News

1. Mass murder victims believed to number 22

Chalk hearts on Summit Street in Halifax: one of the small ways that people are marking the tragic murder of 22 people this past weekend. Photo: Erica Butler

Tim Bousquet reports from yesterday’s RCMP press briefing, and outlines a “vague and misleading” statement issued by the RCMP regarding the mass murder spree on the weekend in which 22 people were murdered by a single perpetrator, over almost 14 hours, in a series of Nova Scotia communities. Reports Bousquet:

The statement is quite vague. A timeline of events provided with the statement gives no times of day. It does not detail any police action over the course of 12 hours. It does not say how many people were injured. It does not say how many victims knew the perpetrator, or how they knew him.

Here’s what the statement does say.

Police were called on Saturday, April 18 — again, the statement does not give a time — “to a possible shooting incident at a home in Portapique in Colchester County.”

When police arrived, they found “several casualties inside and outside of a home,” but no suspect. Police began a search of the area, which led to “multiple sites in the immediate area, including structures and vehicles that were on fire.”

The statement does not say how, but the suspect was identified, and the search for him continued.

Read the full story here.

2. COVID-19 Update

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang give a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, April 21.

Another person has died from COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, bringing the provincial death toll to 10.  The person who died was a resident of Northwood, according to Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang. “It’s tragedy upon tragedy these days,” said Strang at yesterday’s government briefing. “My heart goes out to that family.”

In numbers:

  • 16 new known positive cases in Nova Scotia (3.7% of newly reported test results)
  • 11 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19 (2.4% of known active cases)
  • 286 people recovered from COVID-19 (38.8% of total reported positive cases)
  • 737 total reported cases to date (3.2% of reported test results)
  • 22,927 reported test results (2.4% of the Nova Scotia population)
  • 13.4 days doubling time, based on the average daily growth of positive cases in the past week

For the daily graphs, check out Tim Bousquet’s work here.

Today’s 16 new reported cases represented a big drop in growth of positive cases, but testing numbers were low.

Of the 16 new cases, one was a Northwood resident. “That may seem low compared to what we’ve had over the last few days,” said Strang. “We know that because of all the transition happening on Saturday, there was very little testing happening on Saturday at Northwood. I knew that and fully expected that today we wouldn’t have a lot of results. Enhanced testing started Sunday, and I expect over the next few days we’ll see the results of that enhanced testing, and expect to see the numbers of positive cases from Northwood go back up again.”

There are 10 long term care or seniors facilities with reported cases in Nova Scotia, with a total of 190 reported cases, 128 among residents, and 62 among staff. On Friday, Northwood was reporting close to 100 reported cases.

Strang also pointed out that because we are nearing the end of flu season, we may see a drop in the demand for testing, as there may be fewer people with symptoms. But he urged people not to shy away from testing, citing the two-pronged strategy to control spread, “public health measures and aggressive and easy access to testing.” If you have symptoms, said Strang, “we need you to get tested.”

The Premier addressed the perennial question of the timeline on lifting restrictions, noting that deadlines are approaching in early May. “We have to look at schools, daycares, parks, all those,” said McNeil. “We will be looking at those in conjunction with public health over the next number of days and into next week to see if at all possible what other measures may be required, or quite frankly, which ones can we work on letting up.”

Then, as if sensing that he might be encouraging people to preemptively let their guard down, he said, “but it’s too early for that. It’s really critical Nova Scotians stick to the plan. What will determine when the restrictions can come off will be us being able to flatten this curve.”

Bousquet finished off the briefing by asking Strang about how the ramp-down of restrictions can happen when so few people have been exposed, recovered, and developed immunity (if indeed recoveries do mean immunity.)

“That’s exactly part of the conversation my team is involved in nationally,” said Strang.

How do we actually loosen things knowing we have a large proportion of the population that may still be vulnerable. That’s why internationally the conversation is about doing things slowly and carefully, and that we may well see multiple waves. That as you loosen things off carefully, you may get some reintroduction of the virus, and you may have to tighten things up again. This is all based on paying close attention in the coming weeks and months, having good and robust surveillance systems and monitoring the disease activity carefully. And having the ability to adjust the health system and government response. We have to be prepared, this is quite likely the next 12-18 months until we get a high enough level of immunity that COVID no longer becomes a major area of concern.

The briefing ended with a moment of silence to remember and honour the 22 victims of the weekend’s mass murder.

3. Sharing condolences and supporting families, virtually

Several fundraising initiatives in support of surviving family members listed on heartcolchester.ca.

Family and friends of the mass murder victims are working to create online, virtual ways to mourn and remember those killed. Several fundraising sites have been created to help support surviving family members. 

One website, heartcolchester.ca, has announced an online tribute for Friday April 24th at 7pm, via their Facebook group, Colchester Community Cares.  The site reads:

In this time of unspeakable tragedy, our strength comes from our community. Please join us on April 24th at 7PM AST for a loving tribute for those we lost.

The site also links to various fundraising initiatives on behalf of families. 

The Nova Scotia government has set up a Facebook group, StrongerTogetherNS, to collect condolences online. The province is also accepting emailed messages, and has created a number of graphics for people to use on social media to express their condolences, available at novascotia.ca/condolences.

4.  Researchers want to know what your kids are doing during the pandemic shutdown

Dr Jessie-Lee McIsaac. Photo submitted.

Yvette D’Entremont reports on the work of researchers at Mount Saint Vincent’s Early Childhood Collaborative Research Centre looking into the effects of the pandemic on Maritime families with young children. D’Entremont spoke with professor Jessie-Lee McIsaac:

“It will give us an understanding of what kinds of supports families need in these types of global pandemic situations,” McIsaac said.

“I hope that we don’t have another situation like this soon. But there could be other times when these things pop up, and there isn’t a lot of research that tells us how to prepare for things like this and how we can support families with young children.”

Read the full story here.

5. RCMP shooting in Onslow

Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade building at Highway 4 and McKinley Road, Lower Onslow, Nova Scotia.

Harry Sullivan of Saltwire in Truro reports on an RCMP shooting Sunday morning in Lower Onslow, Nova Scotia. Sullivan spoke with area resident Joy McCabe, who saw two RCMP officers shooting at an unidentified target around 10am to 10:30am. Though at first she had no idea what was going on, McCabe then remembered a Facebook post about a shooting, and figured they were shooting at the suspect.

It’s now believed the perpetrator of the 22 murders had actually passed through her area before that time.

Writes Sullivan:

Just who the RCMP officers were shooting at remains under investigation, which has been handed over to the province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT).

SIRT has given no details about the incident they are investigating, only that it is related to “discharge of firearms by two members of the RCMP.” SIRT’s news release reads, “the discharge of the firearms happened on April 19 while the RCMP were continuing their investigation into a gun-related incident in the northern region of Nova Scotia.”

The Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade posted this message on Facebook, in reference to the shooting incident and Sullivan’s article:

On Sunday, April 19, 2020 Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade hall, in coordination with EMO was being used as a Registration Center for evacuees from the Portapique Beach area. The hall was used to provide a place where residents could come take a break, register and get hotel and Red Cross information. We can confirm that around 10:30am there was gunfire at our hall and the gunfire caused considerable damage to our property, including taking one of our trucks out of service. There was an RCMP officer and cruiser staged on our property to assist with evacuee registration plus there were several other people on scene. Our video surveillance does not capture the shooters but does show two people resembling RCMP officers enter our property, one to the front and one to the rear. One of these people enters our hall at the front but no one who is sheltered inside the hall spoke with the people/person resembling the RCMP officer so we can not confirm why they were there. No one identified themselves as an RCMP officers. They left our property shortly after the gunfire. We have since been contacted by SIRT and are cooperating with their ongoing investigation. Fortunately no one was physically injured.

The post indicates uncertainty over the identity of the shooters involved, though the SIRT investigation into the matter seems to confirm that it was two RCMP officers who discharged their weapons at the time.

6.  Fifty Canadian Senators call for basic income

Senators Kim Pate and Frances Lankin are leading the call to evolve the CERB program into a minimum basic income.

Senators Frances Lankin and Kim Pate are leading a call on behalf of 50 Canadian Senators, asking the federal government to “further evolve” the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) into a minimum basic income for all. Their release reads:

Since introducing the CERB in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has continued to evolve this program to provide income support of $500 per week to more Canadians in need. Senators have heard from Canadians that further positive developments to the CERB are needed in order to stop other groups of Canadians from falling through the cracks.

Restructuring the CERB as a minimum basic income would quickly get support to Canadians in dire straits who need assistance now. Doing so would also free up valuable time and resources needed to craft and implement further changes to the CERB and to renew eligibility of individuals for the CERB in the next months and beyond.

Each new fix to the CERB, while welcome, means delays in getting help to those who need it most. As a matter both of social equity and efficiency, Senators are joining the calls of Canadians across the country to ensure that, in this time of need, no one falls through the cracks and everyone has their place on “Team Canada”.

7. Thirteen more COVID-19 violation tickets issued since Friday

Photo: Halifax Examiner

On Monday, Halifax Regional Police issued the following update on their COVID-19-related enforcement activities:

Since our last report on Friday, HRP issued thirteen tickets for violations of the Health Protection Act and Emergency Management Act, bringing the total to 132 since the Province declared a state of emergency. The majority of these were in relation to being in prohibited areas under the Emergency Management Act. Since the declaration of the state of emergency, HRP has responded to a total of 1,233 COVID-19 related calls.

8. No, HRM will not be giving pedestrians more room

Cities around the world, including Canada, are experimenting with giving pedestrians and cyclists more space to help them maintain COVID-19-inspired social distancing rules. The Guardian reports on one example in Germany, where some cities have widened bike lanes to allow cyclists to maintain distance.  CTV reports that Edmonton is widening bike lanes and converting some traffic lanes to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. Edmonton is also converting dozens of push-button activated signals to automatically cycle-through with pedestrian walk signs, so as to reduce touching.

Twitter user Jodi Brown asks Halifax politicians to weigh in on what other cities are doing to increase space for people on bikes.

I asked city spokesperson Brynn Budden if Halifax was considering any plans to expand pedestrian and active transportation space. The answer, for now, says Budden, is no, though staff “continue to monitor” the situation. In an email, Budden listed the “primary reasons” for city staff’s decision not to take any action:

– The closing of streets (whole or partial) opposes the provincial guidelines to stay home, especially now that we are escalating toward peak infections.

– Closed streets can encourage significant public gatherings.

– Closed streets draw upon critical traffic resources to establish and maintain, as well as front line responders to enforce.

– Closed streets require appropriate separation devices to achieve necessary pedestrian/cyclist safety. There are some supply concerns around barricades and bollards in jurisdictions where construction continues, such as here in the municipality.

– Closed streets could mean a potential interference with businesses, as well as transit and emergency response routes.

– Sidewalks in most areas of the municipality are in low demand when considered over the course of the day and safe distances can be maintained when combined with low traffic volumes.

Despite the fact that lane closures for construction are a common and easily-coordinated practice in Halifax, the city has long created prohibitive obstacles for lane or road closures for any other reason. It’s no surprise that they continue on this decision path, even when social distancing orders are requiring people to maintain more distance than is commonly available on sidewalks or bike lanes.

As for adjusting pedestrian push buttons to cycle automatically? That’s another no. Mysteriously, city staff also believe that adjusting pedestrian signals would “contradict provincial guidelines to stay home,” writes Budden. In addition, Budden cites city staff’s standard objection to having automatic pedestrian signals, that doing so would “reduce efficiency for all road users including pedestrians.”

9. It’s Earth Day, don’t forget about the climate.

Nova Scotia climate activist Ira Reinhart-Smith. Photo contributed.

Last fall, youth climate activist Ira Reinhart-Smith and 14 other young people filed suit against the federal government, claiming that by not acting adequately on climate change, Canada was failing the public trust and more specifically, their constitutional right to life, liberty and security. The suit calls for the government to “develop and implement an enforceable plan that is consistent with Canada’s fair share of the global carbon budget necessary to achieve GHG emissions reductions consistent with the protection of public trust resources subject to federal jurisdiction and the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”

In honour of Earth Day, I called up Reinhart-Smith to ask about activism from home, his lawsuit against the federal government, and his hopes for our post-pandemic world.

How are you handling life under the current stay-at-home order? How has it impacted you?

I am definitely gonna be happy when this is all over. I’m very privileged to be able to have a family that can work from home, and that we’re not in the city, and that we can go outside, in our backyard and in the woods. I miss my friends a lot. I definitely miss activism a lot. It’s a lot harder to do when you’re stuck inside. But all things considered, I have no right to complain when there’s other people facing severe issues.

You were part of a group that filed a lawsuit against the federal government for violating your charter rights and the public trust. Has the pandemic affected that process?

It’s definitely slowed it down, which is disappointing, but you can’t really do anything about that…The lawyers have updated us that it’s moving forward and there’s going to be people to review our case. And we’ve given the lawyers info about us, like how climate change is affecting us, specifically over the last two months… Even if the coronavirus wasn’t happening, not a whole lot of developments would have happened yet because cases move slowly… I’m excited for it to finally take off. And I think when all this coronavirus stuff is over, then I think it’s definitely going to speed up.

The La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen plaintiffs, with Ira Reinhart-Smith in rear centre. Photo: Robin Loznak, Our Children’s Trust.

What are you working on now?

So one of the one of the issues that coronavirus brought, which was really disappointing, was that me and some friends in Halifax and around Nova Scotia were planning a youth conference about climate change. We were really excited for that, but because of coronavirus, it had to be delayed.

But we’re not going to cancel. We’re hoping to have a conference in Halifax in either late September or October, bringing together youth so they can make connections. We’re exploring a bunch of different options just to show youth what climate activism can be, and how they can get started in their own neighbourhood. We think that with this extra time we’ve been given, we’re going to try to make it better than it was going to be before. We’re definitely excited for that. I think that’s one of my favourite projects coming up.

As far as activism from home, it’s just a lot of phone calls and trying to bring it into the digital and virtual. It is hard. You can’t really compare a bunch of online meet-ups with like, marching in the streets. But it’s still important. So we definitely have to keep going. We can’t let Coronavirus stop this.

The shutdown has been very disruptive to the economy. Some people might perceive it as an opportunity for things to pivot and change. Do you see any hope coming out of this pandemic crisis that that could actually impact what we’re doing about the climate crisis? 

That is definitely my greatest hope out of all of this, that we come together as a more unified world and that we can realize that we are able to live with fewer of the things that we’ve been living with.

My greatest fear is that huge government bailouts will go to massive industries and that will put us back in an even worse situation than we started.

But I think that if people realize that if we continued on, it doesn’t have to be as extreme as what we’re doing right now, but if we continued on a similar kind of lifestyle, like trying to fly less, trying to slow down huge industries… If anything, this is proven that we can do it. Like what we’ve been saying for years, it is possible.

People said, no, it’s not possible. But we’ve done it. Everyone’s listening to the scientists. Everyone’s following the rules as best they can. It’s amazing how our world has united globally. And so I feel that if people can take a lesson from this, realize what an impending threat climate change is and then take action…

If you look at the price of oil right now, the price of oil is below zero. Like it’s the lowest it’s ever been. And so we have to look at these sectors, these industries and say they’re not viable anymore. And we have to move away from them. If the governments don’t bail out these huge industries and kind of put us back in the old the place we were before, if they realized that right now we have a perfect opportunity after all this is over to move into the green sector, I think that would be amazing. That definitely could change things for the better.

It’s the 50th annual Earth Day. Does Earth Day mean anything special to you?

On one hand it’s kind of silly that we have one day for Earth Day when we live on the earth every single day and we don’t seem to appreciate it enough. But I think Earth Day is a great way to bring support and give information to people who wouldn’t normally be involved.

Having a day where people turn off the lights is great. But I think it’s important to focus on year round, like how much can we conserve our energy output. Maybe not just give up driving for one day, but maybe try to drive only three days a week.

With everyone inside on this Earth Day, it’s gonna be tricky for people to realize it is Earth Day. We’re kind of shut off from everything right now. We can’t do anything big. But I think it’s important that people look and see how our world has slowly begun to heal. And so if we could try to revert what we’ve done and then just not go back, that would be amazing. I think that would be a great thing for Earth Day.

So, yeah, I think it’s definitely interesting and I hope the world gets something out of this one. Fifty years is a big deal.


Views

1. Pamela Palmater: “exceptional white male syndrome” meets mass murder

Pamela Palmater, photo: Ryerson News and Events, 2018

Ryerson professor, lawyer and activist Pamela Palmater is calling out mainstream media’s bias problem, “when it comes to white men who commit horrible crimes,” in a NOW Weekly essay.  Writes Palmater,

It’s called “Exceptional White Male Syndrome.”

We have known about this problem for decades and while there has been some improvement over time, one glaring reality remains: a need for the mainstream media to paint white men who do horrific things as nice people who suddenly snapped.

Palmater specifically singles out the Globe and Mail’s “denturist with a passion for policing” headline, but notes the Globe is, “not the only outlet guilty of this.” And the problem goes beyond sympathetic treatments of white males, to less-than-sympathetic treatment for other groups.

At the same time as white men receive sympathetic treatment, the media has an obvious counter-bias for Black and Indigenous peoples – even when they are the victims. Racialized people are often described by their perceived faults – as a runaway, homeless or suffering from addictions.

Palmater writes that Canada has a “real crisis of violence,” with statistics showing firearm-related violent crimes on the rise, and women are disproportionately affected by that violence.

It’ll be weeks or months before the public knows all the facts surrounding what happened in Nova Scotia. Until then, mainstream media should take a closer look at how they present white male perpetrators of crime. Let’s put the focus back on the victims who had their lives taken away so soon. They deserve better.

2. Rachel McLay: it’s time to re-open parks

Pathways on the Halifax Common are open for socially-distanced transportation, but the park remains closed. Photo: Erica Butler

In an op-ed published in the Chronicle Herald, Dalhousie doctoral student Rachel McLay lays out the case for re-opening parks while maintaining social distancing practices:

Early, bold actions like closing schools and cancelling events are laudable and have surely done a great deal to reduce the spread of the virus so far. However, not all actions taken immediately out of an abundance of caution make long-term sense. Reopening parks — and determining sensible policies for maintaining physical distance within them — ought to be a top priority.

This isn’t a matter of personal preferences; scientists agree that parks should remain open. Researchers at Harvard specializing in community health and virology have pointed to the mental and physical health benefits of sunshine, fresh air, and green space. “The science could not be clearer,” write William Friedman, Joseph G. Allen, and Marc Lipsitch in the Washington Post. “The benefits of getting outside vastly outweigh the risk of getting infected in a park.” Practising physical distancing within parks, wearing facial coverings, minimizing contact with surfaces, and washing hands are several common-sense practices that can make being outdoors safer for everybody. Stricter measures, such as timed entry and limiting parking, could be used only when necessary to prevent crowding.

McLay also touches on the more acute needs in urban communities, where people are often living in apartments or condos without dedicated, private greenspace. “People with lawns, gardens, home offices, and spare rooms are making decisions about public spaces that disproportionately harm those whose private spaces are already extremely limited,” writes McLay.

The Washington Post column that McLay quotes is written by an epidemiologist, an environmental health professor, and a biologist, all affiliated with Harvard University. The trio recommend that with mask wearing and other behaviourial changes, we can make parks safe:

Everyone in community green space — cyclists, runners and pedestrians — should wear a facial covering. Even a homemade cloth mask can help prevent you from infecting others, which can happen if you have the coronavirus even with no symptoms, and it also provides some protection for you from others. Perhaps equally important, wearing a facial covering is a clear social signal that you take your community role in minimizing risk to others seriously. This simple courtesy can help others relax when outdoors in a common space.


Government

No meetings.


In the harbour

06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
06:30: CSL Tacoma, bulker, moves from anchorage to Pier 27
06:30: YM Enlightenment, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Rotterdam
10:30: CSL Tacoma moves to National Gypsum
15:00: MOL Maxim, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
16:00: Maersk Maker, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from sea
18:00: Boheme, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 31


Footnotes

“We’ve done it. Everyone’s listening to the scientists.” Going to try to channel Ira Reinhart-Smith’s best-case-scenario hopefulness for the rest of the week.

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  1. The city’s assumption that making walking and cycling safer will encourage people to leave their houses is another example of car-centric HRM staff thinking. They seem completely unaware that walking or cycling is a primary mode of transportation for some people. These folks are already leaving their houses, for essential purposes such as buying groceries, and now have the added challenge of faster than usual traffic. If the concern really is encouraging people to stay at home, closing a few roads (to all except local and emergency traffic) could support that.

  2. HRM won’t even deactivate the beg buttons at the lights on Bell Rd & Summer St, literally in front of the Halifax Infirmary. They were never going to seriously consider measures to use vehicle lanes for active transportation.

  3. An HRM resident who formerly worked near the denturist outlet in Dartmouth posted 2 comments on an online article in the Daily Mail detailing the shooting of a man and woman in N.S.. The details were not known on Sunday but similar information appeared later in The Province with details provided by unidentified police sources. The HRM resident is easily identified by the one word name he used when posting.