News

1. “Shit got real”: Yvette d’Entremont’s pandemic diary

Yvette d’Entremont is a reporter with the Halifax Examiner

Nova Scotia’s first three cases of COVID-19 were announced a year ago today, on March 15, 2020.

“I began what amounts to a pandemic diary,” explains Yvette d’Entremont:

I didn’t write something every day. Some days I wrote a single sentence. Other days I wrote paragraphs.

It’s impossible to accurately describe what I was feeling as I watched the Government of Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 briefing on March 15, 2020. I didn’t do a great job of it in my diary.

But I think it’s fair to say there was a sense of foreboding as my two sons and I sat in front of the television on that Sunday afternoon to hear what then-premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang would say. While we all knew it was only a matter of time before the virus arrived here, we didn’t know when or how hard it would hit.

The first three presumptive cases of the virus had been identified in the province the day before.

Public school students had just started their March break that weekend. McNeil announced schools would remain closed for at least two weeks beyond that, ushering in the beginning of the longest March break ever.

It was, as one of my friends said recently, “the day shit got really real for a lot of us.”

In her diary, d’Entremont captured the uncertainty, the fear, the living-by-our-wits that characterized the unfolding emergency.

Click here to read “My pandemic diary.”

Yvette is the last person I’ve shaken hands with. As the pandemic was making it was across the continents, but before it reached Nova Scotia, I decided to throw all resources at having the Examiner cover the pandemic. She had been laid off from Star Halifax the December before, and her teaching gig at King’s was ending soon. So we met at a coffeeshop and I offered her some work, which would later turn into an actual job.

And ever since, Yvette has been the Examiner’s go-to person for all things pandemic. So much so that I’ve collated all her 2020 pandemic work, here.

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2. “Casserole people”

Signs in Seabright. Photo: Kent Martin

“It’s been one year since the first cases of COVID-19 were announced in Nova Scotia, and a Halifax-based resilience researcher believes he has some insight into why the Maritimes fared so well overall,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“We’re all fundamentally casserole people, and I think that that’s the message, the takeaway from the last year, that we sort of proved it,” Michael Ungar said in a recent interview.

“And that’s not just a stereotype of the Maritimes. We’re actually a socially cohesive, tight-knit community, and we were willing to practice what we talk about, practice what we preach.”

Click here to read “‘We’re all fundamentally casserole people’: Why Nova Scotia has fared so well through the pandemic.”

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3. My take

I was contemplating the year anniversary of Nova Scotia’s first three COVID cases yesterday and so wrote a Twitter thread, which I’ve slightly edited here…

Off-limits park bench in Westmount Park, Halifax. Photo: Kent Martin

Hindsight being 20-20, it’s easy to criticize after the fact. People were initially really scared and really confused, scientists and public health officials included, so mistakes and miscues were understandable.

But I always saw closing parks and beaches (and ticketing people for doing stuff like sitting on benches) was a horrible idea. And encouraging people to return to Canada I think (not sure on this one) was probably a bad idea.

And the nursing home deaths underscored both failed policies for decades and a failure in the moment. It’s terribly sad, and infuriating.

Overall, however, we’ve done pretty well. Not perfect. But, jeesh, early on I was fearing death on a truly horrific scale. But we muddled through, Nova Scotia better than most, and now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Most of us will be OK. Scarred, but OK.

A year ago there was dread in the air. Today, there’s hope.

Now a word about vaccines. There’s a great deal of worry about the distribution of vaccines, which is understandable, and even good because people seem to want theirs as quickly as possible. The feared vaccine hesitancy either hasn’t appeared or has been (mostly) set aside.

I get a lot of criticism for not criticizing the NS government for its performance on vaccine distribution — seriously, I get hate mail about this. So I want to back up a bit and give my view.

I addressed some of the earlier criticism in this thread. But I let’s talk more generally for a moment. The criticism is that it is taking too long upon receipt of the vaccine to it being administered. There are two questions: 1) is it true? and 2) does it matter?

Consider Nova Scotia’s low case numbers. Nobody — nobody at all, not one person — has come down with COVID who would have otherwise gotten the vaccine had delivery been sped up a few days. Nobody has died with the disease since August. And now nursing homes, which face the greatest threat of deadly outbreak, are either fully vaccinated or very close to being fully vaccinated. Old people in the community, the next highest risk, are now getting vaccinated.

Is there still risk? YES. Most definitely.

But so long as the care that has kept the virus mostly at bay continues to keep case numbers very low (low single digits or zero per day) continues, it seems that risk is relatively (compared to most non-NS places) low.

Should we be overly concerned that it takes, say, six days upon receipt of the vaccine to it being administered, as opposed to, say, four days? I don’t think so, at this time.

That’s because it’s early days and the dose numbers have been very low. I’ll accept that the province’s efforts so far have been to develop and refine distribution systems, and to get it first into nursing homes. Both of those will take a bit more time than fully running mass vaccination clinics.

But everything is about to change. We’re going to be getting a million or so doses in the next few months, and the province will be tasked with vaccinating ~12,000 people per day. *That* will be the true test of the system.

So if the number of doses in freezers or otherwise stuck in the distribution system starts going up alarmingly during the mass vaccination period, then we should be, er, alarmed! Such a situation will cause me to be a vociferous critic. I’m just not there now. 

4. Sunday’s numbers

Reader Laura Kenney created a Maud Lewis-inspired hooked rug with a COVID theme.

One new case of COVID-19 was announced in Nova Scotia yesterday (Sunday, March 14).

It is in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone and is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada; it is a man aged 20-39.

There are 18 known active cases in the province. One person is in hospital with the disease, but not in ICU.

Over the weekend, the province revised downward previously announced case numbers. Friday’s single case was revised to zero new cases, as the one case had previously been reported by another province. And Saturday’s five cases were reduced to four, with the explanation that there was a data entry error.

The 18 active cases are distributed as follows:

• 3 in the Halifax Peninsula / Chebucto Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 1 in the Dartmouth/ Southeastern Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 6 in the Bedford/Sackville Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 1 in the Cumberland Community Health Network in the Northern Zone
• 7 in the Annapolis and Kings Community Health Network in the Western Zone

The Department of Health has revised downwards the number of new cases announced Saturday, from five to four.

Nova Scotia Health labs completed 2,456 tests Saturday.

You can get tested at the Nova Scotia Health labs by going here.

Here are the new daily cases and seven-day rolling average (today at 1.6) since the start of the second wave (Oct. 1):

And here is the active caseload for the second wave:

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5. SIRT

“A mentally disturbed man holding a pellet gun is shot and killed by police who mistook it for a handgun,” writes Stephen Kimber:

The officer who killed him fired when the man pointed his fake gun at police after another officer had fired a rubber bullet at him and missed… There must be better ways to handle these cases. Just don’t ask SIRT to suggest those ways.

Click here to read “Time for a serious rethink of the Serious Incident Response Team?”

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6. Adoption records

Community Services Minister Kelly Regan (left) with Monica Kennedy, adult adoptee. Regan is holding a doll named “Darlene” which was the only possession Kennedy had when she was adopted by a N.S. family at age 2. “Darlene” turned out to be Monica’s original middle name before it was changed by her adoptive family.” Photo: Jennifer Henderson

“’We took a massive leap forward today,’ a jubilant Scott Pyke told journalists today after Community Services Minister Kelly Regan tabled legislation to make it easier for adopted children and birth parents to find each other,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

Nova Scotia is the last province in Canada to open up adoption records that had allowed birth parents an automatic veto forbidding sharing their names or other identifying information with adult adoptees or potential siblings who were searching. 

“This is something adoptees have been pushing for for many, many years and to see these changes take place, it’s life-changing for many people,” said Pyke. “There is always a part of you that seems to be a little bit missing or foggy when you are adopted, so having this open up in such an amazing way will add a part back in everyone’s lives.”

Click here to read “Nova Scotia introduces bill to open adoption records.”

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7. Human remains

A man walks his dogs past a Halifax Regional Police vehicle guarding the Hawthorne Street entrance to a path connecting to the back of the Findlay Centre in Dartmouth on Friday afternoon. Photo: Zane Woodford

“Police have found human remains in a park behind a recreation facility in Dartmouth,” reported Zane Woodford Friday:

In a news release Friday afternoon, Halifax Regional Police said they “received a report of what was believed to be human remains in a wooded area near Elliott [sic] Street in Dartmouth.”

The wooded area runs behind homes on Prince Albert Road, and connects Hawthorne Street to the basketball court and playground behind the Findlay Centre, a municipal recreation facility on Elliot Street.

It’s my understanding that long ago the area served as a small dump. As of this morning, there has been no further information released by police.

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8. Active transportation funding

Halifax MP Andy Fillmore speaks during the announcement of a new $400-million federal active transportation fund in Halifax on Friday, Mar. 12, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“With no specific projects in mind for the municipality, MP Andy Fillmore announced a new $400-million federal active transportation fund in Halifax on Friday,” reports Zane Woodford:

The funding is part of $14.9 billion in public transit infrastructure money that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last month. The money announced on Friday will be handed out to municipalities over five years for active transportation projects including bike lanes, trails, pedestrian bridges, and “anything at all that removes barriers to accessible movement of people by their own power.”

“It’s really quite broad at this point, and we’re looking for a lot of creativity and imagination from applicants,” Fillmore told reporters.

Asked whether there’s anything new for Halifax in this announcement, Fillmore said, “There will be.”

“It’s too soon to say,” he said. “In the usual rhythm of federal programs, we win the battle to get the money from department of finance and treasury board, and that’s what we’re announcing today. With that in hand, we now go forward and design the program that will deliver the funding.”

Click here to read “Federal government announces $400-million active transportation fund in Halifax.”

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9. Abrupt departure of Mount president

Mary Bluechardt. Photo: Twitter

Late Friday, Anne McGuire, the chair of the board of governors at Mount Saint Vincent University issued the following press release:

On behalf of the Board of Governors, I would like to thank President Mary Bluechardt for her leadership over the past four years, and for her work advancing the university’s mission. She played a central role in establishing our new strategic plan, Strength Through Community, which will guide and direct the work of the university for the next several years.

President Bluechardt recently announced that she would not stand for renewal for a second term. In light of this, the Board and Dr. Bluechardt have agreed that she will leave the University before the end of her term to permit the Board to move forward on the search process and for Dr. Bluechardt to pursue other opportunities, including her focus on national and provincial board work. Her last day is today, March 12th.

I would like to thank Dr. Bluechardt for ensuring the university was positioned to respond to the challenges of the past year, and for her leadership in advancing many important equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives – which are at the heart of our strategic plan and central to our values.

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Ramona Lumpkin, CM will be returning as Interim President. Having served as President and Vice-Chancellor for seven years, Dr. Lumpkin will provide stability and continuity in leadership until a new president is recruited. She is a distinguished feminist scholar and university administrator, and in 2019, she was named President Emerita.

The Board will soon begin the process to plan for a new presidential search, a process that will include opportunities for input from a wide range of representatives from MSVU. I look forward to keeping you updated as we undertake the search process.

Bluechardt’s photo is still the profile pic for the @MSVUPresident Twitter account, and that account has made no mention of her departure, nor so far as I know has she made any public comment about it.

The explanation provided by McGuire simply doesn’t make sense; it feels like one of those situations where a security guard escorted Bluechardt to her desk to collect her personal items and all the computer passwords have been changed and her key fob doesn’t work any longer.

I have no idea what this is about, but it’s reminiscent of Aoife Mac Namara’s firing at NSCAD. It’s still not completely clear what happened at NSCAD, but it seems the firing was tied up somehow with real estate deals the university was involved in. The Mount, too, is involved in some complex real estate dealings involving the development of the Motherhouse lands.

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Noticed

This item includes descriptions of the sexual abuse of minors.

Everything about the case of Clarence Ernest Stevens is depressing. First is Stevens’ brutal 1979 murder of Catherine Melanson, a pregnant 21-year-old woman, near Saint John, for which Stevens served 25 years in prison.

Stevens’ life story is additionally depressing. He was orphaned at 5, and was then raised by alcoholics (Stevens began drinking at age 5) before landing at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children from age 6 to 8, where he was physically abused. At age 8, he was moved into Kingsclear Youth Training Centre in New Brunswick, and stayed there until he was 16.

According to a race and cultural assessment of Stevens conducted for the court, at Kingsclear he experienced “many instances of abuse and racialized trauma.” He was “beaten with a strap almost daily; sometimes up to 18 times a day,” and was often placed in solitary confinement, “the hole.”

While in the hole, Stevens witnessed another boy commit suicide. The other boy had asked Steven for a match to light a cigarette, which Stevens provided, but the boy instead used the flame to ignite his mattress, causing severe burns from which he later died. Stevens blamed himself for the death.

After that, according to the assessment, at Kingsclear Stevens “experienced physical and sexual abuse from several white men in positions of power, including the institute’s guard, Karl Toft and New Brunswick’s Former Premier, Richard Hatfield.”

The assessment links to a Macleans article from 1994 written by John DeMont and Brenda Bouw, and makes clear that Stevens was among the boys described by the article:

But perhaps the most sensational allegations are that Toft may have been protected at some of the highest levels of the justice system—and that even former New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield, who died in 1991, may have played a role in the scandal.

Eight months after the inquiry began, it still dominates New Brunswick newscasts and front pages. That is hardly surprising, considering that testimony linking Hatfield— a flamboyant bachelor who served as premier of New Brunswick from 1970 until 1987—to the Kingsclear scandal continues to add a disturbing subtext to the story. One former Kingsclear resident testified in December that he met Toft and Hatfield in the early 1970s when the two were travelling together in a lime-green Bricklin sports car in northern New Brunswick, and that the then-premier offered him money for sex.

The allegations get even more sensational: a social worker testified that former Kingsclear residents sometimes did yard work at Hatfield’s home—and that the premier once gave a former resident licorice-flavored edible underwear as a Christmas present. Another social worker testified that Hatfield once called the police to charge a former Kingsclear boy who had been working at Hatfield’s house and had stolen his wallet after the pair took a shower together.

Stevens led a life of increasingly serious crime until the murder of Catherine Melanson. He was paroled in 2009 (having apparently served 30 years), but then nearly immediately reoffended, charged with forcible confinement, assault causing bodily harm, and uttering threats. It appears from my reading that he is now being considered for parole for those convictions.

The assessment does not make recommendations about parole — that’s up to the parole board, but it does say that if Stevens is paroled, there’s a path toward relative peace and perhaps some healing. I’ll give him and the people wanting to help him some privacy and not post the assessment.

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Government

No meetings this week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

A categorical framework for gradientbased learning (Tuesday, 2:30pm) — Geoffrey Cruttwell from Mount Allison University will explain

Many artificial intelligence systems use variants of the gradient descent algorithm to help them “learn”. (For examples of such variants, see https://arxiv.org/abs/1609.04747). In this series of two talks, we’ll see how many of these variants can be unified in a single categorical framework. The categorical tools we will use to build this framework include categories of parameterized maps, categories of lenses, and reverse derivative categories. The first talk will focus on introducing these three categorical structures, while the second talk will put the structures together and show how many of the gradient-based algorithms which are used in practice fit into the resulting framework.

This is joint work with Bruno Gavranovic, Neil Ghani, Paul Wilson, and Fabio Zanasi.

Saint Mary’s

Tuesday

The Librarian Is In (Tuesday, 3pm) — online workshop to ask any of your library- or research-related questions

King’s

Monday

Counter Memory Activism Speaker Series (Monday, 7pm) — virtual discussion with Dion Kaszas, internationally acclaimed tattoo artist, painter, teacher, and scholar of Indigenous tattooing.


In the harbour

Monday
00:30: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Hamburg, Germany
05:00: CMA CGM J. Adams, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Port Klan, Malaysia
06:00: Bilbao Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
06:00: Mediterranean Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
15:00: MOL Maestro, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
15:30: Mediterranean Highway sails for sea
16:00: Bilbao Bridge sails for Rotterdam
17:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm, Beach, Florida
23:00: MSC Rochelle, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Montreal

Tuesday
03:30: CMA CGM J. Adams, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
05:00: MOL Maestro, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
07:00: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Reykjavik, Iceland
10:00: YM Modesty, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka


Footnotes

My plan today: to call up a bunch of politicians so they can tell me “no comment.”

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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Tim has done a gteat job on the pandemic and has been by far the most balanced reporter not just focusing on the criticism but also praising and even defending what the government is doing. He gets it! They have been working the last year in an environment where no one understood Covid-19 and there was constant change as more was learned. So, of course there were mistakes, flip flops, etc.

    It is very interesting how health officials were slammed about the wait times when the 80’s started booking. My wife went on line this morning and booked for a friend with no wait and getting a time within the next week. It would be nice if there would be some praise for getting the kinks resolved and having things smooth now. Tim is the only reporter who MAY report this.

  2. Here’s what I want to know about the currently approved inoculations. Will I be allowed to choose which one I want to have injected? I have a preference as to which one I want based on my medical history and the research I have done to date. I have what I believe are to be valid reasons to refuse the other three options. In short, if I cannot choose, I may be getting none. I am willing to wait until I can have a choice. I am not looking to go ahead of anyone else. I just want to be able to make what I believe will be the best choice for me.

  3. The fed’s $400 million for active transportation is over a 5 year period and for the entire country. One comparison is Halifax plans to spend $38 million on paving roads this year. Another is that the provincial government plans to spend ~$100 million of health care dollars on 2 parking garages on the Halifax Common, eating up existing green space and spewing pollution from 1500++ vehicles direct to walker, roller, player, swimmer, horse-rider, worker, dweller, patient-lungs.

    1. But Andy Fillmore needs a photo op. Why the media bother covering this stuff continues to astound me.

  4. How long has it been since Parliament passed a budget? With no federal budget in a while, how is the government announcing public transit money and new money for active transportation? Isn’t a budget passed by Parliament a key part of accountability for a government??

    1. Two years I believe. IIRC they are prepping a budget now but I can’t remember when it will be presented. I’d love to see the day when government money is only handed out when you have an actual plan. You’d think Halifax would have some of these ready to go, but I guess that would present a lot of overhead.

  5. I’m not sure why anyone is worried that we won’t be able to distribute the vaccines once we get them.
    If I remember correctly, we got 450 000 doses of ‘flu vaccine into people last fall, between Mid-October and the end of November — and that was with COVID-19 distancing rules in effect!