News

1. Atlantic Gold paid no taxes to any level of government in 2019

Clay excavation near Atlantic Gold Moose River mine Photo: Mitchell Glawson

Atlantic Gold, operators of the Touquoy open pit gold mine in Moose River, paid nothing in taxes to any level of government in 2019, reports Joan Baxter.

In fact, they paid no taxes in 2017 or 2018 either, though the company did pay the province of Nova Scotia $1.18 million in royalties in 2018. Atlantic Gold began production in Nova Scotia in 2017.

How did Baxter — whose steady reporting on the mining company has divulged more than a few red flags — get this tax info? She explains in the article:

According to Canada’s Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA), passed in 2014, corporations that extract oil and gas or minerals and are registered on a Canadian stock exchange are legally bound to report all payments they make to governments.

Before Atlantic Gold was acquired in 2019 by St. Barbara for $722 million, it was registered on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and was thus obliged to disclose to ESTMA all its payments to all governments.

In this case, the company didn’t have to report much.

Atlantic Gold, owned by Australian parent company St. Barbara, has been a steady source of controversy in this province. The company is now facing 32 environmental charges for alleged infractions between Feb. 2018 and May 2020. They recently managed to delay their court date from Jan. 26 to March 15.

Locals have complained multiple times about muddied waters full of sediment surrounding the company’s activities around Moose River. A big concern has been the health of wildlife and fish in the area.

Muddy brook near clay excavation for Atlantic Gold Photo: Mitchell Glawson

One local sent an official complaint to the Department of Fisheries Oceans (DFO), which is responsible for protecting fish and fish habitat.

The Examiner contacted the federal DFO to ask whether any of Atlantic Gold’s practices violated the Fisheries Act, but received only vague answers that, in summary, said the DFO is aware of recent reports and activity regarding the company, and that they are continuing to monitor and investigate the issue.

Baxter notes that there’s a lot of government work being put into keeping an eye on a mining company that hasn’t paid much money to any government around here:

“Atlantic Gold seems to be using up a fair amount of both provincial and federal government officials’ time, even more so if one factors in the government resources that go into the work of Canada’s Impact Assessment Agency and the evaluation of the three additional open pit mines that the company has proposed for Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore — at Beaver DamFifteen Mile Stream, and Cochrane Hill.

One might suppose that all the government staff time and resources would be repaid many times over in taxes and royalties that Atlantic Mining NS pays to governments for the gold it extracts from the Moose River and the profits that generates.

One might hope that, but it seems that one would be wrong.”

Click here for the full article, in which Baxter, just like environmental cleanup groups might have to do someday, continues to unmuddy the waters surrounding Atlantic Gold’s operations.

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2. COVID-19: Latest

The last year has really taught me the truth inherent in the phrase, no news is good news. So, here’s some pretty good news:

Only one new case of COVID-19 to report in Nova Scotia yesterday.

Tim Bousquet reports:

“There are now just 11 known active cases in the province. The last time the province saw as few as 11 active cases was October 30.

No one is in hospital with the disease.

The active cases are distributed as follows:

• 3 in the Halifax Peninsula / Chebucto Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 1 in the Bedford / Sackville Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 4 in the Colchester / East Hants Community Health Network in the Northern Zone
• 1 in the Pictou Community Health Network in the Northern Zone
• 1 in the Cape Breton Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone
• 1 in the Inverness, Victoria & Richmond Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone”

The province even got some national media coverage for its pandemic response. The front page of yesterday’s Globe and Mail included a story from Justine Hunter on the success of rapid-test kits and pop-up clinics in Nova Scotia (you need a subscription or free account to read it):

Since the pop-up clinics launched in Nova Scotia in December, just a handful of the nearly 14,000 people who have been tested were confirmed to have COVID-19. Public-health officials in Nova Scotia see even this low rate as a success: Fifteen people who were asymptomatic — and likely shedding the virus — did not end up inadvertently spreading COVID-19 in their community.

As well, by testing the asymptomatic individuals, the province is gaining an early warning system on potential outbreaks.

It’s nice to see the province recognized nationally for leading the charge on something. Also, to the 14,000 Nova Scotians who let their nostrils be defiled in the name of public health and safety, I salute you.

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3. Convention Centre will not be converted into homeless shelter

The Nova Centre in Halifax, home to the convention centre, in September. Photo: Zane Woodford

The Halifax Convention Centre won’t be used as a homeless shelter during the pandemic. Instead it will focus on ongoing required maintenance, “planning for safely hosting local and regional events,” and its continued use as a rapid COVID-19 testing site.

That’s what chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told councillors Tuesday, reports Zane Woodford.

Woodford first reported on the idea of using the Convention Centre as a homeless shelter in December, when Coun. Lindell Smith proposed it during a discussion of the centre’s 2020-2021 operating budget. On Tuesday, Dubé said the convention centre had actually been considered for use as a temporary homeless shelter in the early days of the pandemic. Temporary shelters were needed since regular shelters in Halifax don’t have the space for social distancing measures.

In the end, the centre wasn’t used as a shelter. In September, it began hosting events again, but stopped in November when new provincial restrictions came in with the second wave.

Dubé expects the centre to start hosting events again soon, saying some events are already booked for March. Woodford writes:

“Many of those events are being hosted by local businesses and organizations, providing much-needed revenue during a very challenging time,” Dubé said.

Dubé said it’s important to keep those events on the books to instill confidence “that events can be safely hosted here in Halifax.”

“This will help with the longer term outlook of the industry and resumption of event hosting, driving more significant economic impact for our city, hopefully,” Dubé said.

None of the councillors had questions for Dubé.

So the shelter idea seems to be a no-go. But, in the pandemic spirit of rethinking the way we’ve been doing things, Woodford ends his piece citing an Examiner article from last week in which Jen Powley argues that, instead of converting the building into a temporary shelter, Halifax could permanently repurpose the convention centre to create affordable housing:

Big conventions were already in decline when it was built. The restrictions imposed by COVID-19 demonstrated how meetings and conventions can be held virtually. Pretending there will be a return to normal is both delusional and expensive — but what a great opportunity to convert the convention centre to small affordable apartments. If small apartments can be built between 300-700 square feet, the 120,000 square feet of the Convention Centre could result in approximately 170 units. This number may vary with hallway width and common space. The building code for residential use is slightly different than that for office towers, but the fact that the government of Canada has suggested using old office towers for the Rapid Housing Initiative means that the building code is not an insurmountable obstacle.

A repurposed Convention Centre could be arranged like a housing cooperative. The renters could spend a portion of their monthly rent to pay for elevator maintenance, heat, electricity, and other expenses. The oversight could be dealt with by a cooperative board.

For the rest of Prowley’s piece, click here.

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4. Mistaken identity, a damaged reputation, and the search for restitution

The Halifax Regional Police office in Dartmouth in July 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford

Blair Rhodes reports on an unsettling case of mistaken identity for the CBC.

Dr. David Barnett, a Halifax-area doctor was arrested for accessing and distributing child pornography. This week, the accusations proved false, as Rhodes reports:

Halifax Regional Police, acting on information from another police agency, started an investigation into Dr. David Barnett in December and arrested him. Barnett, 37, informed the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, which regulates the medical profession in the province.

The college suspended his licence on Dec. 4. But on Monday night it issued a statement saying it was a case of mistaken identity, and that someone with a similar name and email address in Ohio was the actual suspect. It then lifted Barnett’s suspension.

Since early December, Rhodes reports that Dr. Barrett has had the following conditions imposed upon him:

• “That he stay away from anyone under the age of 16.
• That he stay 50 metres away from schools, parks and other places children frequent.
• That he not possess a computer.
• That he not have a device that connects to the internet, other than for work.”

Now, with his name cleared, they’ve been lifted.

The HRP released a statement Tuesday in which informed the public about their mistake: “We recognize and regret the deeply negative impact of an unfortunate error of this nature.”

“Deeply negative” might be an understatement. Considering the weight these charges have — accusing someone of committing some of the most deplorable crimes in our society — I can only imagine what Dr. Barrett has had to undergo personally and professionally for nearly two months.

In a way, I hate to spread a story that connects a person to such heinous crimes, even though those connections are false. But given the damage this terrible error must have caused to his reputation, not to mention the emotional toll, I think it’s important that the news of his wrongful accusation reach as many people as possible.

Rhodes writes that Dr. Barrett is now considering his options for restitution. I don’t know how you make up for what I assume must have been an incredibly traumatic experience like this one. Rhodes writes that Dr. Barrett and his counsel haven’t stated any specifics yet:

Pat Atherton, Barnett’s defence lawyer, said Tuesday there “absolutely” has been damage done to his client’s reputation. Atherton stopped short of saying what Barnett’s next steps might be.

“He’s very relieved that this part of the process is over and he’s looking forward to getting back on with his life, hopefully with the least amount of disruption possible,” Atherton said.

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Views

Mining in the Rockies

A few provinces over, Alberta has its own mining concerns. Its provincial government is in a legal battle over coal — namely, the right to mine the Rockies for it. Local Indigenous peoples and ranchers are concerned about the environmental impacts of mining the eastern slopes of the mountains in the south of the province. It’s land that had been off limits to mining since A Coal Development Policy for Alberta was implemented in 1976. In May of last year, the province rescinded it, allowing for companies to apply for mine leases in the once-protected hills.

Now, the province is in court to defend its decision to rescind the policy without public consultation, an obligation under the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (section 5).

There are a few things I find troubling about all this. Not just for Alberta, but for the country as a whole.

The province chose to announce the decision to rescind the policy via news release — on the Friday of a long weekend. Never a great sign.

Mining would open up pristine land to both Canadian companies and foreign firms with little stake in the area but profit.

And, as the Canadian Press reported Monday, while pursuing private investments in increased coal mining, the provincial government has been sitting on unreported data suggesting that high levels of selenium contamination have already been found in water supplies downstream from Alberta mines. CP reports that this has been undisclosed for years.

Ultimately, I have two major concerns.

First, and most simply, they are talking about expanding coal mining in what is arguably the most iconic natural wonder in the country, a sacred land to Indigenous peoples of the area, and a refuge for at-risk wildlife. I mean, it’s the Canadian Rockies! There are four national parks surrounding huge sections of them just to protect their natural beauty. The rest is apparently up for grabs.

In British Columbia, just a few miles from the Albertan hills no longer under protection, “mountain-top removal” mining is already being practised.

In a photo essay for the online environmental publication, the Narwhal, writer Sharon J. Riley and photographer Callum Gunn documented what that type of mining looks like. They write that mines leased on the now-open sections of the Alberta Rockies would, like those in the B.C. range, extract coal to be exported for steel-making. In order to do so, trees are removed and mountain tops are strip mined. For the full article with the least post-card-worthy shots of the Rockies you’ll find anywhere, click here.

Here’s a sample from the essay (the mining site is the giant, bare, brown spot surrounded by pristine snowcaps).

Photo: Callum Gunn, for the Narwhal

Aside from my “is nothing sacred?” gut feeling, my biggest concern is that, when the country is (in theory) working toward net-zero emissions to combat a climate crisis, Alberta is trying to open up more of itself to the mining of a carbon-storing material.

I don’t mean to hate on Alberta here. Nova Scotia’s primary source of electricity is still coal and production at the reopened Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton started just under four years ago. It’s since closed again. We’ve got our own list of other environmental shames: overfishing, Boat Harbour, the tar ponds, and so on.

My concern is that the federal government released a climate plan just over a month ago which included measures to increase carbon taxing and reach net-zero emissions as a country by 2050. To achieve that requires a concerted effort from all provinces and territories. If, as Nova Scotia has, Alberta’s committed itself to phase out coal, it’s doubtful the one step forward, two steps back approach will get them there by their 2030 goal. Nor will it help Canada achieve its federal plan.

A provincial government going to court with its citizens to fight for the right to open itself up to more fossil fuel extraction seems to fly in the face of the commitments mentioned above.  Expanding coal — and in this case, doing so in a breathtaking mountain range above a drinking water source — for quick economic gain, is shortsightedness of the highest degree.

To be fair, coal mined from the newly unprotected mountains wouldn’t be for energy consumption. No coal-burning emissions would directly result in the province. Here in Nova Scotia, we’re not expanding coal mining, but we’re sure burning a lot of the stuff, and NS Power’s plan to phase it out relies pretty heavily on the ever-elusive Muskrat Falls connection.

But the environmental tradeoff here — irreplaceable mountains, clean drinking water and international carbon goals for short-term economic gain —just isn’t worth it.

Last week, on CBC’s The Current, a town councillor from Crowsnest Pass dismissed the concerns of the local ranchers and Indigenous people battling the province. The councillor argued passionately that opening the mountains in her area could save her community’s struggling economy:

I don’t know where these people are coming from. Maybe they should take a drive into B.C. and take a look. The mountains are still there. So I understand that they feel they’re stewards of their area but I’m a steward of my community and the prosperity that can come to our community.

If you listen to the audio, you can really hear the emotion in her plea that mining jobs be allowed to come to her town. It’s sad to listen to and I sympathize with her. Nova Scotia has a deep history of down-on-their-luck towns. And many of them became husks because of coal mine shutdowns. But if we found more, massive, cheap coal veins in new pockets of the province, I wouldn’t want to spark our economy by reopening an old industry that must inevitably die if our planet is to live.

I understand concerns in Alberta about phasing out the oil sands. Here on the East Coast, there’s a particular sting in seeing a province struggle as they lose a once-prosperous industry (an industry that’s benefitted many Maritimers too.) What makes me more understanding of the concerns around the oil sands, though, is that there’s already an economy there that people rely on. Even though given the science of the climate crisis, we would ideally stop production in the oil sands immediately, there is a human cost to consider: unemployment, economic downturn.

I understand how we can debate the best way to phase out those practices, and on what timeline.

But if we don’t create new coal mines, while it might not boost employment or local economies, it won’t hurt them either. If towns in that section of the Rockies are having trouble staying afloat, mining the mountains for coal isn’t a responsible long-term fix. Industries with inherent environmentally deleterious practices can no longer be viable economic solutions. We’re running out of time to lay a sustainable foundation for the future.

On Monday, the New York Times reported that U.S. President Joe Biden could be planning to propose a ban this week on new drilling leases for oil and gas on federal lands in his country. If so, Canadians from all parts of the country should take inspiration from America’s environmental example (not something I was sure I’d ever say) and stop all new fossil fuel extraction as soon as possible. Then we can work to phase out what we’ve already started.

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Noticed

Marquee outside the Al Whittle Theatre in Wolfville. Photo: Bruce McGaw

This week, a local fixture near my hometown in King’s County passed away.

Al Whittle, whose name now graces the marquee of the small Wolfville cinema where he worked for almost half a century, died at the age of 91 on Saturday.

Here’s an excerpt from Ian Fairclough’s tribute in the Chronicle Herald yesterday:

Originally from Port Elgin, N.B., Whittle was about 24 when he came to Wolfville to manage the Acadia Cinema on Main Street in 1953, and stayed there for the 47 years… He was the ticket-taker, projectionist, popcorn maker and anything else that needed to be done. He turned it from a single screen to two and then smaller theatres as it struggled to compete with the new multiplex in nearby New Minas, but also to cater to distributors’ demands that some movies remain playing for extra weeks.

When he retired in 2000, the family who owned the theatre closed it. A couple of redevelopment projects didn’t pan out, and eventually an ad-hoc committee got together to form the Acadia Cinema Cooperative, which worked with the Just Us Coffee Roasters Co-op to buy the building. The purchase was to preserve the building and provide a place for the showing of alternative films through the film society.

One of the conditions of sale from the family was the the theatre be named after Whittle, who was an honorary member of the co-operative.

His death — besides being a great loss to my home community — got me thinking about the movies. It got me missing putting on pants and going out to see them, instead of falling asleep watching them in P.J.’s.
The theatre that bears his name was, like the former Oxford Theatre on Quinpool, a place where you could go to see films just off the beaten track — up-and-coming indie pictures, foreign flicks, documentaries from the Banff festival, character pieces that didn’t involve any CGI or capes or tights… I used to pop in if I had nothing to do and just gamble with whatever show they had on. It’s something I continued to do a bit last year when I lived by the Park Lane Cinemas.

There were bad ones, for sure — “smellies,” as Whittle calls them in a 2013 video the Acadia Cinema Cooperative posted to the theatres website this week — but more often than not there were pleasant surprises. I saw Juno, Invictus and The Artist for the first time there.

 

Besides the smaller screen, that’s what bugs me most about streaming: too much choice. More often than not, I just scroll through an endless list of movies I know little about until it’s too late to start one and I end up reading in bed for twenty minutes and then falling asleep. Just tell me what to watch, dammit!

These days, I long for just about anything that used to involve a crowd. Today, with Whittle’s passing, I just find myself longing for a night out at the movies.

Enough time has passed that I’ve forgotten about the sticky floors, seat kickers, overpriced snacks and couples who ask each other what the hell is going on after getting back from the bathroom. I’m left only with the memory of the smell of popcorn, the heart-racing sound of massive speakers blaring huge scores and the thrill of enjoying the big screen in a sea of strangers, all laughing, gasping or shrieking together.

In December, Cathal Kelly wrote about his love and nostalgia for the now-forbidden trip to the cinema. Like Whittle, Kelly was once employed at a movie theatre. He shares what he feels could be lost if studios continue to stream their films directly to viewers instead of releasing them first on the big screen. Not the overpriced popcorn or dizzying 3-D glasses, but the magic, democratizing, connective power of the movie house. I thought I’d end with an excerpt from that piece:

It is not hard to imagine a knock-on effect of this decision [to debut movies over streaming services] that, if not wiping out movie theatres, might vastly reduce their numbers. Especially in places that are not urban centres.

Why would a suburban family schlep out to a strip mall in the sticks to see Avengers: Hand to God, This is the Very Last One, when they can do it at home for half the cost? This is exactly why they bought a flatscreen the size of a refrigerator turned on its side. Give them that option, and many will take it.

The marketplace will win out in the end, always. If people want to watch the next Lawrence of Arabia on their laptop, then who am I to tell them no?

But what is being lost here is not what the [Christopher] Nolans are worried about. It isn’t the majesty of the big screen and a Dolby-compliant sound system. It’s the magic of each other. It’s sitting in the dark with strangers. It’s first dates, last dates and the same date night the pair of you have been doing for years. It’s the last place all of us — just about every single one of us — knows we can go for a good time.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting; no dial-in or live broadcast

Regional Centre Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm) — live webcast, with captioning on a text-only site

Thursday

Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am) — virtual meeting, with live audio of all Power Point presentations

Board of Police Commissioners (Thursday, 1:30pm) — live webcast

Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting; dial-in or live broadcast not available

Province

No meetings.

On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Canadian Blood Services blood donation clinic (Wednesday, 10am) — today and tomorrow in the Dal Student Union Building. Info on booking an appointment here.

Safe Space for White Questions January Edition (Wednesday, 12:30pm) — moderated by Alex Khasnabish from MSVU and Ajay Parasram from Dal, this is

a series of free, public, monthly drop-in sessions that are open to all but aimed at people who identify as white and are interested in working toward collective liberation. Come ask the questions about race, racism, social change, and social justice you always wonder about but feel nervous asking. You won’t offend us (unless you’re trying to—please don’t do that!).

Live stream link, past recordings, and info here.

Big Data Analytics and Multi Agent Ensemble Learning Approach to Make the Smart Decision Support Systems (Wednesday, 1pm) — online event with Jamal Shahrabi

Cherie Dimaline (Wednesday, 3pm) — online talk with the author of this year’s Dal Reads book, The Marrow Thieves

Viola Desmond Legacy Lecture (Wednesday, 3pm) — live virtual event featuring Indigenous rights advocate Michèle Audette

Neural Mechanisms of Nociception (Wednesday, 4pm) — online seminar with Jeffrey S. Dason from the University of Windsor

Panel Discussion on Interrogating Whiteness (Wednesday, 5:30pm) — the second in a two-part panel discussion and interactive conversation, with Patricia McGuire, Patrina Duhaney, Nadine Powell, Ajay Parasram and Jacqueline Barkley. With closed captioning; register here.

Resistance as Practice: Acts of AntiRacism Through Architecture & Planning (Wednesday, 7pm) — via Zoom,  the inaugural Robert H. Winters lecture with Mindy Fullilove from The New School. From the listing:

We are organizing this event at a critical moment for architects, planners and other disciplines grappling with difficult histories and professional cultures. This means questioning how designed spaces are embedded with power structures that stratify our society, and how practitioners are implicated in this. Just as importantly, we must acknowledge that this is not a new conversation or area of analysis: racialized communities have developed their own planning and design practices in cities when they have not been heard by the faces of power. This lecture series builds on the ongoing powerful response to racialized violence by presenting the work of practitioners, academics and activists who have pursued these acts of anti-racism as a central focus of their work.

Thursday

The promise of diversity in management (Thursday, 8:30am) — interactive online conversation with Fiona Parsons-Kirkpatrick, Matthew Martell, Rodney Small, and Angie Gillis.

Canadian Blood Services blood donation clinic (Thursday, 10am) — in the Dal Student Union Building. Info on booking an appointment here.

Cellular & subcellular mechanisms of cardiac mechanoarrhythmogenicity (Thursday, 11am) — Breanne Cameron will talk.

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

The WWII Experience in Mauritius (Wednesday, 7pm) — via Zoom, Rohini Bannerjee talks about the Island of Mauritius, and its role in the life-saving detainment of over 1,500 Jewish refugees from Europe during World War II.

Thursday

Pathways to Justice (Thursday, 12pm) — documentary screening and panel discussion:

Pathways to Justice is the name of a 3-year project conducted by Be the Peace Institute and the Nova Scotia Association of Black Social Workers to understand both how female-identified people subjected to gender-based violence find justice, and also how systemic dynamics tend to thwart that pursuit.

Funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada, the project tapped into the voices of survivors, as well as the accumulated knowledge of service providers, government workers, academic research and social patterns to understand the systemic changes needed to achieve better outcomes and more dignified and less traumatizing legal processes for survivors. This event is co-sponsored by Be the Peace Institute and the Department of Criminology at Saint Mary’s University.

Congress to Campus: U.S. – Canada Relations (Thursday, 1pm) — live Zoom event; former members of the US Congress Elizabeth Esty and John Faso will discuss the new Presidential Administration, what it means for US – Canada relations, and how we move forward.


In the harbour

Just one ship to report on today:

08:00 – Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Bedford Basin anchorage from sea.


Footnotes

The further we get into this pandemic, the more I miss crowds in general. Not just at the movies — at the bus stop, even.

Also, the last movie I saw in theatres was Sam Mendes’s 1917. I went with some friends about this time last year. I was so impressed by the cinematography that I went back the next day on my own to see it one more time on the big screen. Not even two months later, it was small screen or bust, and has been ever since.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. Did anyone really believe that the Convention Centre was going to be used to house the homeless? Or as subsidized housing? Seriously?

    1. I mean, it should be, but did I think we have people in positions that could make the decision who also would do that? No, because the thing got built in the first place…