News

1. No known cause for fire at Barho family home

The Barho family. Photo: Ummah Masjid And Community Center/ Facebook

Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency say they don’t know what caused the fire that burned down the Barho family home, killing all seven of the family’s children.

In the Chronicle Herald, Stuart Peddle reports that three different teams of investigators, plus outside consultants, were not able to determine a cause for the fire:

Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum expressed the frustration investigators feel.

“I can tell you that they agonized over the file,” Meldrum said. “When I say they searched for physical evidence in the area of origin, they literally sifted every square inch of that floor, sifted all the material that was there, to see if there was any, any item there that could help them get the cause and they simply couldn’t.”

Fire investigators find that in about 25 per cent of cases in major fires where the sheer volume of damage is high, valuable evidence can be destroyed by the fire itself or washed away by the firefighting efforts, and so the cause ends up being undetermined, he said.

“But it’s never satisfactory. We always want to be able to explain how the fire happened so folks get good information on how to prevent it from happening again.”

The investigators did rule out several possible causes, saying the fire was not caused by arson, smoking, baseboard heaters, electrical fault, or cooking.

Naturally, some folks online immediately started talking cover-up and conspiracy.

A few years ago, close friends of mine in another city nearly lost their home to fire. They woke up early one morning to see flames, and got out of the house just in time. The building was not destroyed, but the fire caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, and they could not move back in for many months. Fire investigators could see where the fire had started, but had no idea what caused it.

Sometimes we have to accept that we just won’t get answers.

2. Al-Rawi found not guilty again

Yesterday, judge Ann Marie Simmons found Bassam Al-Rawi not guilty of sexual assault. Al-Rawi had previously been found not guilty of the same charge by Judge Gregory Lenehan, who notoriously said, “Clearly, a drunk can consent” while delivering his ruling. The Crown appealed, but the re-trial ended in the same result.

At CBC, Preston Mulligan writes that the Crown has yet to decide what it will do:

Crown prosecutor Jennifer MacLellan said she’s not prepared to say whether the Crown will appeal the judge’s decision. However, she said it would be a difficult process.

“We’re not allowed to appeal differences of fact for instance. If we think there was something factually the judge may have gotten wrong, that’s not something we can appeal on,” she said.

It took Simmons four hours to read her decision in provincial court on Wednesday.

MacLellan said her team wants to read it again before deciding what to do.

Al-Rawi now lives in Germany. He still has to face trial for another alleged sexual assault.

Over at Global, Graeme Benjamin writes:

A Halifax Regional Police constable testified she approached Al-Rawi’s parked taxi to find him between the legs of an unconscious woman, partially naked with her shirt lifted up enough that her breasts were revealed.

“If a Halifax police officer as your witness isn’t enough to garner a conviction, what the hell is?” [Amanda] Dodsworth disputed. “It’s bananas. How much more credible of a witness do you need?”

Benjamin says there is a protest against the verdict planned for today at Grand Parade. Dodsworth was one of the organizers of a protest that followed the original verdict.

3. Maine Lobstermen’s Association blames Canada for right whale deaths

Researchers from the Marine Animal Response Society examining one of the dead right whales. Photo: Marine Animal Response Society

Paul Withers continues the CBC’s series on right whales with a story from Maine, where the association representing people who fish lobster is backing out of a plan to help protect right whales. The group claims it doesn’t make sense for their members to drastically cut the number of their buoy lines in the water, when the main threat to the whales comes from Canada:

In an Aug. 30 letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, executive director Patrice McCarron withdrew the association’s support for a recent agreement to cut the number of buoy lines in the water by 60 per cent to reduce the risk to whales from the lobster fishery.

“The data are clear that Canadian entanglements and vessel strikes are now the most significant cause of right whale serious injury and death,” McCarron wrote… “The MLA cannot responsibly recommend its members undertake changes in fishing practices when whales may continue to become entangled in fishing gear, such as gillnets, which are not included in the current rulemaking.”

Withers could not get DFO to comment, but he does quote both Canadian and American environmentalists who say they are disappointed in the Lobstermen’s Association withdrawal.

5. The hurricane

Point Pleasant Park pre and post Hurricane Juan, from Halifax’s Urban Forest Master Plan, 2013.

Nobody is predicting Juan-like devastation, but it does look like Hurricane Dorian could hit us hard.

I confess that normally I find the lengthy forecasts meteorologists seem so fond of really tiring. Just tell me what you think will happen! But I appreciate that with hurricanes and tropical storms there are many uncertainties, and I like the way Ryan Snoddon at CBC walks through the various possibilities and uncertainties.

Short version: high winds, lots of rain, and pounding surf. But still a few questions about how high, how much, and when.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Henderson asked about offshore drilling and hurricane prep. She got an email from Stacy O’Rourke, communications manager for the Canadian-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board saying:

ExxonMobil has advised that they will begin removing non-essential personnel at the Sable Offshore Energy Facilities today based on the forecasted weather and sea-state conditions related to Hurricane Dorian. ExxonMobil will continue to monitor forecasted conditions to determine if further precautionary down-staffing is required.

Encana has advised that, based on the forecasted weather and sea-state conditions at their Deep Panuke Production Field Centre, a precautionary down-staffing of their facilities is not required at this time. Encana will continue to monitor forecasted conditions.

Henderson reached out to Exxon Mobil and Encana directly as well. Encana has not replied. Lynn Evans of Exxon Mobil Canada wrote:

Safety is a top priority and as a precaution, we are bringing ashore all non-essential personnel from Thebaud and the Noble Regina Allen over the next few days. The personnel will be transferred via vessel beginning September 4th. A typical recent complement of offshore workers during current activities is approximately 160 combined at Thebaud and aboard the Noble Regina Allen. After removing non-essential personnel, approximately 26 personnel will remain on the facilities. The team will continue to monitor the weather and if necessary remove the remaining personnel from Thebaud and the Noble Regina Allen before the storm impacts the region.


Views

1. NDP and Greens

Two days ago, 14 people who ran for the NDP in the last provincial election defected to the Greens. One of them was Jonathan Richardson, who was the Atlantic Canada representative on the party’s executive.

Richardson caused a stir when he said racism was one of the reasons the party had trouble finding candidates. In a CP story, Giuseppe Valiante writes:

The NDP has so far failed to nominate a single candidate in New Brunswick with the federal election less than 50 days away. Richardson said racism is a major reason the party can’t find candidates.

The former NDP executive member said he travelled around the province often to meet members, and “the racism card came up a lot — especially in the northern part of the province.” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is a practising Sikh and he wears a turban.

“I knew this was going to be a major issue and I did bring that to the election planning committee. That, you know, there is going to have to be a some discussion about race. Because it wasn’t going well,” Richardson said in an interview Tuesday.

I’ve seen a couple of talking points from the NDP about the defections. One is that Richardson’s remarks themselves were racist or disrespectful to Canadians.

I talked to a couple of local candidates from the two parties yesterday, to find out what they made of all this.

First, I called Jo-Ann Roberts, who is running for the Greens in the Halifax riding. Roberts is one of two deputy leaders of the party, and her campaign manager is Bill Matheson, a former president of the provincial NDP. To my surprise, Roberts did not spin the defections as a huge victory for the Greens. She was a lot more cautious:

I mean, as a deputy leader of the party it means quite a bit to me because it does speak to a national narrative if you will. In Halifax, because it’s very different from New Brunswick — in fact, very different from the rest of Nova Scotia — you can’t read too much into it. But I do think it’s an example of what many voters in this riding are struggling with…

I think it’s an example, some might say a symptom, of what’s going on. So that’s why I do see it as significant in this riding. I’m not going to go past that. I know there’s a long NDP tradition here. It’s one I respect and I have a great deal of respect for the strong women who’ve carried the NDP banner in this riding. So I can’t say that we can read much more than that into it.

Roberts, a former CBC host in Victoria, ran for the Greens in that city in 2015 and came second. She’s moved back to Nova Scotia since the last election.

I also called my local NDP candidate, Jessika Hepburn, who runs the Biscuit Eater cafe in Mahone Bay. She’s a first-time candidate, and her website highlights environmental issues as among her top concerns. She says she chose to run for the NDP “because I feel like they best represent my values of including social justice and environmental justice as one focus, and that the two things can’t be separated.”

When it came to the defections, Hepburn not only downplayed them, but described them as an opportunity:

I think it’s coming from my background of community development and in systems change, and specifically around disruptive technology. I was a consultant for Etsy for many years, and I have an understanding of how things sort of fall apart to fall together. And I think that that’s what’s happening within the NDP: this movement of an older guard and people who are openly saying that they feel like Canada is too racist to elect a brown man… I think those people leaving creates an opportunity for other people to step in. And I think that’s very exciting.

I pointed out that it is rather close to an election though, and Hepburn said:

It is, yes. There are two mindsets, right? One is a scarcity mindset that looks at the issues as oh my God, everything’s falling apart. The other one says you know, this is a huge opportunity for us to come together.

I asked each of them about strategic voting too, and the concern that voters who care about social justice and climate change might wind up electing a Conservative government if they vote Green or NDP. Not surprisingly, neither candidate was a fan. Hepburn, from the NDP, said she resists strategic voting “with all of my being”:

I think that that strategic ping-pong voting has worked really really well for the two big powers that be… [Voting] against somebody else instead of voting for the type of politics that we want, and even more specifically for the type of people that we want to represent us, has led to this increasing disenchantment and a feeling like our votes don’t matter.

For her part, Roberts of the Greens points to her experience in the last federal campaign:

We all like to think we can somehow pull out the crystal ball and decide how everyone in Canada is going to vote. But the truth is we do have to vote for what we want, if we’re going to get it. That argument plagued me a great deal in Victoria. I did lose to a New Democrat. But the New Democrat told everyone that if they voted Green we’d elect a Conservative. Well, the Conservatives came fourth… So it is a frustrating argument to Greens. We hear it a lot.

It’s going to be an interesting campaign.


Noticed

Steven Foster campaign sign. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

I live in the South Shore-St. Margarets riding, which includes very suburban and very rural areas — and everything in between.

In the last week, I’ve noticed a few signs for independent Steven Foster, and I confess that at first they baffled me. Some of the signs are set up facing the road (parallel to it), which means they are impossible to read while driving. The word “independent” jumped out at me, along with “$50000/yr doctor”. The first time I saw one, I thought the property was for sale for $50,000, that the seller was independent and not a realtor, and that maybe he was a doctor, which somehow made him more trustworthy, I guess. I missed the word “elect.”

But no, Foster is a candidate in the federal election, running against Liberal incumbent Bernadette Jordan, NDP candidate Jessika Hepburn, Richard Perkins of the Conservatives, Green candidate Thomas Trappenberg, and Robert Monk of the PPC.

According to his Facebook page, Foster is an electrician and carpenter. From what I gather, the $50,000 is the amount of his own money he is willing to donate to start a fund to attract more doctors.

When I was a kid, I remember asking my parents who they were voting for in a provincial election, and they both told me the independent. Why do my parents have to be such weirdos, I thought. Why can’t they just vote for a normal candidate like anyone else?

Kudos to Foster and any other independents running. It’s a hard enough job when you’ve got a party behind you. But maybe run your signs past someone first, to see if they can figure them out.


Government

City

Thursday

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — the committee wants the city to “convert a portion of the municipal fleet to electric vehicles and install charging stations at municipal facilities.”

Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — here’s the agenda.

Friday

No public meetings.

Province

No public meetings today or Friday.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Lord Dalhousie Scholarly Panel Reception (Thursday, 6pm, Atrium, Life Sciences Research Institute) — we’re finally getting the release of the Lord Dalhousie project, I’m told.

Lisa Moore (Thursday, 7pm, Halifax Central Library) — Newfoundland-born author and winner of the 2019 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award will talk.

Friday

SingleAtom Alloy Catalysts: Born in a Vacuum, Tested in Reactors, and Understood In Silico (Friday, 1:30pm, Chemistry Room 226) — Charles Sykes from Tufts University will talk.


In the harbour

Thursday
05:45: Anthem of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 4,180 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John, on a nine-day roundtrip cruise out of New York

Veendam. Photo: Halifax Examiner

06:45: the Veendam is back! —the workhorse cruise ship with up to 1,350 passengers has returned to its North Atlantic rotation after frightening tourists in the Mediterranean for a spell; today it arrives at Pier 20 from Bar Harbor, on a 19-day cruise from Lisbon, Portugal to Montreal. Tim reminds us of its illustrious history:

In 2011, a 61-year-old woman passenger on the ship died, as 86 other passengers were suffering from a gastroenteritis illness on the ship. The cruise line claimed that the woman died from other causes, but a Brazillian newspaper said that she died from “suspected food poisoning.”

In 2012, the Veendam flunked a US Centres for Disease Control inspection, although it has passed more recent inspections.

That fall, 70-year-old Sarah Tessier Powell went missing from the ship, somewhere in Canada, maybe in Quebec, or Charlottetown, or Sydney, or Halifax. “Police said they do not suspect foul play in Powell’s disappearance and think she may have walked off the ship without being checked by security,” reported the CBC. “How on earth is that possible?” asks lawyer Jim Walker. “Passenger gangways are supposed to be heavily monitored by security with each passenger’s sea pass card scanned and the gangways always covered by closed circuit television cameras.”

In 2013, a crew member on the Veendam was arrested on child porn charges in Halifax. Soon after, the ship was hit with another bout of norovirus, with 60 passengers falling ill.

In February 2014, the Veendam was struck with norovirus, affecting 114 of 1,273 passengers, about nine per cent of those on board.

In October 2014, the ship’s propeller failed, causing the cancellation of three cruises that would have included stops in Halifax.

In December 2015, the Veendam was again struck with gastrointestinal illness, this time affecting 73 of 1,429 passengers, more than five per cent of those on board.

In January of 2017, the Broward County, Florida Sheriff’s office arrested a Veendam 26-year-old waiter named Gede Sukrantara for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old passenger.

Other than that, the ship seems like a great time.

07:00: Ef Ava, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland

East Coast. Photo: Halifax Examiner

07:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
07:15: Norwegian Dawn, cruise ship with up to 2,808 passengers, arrives at Pier 31 from Bar Harbor, on an 11-day cruise from New York to Quebec City
07:30: USS Gridley, US Navy destroyer, arrives at NB4
07:45: HMS Northumberland, British (for the time being) Navy frigate, arrives at NC5(2)
08:15: HNoMS Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian Navy frigate, arrives at NH2 PST
08:30: USS Jason Dunham, US Navy destroyer, arrives at NB4(2)
09:15: BNS LEOPOLD, Belgium Navy frigate, arrives at Berth TBD
10:00: NRP Francisco de Almeida, Portuguese Navy frigate, arrives at Dockyard
10:30: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
10:30: USNS Patuxent, US Navy replenishment vessel, arrives at Berth TBD from Norfolk
11:30: Scenic Eclipse, cruise ship with up to 228 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Charlottetown, on a 15-day cruise from Quebec City to New York
11:30: HNLMS Van Speijk, Netherlands Navy frigate, arrives at Dockyard
13:30: HDMS Peter Willemoes, Denmark Navy frigate, arrives at Dockyard
16:00: Jennifer Schepers, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
16:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 34 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
16:30: Anthem of the Seas sails for New York
16:45: Veendam sails for Sydney
17:00: Ardmore Sealifter, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
17:45: Norwegian Dawn sails for Sydney
19:00: Skogafoss sails for Portland
19:30: Scenic Eclipse sails for Lunenburg

Friday
02:00: Ef Ava, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Portland
03:30: Jennifer Schepers, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Kingston, Jamaica
07:00: Polar King, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 25 from St. John’s
09:30: Insignia, cruise ship with up to 800 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Saint John, on a 10-day cruise from New York to Montreal


Footnotes

First day of school. Slow down. Sometimes I think I should get a bumper sticker that reads, “I’m not speeding through the school zone for you.”

To be fair, in the last year or so I’ve noticed far fewer people riding my bumper when I’m driving through the local school zones.

Also, stop passing school buses with their lights flashing! Here’s a little piece I did years ago, and from what I gather, things have only gotten worse.

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. After reading about the Barho fire, as well as watching interviews on CTV Atlantic last night, I’m confused about Halifax Fire’s statements on this matter.

    If the fire was so destructive they could not determine a cause, I’m unsure how they could eliminate causes. Further, on CTV, a fire official stated that the circuit breakers to all electric baseboard heaters were in the “OFF” position and not tripped. This fire happened in the middle of a frigid NS winter, If all the heat was off what was heating the house? This seems like a fundamental question.

    When Stevie Murphy asked the HRM fire official about this, the HRM fire official completely deflected the question and did not answer the question. Being he the hardcore and extremely competent journalist Stevie Murphy is (NOT) he let the HRM fire official completely slide on this.

    Why am I thinking that it will take another Halifax Examiner FOIR to get tot the real truth on this? Keep up the great work Halifax Examiner team!

  2. By now, you and your readers have probably seen that media inaccurately reported that 14 provincial NDP candidates from New Brunswick were calling on people to vote for the Greens.

    The NDP central office spoke directly with a number of the former provincial candidates, who have confirmed they are still supporting Jagmeet Singh and the NDP in this election.

    It appears many of these individuals were named by Jonathan Richardson and the Green Party without their consent.

    Jonathan may have had his own reasons for making this unfortunate — and untrue — announcement but it’s a little disappointing, if not terribly surprising, that media ran with the mass defection story without ever checking with the people who were named.

    1. Drat. I had a four but then realized I was linking to an older piece, so I deleted it but forgot to check the numbers. And now I can’t fix it because if I do the comments won’t make any sense.