News

1. Council needs to step up on fighting anti-Black racism, says Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard. Photo: Halifax Examiner

In a half-hour presentation to council yesterday, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard called on the city to go beyond statements and act on combating racism, Zane Woodford reports:

The presentation, titled “Unpacking Anti‐Black Racism in the HRM: Creating Sustainable Change for Our Community” detailed the historical seeds of current day systemic racism in Halifax — colonialism, slavery, and segregation — and went on to try to impart on councillors the deep negative effects of that racism.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to know that many of you don’t know much about the history because that history isn’t taught,” Bernard said.

“We need to understand how the legacies of that historical anti-Black racism live on today. They live on today through current policies and they live on today through current practices. They live on today in the examples of the systemic racism that we see and also the everyday-ness of the racist microaggressions that people have to live with, have to learn to cope with. It’s just so damaging.”

Bernard also got into specific cases, involving city departments and individuals, and asked:

“How many human rights complaints need to be filed before we recognize the real trauma people have experienced in their everyday lives?”

Woodford live-tweeted the council meeting, as he usually does, and his on-the-spot reporting included this gem:

Councillor asks for help with his homework.

Read the full story, including the slide deck from Bernard’s presentation, here.

2. An insider’s view on rethinking police responses to domestic violence

Cary Ryan is a former cop, a domestic violence survivor, and now a registered social worker. In this gripping but heart-rending story, Suzanne Rent talks to Ryan about her experiences as a police officer in an abusive relationship. She says she was bullied and mistreated by her colleagues, and that only got worse after she revealed she had clinical depression. Meanwhile, she was horrified by the dismissive approach her co-workers took to domestic violence calls.

Cary Ryan

Rent writes:

But Ryan says the bullying at work started her first day on the job. There were inappropriate sexual comments, including those about her sex life and emails from several supervisors to her about her appearance. She says officers also made racist, sexist, and homophobic comments about members of the public and there was inappropriate behaviour between her colleagues. She says some officers drove home after drinking. She says for her first day on the job she was told to bring a case of beer. Two male colleagues on the surveillance team gave her a degrading nickname. She says she reported it, but was told she was too emotional. She says her supervisor attempted to write something into her employee file that she was too emotional…

Over that year, Ryan says she worked but also took sick leave. She says her psychologist expressed frustration with the way in which her recovery was being handled at work. She says the psyschologist wrote recommendations for how her return to work plan could roll out. Ryan says the department ignored those letters and recommendations.

She says when she reached out for support for her mental health, she was stigmatized, bullied, and isolated. She says when she did something her colleagues didn’t agree with, she wasn’t taken seriously and colleagues would chalk her behaviour up to her mental illness.

“I was very naïve. I had watched other people, mostly men, go through crisis and be well supported. I thought that if I was open about my crisis I’d be well supported. And I wasn’t. It basically ruined my career.”

Today, Ryan is working on a research project at Dalhousie University, studying whether current police approaches to domestic violence are the best responses.

I encourage you to read all of Rent’s story, which is here.

I also want to say a few words about one aspect of Ryan’s story: what happened when she shared information about her depression with colleagues at work.

Ryan saw doctors she was referred to by her department, and was diagnosed with depression. She tried to work as much as she could, but also took sick leave. She was open about her condition, which is something people with depression and other mental illnesses are encouraged to do. Let’s talk, am I right?

But in a toxic environment, talking is probably the last thing you should do. (And, let’s be honest, this probably holds for far less toxic environments too.)

My regular computer is in for repairs, so I don’t have all my notes and quotes, but I can tell you that over the years I have spoken with plenty of people who are worried about the negative impacts of mental health awareness campaigns on the very people they are supposed to help: people diagnosed with a mental illness.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece critical of mental health awareness campaigns for the Globe and Mail. After that, I heard from people who told me they had been motivated by a desire to share their stories of mental illness and later regretted it. One said it was probably the worst decision of his career, because it left him ostracized and isolated at work. Others have pointed out to me over the years that encouraging people to share their stories puts an undue burden on people discriminated against because of mental illness (and don’t get me started on the word stigma).

Instead of creating healthier workplaces and a world in which people can get the care they need, we ask those who are vulnerable to do the hard work of revealing intimate, personal information, in an effort to normalize mental illness so that co-workers and others will stop being so horrible to people who may be suffering.

It’s a completely backwards approach, and Ryan’s story is a sad but I am afraid all-too-common example of why that is.

3. How hard can it be to vote yes on a symbolic motion opposing nuclear weapons?

Physicist and anti-nuclear campaigner Joseph Rotblat. Photo: National Film Board of Canada.

Zane Woodford has another story coming out of yesterday’s council meeting: the five councillors who voted against a motion in support of the abolition of nuclear weapons, and commemorating the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The motion was brought by Councillor Richard Zurawski.

Bill Karsten and Steve Adams had jurisdictional concerns: essentially, the federal government has not signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, so the councillors don’t want the city stepping on Ottawa’s toes. There were some other concerns too.

Woodford writes:

Coun. Stephen Adams had the same concern, and also worried that the third part, allowing “the creation of removable chalk outlines on the Grand Parade,” would encourage gathering during the pandemic.

“I have an immense amount of respect for Councillor Zurawski and I understand why he’s brought this forward,” Adams said. “I get that, but as Councillor Karsten said, it’s a bit outside what we should do and who knows what it will lead to.”

Coun. David Hendsbee expressed concern that the motion might lead to Halifax declaring itself a nuclear-free zone — meaning big U.S. Navy ships carrying nuclear weapons wouldn’t be welcome in the harbour. He was assured that wouldn’t be the case.

I mean, OK. But really? Are the feds really going to come after us because of a completely toothless, symbolic motion? At least nobody seems to have expressed an opinion actively in favour of nuclear weapons.

Zurawski’s motion had four parts, so please read Woodford’s story and get all the details.

The photo above is of Joseph Rotblat, a fascinating character and the subject of the National Film Board documentary The Strangest Dream, directed by Eric Bednarski. (I have a small credit in the film as marketing manager.) Rotblat was the only scientist to leave the Manhattan Project, on moral grounds. He spent a career in academia, studying peaceful uses of nuclear technology and researching the effects of fallout. He was instrumental in launching the Pugwash Peace Conferences, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. I recommend a visit to Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, where the peace conferences were held. You can see the Nobel Prize there too.

Maybe council can take a field trip.

4. Back to school? Maybe? And how?

Playground at Sir Charles Tupper Elementary in Halifax.

Nova Scotia still has not announced its plans for school re-opening in the fall. The other Atlantic provinces have all made their plans public already.

Yvette d’Entremont speaks with IWK Health Centre president and CEO Dr. Krista Jangaard about the importance of school for kids, and looks at the risks involved. Jangaard tells her:

“We need to find a way, much like we have throughout opening other things, to be able to safely have kids come back to some form of normalcy, some areas that they can be together in some kind of regularity.”…

“There have been lots of things touted for how it could be done, but I think that needs to be decided and we need to have a plan. And when we have a plan we need to understand that if the epidemiology of COVID changes in Nova Scotia, we might need to change our plan.”

d’Entremont also looks at why Canadian pediatricians think it’s important for kids to return to school, in some capacity, and at the effects the pandemic has had on services the IWK can deliver.

Read the whole story here.

A few days ago, Ottawa-based journalist Shannon Proudfoot shared screenshots of parent comments from a survey on return to school sent out by the school board that runs the English public school boards in the city. Proudfoot said on Twitter that she had “never seen survey responses like this, there is so much visible desperation.”

Comments included:

I don’t know how I am supposed to work my job if my child is only going to school 2 days a week. Clearly  I need income to pay my bills.

How are my spouse and I going to work? I am afraid mothers are going to continue to shoulder the brunt of this.

I recently read Bertrand Russell’s 1930 book The Conquest of Happiness, and one of the arguments Russell makes is that a lack of childcare hinders women’s professional aspirations. Ninety years ago.

5. Where to go in HRM

That’s not a whole lot of toilets.

Halifax has made a new map available showing the locations of municipal public toilets. In addition to the map, there is also a plain-text list of public washrooms here.

This is good, I guess. With so many businesses with washrooms either shut or not allowing the public to use the facilities, finding a place to go has become a major issue for people trying to get outdoors, do their shopping, or whatever.

Why “I guess?” Well, a couple of reasons. First, the map is not that easy to use. If you enter a location, it simply shows you that location, not the nearest toilet. For fun, I just typed in “Tantallon” and got shown a spot near a park. Fine. Is there a toilet nearby? No. Searches for “library,” “central library,” Halifax central library” etc all turned up nothing, even though there are clearly public washrooms in these places. But they are not stand-alone facilities, I guess, so not included.

You basically have to know the location of a toilet to use the map, or just zoom around until you see the little icon indicating the presence of one. I also tried to find the map at halifax.ca, but searches for “toilet” and “washroom” did not turn it up. I did, however, find a 2015 release from the police saying they were investigating a report of fish hooks in toilet paper at the Bridge Terminal.

Take a look at the image from the map above. There are three washrooms shown for that whole area, and you could extend quite a bit farther without finding any more. The three are at the Public Gardens, the Halifax ferry terminal, and the north Common. If you read the list of public washrooms, you will find that there are 20 for the whole municipality, covering a territory of more almost 5,500 square kilometres.

All this to say I’m glad the map and list exist, but they are also evidence of our massive failure to provide decent public facilities for a basic human need.

As Marcus Gee wrote in the Globe and Mail on July 4:

City governments everywhere are thinking about how to adapt themselves to an aging population. Good public washrooms are part of the answer. They are trying to cope with a struggling population of homeless people. Good public washrooms would help there, too. They are trying to be more open, more humane, easier to navigate. Good public washrooms help give residents and visitors alike the sense that they are welcome.

6. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting… for a living wage policy

What a living wage looks like in Halifax. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Three years ago, councillor Lindell Smith brought this motion to council:

THAT Halifax Regional Council direct staff to create a cross departmental working group to engage external stakeholders, conduct further investigation and recommend with respect to whether or not to adopt a policy framework for the consideration of social economic benefit, employee compensation/living wage and environmental impacts in the procurement process (excluding local preference) and report back to Council.

THAT the motion be amended to include:

2. Report back to Regional Council with an update prior to the finalization of the 2018-2019 budget, outlining scoring options that may be identified by then and;
3. Prepare an In Camera report that outlines upcoming contracts that will be put to tender before the 2018-2019 budget is finalized.

It passed.

One of the motivations for urging council to adopt a policy that all municipal contractors pay employees a living wage was the revelation that one company was using temporary foreign workers to clean City Hall, and paying them $3 per hour.

Yesterday, council passed a new social procurement policy, which includes a living wage policy so watered down as to be meaningless. Departments can optionally consider making a living wage a part of the criteria when considering vendors.

Zane Woodford looks at the history of the long-delayed living wage policy, and at the latest developments, from yesterday’s council meeting.

He notes that some of the councillors were not happy with this watered-down version:

Procurement and legal staff repeatedly highlighted the use of the word “shall” in the policy, but the word “shall” is immediately followed by the word “consider.”

When Smith asked if that wording could be changed to skip “consider,” he was told that would require another report.

Coun. Shawn Cleary successfully put forward an amendment looking for a supplementary report on criteria for including social procurement in contracting, and to define a living wage.

“My issue is around the, I guess kind of loosey-goosey nature of how this worded: that we may ‘consider’ it, that we might have the department heads actually go ahead and look at social procurement,” Cleary said.

Another report is on the way, this time for fall.

7. Indigenous member appointed to Nova Scotia Health Authority Board

Halifax Infirmary. Photo: NSHA

Carolyn Ray reports for CBC that Stephen Augustine has been named to the board of the Nova Scotia Health Authority. She writes:

He said he was surprised to learn he’ll be the first Indigenous person to hold the position.

“It’s time,” Augustine said after his position was announced during the the authority’s annual general meeting on Tuesday. “Things are changing quite rapidly in terms of inclusion and diversity.”

Augustine is Cape Breton University’s associate vice-president of Indigenous Affairs and Unama’ki College…

Frank von Schaayk, the chair of the board, agreed they have a long ways to go to reflect Nova Scotia’s diversity. The past board was made up entirely of white men and women.


Views

Changing the food system isn’t just about individual choice

Food historian Ian Mosby. Photo courtesy Ian Mosby.

Yesterday, food historian Ian Mosby wrote a short Twitter thread on individual consumers and food systems. (Mosby is also the co-author of a new book called Uncertain Harvest: The Future of Food on a Warming Planet. I interviewed him a couple of months ago about victory gardens.)

Mosby says popular food books, like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Michael Moss’s Salt, Sugar, Fat, over-emphasize the role of consumer choice in changing fundamentally flawed food systems. From his thread:

These are all books that paint a portrait of a deeply unjust and sick food system. Yet, somehow, they always end with a paean to the individual educated consumer’s power to change everything for the better…

There’s little evidence that consumer choice is going to solve the biggest problems facing our food system — whether it’s the fact that agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change or that much of the food system relies on the exploitation of racialized/vulnerable workers.

These are structural problems with the food system & they require structural solutions. Full stop…

A lot of bad public policy and shortsighted decisions got us into this mess. Which means that good public policy leading to structural change is how we get out of it.

I saw this the same day as a new story by writer Ashoka Mukpo, in the environmental publication Mongabay, on how the World Bank has been pumping billions into factory farming around the world.

Mukpo writes:

The World Bank’s private investment arm has channelled more than $1.8 billion into major livestock and factory farming operations across the world over the past decade…

International Finance Corporation (IFC) data reviewed by Mongabay and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism show that since 2010 the corporation has financed the expansion of major multinational meat and dairy firms across Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East…

Mongabay’s analysis of the data shows most of the beneficiaries of its livestock investments were large multinational corporations with plans to ramp up industrial-scale animal farming in their countries of operation, and in some cases expand into new markets.

Among the projects approved by the IFC is an $85 million loan and equity investment for Brazilian cattle giant Minerva, which has been dogged for years by alleged links to deforestation and associated greenhouse gas emissions in the Amazon and Cerrado.

Other major beneficiaries of IFC funding include Ukrainian billionaire Yuriy Kosyuk; Saudi businessmen Prince Sultan bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer and Abdullah bin Mohammed Noor Rahimi; Chinese venture capital firm CDH Investments; Scandinavian multinational Arla Foods; and New Hope Group, the biggest animal feed producer in China.

It’s great that my family has the ability to buy meat and eggs from independent local producers, but pretending that this is purely a matter of individual choice and that everyone should just make the same choice is foolishness. As with climate change, there are huge structural issues.


Noticed

The latest episode of Tim Bousquet’s Uncover: Dead Wrong podcast is out. This one is called “The Cold Walls of Prison” and looks at the years wrongfully convicted Glen Assoun spent at Dorchester penitentiary. One of the lawyers involved in working to prove Assoun’s innocence says that it is “the understatement of the century” to say Assoun was tortured while in prison, largely because of his insistence that he was innocent. That insistence in part got him sent to segregation (ie solitary) and to a psychiatric ward in the prison for three years.

I find myself saying, “Oh my God,” aloud several times with each episode I listen to.

It’s amazing to me that after Assoun’s release — after it became clear he had been wrongly imprisoned for nearly two decades — the collective response seemed to be a shrug. A huge injustice was done here, and I’m glad Bousquet has put so much time and effort into bringing it to light.

Download or stream the podcast directly from CBC, or from your favourite podcast app.


Government

City

Wednesday

Special Halifax and West Community Council  6pm, virtual meeting) —  agenda here.

Thursday

Special Board of Police Commissioners (12pm, virtual meeting) — agenda here.

Special Community Design Advisory Committee (1pm, virtual meeting) —agenda here.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England (itinerary)
06:00: Clio, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Saint John
06:00: MSC Immacolata, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Valencia, Spain
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
06:30: Thunder Bay, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Charlottetown
07:30: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
09:00: Horizon Arctic, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
11:45: Selfoss sails for Portland
15:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
15:30: Atlantic Sail sails for New York
16:00: MSC Immacolata sails for sea
18:00: Clio sails for sea
20:30: Maersk Mobiliser, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from the Sable Island field
22:30: Atlantic Sea sails for Liverpool, England
23:00: Maersk Mobiliser sails for sea


Footnotes

I accidentally made decaf, so I am going to make another coffee while Iris copy-edits.

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. “Changing the food system isn’t just about individual choice…
    A lot of bad public policy and shortsighted decisions got us into this mess. Which means that good public policy leading to structural change is how we get out of it.”

    In examining the validity of the official Covid19 response and the implementation of draconian measures which may, like 9/11, remain and be reinforced after the crisis, one should consider that the Covid Tag Team of McNeil/Strang has never, to my knowledge, encouraged vigorously good nutrition as a potent weapon against Covid19.

    They also seem quite concerned with this pandemic yet have expressed no concern about the proven epidemic of obesity and diabetes due to the prevalence and aggressive, vigorous marketing of anti-food and poor nutrition. In addition, they seem also little concerned about alcohol as a health concern even now allowing and promoting takeout booze. Booze apparently is a potent antidote to disease. Then, in addition, there is their allowance and promotion of gambling addiction. All of this and more failures regarding healthcare and lifestyle choices call into question much of their Covid19 motivation and real agenda.

  2. “ He was instrumental in launching the Pugwash Peace Conferences, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. I recommend a visit to Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, where the peace conferences were held. You can see the Nobel Prize there too.”

    “I recently read Bertrand Russell’s 1930 book The Conquest of Happiness, and one of the arguments Russell makes is that a lack of childcare hinders women’s professional aspirations. Ninety years ago.”

    Interesting connection to both the pugwash conference and child care via Bertrand Russell today:)

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell–Einstein_Manifesto

    1. I was going to bring up the manifesto, but the clock was ticking. I’m glad you pointed to it.

  3. Ms. Ryan’s story is a perfect example of the systemic issues with policing. The current culture of policing attracts some people who should not be police officers. When the right people like Ms. Ryan do become officers, they get ostracized leading to a vicious circle. That is why we see things like a purchase of an armoured vehicle as a priority. The movement to defund police is not anti police as much as it is forcing police to restructure to truly protect the community which they serve. Policing should not be just about what level of force to use in any given situation.