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Twenty-six new people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, bringing the total to 262. Six people are hospitalized; 53 people have fully recovered. See the Examiner’s graphic representations of the spread of the disease in Nova Scotia, and the response to it, here.

I asked Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, if any of the 56 positive cases of COVID-19 announced over the weekend were in nursing homes or were connected to the funeral in Westville or the hockey tournament mentioned last week as possible centres of community spread. Strang answered:

As you can appreciate with 55 new cases over the weekend, Public Health is working very hard to investigate all of those. Many of them are still under investigation. I have not been made aware of any specific case linked to that funeral that we talked about earlier — there may be, but none have come to my attention.

We certainly do have more health care workers both in home care and in long-term care facilities that have been identified as part of these new cases. I don’t have any specific details on any individual cases. What I want people to understand is that local Public Health investigates all these cases when it involves either a home care agency or a long-term health facility, they work very closely — there is now, I’ll call it a table, that is set up and brings together representatives from the continuing care sector with folks from the health authority as well as from [the Department of] Health and Wellness who are leads in continuing care. That group works very closely with Public Health to manage.

So Public Health does the management of case and contact, works very closely through that continuing care table to manage all the other issue around staffing, etc., giving advice to the whole continuing care sector. I don’t get the details of every single case, but I make sure that I have oversight, I make sure that I’m comfortable with all the measures that are in place and the right people are working together to make sure the right things happen.

Policing

Premier Stephen McNeil at the daily COVID-19 briefing, Sunday, April 5, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia.

Halifax police have said they ticked “dozens” of people over the weekend for violating the restrictive measures ordered through the State of Emergency. Fines can be as high as $1,000.

CBC reporter Shaina Luck had this exchange with Premier Stephen McNeil about that policing:

Luck: Premier, we’re hearing from Halifax police that they have issued dozens of tickets this weekend. We know they have wide power to ticket, even arrest people. So I’m wondering what commitment will you make to ensure this doesn’t disproportionately affect people who are Black, Indigenous, homeless, mentally ill, new immigrants, otherwise marginalized — I’m just wondering what commitment you can make there.

McNeil: Well, the virus doesn’t discriminate. The virus is after all of us. Frankly, we have to assume that all of us are carrying the virus. Regardless of which community you come from, how long you’ve been here is irrelevant. The reality is each of us has to stay home, and law enforcement has a responsibility for those who choose not to to enforce the law. And we expect them to enforce the law regardless of who it is who is on the streets ignoring the public health order.

McNeil not only didn’t answer the question, which is will he stop the cops from unfairly targeting marginalized people, he turned it around 180 degrees to in effect give police carte blanche to discriminate wilfully.

Let’s remember, first of all, that McNeil comes from a policing family. His mother was a cop, and he has at least a half-dozen relatives who are or were Halifax police. So the premier is intimately connected to policing.

And that same Halifax police department has a long history of racism, documented over and over and over again, but most recently by the Wortley Report, which found that Halifax police discriminate against Black people through the use of police stops. And indeed, Police Chief Dan Kinsella has affirmed the reality of that discrimination by apologizing for it.

As well, just three months ago, a Halifax cop was sentenced to three months in jail for assaulting a homeless man. And just yesterday, Halifax police were accused of unfairly arresting a Black man who was characterized as the victim of a crime. This is not ancient history.

So Luck’s question was not only relevant, but to the point: given the wide latitude of power given to police in this emergency, how can we be assured that the Halifax police won’t continue that long history of abusing their power by targeting the marginalized?

But it’s not just the abusive history of police that is at play here. It’s also the implementation of the State of Emergency. The restrictions very much have a class overlay that reflects our society’s class divides.

The restrictions seemed designed to accommodate the middle class. Stay in your house, or in your yard, and it’s OK to exercise by walking in your neighbourhood. Here, “exercise” means something on the cardio workout spectrum that replaces riding the stationary bike or doing pilates at the gym. You know, like what good middle class people do.

I say this as a middle class dude with no kids who walks every day after publishing these daily updates precisely because I can’t get to the gym.

Exercise is good. If we’re going to survive these months of social isolation and being mostly homebound, we’re going to need breaks to get sun and to get the heart beating a bit. It’s good for our mental health, which can and will break easily in these stressful times, and it’s good for our physical health, which we need now especially should we contract the virus.

On my daily walks, I pass a lot of people that look like me. That’s old people with grey hair and middle class sensibilities. We give each other wide berths, plenty of room to maintain that two metres (usually considerably more), and we wave, smile, and say hello to each other. We are good citizens.

But what if you don’t have a middle class sensibility? What if you live in an apartment, so have no backyard, and you have kids? Children by and large don’t walk for exercise — they bounce a ball or shoot hoops.

My Twitter feed is filled with indignation that, for example, a mother takes her child to play in the local schoolyard. No one is arguing that people shouldn’t socially distance, or that it’s OK to gather in non-family groups, but if you don’t have a backyard and you want to give your child some sun and a bit of exercise, to the local schoolyard it is. Or the teenager who needs a fricking break from their mother already so goes to the school solo and shoots some hoops. The mother and child are alone together. The teenager is alone. No one is driving anywhere. Social distancing isn’t an issue. But because young people want to play rather than exercise outdoors, they — and their parents — are considered bad citizens.

And the homeless have their own challenges:

To repeat: it does no good to tell people who are living homeless to stay at home, practice good hygiene, and ‘reach out’ when living without internet and a phone. #housing is #health. #homelessness #covid19ns #covid19Canada

— Adsum for Women & Children (@adsumforwomen) April 5, 2020

As I’ve written before, in the interest of not just human decency but also of public health, we should be placing homeless people in hotel rooms. Instead, I’m told that as many as 50 people are still found together in some shelters overnight. I imagine some of them are fleeing that danger, to be out on the streets, where they may be arrested.

It’s always the case that everything is seen through a social lens. But it’s at precisely times of crisis when we have to rein in our worst instincts. And for many people, the first instinct is to militarize the situation, by calling the cops on people perceived as bad citizens.

Through previous press conferences both McNeil and Strang have told people not to call the police on their neighbours. “Be kind,” they said. “Offer to help,” they said. But apparently the level of fear is now so high, that that good advice is chucked right out the window. Now it’s: we’re going to arrest you.

McNeil blew an opportunity here. He could have acknowledged the social and class stratification of our society, and acknowledged that people come from different realities and have different needs.

The proper answer would have been: “We have a public health emergency, and we need people to socially distance and practice the other health measures Dr. Strang advises, like washing hands and avoiding public spaces. So that’s primary. There are people out there who will flagrantly violate rules just because they have no respect for society, but as we’ve seen, the vast majority of people are doing the best they can, and those who for whatever reason can’t, aren’t doing it out of spite but because of their life circumstances. I know that some people face more challenges than others, so our response, and the police response, should first be, ‘How can we help? What do you need?’ So my message to police is: ‘Don’t just arrest people. First, work with them, have patience. We have too long of a history of abusive policing in Nova Scotia, so let’s use this crisis as an opportunity to move past that ugly history and establish a new relationship with people we’ve too long abandoned.’”

Alas, that didn’t happen.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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6 Comments

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  1. Perhaps a kinder, gentler society will prevail when we are on the other side of this pandemic. We can hope that assumptions based on perspective can be explored to greater depths. We have a long way to go in that arena especially with policing.

  2. Thank you for seeing the forest and not just the trees! The most vulnerable in this epidemic are those who are homeless, those who have no or a low source of income, elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. In addition, there are a large number of people from all walks of life living in apartments and condos without access to outdoor space. The cost of rent in Halifax is astronomical – many places are beyond the scope of a middle class income. Common areas in buildings are closed and the only green space is the grossly dirty patch between the road and the sidewalk (which dogs do their business on – some owners do not pick up and many unthinking people spit on). In essence – they haven’t a safe space to get outside with kids, pets or just for themselves. In that same daily announcement Dr Strang also mentioned not to be buying-selling online to avoid the spread of the virus through touching objects that were once in another person’s home. All I could think about were the people who lost their income and are waiting for support (or even the micro-businesses like mom/pop operations without employees who have no governmental support). Thank you for keeping a clearer perspective in reporting!

    1. Maybe a slip of the tongue from Stephen MacNeil on April 5 or maybe a Freudian slip. Replying to Shaina Luck, MacNeil said:” law enforcement has a responsibility for those who choose not to ‘enforce’ the law.” Did he mean to say obey the law? Or was he implying that citizens should rebuke those who do not observe appropriate distance or even inform on others? Is he asking Nova Scotians to apply peer pressure to slackers, to shame them even?

      You draw inferences, whether fairly or not, from the fact that MacNeil has police members within his immediate family. I suspect what counts more in explaining Stephen MacNeil is that he comes from the rural mainland and channels its values–good and bad.

      Your comments on apartment dwellers suggests that they are somewhat deprived since they have less access to open space that people living in detached homes. May be true for people who crave exposure to nature–I am not one of those. Here you may be reflecting a traditional Nova Scotia sentiment that apartment dwellers are somehow less established and routed in society than people who own their own detached homes. Have you in this way subconsciously imbibed a kind of NS classism which should totally conflict with your usual battles against classism? And perhaps be inconsistent with your strong concerns re climate change, which would seem to require more of us to live in more dense communities, e. g. apartments.

  3. Great article again. Great reminder that we should all, above all else, remember to be compassionate towards each other. Thanks ???? Tim.