Good morning and welcome to your early spring, Halifax. You’ve got Shubenacadie Sam to thank for this lovely weather. Here are today’s stories…

News

1. Most decommissioned police vehicles will no longer be sold: HRP chief

A Halifax Regional Police vehicle in Dartmouth in 2018. Photo: Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford reports that Halifax Regional Police won’t be selling most of their decommissioned vehicles anymore. That’s what Chief Dan Kinsella told the city’s board of police commissioners on Tuesday, in a meeting discussing HRP’s capital budget. Last week the board had voted to recommend in favour of a 3.1% increase to the department’s operating budget.

Obviously, there’s a lot of concern over what happens to these cars after the tragic events of last April, when a gunman used an old RCMP car he’d purchased to help him pose as a police officer in the deadliest shooting in Canadian history. Tim Bousquet also wrote recently about other instances of people using decommissioned cop cars to impersonate officers

In January, the federal government announced it was suspending the sale of decommissioned RCMP vehicles.

Woodford writes that HRP will not copy the federal police organization’s lead, though they are being careful about disposing of out-of-service police equipment:

Kinsella told the board this is an ongoing item, with police needing new vehicles every year as the old ones are decommissioned.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn asked Kinsella, “When a vehicle is decommissioned, what process is used to dispose of it?”

Kinsella told the board the department has reviewed its policies:

“We’ve reviewed, not only for vehicles, but also for police-related equipment, paraphernalia, shirts, pants, anything that is identifiable. But specific to your question in regards to vehicles, they go through an extenuating decommissioning process whereby all lights, sirens, police equipment, any identifiers that are used as police equipment to effectively do operational work, are removed. Those items are recycled where they can, and put on other vehicles that are coming in. If they can’t be used for one reason or another, they’re at end of life, then they’ll be destroyed and eliminated from the inventory.

We also have a stringent process where all decals are removed and all items of identification are removed. And generally speaking, moving forward, most of the police vehicles will not be put into circulation or sold moving forward. There was a time when they were sold depending on the status of them. We generally use the vehicles pretty close to end of life, they sometimes have value for parts, but we’re very careful to ensure — and when I say we, the staff at HRM — are very careful to ensure that anything that goes out is not going out as any kind of resemblance to a police vehicle.”

Woodford’s full article also reports on new additions to this year’s HRP capital budget requests, including money for “Security Monitoring Video Upgrades,” “Digital Communications Upgrades” and “Interview Room Recording Upgrades.”

With police budgets in North America and around the world under increased scrutiny following last year’s widespread Black Lives Matter protests, these requests will no doubt be a hard sell for many HRM residents.

Council is expected to debate the police budget on Feb. 17, and the full capital budget on Feb. 24.

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2. COVID-19 Update: One new case, 10 still active in N.S.

Active caseload in N.S. during pandemic’s second wave.
Active caseload in N.S. during pandemic’s second wave.

Here’s Tim Bousquet with his regular COVID-19 update:

“One new case of COVID-19 is announced in Nova Scotia today (Tuesday, Feb. 2).

The new case is in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone and is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.

There remain 10 known active cases in the province. Two people are in hospital with the disease, one of whom is in ICU.

The active cases are distributed as follows:

  • 3 in the Halifax Peninsula / Chebucto Community Health Network in the Central Zone
    • 2 in the Dartmouth/ Southeastern Community Health Network in the Central Zone
    • 1 in the Bedford/ Sackville Community Health Network in the Central Zone
    • 1 in the Cape Breton Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone
    • 2 in the Inverness, Victoria & Richmond Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone
    • 1 in the Annapolis and Kings Community Health Network in the Western Zone”

With Liberal leadership changing hands this week, the Strang and McNeil Show is coming to an end. In a year of uncertainty and stormy seas, they’ve been this province’s Rock of Gibraltar. But the duo’s not done yet. They’ll have more updates for us today in a briefing scheduled for 3 p.m.

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3. N.S. is the last province with large adult residential centres open; 525 people still waiting to move into smaller homes

The Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Lower Sackville. Photo: questsociety.ca

In 2014, the provincial government committed to finding more homes for disabled adults living in large residential centres, and to close these institutions by 2024. As the deadline approaches, Jennifer Henderson reports that the process is slow because the province is having trouble finding suitable homes for the hundreds waiting to move out:

Most of the 525 people living in adult residential centres have intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injuries, chronic mental illness, or physical disabilities. Many have spent most of their adult lives as residents of the The Meadows community in Bridgetown, Breton Ability in Sydney, Harbourside Lodge in Yarmouth, King’s County Rehab in Waterville, Riverview in Dayspring near Bridgewater, Quest in Lower Sackville, Riverview in Pictou County, and Sunset Community in Pugwash.

“We have been working and we have been moving individuals into the community in preparation for the full phase-out of these adult residential centres,” said Tracey Taweel, deputy minister at the Department of Community Services. “Ensuring that the appropriate supports are in place before individuals are moved is critical. The individualized planning process will play a key role in that, so we have been consulting with stakeholders and families.”

Some $7.4 million annually has been budgeted to move 50 people out of institutions and care for them in smaller homes. Harbourside Lodge in Yarmouth will be the first to close and planning is underway to move its 27 residents within the next 12-18 months.

“I am a big fan of transformation; I want it done yesterday,” said Joyce d’Entremont, the CEO of a community group that operates two adult residential centres in Yarmouth and Bridgetown. “But I do realize for individuals who have been in large institutions all their lives, it takes time. If we move them too fast, we will not succeed.”

Including the 525 in adult residential centres, there are a total of 1700 people with disabilities currently waitlisted to move into suitable housing.

I worked at a temporary homeless shelter through part of this pandemic, and I’ve seen firsthand the effort many coordinators, advocates, health professionals and volunteers — often overworked and overburdened — put into finding homes with supports that will allow those who need mental or physical help to thrive outside crowded institutions. Here in HRM, finding housing is difficult enough to begin with. If the person seeking housing is also suffering from mental illness or a physical disability that prevents them from being fully independent, the search becomes that much harder.

In Henderson’s full article, she talks to different MLAs about their concerns and criticisms around the slow pace of the transition, the financial and logistical barriers to closing these institutions, and the current plans the province has for fulfilling its commitments to those still stuck in limbo.

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4. Online panel discusses impacts of displacement of Black communities in Canada

A screenshot from Monday’s virtual panel discussion.
A screenshot from Monday’s virtual panel discussion.

The story of the Black loyalists in this province is familiar to most of us here.

Many of our African Nova Scotian communities were formed in the 1700s when the British promised freedom and land in Canada for those who would fight against the American revolt. When the war ended and former slaves were given land in Nova Scotia, they were not given deeds of ownership for their plots, but rather “licenses to occupy.” These licenses were then passed down for generations in some families.

But here’s something that I only discovered last year. Some of those “occupied” lands still weren’t owned by the African Nova Scotian families who lived on them. In 2017 — just four years ago — the Nova Scotia government announced the implementation of the Land Titles Initiative to help residents of these communities clear up ownership titles for land that, in some cases, families had held and paid taxes on for centuries.

It seems like such a distant part of our history, but somehow it’s also incredibly recent. It’s as shameful as it is baffling.

Historical injustices like these, and how we can work to rectify them today, were the topic of a panel discussion held Monday — an online African Heritage Month event on the displacement of Black Canadians and its continued impact on communities in this country.

Yvette d’Entrepont was there (virtually) to cover the talk:

[A]dvocates from North Preston, Toronto, and Vancouver outlined how their communities have endured the effects of urban renewal, how they’re overcoming past injustices, and how they’re rebuilding and reimagining their communities for future generations.

The Black History Month event, titled ‘Redressing Black Displacement in Canada,’ was moderated by Toronto-based architect Camille Mitchell.

“I believe as a Canadian, we’ve romanticized our Black history in this country and we’ve often pivoted ourselves against our American neighbours to the south as ‘better than.’”

But, through each panelists’ telling of their own community’s stories of struggle and triumph, injustice and healing, we get a more realistic picture of Canada’s — and Nova Scotia’s — racial history. One that includes physical displacement and racism that continue to affect our communities today.

With African Heritage Month going virtual this year, it can be harder to be aware of what’s going on this February. If you want to see a full schedule of upcoming events, check out the African Nova Scotian Affairs website.

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5. Bezos steps down from CEO role at Amazon

Photo: Amazon.com

The Associated Press is reporting that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is resigning from his post as CEO of the giant online retailer.

I know what you’re thinking: did he save enough for his retirement? No need to worry. The AP reports that he’s just focusing on other ventures:

Bezos, who started the company 27 years ago as an internet bookseller, said in a note to employees posted on Amazon’s website, “As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions.”

He added, “I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring.”

Whether you consider him one of capitalism’s greatest success stories or a modern-day cartoon villain, or whether you think Amazon offers safe, easy shopping for our busy modern lives or that it’s a business with a model that harms competition, the environment and employee wellbeing, it’s undeniable that Bezos as an individual has made one of the largest, most widespread impacts on consumerism in the internet age.

The AP reports that Bezos’s stake in the company is currently about $180 billion, while the company itself is worth nearly $1.7 trillion. With its contactless shopping model, the company has continued to see record profits throughout the pandemic.

Now that Bezos is stepping down, I have finally have something in common with the multi-billionaire: I also ended my relationship with Amazon during the pandemic to focus on my other passions.

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Views

1. Masks could be one of the pandemic’s lasting legacies

A woman daydreaming about a mask-free world. Photo: Canvas Discount

I may be getting a little ahead of myself here, but with vaccines slowly rolling out and case numbers in Nova Scotia approaching single digits again, I’ve started to indulge in a bit of post-pandemic daydreaming. I have the occasional fantasy about walking into a crowded bar, inviting more than ten people to a barbecue, travelling to see friends and family, etc. I’m sure I’m not alone, even if we still have a long way to go before any of that can happen.

But one of the things I’ve been looking forward to most is the simple joy of not having to wear a mask.

As soon as the reality of the pandemic set in back in March, and health officials first began recommending masks as a means of protecting others from viral spread, I accepted it as a necessary annoyance. I didn’t complain or take an inexplicable political stance against them, and by-and-large I haven’t grumbled about them since. But that doesn’t mean I like having to wear one.

Admittedly, my problems with masks are mostly trivial. It’s impossible to wear sunglasses without them fogging up (I feel for my full-time bespectacled friends). The straps dig into your ears, the battle against chin acne is unwinnable, and I still occasionally have to make two trips to the store after forgetting to bring my mask the first time. I had a hard enough time going out when all I had to remember were my wallet, keys and phone.

We’ve all put up with these small frustrations because we knew it would keep our neighbours safer, and eventually we’d get through this and once again be able to show our smile as we pass each other on the street. (Or scowl — I can’t tell you how to feel.)

So why am I griping now, nearly a year into the pandemic, when mask-wearing has become commonplace and accepted by society at large?

On Monday, Stephanie Dubois wrote an article for the CBC that suggested mask-wearing could remain a small part of everyday life following the pandemic. In fact, some experts are encouraging it:

While many Canadians may be longing for the day when masks are no longer required, teams of researchers across Canada…are working on creating the next generation of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) for both health-care workers and the public.

Their hope is that if they make masks and other PPE more comfortable, safer, or easier to breathe in, there’s a higher chance the general public will use some protective gear after the pandemic.

The idea is that other contagious illnesses like the flu and common cold could spread less if we continue to use masks. DuBois reports that cases of the flu have been down in Nova Scotia and other provinces this year, a possible result of social distancing and mask-use. Essentially, making masks more prevalent could stop us from getting sick as often, easing the burden on the public health system.

In East Asia, the practice was pretty common before the pandemic as a means to prevent illness. It certainly wasn’t unusual to see tourists wearing them along the boardwalk. And in Hong Kong, masks became ubiquitous after the SARS outbreak. Could the same happen in the West following COVID-19?

In 2015, the Chronicle Herald reported that a man had complained to Halifax Transit after numerous incidents of drivers asking him to remove a surgical mask when riding the bus. The man said he used the mask to help with his hypersensitivity to petrochemicals, but drivers were concerned why he was trying to cover his face.

Oh, how times have changed.

At the time, the Examiner picked up the story and included reference to an article about Japanese mask use from Japan Today. In that article, reporter Casey Baseel noted that it was common in Japan for people to wear masks to prevent the spread and contraction of illnesses, but they were also used for fashion, warmth, protection against pollutants and for preventing unwelcome conversations on the commute home.

Although I understand their voluntary use, I can’t help but think that would be a little extreme here. We don’t have the population density and, even if we did, it’s honestly just depressing seeing people walking around with masks everywhere. It feels isolating and a touch apocalyptic.

I’m all for a preventative model of public health through exercise, diet and generally looking after ourselves, but I’m willing to take my chances without a mask once the dangers of the pandemic have passed. Is that selfish now in light of the recent realities of the coronavirus?

When it comes to warmth, we already have scarves. Don’t want to talk to somebody? Earbuds have always done the trick, haven’t they? What about the waste from all those disposable surgical masks? Also, if we’re using them to protect our lungs against pollution, we’ve officially destroyed the world for ourselves.

I know it can be awkward to look a stranger in the face now and then, and this virus has made us more aware of public germs, but it’s been such an isolating year — I wouldn’t mind seeing a full human face when I walk down the street. That’s what I miss most about not wearing a mask. Seeing a sea of human faces going about their daily human lives. I miss that connection. Wearing masks without an immediate health threat to the greater population just seems like bubble-wrapping ourselves against day-to-day living.

Maybe it’s naive to think that way now. Maybe things will change and I’ll just get used to it. Or maybe we’ll all ditch our masks as soon as we agree it’s safe to do so. I’m not holding my breath to see how our society adapts in the long run. Whatever the case, we’ve got a ways to go before masks become optional— we’ve still got a pandemic to get through.

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Noticed

At the beginning of the week, the CBC posted a video of the young, local poet Damini Awoyiga reading one of her works outside the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook. The piece, called “Together We Stand,” pays tribute to the history of African Nova Scotians, and was broadcast as part of this year’s African Heritage Month celebrations.

You might remember seeing the 13-year-old’s name in the Examiner a few times last year. In the fall, Philip Moscovitch wrote about the Afro-Indigenous book club she’d started online, while even further back in May, El Jones wrote about Awoyiga’s creative output during the pandemic. Awoyiga, who was was 12 then, had started writing poetry about her experiences with the pandemic. She’d also started sewing masks that celebrated her cultural history. Jones wrote at the time:

[S]he decided to make masks using fabrics from Nigeria that reflect her heritage:

“I chose African print fabrics because it’s unique. Other people may not be able to draw on my culture like I can. My culture means a lot to me because I’m able to say I’m Nigerian-Canadian and African, so it gives me a sense of pride.”

Her parents sometimes help her to sew, but without “three or four extra hands” the masks take about 30 minutes to complete. According to Damini, the masks symbolize survival and community looking out of each other. As the province reopens, masks allow people to interact safely together in public. She hopes to use them to send a message of pride and resilience, and to share the values of her culture with others.

Now, during African Heritage Month, Awoyiga is continuing to share her values and culture. Not only with her recitation for CBC. Every day, for the rest of the month, she’s using her Twitter account to celebrate a different African Nova Scotian of influence, past or present.

Yesterday, she highlighted Burnley “Rocky” Jones:

@awoyiga’s tweet
@awoyiga’s tweet

(For more info on Jones’s life, check out this audio piece El Jones did for the Examiner a few years back.)

It’s powerful to see a young person like Awoyiga inspired to celebrate her culture in her own way. When youth are engaged, self-driven and passionate about their heritage, it’s more powerful than a hundred organized forums or panel discussions.

Here’s an excerpt from the poem she read for the CBC:

From Halifax to North Preston to East Preston

To Hammonds Plains to Weymouth Falls to Acaciaville

To Truro and all the way to Sydney

Together we stand

We are the iron nails nailed to the roots of this country

This country is just as much ours as it is yours

And together we stand.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am) — live webcast with captioning on a text-only site

North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting; no dial-in or live broadcast

Thursday

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — live webcast

Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — virtual meeting; dial-in or live broadcast not available

Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm) — live webcast, with captioning on a text-only site

Province

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 10am ) — live broadcast video conference for agenda setting

On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

No public events.

Thursday

Marketing Tips and Tricks (Thursday, 12pm) — a College of Continuing Education webinar with Mary-Eleanor Power


In the harbour

08:00 – Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
09:45 – Siem Commander, offshore supply ship, moves from Old Coast Guard base to Irving Oil
11:30 – CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at Bedford Basin anchorage from Sydney
13:00 – Algoma Verity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond Terminal (previously Narional Gypsum) to sea
14:00 – CSL Tacoma, bulker, moves to Gold Bond Terminal
15:00 – MOL Emissary, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
15:30 –  Siem Commander, offshore supply ship, moves back to Old Coast Guard base
16:00 – Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik
22:00 – Skogafoss sails for Portland


Footnotes

I assume it was the massive downpour of snow and freezing rain that stopped Shubenacadie Sam from seeing his shadow.

In all seriousness, has there ever been a Canadian winter that didn’t extend six weeks from Feb. 2? The best we get is an unseasonably warm tease in March followed by a heartbreaking dump of snow just before April.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. In the post-pandemic future, I will gladly wear a mask on public transit and during air travel. Hopefully not while shopping though.

  2. Once the mask mandate is lifted, I will wear NEVER voluntarily wear one again. I’ve struggled with masks since the very beginning of the mandate and can hardly wait for the day when I can open my apartment door without one already on.

    I, too, miss seeing people’s faces everywhere I go, although I still get to see many uncovered faces while outside. What I find most distressing, though, is how many people react with fear when they come across my uncovered face while I am outside. I know this virus, and its variants, can be scary; but the thought that my naked face can cause actual terror in some makes me sad.

  3. ” With police budgets in North America and around the world under increased scrutiny following last year’s widespread Black Lives Matter protests, these requests will no doubt be a hard sell for many HRM residents.”
    Don’t think so.
    Most people will be wondering why a 20 year old man was shot to death in North Preston 6 days ago when he was out walking his dog.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/north-preston-shooting-victim-dies-1.5891293

  4. I might wear a mask during cold and flu season in the future.
    But I hope the hand washing and sanitizer use will make an impression on people as an important way to reduce spreading viruses of all types.

  5. The masks are depressing – and I really hope that they don’t become permanent. Symbols matter, and I am completely sympathetic to the view that mask mandates represent unelected technocrats muzzling us. Man does not live by bread alone and while, materially, masks are an effective public health measure with few physical downsides, is safety the sole purpose of society?

    We’re in a very weird moment culturally. I saw today that a 68 year old one-bedroom house that sold for $157,000 in 2018 just sold for $280,000. This is an unprecedented disaster for young Canadians that is far worse than the coronavirus, yet we accept this as “just the market” even though the market is run entirely by people.