News

1. No public inquiry into mass murders

A memorial at the Portapique church hall. Photo: Joan Baxter.

“Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey and federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair announced not an inquiry, but rather a three-member Independent Review Panel to look into the mass murders [of April 18/19],” Examiner reporters Yvette d’Entremont, Jennifer Henderson, and myself reported yesterday:

The panel will be chaired by former Nova Scotia Courts Chief Justice Michael MacDonald. The other two members are former Liberal cabinet member Anne McLellan and Leanne Fitch, the former chief of police in Fredericton. All three are well-respected, but it’s an open question as to whether they can gain public trust.

That’s because unlike a public inquiry, the review panel will not have the power to compel testimony, nor will it have subpoena power.

Likewise, testimony and documents collected by the panel will not be public, although the panel can refer to them in its two public reports — an interim report to be released in February 28, 2021, and a final report on August 31, 2021 — 15 months after the event.

The panel is not at all what the victims’ families requested. They wanted a full public inquiry. But Furey defended the review panel approach.

“We looked at a number of factors in exploring the options that we had available to us, including the families and others who were quite vocal in expressing their desire for answers,” Furey said yesterday. “And in that, we identified, collectively, a focus on independence, transparency, and impartiality — and those are the core attributes of an inquiry as well. And we feel, with all of the elements of this review, and the scope that it will encompass, that this review, bearing in mind that focus on those attributes will in fact get the same outcome and answers that families and others are looking for.”

That’s a characterization that is utterly rejected by law prof Archie Kaiser:

“I thought that their defence of the methodology they’ve chosen was utterly without any legal or logical foundation,” Kaiser said in an interview.

“It’s as if they’re living in some kind of alternate reality, particularly on the points of independence and transparency that they allege would infuse the independent review. I don’t understand how they maintained their positions, frankly, with a straight face.”

Kaiser said family and friends of the victims, Canadian senators, women’s advocacy groups, and so many others have been very clear in their demands for an open public inquiry. He called it “astonishing” that their input was disregarded.

“If I were a family member, I would be outraged that the minister said, ‘Oh, well we’ve heard what the families want, but effectively we know better.’ What a message to give,” he said.

Kaiser believes that despite assurances from ministers Furey and Blair that this approach is transparent, the process as outlined Thursday is “the complete opposite.” He said that’s in part because the general public won’t have any means of assessing the work until an interim or final report is released.

“Everything is going to be heard and kept in confidence and we won’t know necessarily who provided information, we won’t know how to assess it ourselves, until the interim or final report or some other communication,” he said. “The minister is entirely incorrect in saying that this process is transparent. It is not.”

By contrast, Kaiser said an open and modern public inquiry is often simulcast with documents and exhibits available to the public to ensure full transparency. It would provide people with the opportunity to continuously assess the inquiry’s work before any final public report. They could ask questions via the media or independently.

“There’d also be chat rooms everywhere, there’d be letters to the editor, there would be the usual attributes of a free, democratic culture where people would be saying what they think about the evidence, what they think about the commissioners,” he explained.

“That process deserves to be honoured, but that it isn’t going to be possible here.”

Within about an hour of the review panel announcement yesterday, the victims’ families issued a statement via their lawyer completely condemning it:

The “Independent Review” announced by Ministers Furey and Blair is wholly insufficient to meet the objectives of providing full and transparent answers to the families and the public, identifying deficiencies in responses, and providing meaningful lessons to be learned to to avoid similar future tragedies.

Most disappointingly, Ministers Furey and Blair have hidden behind their contrived notion of a “trauma-free” process to exclude the full participation of the families under the guise of protecting them from further trauma. This is not how the families wish to be treated. I know that Minister Furey has spoken with the families, so he must know that they want to participate, not to be protected by an incomplete process.

The families want a full and transparent public inquiry. Why will Minister Furey not give them this? Why will he not give the citizens of Nova Scotia this. “We are all in this together” has been the slogan throughout 2020 – the families simply want us all, the public, to be in this together now to figure out a better tomorrow for families and the Province?

Or, as Ryan Farrington, whose mother and stepfather were killed in April, told the Examiner, “They keep saying they don’t want to dig stuff up and hurt the families more than they have already been hurt. But a public inquiry is the one and only thing we are asking for and I think we deserve that.”

I have never seen a public policy announcement rejected by the public with such unanimity. I heard from hundreds of people yesterday about the review panel, and I’m not aware that even one person supported that approach. I wasn’t even trolled on this, and I’m trolled on everything. So far as I can see, no one at all supports this; it is roundly and universally condemned.

And understandably so. Twenty-two people were murdered. People were frightened and the murder spree will remain one of the most traumatic events in Nova Scotians’ collective memory for a very long time. As more than one person expressed it yesterday: If this doesn’t deserve a public inquiry, what does?

I don’t know what led to the decision not to have a public inquiry. I do know, however, that that decision is feeding public mistrust: What are they hiding?

2. Cape Breton’s Nazis

“Germany’s largest weekly magazine Der Spiegel is reporting that a right-wing network of prominent Germans, including Eva Herman, a well-known former news presenter on German television, is setting up a colony of far-right radicals and ideologues in Canada, and they’ve been buying land in their chosen location — none other than Cape Breton Island,” reports Joan Baxter:

The magazine reports that hundreds of Germans have already signed onto the idea.

According to Der Spiegel, they are being lured into the scheme by German “doomsday prophets,” Andreas Popp and Herman herself. Both are notorious peddlers of right-wing populism, and part of a larger network founded by extreme right-winger Frank Eckhardt, who is known as a “Reichsbuerger,” or someone who does not believe in Germany’s post-war democracy or even the legitimacy of the German state as it developed after World War II and the defeat of the Hitler’s Nazis. Der Spiegel reports that Eckhardt sends emails in which he denies the Holocaust.

Documents obtained by the magazine indicate that Germans have attended seminars organized by Popp and Herman in Cape Breton to promote their extreme ideology, and participants are urged to buy up land on the island. During these seminars, Popp and Herman preached that the European social and economic system will collapse. They urged their followers to invest in land in Cape Breton because it is in Canada, which they view as stable and safe from crisis and collapse.

Although it is not clear from the article, it looks as if the right-wing network has purchased large amounts of land in Cape Breton, which they are now offering to their followers at inflated prices. Der Spiegel says it has documents that show Frank Eckhardt has potential buyers in Germany, who are deeply indoctrinated by his right-wing propaganda.

Already by the end of last year, the head office of German intelligence in the city of Wiesbaden was informed of Eckhardt’s political activities and emails by Interpol in Ottawa.

Readers may be able to identify some of the Cape Breton locations in the YouTube video above. Note: businesses depicted in the video have no association with any extremists who may have patronized the business.

This morning, I received an email from Eva Herman and Andreas Popp. It reads:

The report in Germany, which has been adopted here, contains many false statements. We have nothing to do with Frank Eckhart, the real estate agent from Cape breton. Andreas last had seen Mr. Eckhart about 15 years ago, Eva does not know the man at all and has never had any contact with him.

We distance ourselves energetically from dealing with a Holocaust denier.

Our lawyers are currently preparing countermeasures

We ask you in advance to put this article offline.

It is very important to us that Cape Breton maintains its good reputation. To that end, we will do everything possible.

Best regards

Andreas Popp and Eva Herman

We’re not removing the article. Our reporting of the Der Spiegel article is completely accurate. Joan Baxter speaks German, and other German speakers (and Google translator) tell me the Der Spiegel article says exactly what Baxter reported it says.

I have no knowledge of Frank Eckhart’s political views. However, on his real estate firm’s website, he pitches Cape Breton to Germans who want to escape an oppressive political climate in Europe:

When I made the first contacts in Canada a few years ago, I knew nothing about Nova Scotia or the existence of Cape Breton Island. However, one thing was clear to me:

In Germany and The European Union, with increasingly authoritarian and runaway administrative machinery, the quality of life and realistic good perspectives for the future were palpably diminishing for us, the citizens.

You can either just watch or begin to actively change things yourself. I decided for change and an proactive search for alternatives. This chosen path is full of new challenges, but also laden with fresh insight and heralds a letting go of old hard-baked perceptions and ideas.

Have I awoken your interest for our thoughts and ideas, or do you also have a gut-feeling that the world in which you live at the moment is no longer in order? If you are searching for real alternatives then I would like to welcome you to our website F. E. Propertysales and the Smiths Road Farm.

And, according to a CBC article published last year, one Austrian couple, Reinhard and Romana Fugger, claim that Eckhardt sold them property in Cape Breton and promised them help with immigrating to Canada:

The Fuggers say that help with the immigration process never came.

“We find this property and we think we can do this in an easy way, because we have the information before that it is not hard, maybe easy, to immigrate here,” said Reinhard Fugger.

Eckhardt’s company website, hosted in Germany and aimed at Europeans, advertises property sales and “new settler consultation.”

I think it’s wonderful that Germans are visiting and moving to Cape Breton. I’m friends with a lovely German family, living in Germany. They came to visit a few years back and loved the wide-open countryside of Canada. While driving the Cabot Trail, they pulled their vehicle over for a break, and were lucky enough to spot a pod of whales swimming by. It made their trip.

Which is to say, Germans are good people, mostly. There are probably just as many Canadian nazis and extremists in Canada as there are in Germany, so let’s not turn this into some anti-immigrant thing.

4. Police commission needs its own lawyer

Halifax councillor Lindell Smith. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“A potential conflict of interest calling into question the independence of Halifax’s board of police commissioners has led one member of the board to seek an independent opinion on the issue — but he’s being told he’ll first need to ask the opinion of those who could be in conflict,” reports Zane Woodford:

Coun. Lindell Smith had a motion on the agenda at the last two meetings of the board, on July 9 and July 20, seeking “an independent opinion to determine if the Board of Police Commissioners should or shouldn’t have its own legal counsel separate from HRM and HRP.”

“The Board’s independent status is achieved by ensuring accountability for oversight of the police services and their employees,” Smith wrote in the reasoning for the report.

“To do this, the board needs to be able to receive unbiased legal opinions and advice when requesting reviews of policy’s and procedures. If HRP and HRM are providing the legal opinion for the board, this could be perceived as a conflict when seeking legal advice. In order for the Board to ensure independence when providing oversight of the operation of policing in Halifax the board must also feel confident that the advice that is being received is unbiased as possible.”

Smith wants the independent opinion to cover whether the board is permitted to have its own lawyer under the Police Act, whether the current arrangement “could present as a conflict of interest,” and how the board could receive legal advice in the future.

But despite being on the agenda twice, the motion hasn’t come up for debate.

Click here to read “Why Halifax’s police board needs its own lawyers.”

4. Canadian bubble

The COVID-19 information page on Discover Halifax’s website.
The COVID-19 information page on Discover Halifax’s website.

“Halifax’s destination marketing organization sent an email to members Thursday celebrating a government announcement that hasn’t happened,” reports Zane Woodford:

Destination Halifax sent the email at about 2 p.m., with the subject line “Welcome back to Halifax, Canada!”

“Canadians can now reunite with family and friends coast to coast. The Province of Nova Scotia announced <LINK to press release> unrestricted travel throughout Canada <or list provinces>,” the email said.

“As of <date>, self-isolation for 14-days is no longer required when you enter Nova Scotia from <these / all> provinces and territories.”

The email urged people to continue following public health measures like physical distancing, hand washing and the use of non-medical masks.

“Discover Halifax was one of many organizations that submitted a proposal <LINK> to the Province of Nova Scotia to establish travel between safe markets,” the email said.

“Our submission included outlining measures the destination has taken to keep Halifax safe. This includes signage, crowd dispersal efforts and public health reminders.”

Ross Jefferson, president and CEO of Discover Halifax, signed the email. The Halifax Examiner emailed him and communications director Monica MacLean asking whether the organization is aware of some upcoming announcement.

“As you know the Premier announced some time ago that an announcement may be coming,” MacLean replied.

“We have no indication when and if that might happen, and I was trying to be prepared with a message to our members. In error, I shared the draft when I was testing the formatting.”

Screenshots of the email posted on Twitter on Thursday had people angry anyway, and writing letters to Premier Stephen McNeil.

The situation is reminiscent of chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang’s early presentation of the province’s reopening plan to the chamber of commerce.

Strang and McNeil have a COVID-19 briefing planned for Friday at 1pm.

5. The Hotel Barmecide

The Barmecideal Feast

Sutton Place yesterday posted a bunch of job ads for its Nova Centre location, so it appears the plan really is to open in the fall, just 18 months after initially announced. I suppose the hotel can ride the wave of Destination Halifax-driven cross-Canada tourism.


Noticed

Premier Stephen McNeil at the virtual post-cabinet meeting scrum, June 18, 2020, for which he was late. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

On being late.

I’ve been in on probably 50 virtual government press conferences this year, and so I’ve been thinking about how they’re structured and what that means for my reporting.

It’s a learning curve for everyone; there should be tolerance as we figure things out. Heck, early on during the COVID updates, I had my phone on speaker when I was asking questions, and had no idea this was degrading the experience for everyone else, so I was happy to adjust when the comms people alerted me to this.

The technical glitches are understandable, but after they mostly were figured out, the Back to School technical briefing for reporters earlier this week was a complete disaster, the worst I’ve ever experienced.

I don’t like the virtual format. It gives the communication people too much control — for instance, yesterday, through what I hope was a mistake, I was denied a follow-up question during the press conference called to announce the non-inquiry.

But what especially upsets me about the virtual press conferences is they never start on time. Usually they’re “just” 15 minutes late, but often it’s 20 minutes, and sometimes 30 or 45 minutes late.

People who are late for scheduled meetings are sending a specific message: my time is more valuable than your time.

I want to think the best of the people in my social circle who are late — oh, they’re not doing this intentionally — but when there’s no apology, and when it happens repeatedly, I come to a new understanding of them: whether its conscious or not, there’s a power play at work. That understanding gets built into my assessment of our relationship.

And there I am: that guy. I can’t complain when my friend shows up 15 minutes late for a lunch date because that just makes me a dick. And yet, they’re 15 minutes late. So being late isn’t just a power play, it’s a passive aggressive power play. So I swallow it, and order another double scotch or whatever so our friendship doesn’t suffer.

In the professional world, however, being late takes on a different level of importance. New employees get fired for being repeatedly late for work. When a manager calls a meeting for 10am, the staff doesn’t wander in 15, 20 minutes late, as if the start time is a suggestion, and not a time certain.

I get anal about these things. I take the earlier bus in order to doubly make sure I won’t be late for a professional appointment; I get close to my destination and hang out at a coffee shop, or just walk around the block a few times, until the appointed time nears and I can be exactly on time. Even then, of course, things happen, and on occasion I am late. At such times apologies are effusive, and I honestly feel terrible.

So what am I to make of the always-late start time for the press conferences? The conferences are produced by people who get paid a hell of a lot more than I do. The comms people have essentially unlimited resources to make sure things are ready on their end. The premier and Dr. Strang and the various ministers are no doubt very busy, but I can’t imagine that they are consistently late for meetings with each other. Does the minister of Health show up 25 minutes late for a cabinet meeting? Does Dr. Strang leave the public health people waiting for a half hour in the board room? I doubt it. These are people who know that professional expectations demand punctuality.

Well, except for press conferences.

I can only conclude that the late start times are intentional. It’s a power play, sure — they’re showing who’s in charge, and what they think of we lowly reporters. But I think it’s additionally a ploy to make the press less effective.

Consider: when I’m sitting at my desk waiting for a press conference to begin, I can’t do anything else. I don’t know how late it’s going to start, so I can’t even answer an email, as while I’m crafting a response, the press conference could start. My phone is engaged, so I can’t call anyone up to interview them. Mostly, I just fuck around on Twitter. So here’s a 20- or 30- or 45-minute chunk of my day that basically goes down the toilet. I have zero productivity. I can’t research anything, I can’t write, I can’t call anyone, I can’t do anything.

Now take my 20 or 30 or 45 minutes and multiply it by the 25 or 50 or sometimes 200 reporters on the line, and then multiply that by the 50 press conferences so far this year, and you’ve got a staggering amount of press non-productivity: months of work time stolen from the press corps.

None of the media organizations are flush financially, so it’s not like any of them can afford to pay a reporter to just twiddle pencils or fuck around on Twitter for hours and hours a month. Reporters are on double and triple duty already, and so stealing their time means less reporting, less coverage of government, less investigation, less revealing wrong-doing and corruption, less asking hard questions.

This, I’m certain, is the primary reason the press conferences are late. The McNeil government wants to hobble the ability of reporters to do their jobs.


Government

No meetings.


In the harbour

06:00: ZIM Vancouver, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
08:30: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from the Sable Island field
13:30: ZIM Vancouver sails for New York
14:00: Maersk Cutter, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for the Sable Island field
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre


Footnotes

I’ll be reporting on the press conference today, but then taking a few days off, hopefully. I’ll putter around the house, and then maybe travel around the province a bit. The rest of the Examiner crew will manage things just fine in my absence. Please subscribe to support their work.

Tim Bousquet

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

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15 Comments

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  1. The wide adoption of conference technology like zoom by the government will lead to a new layer of bureaucratic unaccountability. At an in-person meeting when a question is asked that government officials would rather not acknowledge, they have to jump through linguistic hoops to avoid answering it, making it much more difficult for them to shirk responsibilities. The unspoken rule that “journalists shouldn’t ask that particular question” could only be enforced in roundabout ways (“no comment”, “I already answered that”, “question time is over” etc.) which could be contested, even if such a contest would usually be unsuccessful.
    Modern technology can solidify these unspoken rules into structurally uncontestable realities. I imagine software saying something like “Sorry, the system only allows 1 question per journalist” for example, where it becomes impossible to even ask a question because the teleconference has been set up to completely disallow such a thing. (A simplistic example, the “ask a question” button just disappears or becomes non-interactive when the moderators no longer want to answer certain questions.)
    When this happens, government officials no longer have to personally give a reason for not answering or disallowing a question, and can simply shirk the responsibility off on the system, so they no longer have to address the fact that it has been informally disallowed at all. “Sorry, zoom doesn’t work that way” instead of “We can’t directly address that question at the time” or whatever.

  2. I am trying to understand what is at stake for the govt to work so hard to avoid an inquiry:
    – Election year
    – Could questioning the RCMP lead to lawsuits from convicted people / court appeals across the board?
    – Cost could be a factor when the economy is tanking–both cost of process and compensation when fault is found.

    Those are the three that make the most sense to me, especially the first and second, and none of them should override the call to do what is RIGHT, and call an inquiry. It looks insanely shady and I wonder why they think they can bluff this out.

  3. I was really pissed off when you got ignored for your follow up question at the Furey/Blair cluster**^*. It is bad enough that the controllers select only a few reporters, some of whom ask less than useful questions, but to cut off someone like yourself that asks tough questions is just plain preemptive censorship. There is no one anywhere that thinks this review is a good idea. Tough questions need to be asked.

  4. My father raised me to believe that if I wasn’t 10 minutes early, I was the one who was late, I think press conferences repeatedly starting late is, as you say, a passive aggressive power play. Unfortunately, I doubt there is much you can do about it – at least not until election time. I know my vote is being impacted by what I am learning through my subscription to the Halifax Examiner. Thank you to you and your staff for all your hard work. Enjoy your time off.

  5. Furey and Blair are cut from the same cloth. They are cops. They are obviusly trying to craft a “review” that will lead to “ah, shucks, the mounties were really trying hard…… sorry for the confusion……move along, nothing to see here.” And they would never do anything wrong. Ever. Cops have each others backs. Always. it is part of their cult existance. How is it not a conflict of interest to have these two dickheads in charge of anything relating to the massacre ?

  6. Enjoy your beak, you have earned it. When you return ask Houston and Burrill how they will be different when dealing with the press; and how they will improve FOI.
    Dube is behaving like McNeil, everything to do with employees is now secret and the latest act of secrecy is keeping the the lid on the Perivale and Taylor report on HRP.

  7. J Michael Mac was the bagman for Dave Dingwall, the “snow white of cape breton politics“ and was soon after anointed to the supreme court – while anne maclellan covered herself in glory over the annointing of heather robertson to the same court, over which a judge resigned in protest. Both have a lifetime of protecting the liberal party here and in ottawa , over looking out for the interests of the poor individual nova scotian voter. People have called this a quasi-judicial review and I agree : QUASI being the operative word…

  8. Rick Howe has made the same argument about the lateness of press conferences, leading, of course to callers telling him to not be so hard on these people who have very important jobs.