News

1. Sam Austin blames volunteers for crisis shelter assault

A Halifax Mutual Aid shelter in Starr Park in Dartmouth on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Photo: Zane Woodford

Last Saturday morning, members of the anonymous volunteer group Mutual Aid Halifax erected a crisis shelter in Starr Park in Dartmouth. On Monday, Halifax Regional Police say, someone living in the shelter assaulted a local resident who had knocked on the shelter. In a post published on his website yesterday, Coun. Sam Austin blamed Mutual Aid for the assault.

As Zane Woodford reports, Austin called the placement of the shelter a “dangerous situation that Mutual Aid actively created,” said the group acted “with no regard for anyone else,” and reiterated that “what Mutual Aid is doing is dangerous.”

Austin spent much of the rest of the day defending this position on Twitter to people who took strong exception to it. For instance, Dartmouth resident Clark Richards (disclosure: a friend) asked Austin whose fault it would be “if an unhoused person pitched a tent, an irate neighbor came knocking, and violence resulted.” Austin replied: “The individuals would never have been put together in the first place. This spot wasn’t in use as an encampment site. Incident illustrate issues with unsupported and unplanned encampments.”

In his story, Woodford quotes Austin at greater length, along with the response from Halifax Mutual Aid, who wrote that the person who was assaulted “has threatened volunteers and shelter occupants… He told volunteers that “someone is going to jail – and I don’t care if it’s me.” We present these details not because the violence was justified, but because Halifax City Council is once again pushing false and misleading narratives…

Soon after the first of the Mutual Aid Halifax shelters went up, some councillors, including deputy mayor Pam Lovelace, seem to have cast the volunteer group as “the other side” of the issue. On the one side, council trying to do something for unhoused people, unable to figure out why Mutual Aid won’t meet with them. On the other, these difficult, anonymous volunteers.

On August 19, 2021, the day after police evicted people from Halifax parks and oversaw the removal of crisis shelters and pepper sprayed protesters, Lovelace tweeted:

I will continue to ask to meet with @MutualAidHfx until they agree to have a conversation with me… We need to work together.

On August 27, 2021, after the group had apparently not taken her up on her offer, she implied they were in it for the money, tweeting:

You don’t want to sit down and work together @MutualAidHfx. That’s unfortunate but I get it. The animosity generated works better for your fundraising goals tho it doesn’t provide supportive housing.

The crisis shelters are very visible, but I can’t see how casting this as councillors trying to find solutions vs Mutual Aid Halifax makes any sense.

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2. Racism, poverty, and threats at school among most urgent issues facing Nova Scotia children and youth

Photo: Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

A new report looks at the well-being of children and youth in Nova Scotia, taking the seemingly radical step of actually asking them about the issues that affect their lives, Yvette d’Entremont reports:

The ‘One Chance to be a Child’ report was released Tuesday. Described as the first “comprehensive snapshot” of child and youth well-being in the province, the data profile report was led by Dalhousie University’s Department of Pediatrics and the Healthy Populations Institute with a diverse multidisciplinary group of child and youth service providers, academics, and community leaders from across the province.

The report’s authors assessed available data and also spoke directly to children and youth across Nova Scotia.

“This is not about what children can do or what parents can do. It’s what society overall can do to make life better for children and youth,” report co-author and Healthy Populations Institute director Sara Kirk said in an interview Tuesday.

“Children’s voices are very underrepresented in our province. We don’t actually talk to children and youth about their experiences.”

The report looks at everything from the percentage of students who feel threatened at school, to dating violence, food insecurity, racism and poverty — a subject on which Kirk is refreshingly direct:

“We’ve got to think about what is it like for a child to be growing up without the resources that other children have and how does that impact their future? We know that it does, so let’s stop talking about this problem that has been talked about federally and provincially for decades,” Kirk said.

“Let’s actually act to address this issue and do it in the way that we know would actually work. You know what causes poverty? Lack of resources. What solves poverty? Providing resources. Let’s stop beating around the bush.”

Click here to read the full article. 

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3. All the Examiner’s reporting on the mass murders, in one place

A memorial at the Portapique church hall. Photo: Joan Baxter.

We’ve collected all of the Halifax Examiner’s reporting on the murders of April 18 and 19, 2020 and subsequent follow-ups in one place. You can find them all here.

I started counting how many stories there are, but I gave up. The list is in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent article, published just two days ago.

Bousquet writes:

The Halifax Examiner was on the story immediately. Our entire team told the stories of the victims, the background events, the mishaps and mistakes. We’ve been on the story ever since. The Examiner has spent tens of thousands of dollars as part of a coalition of media outlets that has gone to court to get sealed search warrant documents related to the murders released. And we’re now reporting on the public inquiry into the murders and the trove of new documents that are being released.

As an easy reference, all of our reporting is collected below, and will be added to as new articles are published.

We hope you find this reporting valuable — so valuable that you will support it with your subscription to the Examiner. It’s subscribers who make this work possible.

Subscribe here. You’ll even get a small tax break with your subscription.

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4. Former courthouse considered for new CBRM library

View from the former Cape Breton County Courthouse. Photo: Mary Campbell / Cape Breton Spectator

At the Cape Breton Spectator, Mary Campbell reports on the latest in the very long-running saga of a new central library for CBRM.

Libraries have very particular needs, and not every building is suitable ⁠— but sometimes there can be surprises. I’ll admit to having been skeptical when Halifax Public Libraries considered moving the Woodlawn branch into a former multiplex theatre, but it turned out great. Turns out an old theatre actually works quite well for a library. (I have not been to the Woodlawn branch in a long time. I should go back.)

Campbell writes that the old Cape Breton County Courthouse is now being considered, after other options ⁠— including renovating the existing McConnell library and building a new structure altogether ⁠— have been dismissed. She writes:

I have to say, I feel more hopeful about our prospects for a new library than I have in at least three years.

I really like the idea of bookending our downtown with creatively repurposed buildings — the convent at one end and the courthouse at the other. I like that (provided the boardwalk is restored in front of the Marconi) you could walk from one to the other via the boardwalk (taking the tunnel from the boardwalk into the park). I like that the courthouse, even were it expanded, would still be surrounded by open space (so different from the Marconi Campus which looks like 10 pounds of potatoes shoved into a five-pound bag). And I like that having the central library there would undoubtedly mean more people using Wentworth Park.

In fact, I walked through the park yesterday and, following the example of two people who’d told me they’d done the same thing this week, I climbed the steps at the courthouse and took in the view. It was so easy to picture people sitting there reading that I wondered why the courthouse had never occurred to me as a potential library location — and I felt grateful it had occurred to someone.

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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Views

Social media and the town square metaphor

Elon Musk. Photo: The Royal Society, under Creative Commons licence.

As you may have heard, Elon Musk purchased Twitter earlier this week, for US $44 billion. Musk has said one of his motivations is to make the platform friendlier to his vision of free speech.

All this got me thinking about an episode of the CBC Radio show Spark that aired back  on March 4, 2022. In a particularly insightful segment, host Nora Young interviews Georgia Tech professor Amy S. Bruckman, author of the book Should You Believe Wikipedia?

Bruckman is a moderator of Reddit’s r/science,  and she has thought a lot about the design of online spaces and behaviour. She rejects the notion that social media platforms like Twitter represent a town square. Instead, she tells Young, they are more like a restaurant or other social space:

Let’s say that you go into one restaurant, and there are wooden tables and sawdust on the floor, and the hockey game on the TV. Compare that to another restaurant, where there are linens, tablecloths and servers in formal wear and low lighting. You implicitly know how to behave in each of those settings, and without being told, you know, that it’s OK to jump up on your feet and yell when someone gets a goal in the pub and not in the elegant restaurant. You can think about how you learn how to behave in those two different settings. Well, online groups are the same. You use social cues. You use the presence of other people in the environment. You use how other people are dressed, how they’re presented. All those things translate into the online world. And as designers of online sites, we pick features and use them to try and create a mood.

Bruckman says she belongs to a Facebook group of high school classmates. They all use their real names, they know each other, and their posts don’t get deleted. So, in a sense, they are accountable to each other. Bruckman says:

At the absolute other extreme, compare that to, say, 4chan, where everyone’s anonymous posts disappear in minutes and most of the content is obscene or offensive in some fashion. And in fact, if your content is not obscene or offensive, you might be shunned for being socially inappropriate. And the design features of those environments lead to two very different outcomes in the human behaviour that people engage in.

Other platforms, other groups, have other rules. These platforms are privately owned, so even though many of us congregate there, Bruckman tells Young they are more like a private party than a town square:

I think one thing that people are confused about is the fact that commercial platforms are more like a private party than a public square. So you can’t restrict what people say in the public square, but you can tell people they may or may not come to your party. Platforms like Twitter or Facebook or Reddit can make decisions about who is allowed at their party. But there are serious questions here for free speech. Are there places where everyone can speak? Is there some speech that shouldn’t be allowed? It’s interesting to note that hate speech in particular is illegal in Canada, but legal in the United States.

There is research showing the worst actors on any platform constitute maybe one or two percent of users. Wharton University management professor Ethan Mollick suggests that banning them, while only temporarily banning others who violate terms (and explaining the bans) can significantly improve online spaces. Most people who post offensive content, he said on Twitter, are “having a bad day” and telling them what they’ve done wrong while deleting their offensive posts tends to work better than just banning them.

On Spark, Bruckman says she used to give her students an assignment that underlined the effect of having a basic set of rules or expectations:

I used to assign my students to look at two different Usenet groups: alt.feminism and soc.feminism. Now, alt.feminism was an open group… where you could say anything you want. Soc.feminism had a statement of feminist values and was moderated. And anything you post had to start from feminist values. So, if you want to have a serious conversation about the implications of feminist ideas, or different interpretations of feminist ideas, you would be much better off in the echo chamber of soc.feminism, because you’re not continually fighting for the basic assumptions. Alt.feminism became a flame-fest filled with misogynist hate and soc.feminism was a civilized discussion forum where people talked about feminist theory.

One of my takeaways from this is that (surprise, surprise) things that sound simple (“free speech!”) are in reality far more complicated, and that, as always, design is a critical element.

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Noticed

No, they are not.

I have lost track of the number of times friends have posted the above image on Facebook. I have pretty much given up arguing with people on the internet. Sometimes I want to bite when someone is goading me on Twitter, and I tap out a couple of responses, delete them, and then carry on. On Facebook, my usual strategy is ignore/hide/unfriend and, if necessary, block. I’ve spent far too much time pointing out things that are simply not accurate, only to find nobody particularly cares.

The image above is the one that tests my commitment to not arguing or correcting, and I’m not sure why.

I saw it again, a couple of days. It has been posted over and over and over again, for months, by people I know or am social media friends with. Most of these people would style themselves as liberal progressives, I think. Maybe some with a shot of contrarian as well.

A Facebook post of this meme garnered this comment a couple of days ago:

Like millions of Americans and nearly all in my baby boomer generation, I’ve read all these books, most of them several times. It would be a nightmare for books like these to be banned by ignorant and fearful and cynical people.

Elsewhere, commenting about the irony of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451 being on the list is common — a sentiment repeated several times when the image was shared to the Reddit forum r/memes seven months ago.

One poor soul after my own heart commented with this:

…This is not a list of recent banned books. It’s famous books that were banned by various school districts over many decades.

They seemed to then be ignored.

Why does this thing have so much traction? I think it’s because it confirms what many people feel: that censorship is out of control, cancel culture has gone too far, the left has lost its way, and so on. The fact that I keep seeing this shared by people who seem themselves as progressives I think points to some sense of the things having gone too far.

I don’t know if any books actually get banned in the U.S. They can be removed from libraries, taken off curricula, made harder to find by search algorithms. But banned? Although there is a Banned Books Week, its focus is on books that have been somehow censored or challenged. For instance, the “banned” Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, is readily available through the country’s largest book retailer, where it is listed as a “teacher’s pick.”

Are books being challenged and removed from libraries? Sure. Here is the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books in 2021:

  1. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images
  2. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
  3. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
  4. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, violence, and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda
  6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references and use of a derogatory term
  7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and degrading to women
  8. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison Reasons: Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit
  9. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson Reasons: Banned, challenged, relocated, and restricted for providing sexual education and LGBTQIA+ content.
  10. Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

I’m kind of getting the sense here that it’s not wokeness gone wild that is behind books being removed from libraries.

How about the year before? We do get three actual 20th-century classic in this list, but the majority of complaints still focus on books dealing with LGBTQIA+ content and racism.

  1. George by Alex Gino Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
  2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
  4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
  6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
  8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
  9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
  10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message
Banned and challenged book display at MSVU. Photo: El Jones.

The first time I saw The Hate U Give on one of these lists for promoting “an anti-police message” I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. Great book, about a Black teenager whose friend is shot and killed by police during a traffic stop. In the last five years, 400 unarmed motorists and passengers been killed by police during traffic stops for minor violations.

I’ll spare you the complete lists from previous years, but there’s a lot more of the same nature. The Kite Runner is challenged because it could “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.” Raina Telgemeir’s middle-grade graphic novel Drama makes the list more than once, because it is “sexually explicit” (two of the characters are gay; the book is most definitely not sexually explicit). The Catcher in the Rye appears on the list in 2001, 2005, and 2009 (“offensive language,” “sexual content”). The Harry Potter series has put in three appearances in the last 20 years, none related to the author’s repugnant views on trans people, but rather for the books supposedly promoting satanism and the occult.

What about Canada? Unlike the American Library Association, the Canadian Federation of Library Associations does not compile a top 10 list. Instead, it asks libraries to log all challenges through a survey tool.

In an article in the 2020 Canadian Freedom to Read week official publication, Todd Kyle summarizes challenges to books during the preceding year. (As far as I can see, there is no 2021 report on the website.)

Kyle writes:

While many challenges reflected relatively conservative views and conveyed objections to sexual or violent content, an increasing number of challenges seemed to come from a desire for equity, diversity and inclusion. Content viewed as racist, hateful or insufficiently sympathetic toward a marginalized group—and, in particular, content viewed as perpetuating stereotypes of Indigenous peoples—was the subject of roughly 12 challenges.

Wokeness gone wild again. The “increasing number” takes us all the way up to, er, 12.

For 2018–19, libraries reported a total of 96 challenges to 69 titles, services and policies. Unlike challenges in 2017, challenges in 2018–19 were largely made through informal complaints to staff or formal request-for-reconsideration submissions.

In most cases, libraries leave challenged materials in their collections. Sometimes they restrict access, or make it harder for kids to borrow certain books — for instance, by putting them on a shelf right next to a reference desk.

Is there a wave of books coming off school library shelves in the U.S. right now? Sure seems like it. Are the books the right-leaning people are so upset about and wanting to have removed the titles in the photo at the top of this piece? I don’t think so.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Thursday

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — virtual meeting

Regional Centre Community Council (Thursday, 6pm) — virtual meeting

Province

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — 2022 Report of the Auditor General – Follow-up of 2017, 2018 and 2019 Performance Audit Recommendations; 2022 Atlantic Provinces’ Joint Follow-up of Recommendations to the Atlantic Lottery Corporation; with Kim Adair, Office of the Auditor General


On campus

Dalhousie

PhD thesis defence, Mathematics and Statistics (Wednesday, 10am, online) — Ethan M Lawler will defend “Fast and Effective Statistical Inference for Spatio-Temporal Data, With Applications in Marine Ecology”

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Housing Strategy: Partnership, Vision, Solutions (Wednesday, 4pm, online) — presentation and discussion with Michael McKay and Shelagh McCartney, developers of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Housing Strategy and many of its supporting projects. From the listing:

Together, McKay and McCartney will speak about the systems that have led to on-reserve housing conditions in Canada, housing as central to community health and the innovative research being undertaken to support the development of the NAN Housing Strategy.

They will ground this work through discussions of how their partnership was built and why they feel it is successful, their vision for Indigenous housing, and share advice on how others can support this resurgence.

A welcome presentation by Elder Albert Marshall and Professor Emeritus Richard Kroeker will precede the presentation and a question and answer period with audience participation will follow.

Saint Mary’s

ReThinking Gender: Creating trans inclusive spaces and practices (Wednesday, 1pm) — online event; from the listing:

Nolan Pike, transgender consultant, educator and founder of Equity Educate, will explore key concepts around gender identity, look at common misconceptions that create barriers to trans equity and provide concrete examples of how to make our spaces and practices inclusive.

A question-and-answer period will follow.


In the harbour

Halifax
10:30am: Claxton Bay, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from IJmuiden, Netherlands
11:30: NOCC Atlantic, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
18:00: John J. Carrick, barge, arrives at McAsphalt from sea
22:30: NOCC Atlantic sails for sea

Cape Breton
13:00: Glovertown Spirit, barge, arrives at Sydport from sea
16:30: CSL Tarantau, bulker, arrives at Coal Pier (Sydney) from Puerto Nuevo, Colombia


Correction

On April 21, Zane Woodford reported on tenants being evicted from the rundown Bluenose Inn and Suites motel in Bedford. Woodford wrote:

In the notice letter, management blamed the “septic system” (in an area with municipal water and sewer) and water pressure issues.

The next day, in the Morning File, I took this a step farther and wrote:

Woodford notes that because the property is on city water and sewer, there is no septic system.

Yesterday, property owner John Ghosn contacted the Examiner to say that the Bluenose Inn and Suites does in fact have a septic system. He writes:

The municipal services were installed on the street probably 15 to 20 years ago. Our motel was built long before that happened and neither we nor the previous owner chose to connect them, although we have in the past seriously considered doing so and even had sewer and water plans drawn up for tendering.

The Examiner regrets the error.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Not a judgement but an observation. Our parks have now become either current or potential sites for homeless encampments. It is not supportable for Halifax Mutual Aid to simply start dropping their shacks anywhere there is a public park. That will not help anybody and only continue to polarize the discussion on homelessness. The city really does need to start pushing back on the province for assistance to deal with this.

    1. In which libraries are these books banned? I work for public libraries in Nova Scotia and have personally processed almost every book on this list (and had the pleasure of reading some of them). Most of these books were cheerfully promoted in at least one Nova Scotia Library.

      The only book I’ve ever heard being challenged (and said challenge was discussed among colleagues) was Irreversible Damage. The Examiner did fantastic reporting on that. Honestly, living in the library world I found the push to censor the book rather frightening.

      After that incident I started researching background on issues like these. A side note I know, but one of the things I ran into was extremely strong hatred of J.K. Rowling. (Who was very beloved prior) When I looked up the original quote of the Twitter post that started it all, I was shocked to read something that… wasn’t remotely offensive. I’ve continued researching her page, but I’ve yet to see anything derogatory on there. Am I looking in the wrong place? Could someone please provide a quote with link?

  2. Seems pretty simple. Protect those who “pay” taxes. Vilify those who don’t.

    Humanity be damned.

  3. My problem with big social media – whether that’s 4chan, reddit or twitter is that these platforms are effectively video games where you get points (informally on 4chan, but formally elsewhere) for participating in a manner that pleases the echo chamber. This is a powerful propaganda tool. In the Korean war, Americans ended up getting put into both North Korean and Chinese prison camps. The Koreans used heavy-handed brutality to maintain discipline, and had lots of trouble because of the high level of solidarity of the prisoners. The Chinese used a different technique, giving the POWs rewards for writing mildly pro-Communist or anti-American/Capitalist statements. They got much better results, and managed to make the American POWs almost police themselves.

    A fascinating paper on the subject is available here:
    https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/83028/14769178.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y