News

1. Man dies in custody at East Coast Forensic Hospital

Greg Hiles

El Jones has the heartbreaking story of Gregory Hiles, who died by suicide on August 20 while in custody at the East Coast Forensic Hospital.

On Tuesday, August 20th, Sheila Hiles spoke with her son Gregory for over an hour until around 10pm, when the East Coast Forensic Hospital locks up for the night. Nothing, she says, was out of the ordinary. Greg talked about plans he was making for the future, and discussed a recent meeting with his treatment team. They talked about his children and how he was excited to get his oldest son a cell phone. They joked and chatted like usual.

“There was no indication he was depressed,” she tells me. “It was all things he was looking forward to.”

At around 4:30am on Wednesday morning, the police knocked on her door. They told her that Greg had hanged himself with his sheets.

He was 39 years old.

Hiles was one of four patients who took the hospital to court last June, arguing that the hospital had placed overly restrictive conditions on them with little evidence and with no due process.

I said the story is heartbreaking — which it is — but it is also infuriating. Jones reports that nobody from the hospital would speak to Hiles’s mother, Sheila.

The habeas application by the four patients raised questions about treatment in the hospital. Greg and his fellow patients, fighting without a lawyer, put onto the court record testimony about the conditions in the hospital, and their concerns about patient rights.

Nowtwo months later, Greg is gone and his family does not know why. They know that the same people Greg challenged are now responsible for giving them answers.

Please read the whole story.

2. More heartbreak and rage

Part of the lovely Victoria General hospital complex.

Jennifer Henderson has her own heartbreaking and infuriating story today. It’s about the treatment of elderly patients with dementia in a unit of the Centennial building at the VG:

These elderly citizens are housed in wards with three or four beds each, which affords little privacy. They often have no access to toilet facilities because the washrooms are too small to permit walkers and wheelchairs. Residents of 4B with dementia are at risk of Legionnaires’ Disease because they can forget they shouldn’t drink the tap water, which contains legionella bacteria. Most people on the transition unit at the Centennial have dementia, so family members of the woman were surprised to see no sign above the sink in the ward to — at the very least — try to remind residents the water isn’t fit to drink.

And, oh yes, mice and rats have been detected on 4B in the Centennial Building. The VG’s pest control contractor makes weekly visits and is on-call.

The presence of rodents and legionella in the tap water would be sufficient cause for provincial inspectors to shut down a restaurant. But a hospital with medically and/or mentally compromised elderly residents …well, that seems to be another story in Nova Scotia.

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3. Privacy commissioner says city staff bonuses should be public

Nova Scotia Information and Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tully

The province’s privacy commissioner, Catherine Tully, says Halifax should make public the bonuses the city pays non-unionized employees. CBC municipal affairs reporter Pam Berman writes:

Colin May, a Dartmouth, N.S., resident, asked for a list of people in the planning department who received bonuses over a five-year period from 2010 to 2015.

He applied for the information in 2016, but the municipality would only provide a list of the bonus amounts.

The municipality argued the disclosure of the names would be an “unreasonable invasion of the third parties personal privacy.”

Tully, who is retiring in three days, disagrees and wants more transparency. The city has 30 days to respond to the report, and it could decide to appeal to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

After reading Berman’s piece, I kept thinking about the city’s original response to May’s request. You want the bonuses? Sure, we’ll give you the bonuses. No problem. Here are the dollar amounts, with no context whatsoever. It reminds me of the way Montreal sports talk show host Mitch Melnick used to (and maybe still does) give the scores of meaningless spring training baseball games. Just the scores (6-4, 12-2, 7-6, etc.) with no other information, like which teams were playing.

4. All is not good despite booming lobster exports

Interesting story at CBC this morning by Aly Thomson, who writes:

Canadian lobster exports to China are booming amid that country’s trade woes with the U.S., but seafood industry leaders on this side of the border are not celebrating…

Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, said the boost in Canadian exports to China — a massive and growing customer for lobster — are a result of the heavy tariffs imposed on U.S. lobster and other food products in July 2018.

But Irvine said the American and Canadian markets are integrated, and so his group “takes no pleasure in the fact that they’re struggling.”

“Trade in lobster between the U.S. and Canada is very much back and forth. It’s very much linked,” he said. “We would like to see it go back to normal, where we share the markets.”

Essentially, this is a story about the dangers of chaos in international trade markets. Sure, things might be good right now, for us, here, but it would be a lot better for everyone to have a stable trading system that isn’t upended by trade wars.

Also: given how critical the Chinese market seems to be for Nova Scotia lobster, I was surprised to learn exports to China only began nine years ago.

5. More nuance needed in immigration conversation

A Canadian citizenship ceremony. Do I see a familiar face?

Taryn Grant writes about immigration policy in The Star Halifax, and the importance of understanding immigration instead of repeating simplistic slogans:

Dalhousie University professor Howard Ramos said Canadians should engage in a discourse about immigration, but the message in the recent billboard ads “conflates and washes across all of the nuance” that the topic merits…

He said “mass immigration” doesn’t describe the Canadian context.

“Mass immigration is where you are deluged by immigrants, where people can’t find jobs, where it displaces people from housing, where there’s no place to take people,” Ramos said.

Many Canadians struggle with housing, employment and affordability, but those problems are not exacerbated by immigrants, Ramos said. Rather, immigration can be part of the solution to those problems.

Grant also talks to ISANS head Jennifer Watts, and notes the different categories of newcomers to Canada.


Views

1. Our labour laws and standards suck

Retired SMU profs Judy and Larry Haiven have an op-ed in today’s Chronicle Herald on the sorry state of affairs for Nova Scotia workers.

A combination of both the presence and absence of legislation and rising costs conspires to diminish the power of working Nova Scotians to support themselves and their families and to maintain their dignity and health at work. And this deterioration is happening despite the slow but steady economic recovery of the past several years. Somebody is thriving from rising GDP and it is not those who work for wages.

That continues a trend of the past 35 years. Over that period, despite generally rising economic prosperity, real median wages in Nova Scotia have dropped. In other words, most workers are worse off than they were in 1981.

Nova Scotia now has the unenviable reputation of having the lowest (but for P.E.I.) average wage in Canada.

As the Haivens point out, low wages are only one of the areas in which Nova Scotia lags. Others include few statutory holidays, overtime, and occupational health and safety laws.


Noticed

Remember that headline? It was on a CBC story a month ago, about hateful graffiti sprayed on the outside of a Dartmouth apartment building. The headline caused its own outrage, since the graffiti left little doubt about being homophobic. There was nothing alleged about it. CBC has since changed the headline. It now reads: “Police investigating after homophobic graffiti incident in Dartmouth.”

“Alleged” is an important word when it comes to reporting on crime. When someone is arrested, they are presumed innocent. We can’t say “X robbed a bank” because it hasn’t been proven that they did. We say “X allegedly robbed a bank.” It’s an important distinction.

But I’ve noticed “alleged” being used in cases where it’s not necessary, or even desirable. The “alleged homophobic graffiti” is one example, albeit an extreme one.

More commonly, I see crimes themselves referred to as alleged, rather than the act of committing the crime. For example, this story from Global:

Police have arrested a man in connection with an alleged robbery at the TD Canada Trust located at 278 Lacewood Drive in Halifax.

At approximately 11:30 a.m., police responded to a report of a man who had entered the bank armed with an edged weapon and provided a note to the teller demanding money.

The man was given an undisclosed amount of cash and fled the bank on foot.

Sounds to me like it’s pretty clear a bank robbery occurred. What’s alleged about it? The allegation is that the man who was arrested committed the robbery and is criminally responsible.

I called Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at the Dalhousie law school to talk about the use of “alleged.” We talked about the bank robbery example. He said:

There are occasions where there might be some dispute about whether or not a bank robbery occurred but they’re pretty rare. And the concern mostly in respect to the “alleged” is to protect important principles like the right to be presumed innocent. That somebody is alleged to have committed a crime, but if they haven’t gone through that system yet they haven’t legally been found to have committed the crime. To stretch that to the actual conduct itself probably is pushing it a bit…

Part of the role of a journalist is obviously to be factual and thorough and all those things, but also to make a relatively clear statement and challenge the way people think. And if you put too many qualifiers in every statement you make, you’re sort of defeating the purpose to some extent.

CTV had a very brief story earlier this summer that parsed this distinction quite well:

Police in Halifax are investigating a robbery that happened in Dartmouth just before 10 Friday night…

According to the victim, he was approached by a group of men while walking along Demetrious Lane, who then allegedly robbed him. He says he was pushed to the ground where he was kicked and punched.

First sentence: robbery occurred. Second sentence: these people are alleged to have committed the robbery.

MacKay again:

The robbery is a factual kind of thing. Nobody seems to be disputing that. Whether these were the actual people that robbed him, is that clearly established? I don’t know. I mean it depends how many facts they have…  If they know as a fact that these people, whoever they were, who attacked or dealt with him had his property, that he alleges that they attacked him and robbed him and they were found with the goods — those are all facts which certainly give some inference that they were involved in a robbery. But there could be facts that would indicate that wasn’t true. Maybe the property originally belonged to them and they were reclaiming it. Not likely, but possible.

So, to sum up, if something is factual, it’s not alleged.

What complicates things is the question of what constitutes a fact. It seems simple enough: a fact is something real. True. Indisputable. But, as MacKay says:

There’s a line between what is fact and what’s opinion and it’s a very tricky line to draw.  I mean, we recently had that debate around the climate change Bernier stuff, and they are requiring third parties to be careful about what they say about whether or not there’s a human-caused problem of climate change — whether that’s fact or opinion… But there’s some things which are pretty clearly factual and therefore don’t have to have that kind of caution as long as you’ve done your homework and the facts can be substantiated.

All this made me think of a conversation recorded in 1971 for Dutch television, between logical positivist Alfred Ayer and Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who founded the deep ecology movement. The pair spend much of the discussion trying to nail down the question of what constitutes a fact, and why that matters. This may sound dull, but trust me, it’s fascinating. (Ayers smokes the whole time and there is also a carafe of whisky between the men.) By the end of the hour you’ll ask yourself how we know whether or not we know anything.


Government

City

Wednesday

Special Regional Council meeting (Wednesday, 2pm, City Hall) — Here’s the agenda.

Thursday

No public meetings for the rest of the week.

Province

No public meetings for the rest of the week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Urban Nature Walk (Wednesday, 12:15pm, outside Henry Hicks Building, Studley Quad) — look for intertidal organisms on the small beach at the bottom of South Street with Lara Gibson. Sneakers, rubber boots or water shoes recommended. Register here.

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

No public events.

Thursday

Migration (Thursday, 10am, SB 255) — Karly Kehoe talks about “The Role of Universities in Addressing the Global Challenge of Migration.” From the listing:

As our societies grapple with questions connected with the topic of migration, the research community needs to make available its expertise and be willing to work with all stakeholders to find ways of facilitating effective dialogue and managing expectations. A range of expertise is needed to develop sustainable solutions to issues such as mass displacement, newcomer integration, and research security. Historians have the benefit of seeing trends over time and space; they have developed intimate understanding of the causes and consequences of human movement.

In this talk, Dr. Kehoe explores how her research on historical migrations is informing her work with at-risk and displaced scholars around the world and how her connections with other researchers is helping to build a stronger interdisciplinary lens through which to see the challenges posed by migration more clearly.

RSVP here.


In the harbour

Not much happening today.
14:00: Okeanos Explorer, research/survey vessel, sails from Dartmouth Cove for sea
18:30: Elka Delos, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
19:00: John J. Carrick, barge, arrives at McAsphalt from Montreal with Leo A. McArthur, barge


Footnotes

Sometimes I’m working on a bunch of similar stories. Right now I am writing a bunch of wildly different ones. It’s fun. You’ll get to read them soon.

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. Wait a sec – Bernier denies having anything to do with the billboards, yet they prominently feature his face and party’s name? He’s cool with that? Has he offered any explanation? Are we cool with his lack of explanation? What about True North? Pattison for its part says that if either Bernier/PPC or True North had taken ownership, the billboards would probably still be standing. It’s hard to imagine a party leader who would be fine with some rogue company using their image in a national campaign without permission. I smell something funny coming off this one (and not just the Pee-Pee of Canada…)…

    1. It definitely is pretty weird. The True North Strong and Free company has, as far as I can tell, zero web presence.

      It must have cost a lot of money to put up all those billboards.

  2. It’s hard not to laugh at the folks who don’t like the bonuses paid to non-union staff at HRM. It would not surprise me if a goodly amount of them also want HRM to be run like a business.

    Guess what, bonuses are regularly meted out to “high performers” in the private sector. Whether they deserve it or not is another matter. Any CAO comes to mind.

    I do NOT agree with the secrecy. A FOIPOP request and subsequent obfuscation should not occur when it comes to finding out how the peoples’ money is spent.

    Perhaps all HRM staff should be unionized. All of the salaries then would be available for perusal in a collective agreement. ????

    1. I hold bank shares in my retirement account and I receive the annual report.
      Executive compensation includes cash bonuses. The bonuses are revealed in the annual report to shareholders. The annual reports are public documents and are online.
      The payments of bonuses describes who received a bonus and why.
      As a public sector employee your pension relies on investments in bank shares,and shares in other private sector businesses, as well as the performance of staff.

  3. Bernier and his closet full of racist nationalists are unfortunately fueling the xenophobic hysteria that he believes will carry him to some sort of position of power in Canada. The fact that he is doing that and with some semblance of success and certainly more than a little support should create fear in all of us. Free speech is one thing, but fueling hatred is quite a different matter.
    And for those who are saying “he doesnt mean immigration just mass uncontrolled influxes”. Give me a break. We all know exactly what he means and it is not something Canadians should take any part of.

    1. That billboard has very clever wording. Most people do not read it carefully or if they do they do not make the distinction between immigration and mass immigration.

  4. Link to the HRM non-union management employees bonus scheme :
    http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/150804cai08.pdf
    It was on the agenda as an In Camera presentation. The presentation did not take place and the report then became public. I found it via another HRM document which led me to google ‘NUMEA’ and the search led me to the August 4 2015 item.
    There are about 600 employees eligible for bonuses.I have cross referenced the staff complement for HRM Planning department with the number of managers. – 34 managers received bonuses in a department with just 185.5 Full Time Equivalent Employees.
    Total FTE in 2015/16 HRM budget was 4,229.

    The Tully decision is here : https://oipc.novascotia.ca/sites/default/files/reports/19-07%20Review%20Report%20%2822%20Aug%202019%29_0.pdf

  5. The big question is not, “who got bonuses?” (although that should be public information) but “why do people get bonuses?” You are hired to do a job, you are paid to do a job, you do the job, you get paid. The usual excuse is that a bonus is an incentive to do better – if you don’t want to do your best, don’t take the job. Workers on the front line don’t get bonuses for doing a good job (they rarely get praise), what’s so special about management?

    1. That is an issue I have always had with the bonus system. Those at the top get the tangible credit for those who actually do the work. The job should pay what the job pays. Perhaps a reverse version of the bonus system might be more realistic. If you dont do the job, then you get a cut in pay.

  6. I hear the claim that immigration does not exacerbate housing prices and does not put downwards pressure on wages and working conditions quite frequently, but I have never actually read a cogent explanation of why this is so. How can housing prices fail to rise when the population grows faster than the housing stock – and a labor shortage is ‘job creator’ for ‘I can’t find the workers I need at the price I want to pay’. Sure, maybe in realllly specialised fields, there is a real labor shortage and immigration is a good way to solve that. Big capital is ruthlessly pro-migration for a reason – Upton Sinclair wasn’t wrong.