Super PACS, including Make America Number 1, which supported Cruz before getting behind Trump.
In December, Trump, Bannon and senior aide Kellyanne Conway attended a lavish Christmas costume party Heroes and Villains at the Mercers’ Long Island family estate.
Mercer worked for IBM for two decades before getting wealthy when he joined the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies.
The political clout, though, tends to be wielded through his daughter, Rebekah. Politco in November reported that she was playing a major role in shaping Trump’s administration.
Cattell, Rybolovlev’s spokesman, said the oligarch did not know Mercer’s daughter.
The Mercers have poured at least $1.4 million into organizations that cast doubt on climate change science and $34.6 million to 30 conservative non-profits from 2011-2014, according to Politico.
This past month, the Guardian profiled Robert Mercer, noting he had a $10 million stake in Cambridge Analytica, that specializes in “psyops” — “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operation.”
Also reportedly on the board of Cambridge Analytica: Steve Bannon.
Back in June 2015, I couldn’t figure out why Mercer (or at least his yacht) was in Halifax. There was a big to-do at the Maritime Museum with the US consulate, but that seems a little low-brow for the Masters of the World. It’d be great if Rybolovlev had also been in town, but if so, I can’t find any evidence of it.
4. Cat hoarding
“A year after they were found living in what the SPCA called ‘deplorable conditions,’ 17 cats rescued from a home in Annapolis County have been adopted and their former owners have been banned from future ownership of companion animals for the rest of their lives,” reports Anjuli Patel for the CBC.
Well, except, “[t]he former owners have been allowed to keep three cats, and those animals must be spayed and neutered.”
Anyway, cat hoarding fascinates me. It’s far more prevalent than we acknowledge, like every third house on any given street is harbouring at least one of the creatures. Many people are functional cataholics, and by all outward appearances have successful jobs and maintain healthy relationships, but then there’s an unexpected stressor, an angry spouse or a large car repair bill, and they begin to excessively rely on cats to escape their dispiriting and unrewarding lives. The occasional rub behind the ears becomes a night of incessant petting… next thing you know, it’s cats all the way down.
It’s the secret disease of our time.
1. Election platforms
“An election platform is solely a marketing document,” writes Graham Steele.
In other shocking revelations, next week Steele will reveal that the sun rises in the east.
2. Cranky letter of the day
To the Charlottetown Guardian:
I am sure that the Indigenous Peoples of Canada would appreciate peace building between our people and the Royal Commonwealth Society. This can only take place after there is reconciliation between the Mi’kmaq Nation and the British Crown in Atlantic Canada.
Here in Epekwitk (P.E.I.), the Royal Commonwealth Society, in the spirit of reconciliation, should start by requesting the Canadian Crown to remove General Jeffery Amherst’s name from the national park at Rocky Point, P.E.I.
His name must be removed because General Amherst’s ultimate goal was to exterminate the Mi’kmaq in the Atlantic Region and other Aboriginal Peoples in North America. His atrocities are well documented in the history of North America; his handwritten letters reference using blankets inoculated with smallpox. His letters outlining his atrocities are preserved in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
Keptin John Joe Sark, LLD (Hon), Johnston’s River
Stuff I deal with:
Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Advisory Committee (Thursday, 3pm, Room B239, NSCC Campus) — here’s the agenda.
Nothing this week.
Precarious Employment (Thursday, 4:30pm, Room 105, Weldon Law Building) — Michael Mitchell and John C. Murray, who were Special Advisors to the Ontario “Changing Workplaces Review,” will speak on,“Coping with the Fissured Workplace and Precarious Employment.”
Police Street Checks (Thursday, 6pm, North Branch Library) — Archie Kaiser will moderate a community discussion regarding the disproportionate street checking of African Nova Scotians. Speakers include Chief Jean-Michel Blais, Lana McLean, and Rickola Brinton.
Minimalism (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain Building) — A screening of the 2016 film, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things,” in which a bunch of financially secure people tell us they don’t need to own a bunch of stuff to be happy, and won’t you buy their movie/ book/ lifestyle advice/ tiny house kit? Director/producer Matt D’Avella will be
present linked via Skype to sell you stuff you don’t need be wise and not try to sell you anything, promise.
McKay Lecture in History (Thursday, 7pm, Room 1009, Rowe Building) — Daniel Lord Smail will speak on “Containers and Humans in Deep Time: An Environmental History.” Here’s the event description:
Daniel Lord Smail is a pioneer of what is called Deep History — someone who identifies and develops new narratives for binding human history together over the very long duration. History is not a brand of political science to explain the present, but an anthropological science designed to help us understand humanity. Historians must reach back into time before written documents, with the help of neurobiology, neurophysiology and genetics in order to understand global environmental change. His book “Deep History and the Brain” examines how cultural structures shape patterns of the brain-body system. Simultaneously Smail examines the role of universal emotions as they are expressed in the specific context of late medieval Provence and Tuscany. A gifted archival historian with considerable expertise in judicial and notarial papers in Marseille and Lucca, Smail’s new book “Legal Plunder” examines material culture seen through the lens of material accumulation and debt recovery.
Thesis Defence, Engineering Mathematics and Internetworking (Friday, 8:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — Yashar Fazili will defend his thesis, “Sla Aware Green Routing Mechanisms for WDM GMPLS Networks.”
Precarious Employment (Friday, 8:45am, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — Michael Mitchell and John Murray will speak on “The Fissured Workplace and Precarious Employment: Creative Responses for Workers, Employers, and Labour Market Regulation.”
Politics of Emotion (Friday, 12:30pm, Room 2021, Marion McCain Building) — Catrina Brown will speak on “Women’s Narratives of Depression and the Politics of Emotion.”
Green Chemistry (Friday, 1:30pm, Chemistry Room 226) — John C. Warner, President and Chief Technology Officer of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, will speak on “Green Chemistry: The Missing Element.”
Pattern in History (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Daniel Lord Smail will speak.
Smoke and Progress (Thursday, 4pm, Burke 207) — Robert Summerby-Murray will speak on “Good Times and Warm Smoke Stacks in the Busy East: Images of Smoke and Progress in Maritime Canada, 1910 to 1966.”
In the harbour
1am: NYK Rumina, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Southampton, England
4am: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
5:15am: MSC Immacolata, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Sagunto, Spain
8am: Berlin Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Cagliari, Italy
8am: Alpine Venture, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Imperial Oil
10:30am: MSC Immacolata, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
11am: Itea, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
11am: Tosca, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
4:30pm: ZIM Constanza, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
8pm: Berlin Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
We’re recording Examineradio today.
Re Views, 1. Election platforms
Steele is right, of course, that platforms are a marketing document, but I disagree with the limiting adjective, “solely.”
While Canadian politicians have been promoting and advancing that concept with greater frequency and emphasis the past ten years – in more veiled rhetoric, of course – it fails to find legitimate traction with Canadians. What it IS doing is adding fuel and growth to the “politicians are liars and con men/women” school of thought.
1. Platforms are important and serve a purpose or time and money wouldn’t be invested in their creation. Unfortunately, reality and practicality are rare components, especially for folk who don’t closely follow political party history and principles [fluid], federal-provincial politics, the economy, and world affairs.
2. Cultural mores invest political platforms with importance. Putting it simply, it’s the old, revered “My word is my bond.” It still resonates heavily with an older generation, as does the slimy post-election claim, “We didn’t know” or “Subsequent facts [usually invisible] have altered our election promise,” etc.
3. In the U.S. we’re seeing courts give credence and evidentiary value to election statements; in fact issue TROs on that very basis to both of Trump’s Muslim Bans which they label Temporary Travel Bans. Whether appeal courts or even the U.S. Supreme Court uphold the rulings is irrelevant to the fact that learned, legal minds listened and invested importance in election statements and promises.
4. In Canadian law, some verbal agreements carry force of law. While not practical or probably possible in the arena of election promises/platforms, as a factor it adds to their perceived validity.
5. While it’s convenient and self-serving for politicians to promote election platforms and promises as just so much “sound and fury signifying nothing,” they form an unwritten negotiation and contract between voters and the voting process. Discrediting their meaning, their significance, their expected fruition, only serves to erode the already rickety supporting structures. By all means carry on if fewer and fewer voters are the intended goal.
A remarkable woman with over 300 direct descendants, a full life and well lived – ‘ 78 grandchildren, 170 great grandchildren and 59 great great grandchildren ‘
Business opportunity: FOIPOP futures.
Some group of trustworthy people can buy, well, futures, on FOIPOP requests, given the elevator pitch of the story.
Actually, that could be true of any freelance story.
In New Brunswick, access to information requests are free. No search fees, no photocopy fees, no shipping fees, no nothing. For most part.
The exception, and it is a big one, is certain information from the Department of the Environment and Local Government on environmental matters. I had to pay close to $300 for two reports on a contaminated former chemical plant that is leaking mercury into groundwater, because for some reason environmental requests are exempt from being provided free.
I was obviously unhappy at this, and demanded to know why they needed to charge a five hour “research” fee for two reports that I had named by title. Would it take a department worker five hours to find the reports in the database? No, of course not, they said, we have them right here at our fingertips. But we are charging you to vet them for our privacy and other concerns — in other words they wanted to apply the other parts of the access to information statute without applying the free access part. And charge me $300 for their time to censor my request. (When I got the reports, I read both in about an hour and a half)
I paid, because I needed the reports, and complained to the commissioner. But the commissioner said that I was out of time to complain — I should have complained when I got the letter demanding the money. I said I had to get approval to spend the money, and I needed the reports, and so decided to pay first, complain later. Too late, said the commissioner. So i said OK, I’m complaining about a systemic thing because I don’t believe that section they always quote when demanding money exempts them at all. And in any event, they can only charge for actually researching, not for vetting and censoring. They always send those letters on those requests. The wording is identical.
The commissioner wouldn’t deal with a systemic complaint — I have to make a kind of straw man access request, get the standard extortion letter, and then complain about that specific refusal to get a ruling. I hate legal fictions, but I guess I will have to pick a contaminated property, and do it.
There’s so much more to this… I’m talking to people; we’ll see what happens.
In fairness to other departments, I should say that I made an access request about consultation with First Nations on a matter. The material was nearly 3,000 pages, containing a lot of interesting stuff, and they not only numbered all the pages, but provided a table of contents for me. All free. So your experience varies with department.
The bigger issue is improper claims of a right to exemption under the Act. Sometimes you get next to nothing — I always quote the line from the song “Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s free”.
I almost always complain to the commissioner when I get a refusal — I heard an experienced journalist say you always should kick it up unless they are plainly right, because they bank on you being too busy to take that extra step and always err on the side of not releasing the document. This isn’t necessarily due to bad intent — sometimes they fear making a mistake and getting nailed for violating someone’s privacy rights. Municipalities are particularly wary in this way, probably because their access officers don’t have much experience.
The spectre of “violating privacy” is like a
Bogey man. Often talked about, largely feared, but by and large is a myth. It is universally used as a fall back pretext for withholding information.
I understand medical privacy and the like, but they apply it to *corporate* privacy, which is ridiculous except in the extreme cases of actual patented secrets. Mostly it’s just mundane business matters that would benefit no one were they public.
Re: FOIPOP charges
I think the feds did away with those ridiculous charges for providing information WHICH TAXPAYERS HAVE ALREADY PAID FOR !
When will governments get the memo that “freedom of information” means free and unrestricted information access and provision?
The Government of Nova Scotia seems to have perfected the process of putting such ludicrous financial obstacles in the way of providing information.
As a taxpayer and citizen, the only possible conclusion I can draw when seeing that kind of cost estimate is that they are really trying o hide something they do not wish disclosed.
$2300 for freedom of information? My girlfriend asks where is the freedom in that?
the estimate is free
Our party is committed to total transparency in government. You can view any government file at any time. You just have to purchase a pair of these x-ray specs each request. They are going for the low price of $10,000 per pair. BUT WAIT! If you order now we will throw in a second pair for free (Just pay $10,000 for shipping)!
its not just Cat Hoarding. Hoarding in general is much more common then you would think.
I know Halifax always clamors for a connection to events in the ‘big world’, but can we sit this one out, please?