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1. Sure, budget surpluses are great, but have you ever experienced investments in long-term care?

The Northwood nursing home on Gottingen Street in Halifax. Photo: Halifax Examiner Credit: Halifax Examiner / Tim Bousquet

Stephen Kimber’s column this week points out one of the many obvious but under-discussed aspects of how COVID-19 has caused so much death and suffering for people in long-term care homes: that the state of LTCs is the direct result of specific choices and government policies.  Kimber writes:

Choices?

  • Crushing health care unions versus investing in long-term care?
  • Slashing $8 million from the provincial budget for grants to long-term health care facilities versus investing in long-term care?
  • Boasting about shiny budget surpluses versus investing in long-term care?
  • Cutting taxes for corporations versus investing in long-term care?
  • Not opening a single new long-term care facility in seven years versus investing in long-term care?
  • Spending close to $80 million to subsidize a ferry that isn’t versus investing in long-term care?

No wonder Premier Stephen McNeil chooses to change the subject — “First of all, let me say thank you to all long-term care workers across our province” — whenever anyone has the temerity to ask if he will call a public inquiry into why so many Nova Scotians have died in long-term care facilities, especially in Northwood, during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Read all of “Shiny budget surpluses versus investing in long-term care” here.

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2. Backroad deal: part 2

Mike Lancaster says it’s rare to see a yellow birch with this much fissuring and scaling of the bark. While it doesn’t look old in terms of size, it’s likely 100 years old, he says. Near Ingram Access Road. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Part 2 of Linda Pannozzo’s feature series on how part of a forest was clearcut for an access road focuses on how the province defines and measures old-growth.

I want to say the story is shocking, but I don’t know that anything about forestry policy in this province shocks me anymore.

Pannozzo writes:

Old trees are not necessarily big trees.

“In general, old forests are going to be larger but I’ve cored an eastern hemlock that I can almost fit my hands around that was 236 years old,” explains [St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association Coordinator Mike] Lancaster. He says that since diameter is what usually triggers an old forest assessment, some forests just wouldn’t be assessed, even though they would likely meet the criteria for old growth.

Lancaster says another issue is that it’s the larger trees that dictate which one you core to determine age, so you could end up assessing a forest where the extremely old trees have small diameter and the bigger trees are only 100 years old — which are not considered old growth.

“It’s not a system that always works for shade-tolerant species,” says Lancaster. “For species that can spend the first 50 years of their life so small that you can wrap your hand around them potentially, the [scoring] system doesn’t work… It’s not robust enough of a system to apply to every forest type.”

I believe Canada’s oldest trees are on the Niagara escarpment, and some of them are tiny.

Read “Backroad Deal Part 2: Nova Scotia’s policies to conserve the province’s endangered forests might be doing more harm than good” here.

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3. Meet the 12-year-old making masks and writing pandemic poetry

Damini Awoyiga

El Jones shares a portrait of Damini Awoyiga this morning. Awoyiga, who is 12, got a sewing machine recently. She’s putting it to good use.

Jones writes:

Damini is working on a dress for her next school talent show, and hopes to start a fashion line someday for Black women and other women that better represents the broad range of body types in society. While she was learning to sew, she 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.

Awoyiga also writes poetry, and the story includes one of her poems.

Read “12-year-old Damini Awoyiga makes masks, and writes poetry about the coronavirus” here.

4. A lot more questions about RCMP practices

Former RCMP officer Catharine Mansley.

In his latest for the Examiner, Paul Palango shares the story of Catharine Mansley, and the questions it raises.

Mansfield, who roomed with murdered constable Heidi Stevenson when the two were at the RCMP academy, left the force with PTSD after serving 24 years. She was one of the recipients of a lump-sum payment issued as part of a $200-million class-action lawsuit settlement, Palango writes, “claiming that the Mounties failed to provide a work environment that was free from gender-based discrimination, bullying, and harassment.”

Under the terms of her settlement, Mansley signed a non-disclosure agreement. But she’s talking anyway. “If they want to sue me, let them go ahead,” she tells Palango. (More of this please. NDAs are a scourge. Also: I recognize it’s easy for me to say more of this, when I’m in no danger of being sued by the RCMP.)

Palango writes:

“The RCMP is always trying to do the most with the least amount of staff. That’s their model,” Mansley says. “The supervisors get bonuses for coming in under budget. So, when you show up for a shift and there are not enough bodies to cover the shift, the supervisors used to say: “We are not calling anyone in on overtime, we are just going to risk it out.”

Mansley said the stress of working alone without proper backup was mentally and physically draining. She said [then Staff-Sergeant and now Minister of Justice Mark] Furey as her commander often used to say it. “All the supervisors said it.

“They say: ‘risk it out’, but they weren’t risking their lives, Mansley said. “What they do is risk us out. We are the ones out there in dangerous situations. They are risking each Mountie’s life, and I can’t believe they get bonuses when they do.”

Did they risk it out on April 18 and 19, Palango wonders, along with a slew of other questions that remain unanswered.

If you still, inexplicably, think there is nothing to be learned from an inquiry into the police response on April 18 and 19, please make sure to read all of “Nova Scotia massacre: Did the RCMP ‘risk it out’ one time too many?” here.

Meanwhile Darcy Dobson, the daughter of murder victim Heather O’Brien, has written a Facebook post on behalf of her family calling for a public inquiry. (This should finally put to rest any notion that those who want an inquiry are somehow not thinking of the families.)

Dobson writes:

No one wants to do this. This isn’t easy. Hell, I’d like to go back 40 days ago when I was talking to my mother on the phone about when to put my garden in and something funny the kids did, but I can’t. The sad reality is our loved ones were stolen from us. Mistakes were made at the provincial and the federal level and we need answers, we need answers to heal, we need answers so we can find a way to live in this new normal that we’ve been forced into.

If this is the worst Massacre in Canadian history why are we not trying to learn from it? What’s the hold up in the inquiry? Why hasn’t this happened yet? Where are we in the investigation? Was someone else involved? Why can’t we get any answers at all 40 days in?! The fact that anyone of us has to ask these questions is all very concerning and only makes everyone feel, inadequate, unimportant and unsafe. Please for the people of our province, for the people of our country, for the people who have lost someone so dear to their hearts find a way to let us start to heal.

5. Documenting the pandemic, one Nova Scotian at a time

Karen Blair. Photo: St. Francis Xavier University

Yvette d’Entremont brings us the story of a research project headed by Karen Blair and Kathryn Bell, of St-FX and Acadia universities, respectively.

The COVID-19 Interpersonal and Social Coping Study, is looking at diaries being kept by more than 2,000 Nova Scotians during the pandemic. It sounds fascinating.

d’Entremont writes:

“Our perception of time is completely skewed, and so if we were to just wait until October and ask people ‘How did you experience the spring?’ they wouldn’t remember accurately,” Blair said in an interview Thursday.

“Even if I think back to early March, I have this foggy remembrance of the urgency, but when I think about what it felt like I can hardly believe myself. If people are writing it down as it’s happening it’s accurate to the moment in time.” …

As the province moves into reopening, there will be new challenges, and she wants to document those as part of our pandemic experience.

“I actually think we have the possibility to see increases in stress again. Kind of like that urgent thing we had at the beginning where we’re like, ‘Oh my goodness the world is ending,’ and then we got used to it,” she said.

“I imagine for almost everybody it fell into some sort of a pattern and you adjusted. But now with this idea of reopening and going back, you have all these different kinds of approaches, different opinions. If your employer tells you ‘Okay we want you to work in the office now,’ and you don’t feel ready to do that, then that’s going to actually be a lot more stressful than being asked to work at home.”

Blair is also running a diary study called the COVID-19 LGBTQ+ Diary Study, whose name seems self-explanatory. The study is exploring questions on subjects including healthcare, community, personal relations, and more.

I am an occasional journal-keeper, but I have not written a thing in my journal since the first week of March, even though I keep meaning to. That’s what counts, right?

6. Judge rules province failing in its duty to protect endangered species

A lady slipper in the Peggy’s Cove barrens. Photo: Kent Martin

Jennifer Henderson reports on a legal victory on behalf of endangered species in the province. A group of naturalists have won their case against the province, arguing that it has been derelict in its duty to protect half a dozen endangered species.

Or, as wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft put it, “nature won.”

Henderson writes:

“This is a landmark victory for the province’s endangered species. The court’s decision reinforces the fact that stopping biodiversity loss is urgent and important, and in order to do so the government must take seriously its duty to follow existing species protection laws,” said Sarah McDonald, an EcoJustice lawyer who participated in the court case on behalf of the East Coast Environmental Law Association, an intervenor.

Bancroft was slightly more pessimistic in tone, after thanking the lawyers and Justice Christa Brothers.

“Citizens and nature groups like Nature Nova Scotia should not have to go to court to force governments to enforce their own laws,” said Bancroft. “Sadly, this judgment will not spell the end of the battle. The recent name-change from “Forests” to “Forestry” pretty well summarizes the industrial interests that dominate within the Department of Lands and Forestry. Even the Wildlife Division has been trampled in the rush to flatten public forests for private profits, transforming our forests and their habitats into degraded, soil-challenged moonscapes.”

The Endangered Species Act has been in force for 20 years in Nova Scotia, and this is the first legal case involving it.

Read all of “Nature Won” here.

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7. Justice for Regis rally draws hundreds

From the Justice for Regis solidarity rally. Photo: Amanda

Last week, 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death from a Toronto high-rise. Her family had called the police for help, hoping that she could be taken to CAMH — the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

We don’t know exactly what happened next. But we do know that 70 percent of the nearly 500 people killed by police in Canada over the last two decades have had mental health or addiction issues.

Yesterday, a solidarity rally was held in downtown Halifax.

Alexa MacLean talks to one of the rally organizers for Global:

Despite the frustration and pain that could be felt throughout the crowd, [Kate] MacDonald expressed hope that the hundreds of people who showed up for support were there because they recognize the call for action to be taken over racial injustice at the hands of police.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re yelling down an echo chamber, you’re not sure that anyone is picking up what you’re saying and it felt like we put out a message, today. People picked that up, and lots of white folks picked that up, and lots of allies picked that up, and it wasn’t just Black people here today,” MacDonald said.

El Jones was at the rally and has a story coming for the Examiner. Check back later for it.

8. Who will think of the Canadians?

Photo: Amanda

I know it’s standard practice to try and find the local angle on international stories, but sometimes… sometimes it is just cringe-inducing.

Here is a piece from Global talking to a couple of Canadians living in the US and watching the protests. Alexandra Cox lives in Seattle with her husband and two kids. She’s watching the mass uprisings over racism and police brutality, and she’s concerned, saying she feels “uneasy” and that her neighbours are stockpiling ammunition. (Let me tell you, that would make me feel a hell of a lot more uneasy than people seeking justice.)

The story also quotes Andrew Powell, a Canadian who lives in North Carolina, who approved of the Toronto rally against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism on the weekend, because it stayed non-violent. (I’m sure those at the rally are relieved they have your approval, bud.)

Here’s the quote that really got me though. It’s Cox recalling the G20 protests in Toronto:

Canada is no stranger to protests. In 2010, during the G20 Summit where the heads of state and government met to discuss the world economy, riots ensued in Toronto and were held for anti-poverty and anti-capitalism. The week-long protest heated up and led to mass arrests and destruction.

“That was so un-Canadian and so it’s not what we stand for,” Cox said. “I’m aware of the mob mentality that all you need is a couple of bad apples and the message gets lost and I think that’s what’s happening around us.”

Really? That’s what’s upsetting? People protesting the G20? Not mass arrests, breaking a protester’s arm, wildly excessive police force, kettling, suspending free speech rights… and rewarding the person in charge of it all with a cabinet position?


Views

1. Three communities, destroyed

Finding parallels between Africville and Mexican-American communities across the continent. Photo: Nova Scotia Archives.Image from the Nova Scotia Archives.

I took a break from the news yesterday to stack firewood while listening to the Baseball by the Book podcast. (Bear with me for a minute, even if you don’t like or care about baseball.) Each episode features an interview with the author of a baseball book. But often, these interviews (and books) turn out to be not just about baseball, but also about social history, race, justice, economics, and other subjects.

The episode I listened to yesterday is from May 5 and is on the book “Stealing Home” by Eric Nusbaum, a former Vice editor.

It tells the story of the three communities, Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop, that stood at the location where Dodger Stadium was built, and the resistance of some residents to eviction — first, for an ideologically-driven public housing program, and then for the stadium. The book’s subtitle is “Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between.”

Listening to Nusbaum and host Justin McGuire, I was struck by how familiar some of the discourse around these communities sounded (Africville came to mind, of course), and about the persistence of the idea that building a stadium and attracting a team is going to either put a city on the map or provide it with the cachet its grandees think it deserves. Nusbaum says one city councillor, Roz Wyman, an otherwise progressive politician, was elected in the early 1950s largely on the strength of her determination to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles.

But back to the communities razed to build the stadium. In the podcast, Nusbaum says:

These communities were places where you could, if you were Mexican, buy land or buy a house. And that made a big difference in terms of developing those places. It led to the demographics they had, and it also led to them being dismissed later on by the government powers. When you read about them in contemporaneous reports, it’s always in the context of you wouldn’t know it was there, or time has stopped in Palo Verde. It’s never in a way where these communities are equal to other parts of LA. They are always seen as something less, or something hidden, or something backwards…

There were three different communities, and each community had its own level of poverty and its own problems… When we talk to people who lived there, they think about growing up in these cities, in these villages, as something kind of magical. They were up against Elysian Park,  which is this giant park in the middle of LA and these hills, they had space to run around. They got to live a sort of bucolic, wonderful childhood… And then there’s the sort of language that you got from politicians in LA. And it’s this sort of an ironic thing. The city of LA ignored these places,  wrote them off, dismissed them, didn’t provide essential services, didn’t enforce codes, didn’t give them buses, and then when it came time to evict these communities to build public housing or a baseball stadium, it was oh, well they’re slums anyway.

Well yeah, you’ve written them off and ignored them for decades and then all of a sudden you have problems? It was sort of one of those self-fulfilling prophecies.

I was also struck by this exchange at the end of the podcast:

McGuire: It’s really interesting when you look at this story in 2020, because this is obviously something that happened 60 years ago, more than 60 years ago now, and we’re still talking about discrimination against Mexican immigrants, we’re still talking about people who are anti-socialist. A lot of these themes just don’t go away throughout American history, you know what I mean?

Nusbaum: It’s hard not to see the resonance. When you write a book like this you have to decide how you’re going to stand on political issues, because the political issues in this book are almost exactly the same as we’re dealing with today… In terms of the media, in terms of race, in terms of housing, in terms of how cities are organized, in terms of fear-mongering politics, it’s all really, really the same. And it was just a constant series of oh wow, that hasn’t changed, that hasn’t changed, that hasn’t changed, as I was writing the book.

The story of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop, and their destruction, is told with the help of a powerful series of archival photos in a 2018 story by Elina Shatkin, called “The Ugly, Violent Clearing Of Chavez Ravine Before It Was Home To The Dodgers.”

2. Racism, cops, media, and performative bullshit

Photo: New Glasgow Police and armoured vehicle donor Peter MacKay.

Knowing that I was going to be writing Morning File today, I struggled all weekend to think of what I could say about the uprisings south of the border, and the out-of-control wave of police violence.

On the one hand it feels strange to say nothing. On the other, I don’t know what a white guy sitting at home in Nova Scotia has to offer.

Let’s start with the photo above. It’s easy to laugh at this stuff. I mean, it’s ridiculous. Police in New Glasgow did not need that vehicle, and the composition of the photo: these cops in their riot gear, some with their face covered, some beaming, the “let me join in and be one of the cool kids” body language of the politician” — the whole thing is like some piece of absurdist performance art.

And yet, as we’ve known for years — decades — and as has become all-too-evident yet again over the past five days, militarizing the police has consequences.

I’ve watched in horror as police across the US have gone out of their way to specifically target journalists, shooting them with rubber bullets, teargassing them, throwing them to the ground and pepper-spraying them in the face. You’ve got a leader who keeps referring to media as the enemy of the people, emboldened cops who are willing to create mayhem in order to supposedly restore order (those old enough may remember the notion of destroying the village in order to save it), and this is the result.

As terrible as the targeting of journalists is, I’m also appalled by all the “This can’t be happening in America!” discourse that started with the arrest of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and crew in Minneapolis last week. Really? Veteran journalist Amy Goodman, co-host of the long-running Democracy Now show, was arrested in 2016 for covering the Dakota access pipeline protests, and charged with trespassing and participating in a riot. And if you want to feel smug about being Canadian, remember that APTN reporter Justin Brake was arrested for covering opposition to the Muskrat Falls project.

Of course these things happen in America. And Canada.

On Twitter, science writer Jane C. Hu created a long, long, thread of instances in which journalists have been attacked by police over the last few days. It is horrific.

It also includes this context, which I think is important. Hu writes:

fwiw: this thread documents attacks on journalists not bc i think journos should be treated differently from protesters, but bc it’s noteworthy police are attacking journos *knowing* their job is to document…

i was reticent to make this thread bc i didn’t want to perpetuate a “journalists are ~heroes~” narrative but i see that happening so let me be clear: the focus should be the reason for these protests — police murdering Black Americans — & police violence in response to protests

Meanwhile, our politicians go online to engage in performative bullshit. Here is a minister of the Crown.

This is like smiling politicians being photographed at the food bank. Maybe you, as a government minister, could do better? Sure, we can all do better, but some of us are in actual positions of power that allow us to make substantive change and some of us are not.

And here’s local MP Darren Fisher:

A member of the government hashtags themselves as an ally. You know what? Many years ago, when I was a religious studies student, one of my profs said a good rule of thumb is if someone’s going around calling themselves a mystic, they are not a mystic. I’d say the same applies to calling yourself an ally. It’s the same kind of performative bullshit as companies (hello Google, hello Amazon) who give platforms to racism and sell facial-recognition software to police suddenly being concerned about racial justice.

Please.

Meanwhile, how’s that tank coming along for the Halifax police? Oh, I know, it’s not a tank. (“What exactly do you mean when you say assault rifle?”) It’s a light-armoured vehicle or something, and the fact that cops in New York drove SUVs into a crowd of protestors on the weekend is completely divorced from any vehicular acquisitions by police in Halifax, who simply need it for public safety.

This morning, councillor Tim Outhit was asked on Twitter if he still supported the purchase of the non-tank, given what’s going on with police, and he replied:

Hi, The armoured vehicle purchased for here is for transporting police and retrieving people, it is not an assault vehicle. The existing one has not be (sic) abused, but it was used in recent mass murders here and could have been used in Moncton and Fredericton.

See, it’s for TRANSPORTING people — something that police cars are perhaps unable to do? What do I know?  I’m a mere civilian. Just give the police more money and whatever armour they want. I am sure they will always use it responsibly.


Noticed

Public toilets: better practices

Do not enter. Pit toilet at Jerry Lawrence Park. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Lockdown restrictions are easing in the UK (prematurely, many would argue) and kids went back to school today.

As crowds headed to beaches with inadequate facilities, a familiar story unfolded: human waste on the ground. (This is something I wrote about with respect to Nova Scotia provincial parks and beaches last week.)

The other day, I ran across a story from Kent Online, a news website serving the county of Kent, in southeastern England, called “Need the loo? Here’s where you can access a council-run public toilet in Kent during lockdown.”

Following the easing of some lockdown restrictions, more and more people have been enjoying the fresh air in Kent over the last few weeks.

But with parks and beaches becoming increasingly busier, it means people will need to use the bathroom while out and about.

As a result, councils across the country have started re-opening public toilets, while some never closed them.

Useful stuff! The story includes a community-by-community breakdown of available toilets, plus an interactive map to help you find them easily.

Before the pandemic, I started a Twitter account called NS Toilet Codes, to share information on public washrooms. It’s modelled on similar accounts in Toronto and the UK. I think it’s a good project, but unfortunately I have not had time to do anything with it. So if one of you wants to take it over and run it properly, let me know.


Government

City

Monday

No meetings.

Tuesday

Special Halifax Peninsula Advisory Committee (Tuesday, 4pm) — teleconference; agenda here.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
15:00: MOL Emissary, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
15:00: Atlantic Sail sails for New York
16:30: Maersk Mobiliser, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
17:00: AlgoCanada, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal
18:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, sails from Pier 41 for Palm Beach, Florida
21:30: MOL Emissary, container ship, sails for Rotterdamn


Footnotes

It’s contact tracing, not “contract” tracing.

Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Liberal MP Darren Fisher who pontificated about us having to be active bystanders and call out racism lives in Metro. For all his pious claims, and the declarations of the other locally-based politicians including the leaders of all the 3 major parties — was any one of them at the demonstration for Justice For Regis on Saturday in Halifax? Did any city councillor bother to go? And where was the Chair of the Police Commission — shouldn’t Natalie Borden have attended the event to check on how the police were policing it? In this day and age, I think she needs to be there.

  2. Here is the thing about government budget surpluses. Politicians love to parade a surplus as a great achievement and something worthy of praise. In fact a surplus in a government budget is a flag of failure. Surpluses arise when things that needed to be done don’t get done. Things like funding for long term care programs get cut just so the government can show a surplus. This is not understood by many and that is something upon which politicians capitalize. Surpluses are not money left over after everything is done. Surpluses arise from necessary things not being done just so a government can pander to the electorate creating the totally fake narrative that achieving a surplus is a good thing. It is not.

    1. I agree with you on the surpluses. I was just echoing a frequent online construction that starts, “Sex is great, but have you ever….”

  3. Watching the horrible video of Mr Floyd’s murder you look at the murderer, Officer Chauvin, and see a psychopath. Then you wonder how many of similar ilk are on the HPD.

  4. Andy Fillmore, MP for Halifax has been silent on the deaths at Northwood,
    Mayor Mike Savage has been silent on the deaths at Northwood.
    Councillor Lindell Smith has been silent on the deaths at Northwood.
    Councillor Waye Mason has been silent on the deaths at Northwood.
    Councillor Shawn Cleary has been silent on the deaths at Northwood.
    All five of the men campaign on peninsula Halifax for votes and not one of them has called for a public inquiry.
    There is no excuse for the silence.

    1. I just looked at Lindell Smith’s last e-newsletter. He reproduces an advertisement from Northwood HR seeking more staff – but no mention of the deaths.