1. What Laurie Graham’s appointment says about Affirmative Action

Tim Bousquet wrote yesterday about the appointment of Laurie Graham as the premier’s principal secretary, which prompted heated discussion in the comments about patronage, qualifications, and sexism.

To summarize some of the major points of contention in the argument, some felt that in drawing attention to the fact that Graham is Ray Ivany’s wife, Tim was ignoring her own qualifications and implying that powerful women are not successful on their own terms. Successful men, it was suggested, are rarely judged on their spouse. On the other side, commentators argued that qualifications or personal qualities were not the issue, but rather that appointing the job with no open competition or transparent process continues the tradition in Nova Scotia of political patronage and insider politics. Other equally or more qualified candidates may be out there, but without a fair process for applicants, or any accounting for what makes the appointee the best choice, at the very least the appearance is of cronyism and preferential treatment.

Missing from the argument is a context of race. There is a myth of merit in society that tells us that those who are rewarded with money and jobs simply worked harder than others. Instead of complaining about racism, this argument goes, you should just work harder.

But when hiring actually depends on knowing the right people, shaking the right hands, or being from the right family, no matter how hard you work you aren’t going to be able to break into those ranks. When hiring is done based on a who-knows-who basis, it will always advantage the people who have historically been admitted to the inner circles.

This province looks so white at the top because so long as appointments continue to be made for “people they know,” the majority of the time it will be fellow white people. Lip service is given to “diversity” and “inclusion,” but when being the right kind of person or knowing the right people or being one of us or just being “the right fit” are prioritized, people will continue to hire people who look like them.


To put this bluntly, this isn’t just about patronage or hiring a spouse, it’s about being white.

Doing things this way is accepted as normal, yet the moment people of colour are hired or given a look in, people start talking about “affirmative action.” Nobody, of course, calls it affirmative action when spouses are hired, or when longtime friends are given positions, or when a job is created for a party insider. But let one Black or Indigenous person be hired, and it’s an outrage, as if historically there haven’t been all kinds of practices that advantage white people.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a student texted to tell me that their professor decided to have a discussion of affirmative action in class. The example of the IB&M (Indigenous Black and Mi’kmaq) program in the law school was given, and students were told to break into groups to discuss whether these programs are “fair.” As a matter of fact, this class was in the Management program, which leads me to wonder if they ever have class discussions about whether the rewarding of business people with university presidentships, for example, is “fair.” Somehow the discussion of “fairness” only comes up when people of colour are being hired, with the assumption being that all people of colour are unqualified, and all white people are.

Image from
Image from

For people of colour, no matter how qualified, there are always people who assume you are the affirmative action hire. My sister, who graduated fourth in her law class with two children under three while working full time, and who received academic scholarships every year, frequently experienced fellow students assuming that she got into law school on some kind of diversity program, something they were not shy about sharing to her face. I actually won the gold medal in Arts in undergrad, yet I also have had people tell me that “you get to go to school for free because you’re black.”

Image from
Image from

There actually would be nothing wrong if I had been given scholarships “because I’m black,” since in my time in graduate school and teaching I have been either the first, the only, or one of two in the many schools and departments I have worked in. I also am often the only teacher of colour my students encounter in their entire degree. So if that presence had been made possible through diversity scholarships, clearly there is a need for those programs. And the fact that Black people have to defend ourselves and that we are quick to show all the ways that our hires are actually based on merit speaks to the ways that accusations of affirmative action have been used diminish our qualifications and accomplishments.


In fact, in my experience, despite the myth of widespread affirmative action, the reality is still that people of colour have to “work twice as hard to be given half as much.” Despite the lip service paid to diversity policies (and job ads that proclaim the company/institution an “equal opportunity employer”) as Radha Koilpillai discovered, in reality, “equity hiring” policies still don’t result in the hiring of qualified women of colour. It should be emphasized that even when there is an affirmative action policy, candidates are still competing for the positions — yet when a white person is just given a position, people point to their qualifications.

Even when we are undeniably accomplished, we are likely to be represented with our race first — no article today will say “Peter Harder, a white man who led Justin Trudeau’s team, was appointed to senate” because whiteness is invisible. But Justice Sinclair is an “Indigenous Judge.” This point isn’t about arguing some kind of colour blindness, or that identifying ourselves isn’t powerful — it’s that we will never see it implied that a white person got their job because of their race because white identities are seen as normal, yet when people of colour are appointed, they’re frequently seen as “the Indigenous candidate,” “the Sikh minister,” “the Black senator,” etc.

It’s funny to note, for example, that when Trudeau appointed women and people of colour to his cabinet, there were all kinds of articles about “merit” and “affirmative action” hiring, yet at the very same time those newspapers ran articles about Trudeau using his father’s old desk, or showing the old photograph of him being carried by his father. Our Prime Minister can be a white man whose father was Prime Minister, but it’s the people of colour whose qualifications to be in their position that we have to question.

Image from
Image from

Even if Black/Indigenous/Women of Colour work hard, earn qualifications, and get experience, and even if we have qualifications on our own merits, we are also far less likely to be able to participate in privilege-by-proxy. White women are impacted by sexism, but white women also benefit from the white male privilege of their fathers and husbands. I once had an older woman tell me early in my academic career that she recommended that all young female academics marry doctors or lawyers because academic employment is so unstable.

But where are Black women supposed to meet these wealthy professionals when we ourselves are often the only person of colour in our classes? It’s normal that professional people meet other professional people in school, in work circles, in professional networks, etc., but when there’s so few of us in these places in the first place, the likelihood of finding a partner is small.

You may be thinking at this point, well, but you can meet and marry white men — except that data from dating sites, for example, shows us again and again that black women get the fewest responses. In a society that constantly represents Black women as undesirable, ugly, aggressive, angry, having attitude, etc., it’s no surprise that Black women are seen as “unmarriageable.” Even if a Black woman has money or power of her own, when racist attitudes towards Black women make it harder for her to be married, she has less chance of accessing her husband’s networks of power and privilege.

When racism also impacts the ability of Black men to access education, jobs, or to be in a position of influence, the likelihood of a Black couple being able to be a “power couple” is far less than that of white couples. Affirmative action has overwhelmingly benefited white women, which is important to acknowledge in discussions of sexism and attitudes towards hiring.

When we criticize cronyism, patronage, insularity, the Nova Scotia way of doing things, and so on, we also have to say the word “white” in there. These positions are about power, and they are also about race, and how white people get and keep power.

2. About loneliness

I told the prisoners who helped me out with the dental care in prison story last week that a lot of people were interested in that piece. Anything else people don’t know about prison that you could tell them, I asked?

I was told to write about the loneliness in prison.

Image from
Image from

Guys in prison, we don’t say loneliness. We say going home. We just say, we miss home.

The way I see it, there are three kinds of loneliness in prison. There’s loneliness just because of being alone, there’s loneliness because of isolation or solitary, and there’s loneliness that you deserve.

Deserving loneliness is like when you push the people in your life away. You’re in prison and you’re so angry and you take it out on the people around you. And nobody wants to play cards with you because you get mad, or you’re starting fights.

And that’s loneliness too, when guys are acting out and taking it out on everyone around them.

Image from
Image from

And it’s if you’re in prison for whatever reason and you’re not making any changes and you’re not moving forward and so people get tired of you. 

Guys get stuck. And there’s people who matter to you, but you stop mattering to them.

People show loneliness in different ways. Guys will get high. And they put the needle in and they’re like, bro, I’m going home. So loneliness is part of that too. But then people start getting addicted and all the rest of it, and then nobody wants to deal with them.

Depression in prison is loneliness too. Guys just go in their cell and they don’t want anyone around.

Loneliness in prison is like, there’s birthdays and Christmas and all these other special occasions. And if you get a card, you can live off that all year. You can take that card out and look at it and think, someone cared enough to send me this. People don’t even know what it’s like, how much that means. But some guys, they never get cards. And they see other guys getting mail or out talking on the phone and then they get mad and they’re taking it out on someone else.

Image from
Image from

They have socials or visits and guys are going all happy and everyone’s hearing their name called, and then they come back all smiling and there are guys that will see that and they need to bring that guy down and make him miserable too. So you can never look too happy about anything in prison because there are other guys there that will see that, and there’s vicious loneliness too.

Guys are doing long sentences or life, and people fall away. You see guys go years without a phone call, and their phone card is propping something up in their cell because they never use it. The forms come around for the phones and they never have a number to put on it. And guys are calling home and they’re sitting there dialling and dialling and nobody’s picking up. And then they’re leaving messages screaming into the machine. And sometimes people get tired of it so they block the guy’s number. And he’s calling for a week getting mad because he thinks his phone card isn’t working. And he complains to the keeper and the keeper comes back and says that the person doesn’t want calls anymore.

Image from
Image from

And guys get so desperate they go and pay to put their picture up on one of those sites like Canadian Inmates Connect, just hoping, hoping, hoping, that someone will see it and write them.

Prison can be a transition or it can be a wall. It’s a wall if you get into prison and you just get stuck. Or you can use your aloneness to make changes and work on yourself.

For me, I think my aloneness is a good thing. Because I’ve worked on myself and got myself right. And that’s my coming home.

3. Plus he cuddles raccoons

Emera president and CEO Chris Huskilson was shockingly precipitated into destitution in 2015 when his salary decreased by $300,000 from 2014. That’s like a whole university president’s worth!

Oh no! He lost an Ivany!
Oh no! He lost an Ivany!

Just kidding, obviously, since he still made $4.3 million. The CEO of Nova Scotia Power, Robert Hanf, a relative pauper by comparison, made a mere $1.3 million.

Meanwhile, when Nova Scotia power isn’t estimating your power bill because weather, or wilily refusing to take customer complaints, they’re dealing with outages attributed to the merest footfall of a raccoon in the forest or the breath of a crow’s wingbeat.

I didn’t read the article for obvious reasons, but I note that when searching “news” for Nova Scotia Power, the headline for the newspaper that shall not be read or linked to was, “Emera CEO takes small pay cut” which makes it sound downright altruistic, as opposed to say, “Executives rake in huge compensation while customers choose between food and groceries due to ever-increasing power rates.”

Representation of Huskilson's selfless penury and compassionate divestment.
Representation of Huskilson’s selfless penury and compassionate divestment.

4. Lobsters start war with Sweden

This wasn’t predicted by the Halifax International Security Forum! Maybe “covert lobster operations” were on one of the off-record panels. Or maybe those lobster dinners were actually training sessions of our newest agents in the war against the global scourge that is Sweden.

Sweden was holding our beloved mayor hostage in this shocking footage from CBC.
Sweden was holding our beloved mayor hostage in this shocking footage from CBC.

According to this CBC article, “Sweden wants a blanket ban on the importation of live North American lobsters across the European Union in an effort to prevent a possible underwater invasion.”

(Better writing: Sweden wants to claw back the importation of live North American lobsters.” See what I did there? It’s almost as funny as “Lobster industry could feel the pinch of proposed EU ban.” When we stop using puns in the news, Sweden wins.)

More than 30 terrorist/covert government agent lobsters have been found infiltrating Swedish waters. Our lobsters were also discovered setting up remote signal stations, subverting the local population, and spreading propaganda.

YouTube video

Strategic lobster propaganda designed to instill discontent in local lobster population.

Apparently our lobsters are also slutty and reproduce faster. Gee, Sweden, I thought you were all tolerant and stuff. This whole rhetoric of the illegal migrant lobster violating your borders and having all kinds of babies seems kind of Drumpf-ish.

You can tell it’s our lobsters because North American lobsters have ” a different colour pattern” than the local species.





OMG, OF COURSE it would be the white lobsters invading and attacking the black lobsters. What’s going to happen next, the North American lobsters force the Swedish lobsters to suck debris off the bottom of the ocean or whatever lobsters do for a few hundred years and refuse the Swedish lobsters access to education or lobster housing then talk about how the Swedish lobsters are lazy and criminal and then appropriate the Swedish lobsters’ claws and wear them and be all “it’s cute when it’s on me”?

No, you can’t wear a headdress just because it’s “fun,” North American lobster!

Lady Gaga arriving at Mr Chow restaurant in London, wearing a see-through plastic dress and a silver lobster headpiece following the final London date on her Monster Ball tour London, England - 27.02.10 Mandatory Credit

God, look at our lobsters, so privileged! Always cosying up to celebrities! That lobster made $4.3 million last year!

Of course the lobsters’ handlers are cleverly playing dumb and not revealing our super-secret methods for seeding our lobster operatives into Swedish waters.

“Part of the mystery is how the lobsters ended up in Swedish waters. There’s no way they could travel such a distance on their own, says Gilles Theriault with GTA Fisheries Consultants, based out of New Brunswick.”



Anyway, as a well-known patriotic Canadian and advocate of military action, I fully support the lobster regiment and plan on putting a sticker of claws on my car today. All hail the first shots fired in what will be looked back upon as the GREAT CLAW WAR in the future as humans toil in underwater fortresses run by our lobster overlords.

no sweden


1. Jail deaths in Nova Scotia

The Halifax Metro has an article by Michael Tutton of the Canadian Press about the lack of inquiries into deaths in custody in Nova Scotia jails.

…Jason Marcel LeBlanc, 42, was seen on internal jail video gasping on the early hours of Jan. 31, after police brought him to the Cape Breton Correctional Facility when he missed his curfew at a halfway house.

He says prison officials told him his son “didn’t look his best” upon arrival, and that he’s learned from a medical examiner that Jason had pills in his cell.

LeBlanc says the unanswered questions haunt him.

Why didn’t a nurse send his son to hospital if he looked unwell? How often was Jason checked in his cell? If there were pills, how did he obtain and keep them?

He wants a public inquiry, but jail cell deaths in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland don’t require a mandatory public inquest when caused by non-natural events like overdose or suicide.

Ernie LeBlanc hold a photo of his son Jason LeBlanc at their home in Sydney Mines, N.s. on Monday, March 14, 2016. Jason died in custody at the Cape Breton Correctional Centre in January. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Ernie LeBlanc with a photo of his son Jason. Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan.
Ernie LeBlanc hold a photo of his son Jason LeBlanc at their home in Sydney Mines, N.s. on Monday, March 14, 2016. Jason died in custody at the Cape Breton Correctional Centre in January. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Ernie LeBlanc with a photo of his son. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The last inquiry into a death in custody in Nova Scotia was in 2010. There have been six deaths since then.

Devin Maxwell, a lawyer who represents a mother suing the Nova Scotia government over the April 7, 2014 cell death of her son, says the parents of deceased inmates face a demoralizing battle for information.

Maxwell is in the second year of a legal action centering on how 23-year-old Clayton Cromwell managed to receive a lethal dose of unprescribed medical methadone while in the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Halifax.

Maxwell’s freedom of information request asking for an internal report completed in July of that year was declined.

The lawyer said that forced him to start a legal action in an attempt to learn more about how Cromwell died, revealing an emergency buzzer in the cell of the Central Nova Correctional Centre wasn’t working and that there had been another overdose in the same living area just a day earlier.

Clayton Cromwell is shown in a family handout photo. Elizabeth Cromwell has been fighting for almost a year to get answers about the jailhouse death of her son Clayton, a 23-year-old who was in prison awaiting a court hearing when he suddenly overdosed on methadone. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho
Clayton Cromwell. Photo: Canadian Press

I saw Sherene Razack lecture last week about her book, Dying from Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody, and one of the things she talked about was the construction of the “vulnerable” body.

The emphasis on vulnerability entirely obscures its production: how do bodies become and remain vulnerable? The inquiry reveals this context as one in which police and health professionals engage in the Sisyphean task of clearing the city streets of homeless chronic alcoholics. Conceived as a removal of Indigenous peoples from city streets when they become nuisances, the task of responding to homeless chronic alcoholics inevitably reduces Indigenous people to objects, and objectification so complete that we come to understand Indigenous peoples as debris to be cleared from the landscape. The best that a caring society can do, then, is to determine how to do this more humanely. (37)

Razack is speaking specifically of colonized bodies here, but her point about how once a body is labeled vulnerable (through addiction, through illness, through sex work, etc.) then the death of that body can be attributed not to custody, but to a problem in the body itself is relevant here as well.

That the province doesn’t require an inquiry in the case of overdoses in custody suggests that the province feels that once drug addiction is present, the event can safely be “blamed” on the addict. This leaves aside questions such as whether drugs were given to the inmate to manipulate, threaten, or even to deliberately harm them. It also removes the specific site of the death — the fact that the person was in custody — suggesting that the person would have died anywhere. When the death can be attributed to prior conditions or the inmate’s own “fault,” then the fact of the jail and of the specific stresses and damage done to bodies because of custody can be ignored.

It should be a basic truth that those who take someone’s freedom assume the obligation to keep them safe. A prisoner doesn’t control their own body in the most literal ways. They cannot call for medical help. They cannot go to a doctor on their own. They often cannot even call for help when distress buttons are disabled (sometimes because officials got annoyed at prisoners pressing them too much). By suggesting that overdoses are self-explanatory and require no further inquest, the province is refusing a duty of care towards the people in the system.

It’s not surprising at all that parents would be stonewalled in finding out any information from institutions about the deaths of their children. The article gives some potential “reforms” that could be instituted — doctors suggest measures like more education on opiates, allowing onsite dosing of naloxone, etc. — but Leblanc’s father puts it most succinctly. The solution is not better treatment for addicts in jail. It’s to stop punishing non-violent addicts and to get them treatment. Jail is the problem here.

“He’s here with me, all because he never had the right treatment,” he says, clenching his hand. “I would like to have an independent inquiry.”

2. Shoe Lasting Machine Patent Day

Oh, is it March 19? Cool! Did you know this is actually a holiday celebrated by Black people where we start drinking at 6am, throw parties at school and work, all wear the same colours, and congregate drunkenly and loudly in the streets while frequently yelling in large groups until 3am?


Just kidding.

El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. Thought provoking as usual. Racism is a constant and constantly mitigated and rationalized by those not experiencing.

    Recently listened to Claudia Rankine, an American poet, on the December 18 New Yorker Radio Hour. Very insightful and worth a listen to.

    “We need a surrealist moment because until white women start giving birth to black babies we will always live in these incommensurable times.”

  2. Nothing I read on a regular basis so challenges my comfortable assumptions as El Jones in The Examiner.

    Thanks for your words and your thoughts.

  3. I think the comment that it is all about race not who you know, is quite simplistic. In short, having lived and worked in the Province for twenty years as a cfa., my conclusion is that the “how to get on” question goes deeper than ethnicity – it is simply that locals prefer to hire and promote their own whether the CFAs or ethnic minorities are qualified or not.

    It is a ‘wagons in circle reaction’ in which the family, school, university and social status connections run deep and there is a form of ‘job sharing for our own” mentality.

    Breaking through is tough for all and includes toughness applied against the many not just ethnic minorities. Bit like the Deep South?

  4. I’m going to be “That Guy” today and point out that Sebastian was a sea crab and not a lobster 🙂

  5. Terrific Saturday file – every article well worth the read. Your pieces on jail (dental care, loneliness, deaths in custody) are hard to read, and yet so important. I also appreciated your analysis of the Graham appointment and the issues surrounding it. This kind of journalism is a tonic.