1. George Elliott Clarke apologizes, but will go ahead with lecture

George Elliott Clarke, photo:

Renowned poet George Elliott Clarke is at the centre of a controversy based out of the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, where he was slated to give the Woodrow Lloyd annual lecture, which he had titled, “‘Truth and Reconciliation’ versus ‘the Murdered and Missing’: Examining Indigenous Experiences of (In)Justice in Four Saskatchewan Poets.” The poet is a longtime friend and editor of Steven Kummerfield, the convicted murderer of Pamela George, an Indigenous woman and mother. After concerns were raised about his relationship with Kummerfield, Clarke told CBC reporter Bonnie Allen that he had not yet written his lecture or chosen the four poets to be discussed, and that he “may or may not” read something by Kummerfield during the lecture. He later apologized for this comment, and promised not to read any of Kummerfield’s work. Here’s Clarke’s statement as quoted by journalist Radheyan Simonpillai on Twitter:

2. Drivers send two people to hospital in Halifax

A driver struck a woman in a crosswalk on North Park Street yesterday morning, reports Halifax Today, sending the woman to hospital. Then later in the morning, another driver ran a red light and hit another vehicle which in turn hit a pedestrian on the sidewalk, at Cogswell and Brunswick, again in Halifax Today.

3. Halifax Transit’s commitment to diesel fuel should not come as a surprise, especially to councillors

Richard Zurawski. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Last January I wrote a hopeful piece about the promise of Halifax’s participation in a national pilot which would introduce a small number of battery electric buses to our transit fleet (How and why electric buses will (probably) come to Halifax, January 24, 2019.) Very shortly after it was published I learned that Halifax city staff had scrapped the idea, and that any questions I had about it would not be answered.

So I filed an Access to Information request and waited the required number of months (and then some) to find out what happened. I wrote that story (Who killed the electric bus? Halifax Transit turns down electric bus funding, opts to stick with diesel instead) in July. The story dropped like a feather. The only person to take any official interest, to my knowledge, was the Ecology Action Centre’s Kelsey Lane, who asked if I could share the city document dump with her, which I did.

So I was surprised to read this story by Francis Campbell of the Chronicle Herald, from just before Christmas, featuring Councillor Richard Zurawski’s reaction to a tender issued by Halifax Transit for the purchase of up to 150 diesel buses:

Halifax Regional Municipality completely missed the bus with a recent tender announcement, Coun. Richard Zurawski says.

“You can’t declare a climate emergency and then go buy 150 diesel buses, which have lifetimes of up to 20 years and then say, ‘well, we didn’t install an infrastructure years ago, so it is going to be expensive to install an infrastructure and we can’t afford it,” said Zurawski, who represents the area of Timberlea, Clayton Park and Beechville on council. 

Campbell further quotes Zurawski saying he’s “baffled” at the diesel tender, and that he will bring a motion to council “about how did we get to this point where we are not discussing electric buses at all and we are putting tenders out for more diesel buses.”

Zurawski has always talked the climate change talk at council. He instigated the move to declare a climate emergency back in January, around the time the Examiner published my first hopeful piece on a battery electric bus pilot. That’s why, shortly after I found out the program was being suddenly scrapped, I reached out to Zurawski by email to share with him the rather alarming news, and ask if he would consider getting some answers. He did not reply.

I could save some staff time and resources on the ineffectual, time-waster report Zurawski threatens to request at council:  How is it that we are putting tenders out for more diesel buses? Here’s how: Halifax Transit scrapped an electric bus pilot and not a single councillor called them on it, or even asked why (in a public meeting at the time.) Then Halifax Transit went on with its business of budgeting to keep operating a 100% diesel system, all with the full approval and knowledge of council members. In short, there’s a tender for 150 diesel buses because councillors like Richard Zurawski have, until now apparently, backed that strategy 100%.

4.  Australian bush fires rage on

Hotspots 0-12 hours old, from
Hotspots 0-12 hours old, from

Canadian media outlets are starting to tell the story of the Australian bush fires through connected Canadians.  CBC Nova Scotia tells the story of a Lunenburg woman whose mother had to flee her farm so quickly that she was forced to abandon a horse. Kathryn Moore (who you may remember as the captain of an all-female lobster crew) posted a note from her brother online, which signed off with, “I’m utterly shattered.”

There’s also more and more coverage of the devastation to the land and animal populations, with current estimates of the death toll coming in a half billion. I’m sure there will be many haunting images and descriptions making their way around the world. Here’s one contender:


Unpacking the harsh sentence of the Humboldt tragedy truck driver

Parker Donham makes a solid argument against the use of victim impact statements in sentencing proceedings, using the example of the eight year prison sentence given to Jaskirat Sidhu, the truck driver who ran a stop sign in April 2018, causing a collision with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos and killing 16 people. Writes Donham:

Canadian law required [Saskatchewan Provincial Court Judge Inez] Cardinal to consider the horrific death toll in passing sentence. This seems perverse to me. All drivers occasionally commit inadvertent offences. Surely culpability ought to lie in the misbehaviour, not its consequences, which, in the Humboldt crash, amounted to one-in-a-billion bad luck. But the law is clear: the magnitude of the consequences must factor in, even if the underlying infraction was minor.

Donham points out a problematic feature of Canadian traffic laws: sometimes the consequences of the offence matter more than the offence itself. There’s dangerous driving (for which you might lose some points, if you are ticketed at all), and then there’s dangerous driving causing death (for which you might go to prison). The message the system sends is that running a stop sign, if you don’t happen to do it in the path of a bus, isn’t so bad. For a system ostensibly meant to deter dangerous behaviours, that’s pretty counterproductive.

Donham brings up another important point overlooked by the judge: design.

The decision also fails to acknowledge that the intersection where the collision occurred was poorly designed and had been the site of a previous accident with multiple fatalities. (After the crash, Saskatchewan implemented design changes including better signage, pavement markings, rumble strips, tree removal, and wider shoulders.)

This is perhaps the area where society stands to benefit the most from change. Right now, we tend to think of our streets and highways as an immutable presence, just part of the landscape. But more and more people are waking up to the fact that design of streets and highways can change, and become safer. This is at the heart of Vision Zero: an attitudinal change to think of traffic fatalities as a systemic problem, and not simply the fault of the distracted driver unlucky enough to actually kill someone.


No meetings today.

On campus


Open Waters Festival 2020 (Friday, 9:00am, various locations) — until January 9, celebrating new and improvised music from many traditions, and featuring celebrated European composer/improvisor/bassist Barry Guy and baroque violinist Maya Homburger. More info and tickets here.

In the harbour

01:00: Julius-S, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Lisbon, Portugal
02:30: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
11:30: Tombarra, car carrier, moves from Pier 31 to Autoport
13:30: Advance II, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Antwerp
16:00: Julius-S sails for New York
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
20:00: Tombarra sails for sea


Is it possible to still have a holiday hangover on January 3?

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  1. Thank you Parker Dunham for sharing an important and likely not otherwise considered perspective on the Humboldt tragedy. A true display of rational objectivity and human compassion.

    And speaking of compassion, why is no one talking about Steve Kummerfield’s perspective on his crimes today? Is he remorseful? Regretful? If he is, isn’t that discussion an important part of reconciliation? Why is everyone so quick to prevent the conversation? What is to be gained from such censorship? Of course what he did was wrong in a way that words cannot adequately describe, but where do we go from here? Is there such a thing as realization, redemption and forgiveness? What lessons can be learned and shared from this which can promote truth and reconciliation?

  2. I expected George Elliot Clarke to apologize, perhaps not as fast as he did but these days you can’t use logic to counter feelings. I think this twitter response to his apology says it all. “It took a public outcry to flip 180. What does that tell us? It tells me that this so-called ally isn’t really one after all.”

    Too bad, I had hoped it would at least spark a discussion in the media about the issues around this. I guess that is too much to expect. The media doesn’t even attempt to challenge these “deplatforming” views.

  3. Without question: design streets and highways to be safer. But why include the implication that our present less-than-ideal roadways somehow reduce our responsibility for failures to navigate behind the wheel with all necessary caution? We’re licensed to drive when we can demonstrate ability to operate safely on the roads we have today. With all due recognition of the argument for leniency in the Humboldt case, we have power over life and death when we drive and complacency is all too easily a self-invited passenger.

    1. With respect, Ian, may I suggest you actually read the piece?

      Many, many actors set the table for the Humboldt crash: the driver, yes, a complete novice who never should have been allowed behind the wheel of the most complicated trucking rig allowed on our highways; but also the owner of the trucking company that put him behind the wheel; the politicians and bureaucrats who allowed Saskatchewan to operate with absolutely no truck driver training requirements; and the officials who left a wretchedly designed intersection unchanged even after a previous collision caused multiple fatalities.

      The driver of the truck did everything we ask a remorseful defendant to do: cooperated completely with police at the scene and in the weeks following the crash; plead guilty at the first opportunity, sparing family members the ordeal of a trial (where he could well have been acquitted, because the evidence against him was so weak); accepted full responsibility and made a heartfelt apology to families at the sentencing hearing; even refused to allow his lawyer to make any recommendation on sentencing.

      The sentencing hearing heard 90 highly emotional and prejudicial submissions — 90! — from understandably angry and upset family members. A judge who acted as a prosecutor in judicial robes then gave Me.Sidhu the longest sentence for dangerous driving causing death in Canadian history. Much longer then defendants who were shit-faced, caused multiple fatalities, denied guilt, accepted no responsibility, voice no remorse, and fought the charges as far as they could.

      Maybe don’t let consuming hatred of drivers blind you to the gross injustice in this case–an unjustice that just happens to have been inflicted on a brown-skinned scapegoat, a working stiff trying hard to make a life for his young family in their new country.

      Even without these facts, it’s outrageous that self-professed safety advocates scorn highway design improvements that would safe lives and prevent injuries. Only solutions that demonize drivers are acceptable, apparently.

  4. More posturing from Zurawski. I assume he was listening carefully to CAO Dube who explained why rushing out to buy electric buses made no sense. During capital budget discussions Dube explained that the electrical infrastructure required to charge buses is quite complex and not easily put in place in a short time. I am aware of internal HRM documents/correspondence that discuss the need to acquire land to enable construction of a new and larger bus garage and maintenance facility; one site was mentioned as being available for purchase withe the owner keen to sell and to date no purchase has been made.
    If Zurawski is really committed to dealing with climate change why is he so keen to fly off to Europe to join 25,000 other frequent flyers on an expensive shindig that accomplishes nothing.