1. Deaths in Custody, Again.

This week brought another death in custody in Nova Scotia.

…Paul Dauphinee Jr. was found in unresponsive in his cell at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth on Nov. 2. Dauphinee Sr. and family members made the heartbreaking decision to remove life support on Nov. 5, and Dauphinee Jr. died early on Nov. 7.

“He was in a unit that is supposed to be watched 24-7 because it’s a mental health unit, because he had mental health problems. So how is this happening?” Paul Dauphinee Sr. said Wednesday in an interview.

He said he’s been told very little about how his son died.

Dauphinee Jr. had a history of drug addiction and had been incarcerated previously on drug charges.

He left behind a 9-year-old son.

“We don’t even know what happened because it’s still under investigation,” Dauphinee Sr. said, adding all he knows is his son was in a cell by himself and was found on the floor.

Image of Paul Dauphinee Jr. from
Image of Paul Dauphinee Jr. from

There is no mandatory public inquest in Nova Scotia for deaths in custody. According to this article from March, there were six deaths in custody in Nova Scotia since the last public inquiry in 2010. With the death of Paul Dauphinee Jr. and the death in June of a man in the police cells, that means eight deaths in six years. There have been at least 12 deaths since 2004 in institutions in New Brunswick.

In this article from August, 2015 “raising the alarm” on the number of deaths in federal custody in Nova Scotia, Howard Sapers, the Federal Correctional Investigator, identified “disturbing trends” in the province:

“This could be that this a terrible series of coincidences. It could be this is an anomaly. It could also be telling us about some other issues,” he said.

“It could be reflected of staffing issues, it could be reflected of training issues, it could be reflected of the characteristics of the offenders who are coming into an institution or a combination of all of those things.”

Sapers says when his office does investigate, they often find “troubling” patterns when it comes to access to health care, psychological assessments, quality of first-aid response and compliance around restraint.

“It heightens our concern about the ability of Correctional Service Canada to learn from previous mistakes,” he said.

Image of Camille Strickland-Murphy and Veronica Park from
Image of Camille Strickland-Murphy and Veronica Park from

Sapers is speaking about the federal system here, not provincial jails like Burnside (Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility), but the issues he identifies are present in both systems, and perhaps even more acutely in provincial jails which are more overcrowded, where short-term sentences mean people are moving back and forth between the streets (leading to potentially more drugs in the facility,) and where addictions counselling, psychiatric treatment, or other programming is far less available or accessible.

While there’s no quick answer as to why more inmates are dying in care, Sapers said his office is seeing an increase in the number of mentally ill patients being sent to custody.

“They are disproportionately involved in self-injury incidents,” he said.

Sapers also notes some deaths are natural. Many inmates have chronic diseases and the inmate population, as a whole, is aging. Contraband also plays a role in some deaths, he said.

“The CSC has to figure out strategies to deal with all of that. They do have a duty of care,” he said.

In the past, the office of the Correctional Investigator has made recommendations on enhanced training and a prohibition on segregation for people with a history of self-harm.

They’ve also recommended correctional facilities should be retrofitted to eliminate what are known as “suspension points” — parts of an inmate’s cell where a ligature could be hung.

“Those recommendations have not yet been adopted,” Sapers said.


When the media covers Black Lives Matters protests or police shooting deaths in the United States, the common refrain is that we don’t have these issues here. But the focus on brutality only in police shootings ignores other forms of state violence like incarceration. At least two African Nova Scotians have died in custody in two years, and yet we will continue to believe that disregard for Black lives is something that happens somewhere else.

Were there eight police shootings in six years, I imagine we would clearly see that as an epidemic, but accelerating numbers of deaths in custody are seen as normal: just the consequence of being an addict, or mentally ill, or a criminal.

If someone went around on the streets killing mentally ill people, I also imagine there would be an outcry, but when deaths in prison are almost entirely people suffering from mental illness, that’s seen as some kind of acceptable outcome. The attitude seems to be that “they did it to themselves.”

People in jail, however, report conditions ranging from lack of any access to counselling or drug treatment programs, high stress and violence in their living conditions, being cut off medication, being placed into cells with the lights on all night when they report feelings of suicide or self-harm — all conditions which exacerbate existing mental health problems or addiction issues. If we place people in environments where it is impossible for them to cope, it is the final indignity to blame them for their own deaths.

Image from
Image from

There is only one reference to mental health care for incarcerated people in the province’s progress report on their mental illness strategy from January. The five-year strategy was released in May, 2012, and yet four years later there is no check mark to indicate that work has even begun on “mental health, addictions care for incarcerated adults.” Multiple deaths in custody during that time should show the obvious need for immediate and emergency action, yet not only is there no interest in an inquiry to find out why these deaths are happening and how to prevent them, the families can’t even access information or reports to know how their loved ones died.

When I wrote about this before, I quoted Sherene Razack on the ways that Indigenous bodies are seen as “vulnerable” due to alcohol abuse, and so a death in custody is seen as inevitable. That same thinking, that if people overdose or commit suicide or are found unresponsive in their cells then it’s really nobody’s fault and nothing can be done, is applied to jail deaths in general.

The lack of any requirement for a public inquest suggests these deaths aren’t out of the ordinary, or particularly meaningful or tragic. This despite the recent revelation in the death of Matthew Hines that a death reported as resulting from a seizure was in fact due to brutality by the guards:

Image of Matthew Hines from
Image of Matthew Hines from

For the last 13 months, Hines’s family in Cape Breton believed what they say they were told by Correctional Service Canada (CSC) — that Hines, who had a history of seizures, had died from a seizure.

Publicly, the federal corrections agency has said little about the May 27, 2015, death. At the time, the agency issued a press release saying Hines was “found in need of medical attention” and staff “immediately” performed CPR.

The family didn’t know that some of the details in that press release were wrong until late June, when they got a copy of a 49-page internal board of investigation report about Hines’s death.

The report shows that correctional staff were with Hines throughout the incident and prison medical staff did not give him any “treatment.”

The cause of death was likely lack of oxygen after being pepper sprayed five times by guards, according to a post-mortem report. (A coroner’s final report on the cause of death has yet to be released.)

This ought to be clear proof that the accounts by facilities of inmate deaths are not reliable. When Devin Maxwell, the lawyer for Clayton Cromwell’s mother, filed a freedom of information request for the report on Cromwell’s death, it was declined, forcing him to start a legal action. Without any government demand for reports and information, or any institutional accountability or solutions, it should be no surprise these deaths continue.

Image of Clayton Cromwell from
Image of Clayton Cromwell from

The response by MLAs to Dauphinee’s death seems to have exclusively focused on drugs entering the prison and heightened security measures. These measures actually can contribute to addiction and lack of access to care: for example, the response to Clayton Cromwell’s death hasn’t been to give information to his family, to review mental health or addictions treatment and to implement better programs in jails, to review bail policy that leads to overcrowding, to demand more beds in treatment, to inquire into policies in the jail, to alleviate overcrowding and other damaging conditions, or to call for an end to incarcerating people suffering from addictions or mental illness. It hasn’t even been to address PTSD and working conditions for correctional officers. Instead, it has been to strip-search prisoners receiving methadone treatment.

When I heard about the strip-searching policy from people who had experienced it, they reported feelings of shame and feeling dirty. Already stigmatized as drug addicts both inside the jail and on the streets, being strip-searched feels like punishment and is deeply humiliating. Men who are victims of sexual assault or molestation — and men in prison are far more likely than average to have experienced this abuse — are particularly harmed by this practice.

Strip-searching isn’t supposed to just be normalized as a daily occurrence even in custody, and having to submit to a degrading violation to receive treatment makes people feel like they are worthless, makes them unwilling to access medical care, and associates care and treatment with policing.

This policy is more likely to make people decide not to try to get treatment for addiction, and to associate addiction treatment with negative practices that may make them afraid to get any help on the outside as well, as it breaks their trust with medical staff. People are more likely to not deal with their addictions rather than submit to this practice, and that in turn contributes even further to the demand for drugs inside the facility.

Of all the possible solutions and preventative measures that could and should be taken to address deaths in our jails, it’s telling that the only one implemented is about further degrading people in prison and policing their bodies even more, rather than addressing the causes behind addiction, illness, and incarceration. Families are refused even the most basic information, but prisoners will be stripped bare.

Image from
Image from

How many deaths is too many before we recognize that the way we deal with mental illness and addictions kills people? Before we realize that jailing people doesn’t help them, or us, and that prison isn’t a treatment facility? How many people does it take for this to be seen as a problem and as a crisis?

A public inquiry is the very least that should happen, but perhaps for some reason it seems better just to spend money to put suffering people behind bars rather than to spend some money to find out how to keep them alive.

2. Birth of a Nation, Again.

CBC has an article on the 100th anniversary of the No. 2 Construction Battalion as part of their wall-to-wall Remembrance Day coverage.

I want to go back for a moment to a previous discussion in the Examiner. In October, I quoted Greg Marquis’ article about reactions to screenings of D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation in Canada. Marquis argued that the film wasn’t screened in Halifax because it might have affected recruiting efforts for the Construction Battalion going on at the time. There was a subsequent discussion on Ron Foley Macdonald’s blog and on the Examiner about when the film played in Halifax.

In light of reports of the KKK planning a victory parade celebrating Trump’s election, thinking about the history of the KKK in Nova Scotia takes on a new kind of meaning. Reading the article about the No. 2 Construction Battalion and why people signed up to fight, I couldn’t help but also think about what kind of choice Black people really had.

Image from
Image from

Whether or not the film was screened in Halifax in 1916, African Nova Scotians would have been clearly aware of the film’s existence, of the response to other screenings across Canada, and of the threat of it being screened and potentially inciting violence against their community.

We often talk about how despite Black people’s lack of rights back home, they still signed up to fight, but we don’t always think about not just the lack of rights but the actual threat of terror that Black communities experienced during war time. Seeing the anti-German sentiment during the war, particularly after the Explosion, where there were rumours of German saboteurs being responsible, Black people would have been well-aware that violence and hate are easily turned on “others” as well. If Black people weren’t demonstrating their patriotism by not being allowed to serve, it would be very easy to scapegoat them as well. They can’t have forgotten the looting and burning of the Black community in Birchtown either as a chilling historical precedent.

People no doubt served, as Kathy Grant says in the article on the Battalion, out of “a sense of patriotism to the King.” “And also,” as she continues, “it was an opportunity for them to be employed. And they thought that if they were to show themselves as fighting men, that they might be better accepted.” I would add that when the choice is “dig latrines for the army or we might screen a violently racist film accusing you of raping white women in an environment where people are already paranoid and frightened,” serving in the military may well be an act of survival for the entire community.

Image of the Number 2 Construction Battalion from The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Image of the Number 2 Construction Battalion from The Canadian Encyclopedia.

As the KKK resurges in response to Trump, it’s worth thinking about how Black people in Canada as well have always had to negotiate the threat of terror.

On election night, I read a status on Facebook that said something like, “white people, you know that sinking feeling you’re having right now? That’s how Black people feel every time we enter a room filled with white people.” The point they were making is that the accounts after the election of harassment, violence, drive-by insults, and feeling unsafe and threatened are daily life for Black people moving through white society.

African Nova Scotians in World War I were also taking part in a potentially life-saving bargain: we won’t screen this KKK film quite yet as long as you serve us in the war. Thinking about this doesn’t delete their bravery or legacy, it makes it clear the sacrifices Black people have always had to make, up to risking death, just to stay alive in a racist society.


Bonus link: Leon Trotsky’s account of visiting a camp for German prisoners in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1917.

3. Three Views on Trump

Hey. kids! Let’s play a game!

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First up: Donald Trump’s win a “setback” for women, say Nova Scotia advocates.

At Nova Scotia’s Province House, one-third of the MLAs are women, including Lenore Zann.

She spent several years living in the U.S. She said she couldn’t believe voters chose an unqualified, controversial man over a woman with experience.

“I honestly believe that misogyny is alive and well,” she said. “I think women have to work a thousand times harder to get a tiny bit of credit.”

Zann says she thinks this election result sends a discouraging message to young women wanting to enter politics.

Next: American-born, Halifax-based pastor fears for America under Trump:

A Halifax pastor with ties to the U.S. says she’s fearful about what Donald Trump’s presidential victory will mean for race relations in America, especially given Trump was endorsed by the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan during the campaign.

“I fear for my black brothers,” said Pastor Rhonda Britton of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church. “We were already having problems with black men being shot by police and things like that. I don’t know what’s going to happen if they’re driving down the street and somebody wants to take issue with them.”

And then: Nova Scotia fish exporters not intimidated by Trump’s anti-free trade talk:

“He’s not going to tear that up. He’s mostly all talk,” said Dannie Hanson, vice-president of sustainability for Louisbourg Seafoods in Cape Breton. “His bark is worse than his bite.”

“Thirty-five states — their biggest trader is Canada,” he said.

“They’re all in the government there and they’re not just going to let that man destroy us or anybody else.”…

…”I believe people are very scared and over the next number of days or weeks things will settle down and he’s just another president. Yes he’s going to make changes, but you know maybe that’s OK.”…

…”I don’t know how it’s going to affect us, I can’t see it being too drastic of a change,” said Kenny MacKay, the company’s sales manager.

“The seafood industry does ship a lot of fish to the Boston area and New York and all over the place. Those people need that fish. They can’t make it too expensive for us to do it or their economy will hurt too.”

MacKay said people may be judging Trump too harshly, since he hasn’t taken office yet or actually crafted any government policies.

“Everybody’s going on about him, about Trump, but you got to give a guy a chance to see what he does,” said MacKay.

YouTube video


1. Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen influenced and touched many of our local musicians, poets, critics, writers, and teachers. Here are some of their collected thoughts and tributes:

On Wednesday night, Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke gave a lecture at the University of Toronto on Leonard Cohen. Twenty-four hours later, Cohen was dead.

Clarke shared a poem he wrote about Cohen (I believe the Examiner is the first to publish this):

Elegy for Leonard Cohen

(a la maniere d’Allen Ginsberg)

This terrible, irritable dawn–
This morning of Mourning–
His obituary crowbars apart
Prophecy and Nostalgia….

Always native to Heaven,
Minting gleaming melodies,
Freeing a nailed-down Christ,
Obeying the mating-calls

Of mandolins and guitars, he
Never abstained from Liberty,
Never lost the Intelligence
Of Dylan-dark sunglasses

And light making masterpieces
Of shambles, or lighting up
Cages where lovers loll,
Lousy with tears and sighs….

Poet of Everything,
He transcended conclaves
Of critics, the murders
Of poets, all those copycats–

Sordid franchisees of blues–
Every presidency serving up
Immaculate Corruption, the stale,
white bread circulated with grease….

His insatiable suitcase,
Portaging Gog and Magog
(In eastern Quebec), Hydra,
Rue Main, Manhattan, Havana,

Pursued the ghosts of Glory–
Parliaments of movie screens–
Fiestas of butterflies, and secret
Eros, Eros, everywhere….

After auditing the News,
I suffered the insomnia
Of steel nails, heads battered
Until drowsy, woozy in wood.

Eternity expires as eyes close–
Or we succumb to sobbing….
But the honest poet voids
The dirty mind of Grief,

Knows the poet’s grave
Is his deathless poems–
Dark, remorseless Beauty–
Light that scalpels eyes open.

George Elliott Clarke
Parliamentary Poet Laureate

YouTube video

Rich Aucoin reflects on the influence of Cohen’s music on his lyricism:

Leonard Cohen has a special place for me in my musical development. My dad was a big fan of his and the car was only filled with 4 artists growing up of which Cohen was one so driving around and listening to Cohen became synonymous for me.

My ear is tuned to hear melody and timbre before lyrics by default, but Cohen was an artist who broke through that and made me more interested in lyrics and poetry. It helped that his recordings put his voice so un-effected and up front so that the music became almost the film score to which his lyrics were the visuals and the narrative.

This was a huge contrast to other early artists that I listened to like The Beatles, because I would get so caught up in the way their music was produced that it would take dozens of listens before my brain was interested or ready to start paying attention to the lyrics! Not to say the production of Cohen’s music wasn’t beautiful and interesting in its own way but it definitely knew his commanding voice was the thing the melodies and chord progressions and their timbres needed to support.

In regards to the world’s need for poetry and music, I’ve always thought about how there’s more than enough beautiful music already in existence for me to possibly enjoy before I die, but what I and the world need from new music is the poet and musician’s perspective to help articulate how we feel in the present. The world therefore will always need new art for this reason…

Geordie Miller remembers his first encounter with Cohen’s music:

For my part, what Cohen first meant to me was expressed through Jennifer Warnes singing “First We Take Manhattan.” My parents played that cd all the time, at a volume that suggested didactic intentions. I was too young to understand anything beyond the urgency in the words.

Years later when my Mom lent me her dogeared copy of Flowers for Hitler, I began to appreciate how historical understanding or consciousness could come through poetry and song. All of the sudden the “first we take Manhattan” chorus that was burned into my memory became less didactic, and more sinister. And my parents kept playing the damn cd at a volume that wasn’t exactly conducive to reading poetry.

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Erin Wunker shares her memories and lessons from Cohen:

My earliest memory of Leonard Cohen is an aural memory: I was probably ten or eleven and had copied one of my uncle’s cassette tapes. I listened to Cohen sing of anti-fascist resistance, of memory and nostalgia, and of the struggle of reconciling who you are with who you thought you’d be.

My next clear memory of Cohen is a teaching memory. I taught Beautiful Losers in a queer literature course. The students and I struggled then reveled in Cohen’s abject and audacious and ultimately joyful rejection of nation, of sexuality, of gender, and of repressive narratives of history and remembering.

My most recent memory of Cohen is again an auditory one: seeing him, as an old man, performing in Halifax. By this time I’d read all his work. Been buoyed by his refusal to conform, to forget. Seeing him, at 80, kneel before his audience and ask our patience as he slowly and gracefully got to his feet, I felt I was learning something of aging that I’d not seen before. This, too, can be a generous act of artistry, of making.

And so as I reflect I see that these are some of the things Leonard Cohen has taught me: the necessity of being attentive to our fumblings toward intimacy, the responsibility of witnessing the ways history is not written and of pulling those other stories into light, and the vitality and visceral truth that poetry is political, is needed, now more than ever.

Julia Wright remembers first taking Cohen’s books out of the library in high school:

In my high school, we needed special permission in the Grade 13 class on Canadian literature to write on Leonard Cohen and to get it from the library (Margaret Laurence too). So I decided to write on Leonard Cohen, because I liked poetry and because it was banned and because I wanted to see if I could get permission, as a 16-year-old in a class of 18-year-olds–I wanted to see if there was an actual test, or if it was just a stupid hoop meant to intimidate rather than to protect us.

It was a stupid hoop, and I got permission immediately. The library only had Flowers for Hitler and Let Us Compare Mythologies, and they changed the way that I read–especially Flowers. Suddenly poetry wasn’t just a beautiful way to share a thought or tell a story, but also a way of making us uncomfortable–dealing with the horror of what we do to each other and the banality of political discourse, but somehow without ever losing sight of the beauty of art, and sympathy, and compassion. It made poetry political rather than utopian for me–a way of connecting to the world rather than retreating from it.

Reagan had just become President of the United States, and we were still mourning the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

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Vanessa Lent reminds us of the importance of his humour:

To me Leonard Cohen is a Casio keyboard beat. Just the most laughable artifice and then this profound weirdness overtop. Sincere and mocking sincerity at the same time. No matter what he said, how deeply it touched you, there was this eyebrow/finger wave: don’t you take yourself too seriously. Be that asshole but please, please don’t be THAT that asshole.

To me there is nothing more important in the age of bafoonery. I remember reading a super funny story about people fighting over who got to sing “Democracy is coming to the USA” and Michael Stipe wanted to sing it but Don Fucking Henley (of the terrible Eagles) sang it instead.

That was for the Clinton inauguration.

Michael McGuire:

This may be long, but he was maybe my biggest influence and hero. So much so that I have the symbol for his Order of the Unified Hearts tattooed on my wrist…

Leonard Cohen had such an incredible ability to see the romance and mystery in ordinary things and find a way of describing it all that was so beautiful it felt like the purest, deepest truth. Even with his songs, if you strip away the music and the melody, his words read like profound mystical ruminations on life and death, love and hate, the sacred and the profane. 

Suzanne may be his most popular song and, laid bare, it is still the most exquisite poetry. And there are so many others, songs that linger in the soul, full of joy and pain.

His books of poetry and prose were just as resonant – imbued with the spirt of longing, questioning, and searching that seemed to fuel his passion for living. I don’t know of a single poet or songwriter who has come across his work without being in awe of a turn of phrase or some apt metaphor that he has produced.

He was a true artist – a poet and a writer, a singer and a storyteller… he did so many things, and did them so well and for so long, that he is one of those rare figures who seemed to help to hold the world together with his particular brand of magic. He will be missed tremendously, but we have the great privilege of revisiting more than forty years of poems and songs that are so full of life that they will live on forever.

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Erika Kulnys thinks about how Cohen’s words echo in our circumstances today:

Leonard Cohen was a visionary whose ideas transcended his personality and our times. One of his most revered lines, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in” exemplifies his understanding of a non-binary world, where the complex maneuvering of imperfections create the perfection of each moment.

He was a Buddhist and a Jew, and some might argue a Christian. His spirituality was reflected in his work increasingly throughout his life and offered us profound truths in song. He was not a perfect man-some might say he was a womanizer in his youth, but he grew as a person. He came to deeply understand his privilege and to explore our societal pain and offer light through the cracks that song and poetry create.

He was an evolving person and artist and did not compromise his ideals for mainstream success. He cared deeply about the world and about freedom, equality and love. And through his explorations of human love and suffering, he offered us all the belief that through it all, “every heart to love will come, but like a refugee.” He knew that these times of oppression and human immorality would pass, as all things pass. I am just sad he won’t be with us to write more, inspire us to love deeply, and see the peace on earth I know he is experiencing now in heaven.

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Shannon Webb-Campbell shares “A meditation on Leonard Cohen:”

Leonard Cohen is the master of longing. His poetics are like prayer. Known as a seeker who blends the musicality of language with spiritual grace, Cohen was a Buddhist, and his offerings a response to suffering.

His poetry channels a mysterious darkness, and lures us into the unknown. Cohen meets us at the edges of an unnamable nostalgia. A lover of the body, his timeless devotion lands as earthy and erotic.

I remember seeing Cohen walking down Barrington Street in Halifax. He wore a beige trench coat, and a fedora. The night before at the Rebecca Cohn, his presence was mythic and God-like, but on an ordinary afternoon, I felt deeply humbled to quietly follow in one man’s footsteps.

Travel light, Leonard. Goodnight our fallen star.

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El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. I believe it is time for PM Trudeau to establish a Royal Commission into the conditions in prisons and provincial jails.