1. Non-state torture
Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald, nurses from Truro, are getting traction in their efforts to have domestic torture recognized as a crime. Reports the CBC:
MacDonald and Sarson founded the Persons Against NST (Non-State Torture), a human rights organization based in Truro.
Over the past 20 years, Sarson and MacDonald estimate they’ve dealt with 3,000 victims of domestic torture around the globe, including about a dozen in Nova Scotia.
In most cases, the victims are women and children who suffer extreme violence at the hands of family members, including confinement, beatings and rape. Many have been sold for sex.
The pair have made inroads at various international gatherings, and in March will appear before the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The sticking point? The government of Canada:
Sarson believes Canada is choosing to ignore the issue altogether.
“It’s the political voice of the day that seems to be the blockage, and it’s not because they don’t know,” said Sarson.
Sarson and MacDonald are joined in their efforts to change Canadian law by Dustin LaFortune, a Vancouver man who was “allegedly beaten, starved and mutilated—his bottom lip and part of his tongue had been cut off” by his roommate.
2. Drunk drivers
The Halifax Regional Police report that just two people were charged with impaired driving on the New Years Eve overnight shift. Four more were charged in the suburban and rural areas of HRM patrolled by the RCMP. Maybe we’re learning.
3. Annoying people
4. Wild Kingdom
1. Seeing is seeing
“There is such visual richness around us,” writes Stephen Archibald. “We can be as visually wealthy as we choose.”
In November, US regulators shut down all commercial and recreational cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine, and in the Canadian waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the species simply isn’t recovering from the near-total population collapse of the 1990s. In today’s New York Times, W. Jeffrey Bolster, a historian at the University of New Hampshire, shows that even the dramatic 1990s collapse was just part of a centuries-long decimation of the fish:
As early as the 1850s, fishermen from Maine and Massachusetts began to pester their governments to do something about declining cod catches. Those men fished with hooks and lines from small wooden sailboats and rowboats. Fearing “the material injury of the codfishing interests of this state” by increased fishing for menhaden, a critical forage fish for cod, fishermen from Gouldsboro, Me., implored the Legislature in 1857 to limit menhaden hauls.
Yet annual cod landings in the Gulf of Maine continued to slide, from about 70,000 metric tons in 1861 to about 54,000 metric tons in 1880, to about 20,000 tons in the 1920s, to just a few thousand metric tons in recent years.
The Gulf of Maine cod stocks today are probably only a fraction of 1 percent of what they were during George Washington’s presidency.
If there is any lesson in this story of large-scale, long-term environmental degradation, it is not that fishermen were (or are) to blame, or that scientists were (or are) to blame, or that politicians were (or are) to blame. The system was (and is) to blame. Our system of exploiting nature’s resources, with its checks and balances, its desire for prosperity and security, its willingness to honor a multiplicity of voices, and its changing sense of “normal” is insufficiently nimble to stop the desecration of commonly held resources on which the long-term good of everyone depends.
3. Cranky letter of the day
While I don’t have a problem with Hal Chiden’s message of better diet and exercise (Dec. 30 letter), I do challenge his assumption that gun violence is “the leading cause of death among young people.”
In fact, it isn’t a leading cause of death among any age group. It isn’t even a leading cause of death among all homicides in Canada. In 2012, of 543 homicides, 172 were firearm-related, including all age groups.
During the same time period, there were 2,075 automobile-related deaths, approximately 550 of which involved victims aged 15 to 25 (drivers/passengers were not differentiated). That’s right: more young people died at the hands of an automobile than there were total murders in our country.
This number could be significantly decreased, but only if licensing requirements become more stringent. A mandatory retesting every five years is an excellent start. Or is the automobile so engrained in our culture as Canadians that the death of a population of a small town, every year, is not worth pursuing?
Matthew Trenholm, Halifax
Trenholm is right to be cranky: Our baseline assumptions about how the world should operate have changed, and the high rates of road slaughter have become accepted, simply taken as an unavoidable tragic part of life, like the inevitable demise due to old age. But this is all wrong. Explains RoadPeace, a British organization devoted to helping road crash victims:
A road death is not like a normal death. It is a violent death—as violent as murder, and like murder, totally unexpected. The bereaved need help, care and support at such a terrible time, especially as they face unfamiliar procedures—inquests, investigations and hearings—where knowledge of what is going on, and what their rights are, can prevent further suffering. Although well-structured support is almost automatically available to victims in other situations, the victims of road death seem to be totally ignored: they are left without any assistance —sympathy even—without proper information of how their loved ones died, and, apparently, without any rights. The often totally innocent death of a loved one appears to be a matter of little or no importance: this diminishes them, their life appearing to be devalued because a motor vehicle was the weapon.
In perhaps the majority of cases someone has caused their death by breaking the law, yet relatives are expected to accept the occurrence as ‘an accident’, and not to expect a proper investigation, information about proceedings, or a serious prosecution of the driver responsible for the death. If they protest they are dismissed as vindictive and accused of being vengeful. Not only are they faced with the horrendous fact of a loved one’s—often their child’s—violent death, but with an attitude to those deaths which borders on the obscene and which cannot possibly be acceptable in a civilised society. This leaves the bereaved shocked and bewildered; it also causes deep emotional wounds.
There was a time when society didn’t take seriously industrial and workplace deaths. You see it famously in the stats of deaths on large construction projects—over 30,000 people died while building the Panama Canal, 96 on the Hoover Dam, 21 on the Brooklyn Bridge, five on our own MacDonald Bridge. Industrial injuries and death were at one time accepted as part of the cost of business—pull the body out of the machinery and restart the production line—but through the tireless efforts of reformers, the number of workplace deaths has decreased dramatically. It’s still too high, but every death is investigated, and charges are usually laid. And our baseline expectations have changed: can you imagine the scandal that will erupt if even one person dies on the MacDonald Bridge reconstruction project this year?
We need to similarly change our baseline expectations for road deaths. We should look at the loss of 70 or 80 people on Nova Scotia highways every year as not just the way of the world, but scandalous, and our inaction as a damnable indifference for human life. Similarly, several hundred pedestrians getting struck in Halifax crosswalks every year is not just how things go, but a solvable problem that demands our attention.
In 2015, I intend to more thoroughly report on road carnage. Reader Ben Wedge has correctly admonished me for using the term “accident” to report on road deaths:
I thought I’d write in about your editorial policy to use “accident” in reference to collisions involving motor vehicles. In the past few years the editorial guidelines at many major publications (NYT and CBC, e.g.) have been changed to use “crash” or “collision” to describe these incidents as operator error is almost always to blame. Car crashes are preventable, whether through education or engineering intervention or other means. I hope you’ll consider dropping the use of “accident” in future stories.
That’s a reasonable first step. But I’ll also be pressing for more details about specific crashes, better track the totality of the carnage, and try, where possible, to show the victims as real people—too often, in the name of some perverse understanding of “privacy,” the very identities of those killed or injured on the roads are withheld from the public, and someone with a full life, with family, friends, life ambitions, quirks, loves, losses, a place in the universe, is reduced to a cold statistic. This serves no one well—not the family of the victim, not the public assessing road deaths, and not the victims themselves.
Also, periodically I’ll post videos demonstrating how badly and inattentively people drive. If you have any further suggestions for how the Examiner can better approach this issue, please pass them along.
Many readers are no doubt now enjoying the joys of self-enforced sobriety and may be interested in earlier attempts to force sobriety upon us via legal prohibition.
As E.R. Forbes and A.A. MacKenzie point out in their introduction to the diary and autobiography (Four Years With the Demon Rum 1925-1929) of Clifford Rose, prohibition was part and parcel of the Progressive movement at the turn of the last century. The Progressives believed in government, and thought government could right many of the ills of society. They pressed for old age pensions, for anti-poverty programs, for women’s suffrage, for increased regulation of industry, the creation of parks and what we would now call livable cities. The movement embraced the Social Gospel, in which “potential design for reform in such teachings as the sermon on the mount, the Lord’s Prayer and the golden rule” was embraced by a legion of Protestant clergy unleashed upon the land.
In 1910, the legislature banned the sale and transport of alcohol in Nova Scotia outside the city of Halifax. War came and by 1917, all the provinces had adopted prohibition, and in 1918 the federal government banned the importation and manufacture of alcohol. After the war, with women voting for the first time, a plebiscite extending prohibition passed easily.
Clifford Rose was initially an idealistic reformer. He found his moorings in the church and labour organizations of the day, was a campaigner for the Conservatives in the election of 1925 and, as spoils for his work, was appointed municipal temperance inspector for the town of New Glasgow. He quickly became disillusioned:
Despite their number and variety the enforcement officers did not curtail the liquor traffic in the province. After less than a week in office Clifford Rose reported the rum dives in New Glasgow to be “thick as bees” and testified that not only was New Glasgow “rotten to the core” but his position as temperance inspector was “rotten” as well. His job, Rose discovered, was far from a straightforward battle against the liquor trade. Members of his party aimed to wrest control of the illegal trade from the Liberals and secure it for themselves. Liberals were fair game for arrest; Conservatives were not only to be left alone, but even protected from “rival” officers. Another of his duties was to secure revenue for the town council—a matter of some importance in a community hard-hit by depression. In one year, for example, Rose could boast that he had brought $10,000 in fines into municipal coffers. As an incentive, enforcement officers frequently received a percentage of the fines from convictions obtained. In New Glasgow the Council expressed appreciation for Rose’s efforts through frequent increases in salary. These rewards were intended to encourage zeal on the part of the police, but they were actually a deterrent since no one wished to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. The officers and the municipalities could only expect maximum revenues while the trade was flourishing. Heavy jail sentences, property confiscations or excessive harrassment were bad business for all concerned. An occasional raid, a moderate fine, a temporary shutdown usually served to placate the vigilant “drys” without seriously interrupting the lucrative flow of spirits.
Rose became increasingly cynical as he accommodated himself to his new job. A system in which money and political advantage were primary motivations left little room for any reform idealism which Rose still possessed. Indeed, when the government party ordered the inspector out of town for an election so that his presence would not inhibit the illegal activities of its workers, what moral basis was there for attacking rumrunners and bootleggers? Rose concluded that there was none. It was merely a game in which the rum-runners and enforcement officers operated on a common plane. Each had found a means of economic survival in a period of hard times.
By 1929, the majority of the electorate shared Rose’s cynicism, and prohibition was overturned in another plebiscite, leading to the creation of the NSLC.
In terms of prohibition, Rose’s diary is an interesting, perhaps even quaint, historical document. But its lasting value may be how it captures truly horrible social relations of the day. Rose repeatedly uses a racial epithet to refer to black people, and casually mentions that there was a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan at the Church at Gairloch in Pictou County. The meeting isn’t mentioned in the history of the church.
Googling around last night, I could find nothing on the internet about the Ku Klux Klan in Nova Scotia in the 1920s. Maybe there’s some scholarly work on the subject I’m unaware of, but it needs to be more widely discussed. After all, 20 years later, Viola Desmond made her historic stand against segregation in a New Glasgow theatre, not far from the church, and of course modern Nova Scotian racists continue to use such KKK conventions as cross burnings.
You can read Rose’s diary here.
In the harbour