News

1. Alton Gas appeal hearing, day one

That Alton gas site. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Jennifer Henderson reports on day one of a two-day hearing in Nova Scotia Supreme Court regarding an appeal by the Sipekne’katik First Nation which argues, “the approval granted Alton [Gas] to hollow out salt caverns and flush the resulting brine in the Shubenacadie River should be quashed because Environment Minister Margaret Miller failed to carry out adequate consultation with Sipekne’katik.”

How much consultation is enough when it comes to approving development on land where First Nations claim — but have not received — title to Crown land? That’s one of the thorny questions at the centre of the Sipekne’katik First Nation’s appeal of a decision by the Nova Scotia Minister of Environment which gave the green light to the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project four years ago.

Read the full story here. (It’s a great reason to subscribe if you haven’t already!)

2. Say Anything: The Roy gets sued again

The Roy Building

Tim brings you the story of another lawsuit inspired by the Roy luxury condo building on Barrington, including, “an almost endless series of outright deceptions,” and a surprisingly long list of alleged deficiencies that includes that hallmark of shoddy workmanship, “shower flooring sloped away from the drain.”  The matter has been resolved, so read about it while you can, before the lawyers have the matter removed from the public record.

This story is available to Examiner subscribers, and I guarantee that it is, indeed, finished and ready for you to click right in.

3. CN announces layoffs, again

Paul Withers of the CBC reports:

Dozens of people who work at the CN Rail Autoport in Eastern Passage, N.S., are facing imminent layoffs because of Indigenous protests that have halted rail service into the Maritimes.

On the weekend, CN issued 85 temporary layoff notices to unionized workers at Autoport, a major North American gateway for imported vehicles.

The layoffs go into effect on Saturday.

“Unifor is concerned with the impact that our members in Halifax have felt,” said Unifor national representative Bruce Snow. “We are going to mitigate the layoffs to the best of our ability.”

Withers’ report doesn’t mention the company’s previously-announced plans to lay off roughly 1600 people across Canada, as reported by the Canadian Press back on December 3, 2019. The rail giant had just suffered through an 8-day strike that caused an ongoing backlog and reduced its investor earnings by 15 cents per share, meaning 2019 profits “will grow in the mid single-digit range, down from earlier guidance targeting the high single-digits.” And yet, the Canadian Press reported:

Despite the backlog of freight and containers, the company suggested it would go ahead with planned layoffs of roughly 1,600 employees as economic growth slows.

The Montreal-based railway said it “remains focused on continuing to realign its resources in light of the weaker demand, including its workforce, to address cost takeout efforts that started prior to the strike.”

CN confirmed last month layoffs were coming and a source familiar with the matter cited about 1,600 impending job losses.

4. Matthew Percy on trial for rape again, six years after the alleged assault

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Elizabeth MacMillan of CBC News is following the trial of Matthew Percy, the 36-year-old former SMU groundskeeper who is facing his third set of rape charges, with a fourth case (originating in 2013) still pending.

The current trial relates to a case originating from a report to police in 2014.  Reports MacMillan:

The complainant in this case initially went to police two days after the alleged assault. She testified a friend convinced her to report what happened, even though she was worried they wouldn’t take her allegations seriously because she’d invited Percy to her place. 

Halifax Regional Police concluded their investigation without charges less than a month after she came forward. They reopened the case about four years later after Percy was accused of raping two other women.

Percy was convicted of raping a woman in 2017, three years after this victim came to police reporting what happened to her. He has since served the sentence for that rape conviction, and is now being held pending the remaining two rape charges.

The evidence in the trial includes photographs of bruising and bite marks on the woman’s body taken by sexual assault nurse examiners at the hospital, and videos of Matthew Percy and the victim entering the woman’s home, and later Percy leaving.

5. Two drivers hit pedestrians on Barrington and Dunbrack

The police issued this report yesterday:

At approximately 1:20 p.m. police responded to vehicle/pedestrian collision at the intersection of Dunbrack Street and Clayton Park Drive. The female pedestrian has been taken to hospital for [what] are believed to be life-threatening injuries.

The investigation is still in the early stages and further information will follow as it become available.

At 4:49 p.m. police responded to a vehicle/pedestrian collision at the 1500 block of Barrington Street. The male pedestrian has been taken to hospital for what are believed to be non-life-threatening injuries.

6. Oil spills are worse than they look, study says

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, releasing 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico for a total of 87 days, making it the largest ever oil spill in U.S. waters. Oil slicks from the blowout covered an estimated area of 149,000 square kilometers. Photo: US Coast Guard

Can you believe the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was nearly a decade ago? But there’s worse news than simply “time marches on”. A new study suggests that the damage wrought by the explosion and subsequent months-long oil leak is worse than originally believed.

“Large areas of the Gulf of Mexico were exposed to invisible and toxic oil that extended beyond the boundaries of the satellite footprint and the fishery closures,” states the study abstract, published last week in Science Advances.

The Washington Post’s Darryl Fears spoke to study authors Claire B. Paris-Limouzy and Igal Berenshtein:

Berenshtein said he was startled by the model’s results. “I think it kind of changes the way you think about oil spills,” he said. “I didn’t think this way before I did this study. I assumed that the satellite image captures the oil spill and that’s it. People have to change the way they see this so that they know there’s this invisible and toxic component of oil that changes marine life.”

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill “was no regular oil spill,” Paris-Limouzy said, and cannot be examined simply with satellite images. “It happened in the deep ocean. Between the deep sea floor and the surface is a lot of water.” Oil in that water is tossed by hurricanes, tropical storms and natural wave action, among other things, far from the surface.

“If you want to respond to this kind of spill, you have to know where the entire mass is, the amount of oil that came out of the well, and know that the footprint is not only on the surface, but in three dimensions,” she said.

7. Canada wants to assess new oil and gas projects in bulk

In related, more local news, there are two days left for the public to comment on a first-ever regional assessment of offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling for an area east of Newfoundland and Labrador. The regional assessment process is new, and it’s an idea that could work well, in theory. Instead of having corporations make their case for individual project assessments for smaller areas, do a region-wide assessment of the impacts and effects of oil and gas development, presumably establishing the no-go zones and the conditions required across the board for all potential projects. Heck, you might even improve your effective environmental protections by taking a regional approach. But that, it turns out, is not what the new regional assessment is about:

Here’s the language Environment Canada uses to describe the new RA’s purpose:

The Regional Assessment aims to improve the efficiency of the environmental assessment process as it applies to oil and gas exploration drilling, while at the same time ensuring the highest standards of environmental protection continue to be applied and maintained. 

So the point from the outset has been efficiency of process, as in, let’s get more assessments completed with less time and resources. And so forget about better, higher, or improved standards of environmental protection. Rather, we’ll just continue to apply and maintain the standards we have, which we will call “the highest”. (I guess because that’s the highest they’ll get?)

In a joint statement reacting to the draft regional assessment released last month, the Ecology Action Centre, East Coast Environmental Law, the Balaena Institute and the Sierra Club worry that, “the report does not recommend banning oil and gas exploration from ecologically sensitive areas.”  The groups called the report “deeply flawed.”

“This process was clearly rushed and, as the report itself mentions, it hasn’t involved a full assessment or evaluation of risks, which was part of the committee’s mandate,” says Mike Kofahl, Staff Lawyer with East Coast Environmental Law. “The recommendation that a regional assessment oversight committee be created is a sign that there wasn’t enough time to gather information needed for elected officials to make responsible decisions. It would be unacceptable for future exploratory oil and gas projects to be exempt from federal impact assessment based on this report.”

The public comment period ends February 21, 2020.


Views

Calling it like it is

I’m not sure why we as a species haven’t collectively moved towards calling it like it is when it comes to people driving their cars into other people. These three local headlines not only all use passive voice, but also identify the vehicle as the actor doing the hitting/striking, instead of the driver operating the vehicle.

The phenomenon is well documented. Streetsblog reported on an Edmonton study by Heather Magusin which looked at 71 media reports on pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the city in 2016.

The corollary to usage of the passive voice is to frame the vehicle, not the driver, as the agent of violence.

In 33 of the 71 stories, the vehicle was the subject inflicting harm on a person. Another 24 stories did not mention the driver or the vehicle — both were obscured through use of the passive voice.

Even in drunk driving cases, the motorist “was never directly associated with active verbs of death or violence,” writes Magusin, “suggesting that, regardless of culpability, there is resistance to associating drivers with the violence of traffic incidents.”

The word “killed” appeared in 23 stories, but almost never as an act committed by a driver. Only two stories used the verb that way.

Truth be told, we so seldom hear, read, or use the active voice in describing collisions, that it almost sounds awkward to do so. Is it because driving is so ubiquitous an activity that we instinctively need to divert from grammatically assigning responsibility? Whatever the reason behind this tendency, I would love to see if a change in language could also affect the level of awareness and responsibility that people feel while driving around.

“Pedestrian deaths are reported as isolated incidents with no human repercussions and no link to larger systemic health and safety issues, and drivers are nearly always rhetorically and linguistically absolved from blame,” Magusin concludes. “This reflects the social reality of pedestrians, one that prioritizes vehicle traffic over pedestrian safety and enforces both physical and rhetorical car-dominance.”


Government

City

Wednesday

Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9am, City Hall) — the CFL is giving a presentation on its Touch Down Atlantic event to be held this summer:

Rider Nation will invade Nova Scotia when the Saskatchewan Roughriders face the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday, July 25 in the first-ever regular season game played in Halifax.

The game will be preceded by a three-day “mini Grey Cup festival” featuring music, parties and tons of family-friendly fun.

The CFL unveiled plans to make Halifax feel like a Grey Cup city, except it will be summer and there will be plenty of lobster rolls to go along with the beer.

We can’t see any reason for this presentation other than that the CFL is asking for public money for the event.

But sure, everyone put on your kilts, get rummed up, and go watch the game.

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — Nancy Noble will give a dog and pony show about the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and auditor general Evangeline Colman-Sadd will talk about her follow up on the AG office’s 2017 recommendation.

Special Meeting – Board of Police Commissioners (Wednesday, 12pm, City Hall) — a special meeting to discuss the budget.

Design Review Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — rescheduled from Feb. 13. As of Monday evening, there is nothing at all on the agenda.

Public Information Meeting – Case 22704 (Wednesday, 7pm, in the Centre named after a bank, 61 Gary Martin Drive, Bedford) — Lydon Lynch Architects wants “substantive amendments” to a previously approved development agreement for a project on Fourth Street in Bedford. Specifically, it wants to increase the approved units from 18 to 27, “which is necessary to make the development viable,” because dog knows, no one can make money on real estate in this town.

Thursday

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — all about Bike Week.

Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm, Power House Youth Centre) — just presentations to the committee.

Province

Wednesday

No public meetings.

Thursday

Legislature sits (Thursday, 1pm, Province House)


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Dalhousie Reading Circle (Thursday, 9:30am, Indigenous Student Centre Community Room, 1321 Edward Street) — weekly meeting for “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.” More info here.

Harnessing the strength of [health] data to improve care (Thursday, 11:30am, Room C264, Collaborative Health Education Building) — Morgan Slater will talk. More info here.

Thinking about OERs beyond cost savings (Thursday, 2pm, Room 2920, Killam Library) — Brett McCollum from Mount Royal College will talk. More info and registration here.

African Heritage Month 2020 “Focus on Us” Storytelling Café (Thursday, 5pm, Council Chambers, Student Union Building) — more info here.


In the harbour

14:00: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
15:00: JPO Aries, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York


Footnotes

Some days you need to steel yourself against gratuitous cynicism more than others.

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