News

1. Incels

Dalhousie University professor and researcher Michael Halpin. Photo: Contributed

“A Dalhousie University sociologist who researches the incel community says it’s important for us to know more about them, their misogynistic views of women, and the dangers of their online harassment spilling over into real world violence,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“When I started looking at their websites, it was very interesting on a sociological level what they were doing and then obviously on a human level pretty horrifying,” [Michael] Halpin said of the content.

“Then what drew me into focusing on them in particular is just how extremely misogynistic they are. The level of hatred that they have for women is something that I still find shocking, even a couple of years into it.”

In a research paper published in the journal Methods in Psychology in May, Halpin and Norann Richard outlined the methods used to analyze more than 9,000 comments on the incel community discussion board over a three-month period in 2019.

Some of the popular threads that generated high user engagement included topics like women are animals, women are objects, humiliating women, assaulting women, incels and racism, and just be white.

They note the many humiliating and degrading terms incels use when describing women, and how some incels believe women should be property, have their rights removed, and be distributed among men by a central authority.

“Incels discuss violent fantasies, such as ‘burying women alive,’ hoping that women ‘get raped by boatloads’ of men, and stating they would ‘share some bullets’ with women that reject them. Incels also share and develop ‘Tinder experiments’ to further humiliate women,” the paper states.

Click here to read “Delving into the online world of incels.”

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2. Election campaign, Day 6

The PC platform includes $500 tax credit for people who adopt a dog* as part of its mental health strategy. They can probably get the one on the right for $300.

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

If elected, a Progressive Conservative government led by Tim Houston would spend half a billion dollars, $553 million, in its first year on these promises:

“Hope for Health”: $206 million:
• expand virtual care to include all Nova Scotians, $2.5 million
• pay family doctors more (no cost included) and set up a pension fund, $6 million
• expand operating room hours to reduce surgical waits, $25.7 million
• offer couples $20,000 for infertility treatments
• give families $500 tax credit per child sports/arts

Dignity for Seniors: $121 million:
• establish 2,500 new beds for seniors and hire 2,000 caregivers over three years

Universal Mental Healthcare: $102 million
• provide everyone with access to mental health
• establish separate Department of Addictions and Mental Health
• give seniors $500 grant to cover chores such as snow shovelling
• give $500 tax credit for people who adopt a dog*

Environment: $7.4 million
• increase the amount of electricity generated by renewables to 80% by 2030. (Same promise made by NDP)
• protect 20% of all land and water by 2030
• make all new provincial buildings net-zero
• implement the Lahey Report on Forestry

Economy: $64 million
• offer companies 50% tax rebate if they hire more employees or increase their wages, the “Better Pay cheque Guarantee”
• defer payment of income tax for people under age 30 working in trades
• extend internet to every household
• double budget for rural roads
• balance provincial budget in six years, 2027-28, compared to Liberal promise of 2026-27 timeframe.
• target to double N.S. population by 2060

Housing: 
• conduct inventory of vacant NS Crown land and tender some property to build affordable housing 

Education: $52 million
• add civics and financial literacy to public school curriculum
• expand trades training
• implement recommendations regarding inclusion of special needs students
• restore elected school boards

Note: The Liberal and NDP parties have yet to release their fully costed promises. Yesterday Iain Rankin announced a re-elected Liberal government would create 7,500 additional after-school spaces for children ages three to five as part of the previously announced federal–provincial program to establish universal daycare over the next five years. NDP leader Gary Burrill announced an NDP government would establish same day/next day treatment for people with mental health issues.

* as originally published, this article described the dog tax credit as a “grant”; it is not. Further, it described the dogs as “therapy dogs,” when they’re not; rather, this is for the adoption of a dog through a recognized “Adopt-a-Dog” program.

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3. COVID death

As of end of day Wednesday, 75.1% of the entire population of Nova Scotia had received at least one dose of vaccine.

A woman in her 50s has died from COVID-19. She lived in the Halifax area; she is the 93rd person to die from the disease in Nova Scotia, and the 27th since April 1.

Otherwise, yesterday Nova Scotia announced no new cases of COVID-19.

The province typically releases the vaccination status of new COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths on Fridays, so we’ll know the vaccination status of the woman who died later today. But, as I remarked on Twitter yesterday, we should probably expect to see an increase in the percentage of new cases that are people who have been vaccinated — the so-called “breakthrough cases,” demonstrating that while the vaccines are very, very good, they aren’t 100% effective.

Because in Nova Scotia most people are now fully vaccinated, it’s more likely that breakthrough cases will become a larger percentage of the total of new cases. You can do the thought experiment: if everyone were vaccinated, then every new case would be a breakthrough case — 100% of new cases would be a vaccinated person. We’ll never reach total vaccination, but as the pool of unvaccinated people gets smaller, necessarily the percentage of new cases who are vaccinated people will increase.

Still, remember that the number (as opposed to percentage) of new cases will be lower because of vaccination, and those breakthrough cases will be less severe on average.

I mention this because I know there are bad actors out there who will point to the increasing percentage of new cases among vaccinated people as supposed “proof” that vaccines don’t work. These people will be spreading false information, using a misinterpretation of data to intentionally harm people. Vaccines do work, and everyone should get vaccinated at the first opportunity.

That said, I do worry about children under 12, who can’t get vaccinated. All it takes is a breakthrough case in an adult, who might not even know they are carrying the virus because they are asymptomatic, coming to a day care or school and sparking a breakout.

When I raised that issue with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang, he seemed dismissive of my concern, saying that children don’t get as severely sick as adults do, and that they need no additional protections. But what I’ve read says that the Delta variant is much more of a danger to children, and while deaths of children have been thankfully rare, they do happen, so I’m still worried.

Strang has scheduled a teleconference with reporters today at 1:30pm.

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4. Laid off Charlottetown employees sue SaltWire

Did the Chronicle Herald and its parent corporation SaltWire use the pandemic as an excuse to avoid properly compensating long-time employees it terminated? That’s the suggestion of a recent court ruling involving a Chronicle Herald worker in Halifax, and of a new lawsuit filed earlier this month by six SaltWire employees who worked at the company’s Charlottetown production facility.

In June, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Jamie Campbell ruled in favour of a 61-year-old man named Jerry Slater, who had worked at the Herald for 39 years as a district manager; for that long service, Slater was paid just $43,000 annually ($48,000 if you include benefits). Slater “devoted pretty much his entire working life to the Herald,” noted Campbell, who laid out the facts in the case:

On March 24, 2020, 39 years and one day after he joined the Herald, that ended. There was no suggestion that he had done anything wrong or anything to deserve losing his job. Jerry Slater was not “let go” for anything he had done or failed to do.

That was just about 2 weeks after the World Health Organization announced that Covid-19 had become a pandemic. The Herald said that his 39-year long employment contract had been frustrated. They told him on March 24, 2020, that he would be temporarily laid off without pay for a period that was predicted to be about 3 months. He was told that the lay off was because of the drop in revenue caused by the pandemic. The newspaper industry had been in a period of decline even before the pandemic, but the pandemic made it worse.

Three months later the lay off did not end. On June 23, 2020, Mr. Slater was told that his employment would be terminated on September 1, 2020. The letter that Mr. Slater received said that the impact of Covid-19 on the business could not be overstated and that the media industry across Canada was laying off large numbers of employees. It said that the Herald had to take drastic steps of restructuring, layoffs and eliminating positions. The letter made the case for the application of the legal doctrine of frustration. It stressed that no one knew if, or when, the industry would return to normal operation and that the impacts of the pandemic were going to be greater than anyone had predicted. It said that the employment contract had been frustrated through no fault of either Mr. Slater or the Herald. Because the contract had been frustrated termination would be without notice. On a “gratuitous basis” the Herald would pay Mr. Slater until September 1, 2020.

If he wanted that pay Mr. Slater had to sign a full release. He did not agree to those terms. So, he went from being employed and close to retirement to being unemployed at 61 years old. If he wanted anything more, he was going to have to resort to legal action. That is what he did. And a bit more than a year after the termination of his employment Mr.Slater was in court with his former employer, the Herald.

Through that year the Herald maintained the position that the employment contract had been frustrated. They legally owed him nothing at all. They might have offered to pay him until September 1, 2020, but that was just as a favour or a gift. Their legal obligations as they acknowledged them to him, as an employee of almost 4 decades, amounted to nothing. Nothing at all.

On the day before the application in court was to proceed, the Herald advised that they would no longer be relying on the defence of frustration. Much of the evidence filed and much of the written argument put forward was then made unnecessary. The Herald acknowledged, somewhat more than a year after the termination of Mr. Slater’s employment that they did owe him something after all. The only issue is how much. The Herald claimed that Mr. Slater failed to mitigate the damages he suffered from the termination of his employment. The Herald said that Mr. Slater should have accepted one of the two jobs that it offered him a year after his employment was terminated. The amount it owes him should be limited to his salary and benefits for that one year. The Herald also says that amount should be reduced even further. The CERB payments that Mr. Slater received from the Government of Canada should be deducted from the damages that it is required to pay.

Campbell ruled that Slater was entitled to a severance valued at 22 months of pay and benefits. But of interest to me was Campbell’s ruling that the Herald’s CERB argument held no water:

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit was paid during the pandemic, by the federal government, to several categories of people. Those who had to stop work because of Covid-19 received those payments. Mr. Slater started to receive CERB payments immediately after the first layoff notice in March 2020. Those payments were $2,000 each month and lasted until September 2020. He then began to receive Employment Insurance benefits. The EI benefits are subject to the provisions of the Employment Insurance Act, S.C. 1996, c. 23. A person who receives Employment Insurance benefits must repay them if their employer is later found to be liable to pay damages related to the termination of the employment contract and the Employment Insurance benefits were paid during the period of reasonable notice.

The rules related to the repayment of CERB payments have not been set out as clearly. They were intended as a financial lifeline for people at a time when Employment Insurance benefits might not have been available. There is a requirement for repayment by the recipient if they are rehired or have received retroactive pay from their employer. The damages in this case are a form of payment for the period during which Mr. Slater would have been working had he received reasonable notice of his termination. Mr. Slater could then be required to repay the benefits that he received if they relate to the same time for which he is compensated through damages.

As the country begins to move out of the pandemic more questions are being asked about the nature of the ad hocCERB program. Clearly there are people who will have to pay it back. Mr. Slater will likely have to repay EI benefits for the period to which the damages relate. EI benefits are not deducted from awards for damages for wrongful dismissal. They do have to be repaid. Mr. Slater may have to repay CERB as well. While CERB payments were not provided as part of an insurance program, they were intended as a form of income replacement, provided by the federal government. The requirement for repayment makes them analogous to EI benefits.

If those payments are deducted from the award of damages the justification is that Mr. Slater should not be compensated for income that he has not lost. The party that benefits from CERB in that case would be the Herald. The purpose of an award of damages is not to punish the Herald, but to compensate Mr. Slater. Money paid under the ad hocprogram set up to provide employees with some modest level of protection from the financial impacts of the pandemic would then be used to cushion the blow of termination payments awarded against an employer. There were other programs in place to assist employers. And Mr. Slater, after going through this situation over the last year, would have to face the prosect of explaining to the government why he should not have to pay back the CERB payments that he received.

If it is not deducted from the damage award the likely result is that it will have to be paid back, like EI benefits. If for some reason it is not, Mr. Slater may gain a windfall. The alternative is that the Herald would benefit from the taxpayer funded CERB payments by having a reduced damage award and Mr. Slater would be left providing an explanation.

The CERB payments will not be directly deducted from the damage award.

You can read Campbell’s entire decision here.

This week, the Herald appealed Campbell’s ruling. I have not yet been able to read the appeal, so I don’t know the argument presented.

And then, earlier this month, a group of six laid-off SaltWire employees who worked at the production facility in Charlottetown sued the company, saying in effect that SaltWire used the pandemic as an excuse to not pay them a full severance and filled their positions with lower-paid employees.

In April 2017, SaltWire purchased Transcontinental’s entire Atlantic Canada operation. Two years later, Saltwire filed a claim against Transcontinental; as I noted at the time:

[T]he lawsuit makes serious allegations of misrepresentation on Transcontinental’s part.

The lawsuit claims that Transcontinental had inflated circulation figures to its customers, and so subsequently had to “remedy the wrongdoing by providing significant credits to customers for the non-existent circulation.” The customers didn’t learn of the misrepresentation until after the sale agreement with SaltWire.

Additionally, “SaltWire discovered that more than 141,00 flyer packages were not delivered by Transcontinental’s agent in Western Newfoundland [before the sale]. Significant damages have resulted from the requirement to clean-up those materials, and the need to compensate the client…”

There are other claims about assets not being worth what Transcontinental had stated, and then there’s a tax claim: SaltWire claims that Transcontinental had left it with an unpaid $1.7 million HST bill.

…as I read through it, I was struck by both the seriousness of the allegations levelled against Transcontinental and by the apparent lack of even basic due diligence on the part of SaltWire.

It appears SaltWire accepted at face value the valuation of the Transcontinental assets it purchased as presented in a slide presentation that Transcontinental used as part of its sales presentation.

There’s been no action on the lawsuit for well over a year; I’m guessing that SaltWire and Transcontinental have come to some sort of settlement and the claim will eventually be dismissed.

Back to the Charlottetown employees.

The lawsuit names the six, their positions, tenure at the company, and age, as follows:

According to the lawsuit, after SaltWire bought the Transcontinental facilities, the Charlottetown production plant employees were required to sign new employment contracts with SaltWire. “No financial benefit or incentive was provided to the [employees] to sign the new employment contract. Rather, they were told that if they did not sign, their employment would be terminated.

On March 24, 2020 — the same day Slater was laid off in Halifax — five of the six Charlottetown employees were indefinitely laid off due to the pandemic (MacFadyen was the exception, as she was on short-term disability leave at the time). As with Slater in Halifax, the Charlottetown layoffs were made permanent on July 23, 2020, effective September 1. But unlike Slater, who was paid through September 1, according to the court claim, none of the Charlottetown employees were paid after March 24, except for accrued compensation and vacation pay, and “SaltWire informed each of the Applicants that their employment had been frustrated by COVID-19.”

“The Applicants state that their employment was not frustrated, by COVID-19 or otherwise,” continues the lawsuit. “The Applicants state that SaltWire attributed their terminations to frustration due to COVID-19 in a bad faith attempt to avoid termination obligations to its long-time employees.”

The lawsuit additionally claims that after the six employees were laid off and terminated, “SaltWire continued operations out of its production facility in Charlottetown. SaltWire continued to employ more junior personnel in each of the Applicants’ former positions…. SaltWire acted in bad faith by terminating the most senior employees … under the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic, in an attempt to avoid its termination obligations.”

The six are represented by Anna-Marie Manley of Patterson Law. The claims have not been tested in court, and SaltWire hasn’t yet filed a response.

SaltWire no doubt faces great challenges, both related to the pandemic and to the state of the newspaper industry generally. But it embarked on the purchase of the Transcontinental assets with eyes wide open, and yet somehow (if we’re to believe SaltWire’s own statement of claim against Transcontinental) was duped into making too large a payment for them, and (if the employees’ claims are found to have merit) tried to skirt on its legal obligations to both its own and Transcontinental’s long-term employees.

Moreover, the company cited the pandemic to reduce its compensation to terminated employees. Justice Campbell ruled that in the case of Slater, the Herald’s attempt to deduct the CERB payments from Slater’s compensation package holds no legal water whatsoever. The Charlottetown employees’ legal claims haven’t been before a judge, but they’re saying that SaltWire unfairly and illegally used the pandemic as an excuse to fire high-cost veteran employees.

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Views

1. Ticked off

Photo: Stephen Archibald

“Since May, blacklegged ticks have twice latched onto me while I worked or rambled in our garden, and undetected they started to feast on my blood and perhaps infected me with the Lyme bacterium,” writes Stephen Archibald. “I’m sharing my little tick stories to help those of you who have yet to go through the experience to plan for what feels like inevitable encounters.”

Archibald gets into all the gory personal details, then continues:

Covid has shown us that Nova Scotians can become accustomed to a trusted source on health matters repeating essential information over and over until it sinks in. And we also learned that as the research evolves, best practices can change. We crave timely updates on infections and recoveries. And we value an engaged press that questions and pressures our government to communicate clearly.

Imagine if the government took this approach with Lyme disease. Let’s say a regular press conference with a good communicator, in the style of Dr. Lisa Barrett. Number of infections, number of people in treatment, hot spots for ticks, modeling how to stay safe.

For a long time the strong voices on Lyme have been telling us that our “trusted voices” cannot be trusted. I want to be past this.

No one I know got Covid, but regularly we hear about a friend or acquaintance being treated for Lyme. A doctor who treated Sheila last year said that she now considers Lyme when a patient presents with vague or unusual symptoms.

An excellent backgrounder on all things Lyme disease is Joan Baxter’s two-part article, “A plague of ticks, tick-borne diseases, and poli-ticks.”

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Government

No public meetings, it’s July.


On campus

No events of note, it’s July.


In the harbour

Halifax
04:00: MSC Leigh, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Barcelona, Spain
05:30: Don Quijote, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Zeebrugge, Belgium
06:00: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
06:00: Torrens, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Southampton, England
15:30: Don Quijote sails for sea
16:30: ZIM Qingdao sails for New York
18:00: Torrens moves to Autoport

Cape Breton
01:00: Runner, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for New York
02:00: Seaways Redwood, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania
10:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove Quarry for sea


Footnotes

[insert your own numbered sequence of items of personal consequence here]


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. It is a crying shame if the fear of ticks causes Nova Scotians to avoid our beautiful outdoors. You will never see its beauty….or see the disasters being caused by clearcutting our woods everywhere…..Having said that, the folks who work in the woods are high among those likely to be showing up soon with Lyme disease. Having caught an early case of it myself, I would like all doctors to consider it first when they see weird symptoms, or give preventive treatment when a patient shows up with a tick bite. And WHY isn’t a human vaccine against it being developed??

  2. Re Saltwire I worked for a company with a family connection to CH (Saltwire) and Transcontinental this sounds about right

    1. We know that Saltwire benefitted from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, designed so that employees like Mr. Slater don’t have to be let go because of a downturn caused by the pandemic. Unfortunately, the government is refusing to make public the amounts given to employers like Saltwire but on the face of it the Slater case and that involving the employees in Charlottetown is one more example of the shortcomings of that very expensive ($80 billion and counting) CEWS program.

  3. Re SaltWire and the CERB: Reminds me of a story I wrote for the Examiner last spring, in which a couple who owned a small business in Lunenburg (shut down because of restrictions) said they were told by their commercial landlord that she expected timely payment of the rent, because they had received their CERB. Not the point of the CERB.

  4. Limiting the information about the most recent covid death in NS to gender and decade of age, does a disservice to both sides of the vaccine debate. And by both sides, I mean of course, those of us getting the vaccines and those individuals who are whipped up in a frenzy of misinformation, misplaced libertarian bullshit and thinly veiled conservative politics. What this lack of detail allows for is widespread dissemination of uncorroborated tales of preexisting or extraneous medical conditions actually responsible for the death. And on it goes. Personal details are of course unnecessary, but a general medical assessment would be helpful.