News

1. Straight Outta Spryfield

Photo: NorthWest Arm Boat Tours Facebook page

“After a month of waiting with boat ready to go, a new ferry service across the Northwest Arm is set to begin service sometime this week, or early next,” reports Examiner transportation columnist Erica Butler:

David Backman will be running his new 22-foot saltwater pontoon boat from the dock near the base of the Dingle Tower (facing the roundabout) northward across the Arm to a newly installed floating dock at the base of Jubilee Road.

The service will run every 15 minutes during peak morning and afternoon commute times, and carry up to 10 passengers at a cost of $4 per trip. Backman says he’ll have room for about four bikes per trip, mounted to the outside of the boat, so they won’t affect passenger count.

Click here to read “Northwest Arm ferry launch is imminent.”

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I asked Backman via Facebook if his service is regulated and insured, and he assured me it is. (Albeit Peter Ziobrowski disputes that.)

Backman says he needs 50 round-trips a day to break even. It’ll be interesting to see if that many people will make use of the boat, and the associated climb up the hill. Maybe. I wish him luck; he seems to have the right attitude about it, prepared to use his boat elsewhere if the numbers don’t work.

Even if the numbers don’t work, and Backman only gets half the passengers needed for a commercial operation to succeed, he may be demonstrating that a publicly subsidized service makes sense. We’ll see.

2. Atlantic Gold meeting fallout continues

Kayakers on the St. Mary’s River. Photo courtesy St. Mary’s River Association

Yesterday, the Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia Society (SuNNS) sent the following open letter to Mark Furey, the provincial Minister of Justice, and Ralph Goodale, the federal minister of Minister of Public Safety:

As Canadian Citizens we are deeply disturbed by the “shockingly brutal“ actions used by the RCMP to remove a law-abiding citizen who was in no way causing a disturbance, from a public meeting in Sherbrooke, NS, on Thursday evening, May 24. In addition we are further disturbed that this RCMP action was apparently in response to a request from Atlantic Gold, a company seeking to develop open- pit goldmines in the area. John Perkins is a member of the Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia Society (SuNNS). He is an informed, knowledgeable individual who is genuinely concerned about the consequences of open-pit gold mining in our province. His concern is shared by many.

While we are aware that in other parts of the world, police have dealt brutally with peaceful citizens opposed to Canadian mining company operations, we demand that in Canada our police be independent and answerable not to corporations, but to our system of democratic law.

Consequently, we are calling for:

  1. A public inquiry into the incident in Sherbrooke to ascertain who specifically called the RCMP, and why the RCMP acted immediately, without cause and without further assessment, to brutally remove a concerned law-abiding citizen who was sitting peacefully and in no way creating a disturbance or obstructing justice, from what was advertised as a public meeting.
  2. A statement from both our Provincial Minister of Justice and our Federal Minister of Public Safety stating that it is safe for all citizens to engage in democratic, legal, peaceful forms of questioning and dissent around resource extraction issues without intimidation, the threat of police brutality or arbitrary surveillance. We ask for clarification and clear instructions that RCMP are accountable to the appropriate Government Ministers and that they are not to be unduly influenced by resource extraction corporations.

We ask for a response to these requests by June 30th, 2019. Respectfully,

Madeline Conacher, for
Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia Society (SuNNS)

Click here to read the full letter.

Also, the CBC interviewed Paul Sobey, the retired president of the Sobey/Empire, er, empire, about Atlantic Gold’s plans:

Despite promises of jobs and economic prosperity, a member of one of Nova Scotia’s most prominent business families and a major land conservation donor is adamantly opposed to a proposed open pit mine in Guysborough County.

If the Cochrane Hill Gold Mine goes ahead, the company plans to build a paved road over part of one parcel of the Nature Trust’s land — and none of that sits well with Paul Sobey.  

“It’ll definitely, in my opinion, destroy one of the most pristine areas in our province,” he said, citing concerns about the impact of blasting and contamination on the land and river system.

“It will impact all the Eastern Shore all the way up to Sheet Harbour. And it’s mind boggling.”

My hope is that the increased attention John Perkins’ arrest brought to Atlantic Gold will bring more people to read Joan Baxter’s extensive investigation of the province’s ill-advised pursuit of the gold industry, “Fool’s Gold,” which was a joint publication of the Halifax Examiner and Cape Breton Spectator, financed by people who bought joint subscriptions to the two publications (which you can do by clicking here). Part 2 of the series, “Going for Gold,” zeroes in on Atlantic Gold’s plans for the eastern shore.

3. Toys for the po-po

“Almost exactly three years ago today, during Police Week 2016, the Cape Breton Regional Police Services (CBRPS) unveiled its new Mobile Command Center as part of a ‘Police Week display’ at Centre 200,” writes Mary Campbell in the Cape Breton Spectator:

The CBC described the Mobile Command Center as a “custom-built, high-tech” vehicle for “fire and police services to use in emergency situations,” and noted that it had been built in Yarmouth by Tri-Star Industries and cost $230,000.

Three years in, I thought it would be a good time to find out how often the Mobile Command Center has seen service since it was introduced, so I FOIPOPed the CBRPS and asked.

I received a response from Staff Sergeant Jodie Wilson, the police department’s FOIPOP administrator, dated 13 May 2019 in which she first — in answer to a question I had not asked — explained the policy for Mobile Command Center deployment.

I don’t really care, frankly, but here it is, in case it’s of interest:

  1. The on scene agency supervisor will notify the agency duty officer/watch commander so that he/she can decide whether to deploy the MOBILE COMMAND CENTER [emphasis hers]
  2. If the Police Watch Commander decides there is a need for the MOBILE COMMAND CENTER [again, emphasis hers] to be deployed, they will contact the Fire Service Duty Officer.
  3. When the MOBILE COMMAND CENTER [still her emphasis] is deployed, there must be one certified driver and one agency supervisor (who is trained in operations) as  [sic] being deployed with the MOBILE COMMAND CENTER [seriously, what is up with the all caps?]

I realized why Wilson spent so much space cataloging the deployment rules when I flipped to page two and found this:

The only agency to use the mobile command post since it has been acquired is the police service. In addition, THE CAPE BRETON REGIONAL POLICE DOES NOT HAVE ANY TRACKING OR RECORDING SYSTEM ON HOW MANY TIMES THE MOBILE COMMAND CENTER HAS BEEN USED. [emphasis mine]

How come Cape Breton uses the American spelling for “Centre”?

Anyway, Campbell didn’t get any satisfactory answers, but it appears the Center/Centre is used infrequently, at best. She concludes:

But I do know, from Wilson’s response, that in the past three years the command center has not been used by the fire department or the public works department or by any other municipality — it’s been used by solely by the police, although I don’t know how often or for what purpose.

I can’t even tell you whether it saw service during the October 2016 Thanksgiving floods, which is surely the biggest disaster the CBRM has experienced since the vehicle was introduced. If you don’t include the attempt to secure federal funding for the new central library. Although I’m not sure even a $230,000 MOBILE COMMAND CENTER would have helped with that.

Click here to read “How Mobile is the Mobile Command Center?”

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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Campbell’s investigation of the Mobile Command Center raises the question: Do police ever have to justify the purchase of their high-tech tools? Sure, in some theoretical world, there might become a time when a tank, or a Mobile Command Center, or Stingrays, or laser weapons, or teleportation devices, or what have you might serve some important function that can’t be served by tough guys being tough, but we don’t live in a theoretical world. We live in a real world of competing interests and budgetary limitations.

The Halifax Police Department is buying an armoured vehicle that will probably look like this one.

The choice is not either $230,000 for a Mobile Command Center or nothing else. The actual choice is either $230,000 for a Mobile Command Center for some imagined scenario that may or may not happen some day in the future, or $230,000 for, say, parks and recreation funding for children, which would have demonstrable real-world effects on people’s lives (and along the way, crime rates), pretty much immediately.

Likewise, the choice is not a half million dollars for an armoured vehicle for the Halifax police, or nothing at all. The actual choice is between a half a million dollars for the armoured vehicle or a half a million dollars for, say, improvements to transit that will allow greater mobility for people to access jobs they couldn’t otherwise hold.

Even worse, however, than the flashy cop toys not being used at all is the cops feeling they have to justify their flashy toys by using them when not really needed, and so we get mission creep.

We buy an armoured vehicle because someone might one day shoot up the Mic Mac Mall and shoppers barricade themselves behind the mannequins at Forever 21 and the armoured vehicle drives up the escalators and saves the frightened people and let’s praise the wise decision to buy the armoured vehicle amen! But then we discover that it doesn’t happen so often that people barricading themselves behind the mannequins at Forever 21 are needing rescue, so we gotta use the armoured vehicle for something else in order to justify the expense, and before you know it, the armoured vehicle is being used to street check kids in Jelly Bean Square.

Every time we buy a flashy new tech toy for the po-po, we’re valuing further militarization of our society over building civil society.

4. Lindsay Souvannarath

Lindsay Souvannarath

Lindsay Souvannarath has lost the appeal of her life sentence for her failed attempt to shoot up the Halifax Shopping Centre.

And no, that doesn’t justify buying a tank.

5. Stupid websites, American mortgage insurance company edition

“The Web site for Fortune 500 real estate title insurance giant First American Financial Corp. leaked hundreds of millions of documents related to mortgage deals going back to 2003, until notified this week by KrebsOnSecurity,” reports Brian Krebs, a former Washington Post tech reporter who now writes about tech security on his KrebsOnSecurity site:

The digitized records — including bank account numbers and statements, mortgage and tax records, Social Security numbers, wire transaction receipts, and drivers license images — were available without authentication to anyone with a Web browser.

Earlier this week, KrebsOnSecurity was contacted by a real estate developer in Washington state who said he’d had little luck getting a response from the company about what he found, which was that a portion of its Web site (firstam.com) was leaking tens if not hundreds of millions of records. He said anyone who knew the URL for a valid document at the Web site could view other documents just by modifying a single digit in the link.

This is of course exactly what happened with the Province of Nova Scotia’s Freedom of Information website (which is still down, by the way). The difference is that the province sicced the cops on the hapless teenager who discovered the problem, while First American Financial just issued a mealy mouthed press release saying it’d fix the problem.

h/t Andrew Burke

6. Deputy Minister shakeup

This morning, the premier’s office announced “departmental changes and several appointments in the senior ranks of government,” effective June 3, as follows:

Denise Perret, deputy minister of Health and Wellness is leaving government and Dr. Tom Marrie, a former dean of medicine at Dalhousie University, has been appointed interim deputy minister. Dr. Marrie has had a long career as a medical researcher, teacher, administrator and clinician.

Tracey Taweel, currently the deputy minister at Communities, Culture and Heritage, has been appointed deputy minister of Community Services, following the departure of Lynn Hartwell to Nova Scotia Community College. Tracey Barbrick, associate deputy minister at Labour and Advanced Education, will become associate deputy minister of Community Services. 

Nancy MacLellan will become deputy minister of the new department of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Catherine Berliner has been appointed the department’s associate deputy minister. Ms. Berliner is the first indigenous person to be appointed to a deputy-level position in the province’s history. Current Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter will be the minister of the blended department.

Justin Huston will be the new deputy minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage in addition to his role as CEO of Aboriginal Affairs. Melissa MacKinnon will move from the position of associate deputy minister at Communications Nova Scotia to become associate deputy minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage. 

Donna Macdonald, executive director at Education and Early Childhood Development, will become associate deputy minister at Communications Nova Scotia, where she spent several years as a managing director.

Ava Czapalay has been appointed associate deputy minister of Labour and Advanced Education after serving several years as senior executive director of higher education.

Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services will merge and Joanne Munro, current CEO of Service Nova Scotia, will become deputy minister, as Jeff Conrad plans to retire. Natasha Clarke, current executive director of digital services, has been appointed associate deputy minister and chief digital officer. Current Internal Services Minister Patricia Arab will be the minister of this merged department in addition to her role as Minister of Communications Nova Scotia.

Sandra Cascadden will become associate deputy minister, digital health at Health and Wellness, moving from the associate deputy minister and chief information officer positions at Internal Services. Ms. Cascadden will oversee implementation of the One Patient, One Record project.

Kelliann Dean will become CEO of the Office of Immigration in addition to her role as deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. 

[emphasis added]

I bolded Sandra Cascadden’s move because she had oversight of tech operations when the security failure happened at the FOIPOP site (as mentioned in #5 above). I don’t know if the move to Health and Wellness is a lateral move or a promotion, but putting her in charge of implementation of the One Patient, One Record project raises eyebrows, mine at least.

Recall that Chronicle Herald columnist Paul Schneidereit raised serious questions about the awarding of contracts related to the One Patient, One Record project:

This is a story about a potential half-billion-dollar health-care services contract, alleged cozy dinners between bidders and bureaucrats, an unusual legal letter and accusations the government’s tender process was unfair.

The planned purchase of a new provincewide electronic health record (EHR) system — expected to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars — is among the largest public-sector procurements in Nova Scotia history.

The gist of Schneidereit’s story was that one company, Allscripts, seems to have been the preferred company of officials at the Nova Scotia Health Authority and that other companies were unfairly excluded from the bidding process.

Very roughly speaking, that parallels the story with the FOIPOP security failure, where one company, Unisys Canada, appears to have had a too-cozy relationship with the provincial bureaucracy, which I would argue was a contributing factor in the security failure.


Government

No public meetings for the rest of the week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Spring Convocation, morning ceremony (Thursday, 9am, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — for graduates in the Faculties of Health and Graduate Studies.

Remote Viewing Event – Open Government Partnership Summit, Ottawa (Thursday, 10am, Room 218, MacRae Library, Truro campus) — remote participation in the plenary session on “Participation.”

Introduction to Cloud Computing (Thursday, 11:30am, in the auditorium named after a bank, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Chris Gerous will talk.

Spring Convocation, early afternoon ceremony (Thursday, 12:30pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — for graduates in the Faculties of Health and Graduate Studies.

Spring Convocation, late afternoon ceremony (Thursday, 4pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — for graduates in the Faculties of Health and Graduate Studies.

Opening reception (5:00pm, Thursday, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — for two shows, Nature as Communities and From the Vault: Human/Nature. More info here.

Edward Snowden: Live from Moscow (Thursday, 7pm, McInnes Room, Student Union Building) — former American intelligence officer and fugitive Edward Snowden will speak via livestream from Russia. Tickets sold out, more info here.

Friday

Spring Convocation, morning ceremony (Friday, 9am, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — for graduates in the Faculties of Science and Graduate Studies.

Remote Viewing Event – Open Government Partnership Summit, Ottawa (Friday, 10am, Room 218, MacRae Library, Truro campus) — remote participation in the plenary session on “Impact.”

Local Research, Global Impact (Friday, 12pm, Theatre B, Tupper Building) — four mini-lectures exploring how Dal researchers “are developing cancer-killing viruses and tumour-shrinking glass; how we are just one step closer to unlocking the key to curing Alzheimer’s disease; and how a newfangled program is empowering children and youth as change agents for the health and wellbeing of themselves, their families and communities.”

Opening Doors (Friday, 12:30pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — a discussion on immigration’s challenges, opportunities, and impact on our province.

Spring Convocation, early afternoon ceremony (Friday, 12:30pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — for graduates in the Faculties of Science and Graduate Studies.

Spring Convocation, late afternoon ceremony (Friday, 4pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium) — for graduates in the Faculties of Science and Graduate Studies.

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

China Business Summit (Thursday, 8:30am,  in the building named after a grocery store) — I wrote about it here.

Friday

Entrepreneurship and the Ecosystem (Friday, 11:30am, Volta, Unit 100, 1505 Barrington Street) — oh boy.

The Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre and Volta, Atlantic Canada’s premier innovation hub, invite you to join us for a major announcement and a presentation by Dr. Ellen Farrell, of the Sobey School of Business on her research on the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Register here.

One problem with these tech startup operations is that even when they’re successful on their own terms (which is rarely), it really doesn’t do the rest of us any good. So Newfangled App With A Cool Name, Inc. gets bought up by Silicon Valley Enterprises, Inc. and the local owner gets a new job in San Jose… so what? Why did we pay for that?


In the harbour

06:00: Jennifer Schepers, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
06:00: Pictor J, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
10:45: Glen Canyon Bridge, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
11:00: Victoria Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
12:00: Pictor J sails for Portland
12:20: Lowland Opal, bulker, arrives at Pier 27 from Port Alfred, Quebec
18:00: Lowland Opal sails for sea
19:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
21:30: Jennifer Schepers sails for Kingston, Jamaica


Footnotes

This week is dragging on forever.


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  1. I hope, as you do, that latest developments in the Atlantic Gold story draw attention to the good work that Joan Baxter and the Examiner (and the CBC) have been doing. I also look for action on the political level to curb the ambitions of Atlantic Gold and its ilk, the Mining Association and our gold-fevered politicians and bureaucrats. Have we learned nothing from history?

      1. I checked their share prices, dropped on the 27th from 2.88 to 2.84, but back up again within the day. ‘as flies to wanton boys, are we to gods (of gold); they kill us for their sport’