News

1. Record COVID deaths

The weekly COVID death count in Nova Scotia since Nov. 16, 2021. Note: because the reporting period was changed, the week ending April 11 has just six days. Graph: Tim Bousquet

Twenty-four people died from COVID in Nova Scotia last week (April 19-25) —  the highest weekly COVID death toll for the duration of the pandemic.

COVID hospitalizations also increased, to 91 for the same reporting period (up from 84 the week before).

As of yesterday, Nova Scotia Health reported the following hospitalization breakdown (this does not include any patients at the IWK):

Admitted for COVID-19: 55 (10 of whom are in ICU)
Admitted for something else but have COVID-19: 155
Contracted COVID-19 after admission to hospital: 129

Weekly deaths and new cases since January. Note: because the reporting period was changed, the week ending April 11 has just six days. Graph: Tim Bousquet

While deaths and hospitalizations increased, new lab-confirmed cases (PCR testing) decreased during the reporting period, to 5,436 (down from 7,508 the week before).

PCR testing is limited, and many people test positive using the take-home rapid tests and don’t report the results, so the lab-confirmed test result figure doesn’t tell the complete story, but it does indicate overall trends. And that’s enough for Deputy Chief Officer of Health Dr. Shelley Deeks to declare that the latest wave of the pandemic has peaked.

“The data this week on PCR-confirmed infections suggest the peak of the sixth wave is behind us,” said Deeks in a press release. “While the increase in hospitalizations and deaths is not unexpected, they are not insignificant, either. Behind each of these 24 COVID-19 deaths is a family grieving an incalculable loss. It is those families and those loved ones that we should keep in mind. That’s why we get vaccinated. That’s why we wear a mask. That’s why we stay home when we’re sick.”

Well, concern for the most vulnerable among us may be why some people wear masks, but that concern isn’t enough for the government to mandate mask-wearing in places where vulnerable people must go, like in grocery stores and on transit — the median age for COVID deaths is 80, so I suppose old people are considered expendable and not worth requiring masks when they’re around.

As deaths lag behind new cases by about two or three weeks, we’ll likely see 20+ new deaths over each of the next couple of weeks.

Public Health has also designated a “sixth wave” of COVID, which started March 1. Perhaps what journalist Katherine Wu calls the So What? Wave of COVID — a record number of people are dying from the disease, but they’re mostly old people, so no one much cares.

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2. James Banfield

Memorial in Portapique, NS, for the 22 victims of the April 2020 mass shooting. Photo: Joan Baxter Credit: Joan Baxter

Yesterday, the Mass Casualty Commission made public two statements James Banfield gave to police — one at 4:15pm on Sunday, April 19, 2020, just hours after the murder spree had ended, the other on June 30, 2020.

James Banfield is the brother of Lisa Banfield, the common-law spouse of the killer, who the Examiner refers to as GW.

James said that he had bought ammunition for GW “four or five different times” through the years, always at Lisa’s request. James knew GW did not have a firearms licence, but he didn’t think anything of it; GW liked to target practice, and it seemed harmless to him.

The most recent ammo purchase was on April 7, 2020, 11 days before the murder rampage started.

GW had some days before emailed a number of people — James couldn’t remember who else received the email — to ask that they buy him ammo. “And he said something about the ah, I thought it was about the ah, don’t let anybody know about it, but I’m not 100% sure,” said James.

James and his wife were driving around when Lisa called to remind James about the request for ammo. James asked Lisa what GW wanted the ammo for. “It was something to do with Covey [COVID],” said James. “And if anyone you know bothers him and you know, or something like that, and, just collected them too, I guess.”

James and his wife happened to be driving in Tantallon, so they stopped by the Canadian Tire. “I think he wanted way more but I only got him two boxes… they never had any more than two boxes down there at that time,” said James. It cost $141 or $142, he remembered. Lisa later sent him an e-transfer for the money.

James brought the two boxes home, and left them on his porch so his other sister, Janice, could pick them up while remaining socially distanced.

“And the Covey was on, so I said they’re right there on the back, there on the step. And I said, just come up to the back door and pick ’em up. I never even opened the door. She just picked them up and took ’em home down to her place. And now, Lisa got them from there.”

I’ll leave it to others to comment on the terrible irony of trying to remain COVID-safe while providing ammunition to a mass murderer.

But James fully admitted his role in providing the ammunition and pleaded guilty to a single criminal charge related to it; his case was referred to the Restorative Justice program.

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3. Dartmouthian squirrels

Another odd bit of information contained in James Banfield’s statement to police.

“He liked squirrels,” said Banfield of the killer. “He loved squirrels. He’s always collect squirrels. I don’t get it but he [would] collect them up there [in Portapique] and bring them into the city.”

“You mean live squirrels?” asked the investigator.

“Yeah, he’d feed them up there and just take them to Dartmouth,” replied Banfield.”You know, just let them loose in there.”

I live in central Dartmouth, just a few blocks from the killer’s former denturist office. And it’s always struck me as odd that there are no squirrels in the neighbourhood. I’ve seen the odd racoon, even a deer that I assume swam over from McNab’s Island, but never a squirrel. I don’t know why — there are plenty of oak trees dropping acorns, and the sprawling Dartmouth Common seems like a good habitat for squirrels. Squirrels live seemingly everywhere else in the world — grey squirrels populate the rest of the eastern seaboard; in California they have a blue tinge and run around both the redwoods and oak-studded Sierra foothills; in Toronto there’s a rainbow spectrum of squirrels, from black on through various shades of grey to albino white — but squirrels are completely avoiding my hood.

Maybe like peninsular elites, squirrels look down their hairy noses at Dartmouth and make rude comments about the bridge toll and only travelling through on their way to the airport.

Was the killer trying to address the dearth of Dartmouthian squirrels? If so, it didn’t work — the squirrels he released here didn’t stick around. Maybe they headed stat to the airport.

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4. Ol’ 55

Halifax Transit’s Route 55 leaves the Bridge Terminal in 2019. — Photo: Finn MacDonald/Flickr

“Residents of a neighbourhood off Waverley Road are continuing their fight against a Halifax Transit routing change,” reports Zane Woodford:

Route 55 Port Wallace used to run between the Bridge Terminal in Dartmouth and a gravel parking lot at the Highway 118 underpass on Waverley Road. As the Halifax Examiner reported in April 2021, Halifax Transit proposed to change the route as part of the Moving Forward Together Plan:

Citing low ridership, Halifax Transit is proposing to stop the route 3 km short at Charles Keating Drive, rather than continuing down Waverley Road to the Highway 118 underpass, where it turned around in a gravel parking lot.

The new route will use Charles Keating Drive and a portion of Craigburn Drive to create a loop at the end, and that had Coun. Cathy Deagle-Gammon, who represents District 1–Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley, asking questions.

People in the neighbourhood brought out all the old tropes to argue against the change:

“I feel like the demographics of the neighbourhood are either families with young kids or older individuals and there’s lots of families and we are just concerned about the safety aspect with the bus coming through,” Kate Ryan told councillors.

Parents in the neighbourhood feel comfortable sending their children to play at the playground on Craigburn Drive, Ryan said, and that wouldn’t be safe any more.

“I also don’t love the fact of the stranger danger risk of buses coming through and seeing small children playing independently because that is important to us, to allow our children to do that,” Ryan said.

Downtown Dartmouthian hoodlums and squirrels may ride the bus to the leafy suburb and, I dunno, sell cocaine to the toddlers on the playground swings.

Click here to read “Halifax Transit identifies ‘no operational or safety issues’ with revamped Route 55.”

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5. Gay men will soon be able to give blood

Blood drive. Photo: Nguyễn Hiệp/Unsplash

“Health Canada has given Canadian Blood Services the green light to end the three-month donor deferral period in place for sexually active men who have sex with men,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

Instead of a blanket ban, the policy change means Canadian Blood Services will focus on sexual behaviour associated with a higher risk of infection. When implemented later this year, the new criteria means all blood donors will be screened for high-risk sexual behaviours, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

Under the new criteria, all donors will be asked if they’ve had new or multiple sexual partners in the last three months. If they answer yes to either question, they’ll be asked if they’ve had anal sex with any of those partners. If so, they’ll be required to wait three months from when they last had anal sex with any of those partners.

Click here to read “Canadian Blood Services to end restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men.”

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6. Pedestrian killed by cop

“Antigonish County District RCMP has referred an investigation into a fatal collision on Hwy. 104 in Addington Forks to the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT),” reads an RCMP press release:

At approximately 10:35 p.m. on April 27, Antigonish County District RCMP responded to a report of a man who was walking on the 104 Highway, possibly into traffic. While conducting patrols of the area to search for the pedestrian, an RCMP officer struck the pedestrian with their police vehicle.

The pedestrian, a 22-year-old Antigonish man, was pronounced deceased at the scene.

An RCMP collision reconstructionist and RCMP Forensic Identification Services attended the scene.

Antigonish County District RCMP contacted SiRT, which has taken over the investigation.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. today, a man attended the Pictou Detachment and reported that he had been in a collision on Hwy. 104 in Addington Forks on the night of April 27. The man advised that he had struck an unknown object on the highway, however, after learning of the fatality overnight, he reported the collision to the RCMP for further investigation.

RCMP and SiRT investigators are working to determine if these incidents are related.

SiRT is leading the investigation relating to the collision between the RCMP vehicle and the victim; the RCMP will not be providing further details.

Neither the RCMP nor SIRT has named the victim or the cop.

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Noticed

I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, which is home to the world’s largest naval base. Before he retired in 1966, Dad worked on the Marine air base attached to the Navy base, and my childhood home is (we still own it) about a mile from the base. As a child, I spent a great deal of time going to the base — we went grocery shopping at the base commissary, took swimming and sailing lessons on base, went to the base movie theatre.

In the 1960s and and 70s, nuclear war was a distinct possibility, but we never talked about it around the dinner table, or at school. I went to a private Catholic elementary school, and then the Catholic high school, so I don’t know if it was handled differently in the public schools, but we never had Duck and Cover exercises. By the time I was a young teenager, I had it worked out in my head that that was because it was sort of pointless to even pretend we could survive a nuclear attack: Norfolk would be Ground Zero for the first volley of a nuclear exchange, and so we’d all be vapourized instantly.

There was something freeing about that understanding. Sure, I might die in a heartbeat, but the causes and reasons for that potential instant death were beyond my control, so I could instead focus on a girl named Kathy who wanted a little of my time, hang out on the beach, and get rid of any lingering worries by running long distances on the track and cross country teams. I could just be a dumbass kid, which is all the world wanted from me anyway.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, it seemed like all humanity exhaled in a sigh of relief, and assumed there was no longer a real danger of nuclear war. This never made a lot of sense to me — as I saw it, the combination of tens of thousands of rusting nuclear missiles, control systems staffed by accident-prone humans doing things like dropping wrenches down the silos and spilling coffee on control panels, and the general inattentiveness of governments probably meant that the chance of an ICBM being accidentally launched had increased, not decreased. ‘Shouldn’t we get rid of those weapons?’ I thought. But I learned to live with my nagging misgivings and eventually joined the general nuclear apathy.

And now, all these decades later, there’s talk and rumours of nuclear war again.

But living in a corner of the world that likely won’t be targeted by missiles, the possibility of a nuclear war is far more worrisome than it was when I just assumed I’d simply be vapourized in the event of one. Should it occur, I’ll watch it play out, I’ll see the terrible suffering, I’ll have to take whatever action I can to try to protect my family and community and heal the world, if such a thing can be possible.

I have no idea how the current geopolitical madness will end, nor do I have any idea about how to end it. But I do know this: once something like normality returns, we must, must get rid of those monstrous weapons.

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Government

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Saturday

Wonder World (Saturday, 7pm, Council Chambers, SUB) —K.R. Byggdin will launch their book, with Francesca Ekwuyasi and Venus Envy. Masks required, books for sale, more info here.

Saint Mary’s

Research Expo (Friday, 1pm, Loyola Conference Hall) — Researchers from the faculties of Science, Business, and Arts showcase their research in the form of short pitch presentations or through displays; more info here


In the harbour

Halifax
13:00: Claxton Bay, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
15:30: NYK Romulus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
16:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, sails from Pier 27 for Bilboa, Spain
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre

Cape Breton
19:00: CSL Tarantau, bulker, sails from Coal Pier (Sydney) for sea


Footnotes

I’ve told some of this story before in the Examiner, but not all of it:

In a previous life, I was a dumb ass kid doing dumb ass shit, trying to find my place in the world. After a few years of aimlessness, I decided to pull my life together and landed on the idea of moving to California, establishing residency and thereby getting free college tuition (Americans say they’re going to college even if it’s Yale or whatever, while Canuckians are religious about making the class distinction between college and “university”). So I saved up a thousand bucks, and hitchhiked across country to Los Angeles, seeing shit I never saw before and doing things I’d never done.

I landed a job as a manager of a bookstore in West Hollywood and worked for that year, then set upstate in a borrowed car to check out the various colleges — Santa Barbara, San Louis Obispo, San Francisco State, Berkeley, way up through the redwoods to Humboldt State, then up over the coast range to Chico, where the borrowed car up and died.

In that telling, I didn’t tell about the car.

One day, when I was managing the bookstore, a pleasant “older” woman (she was maybe 60, which was ancient in my dumbass eyes) came in and asked for a job, and I hired her. She was Australian, and her husband was a heart surgeon then working at UCLA; she was just looking for something to do during her stay in her new adoptive country. We hit it off fabulously; she was my best friend in LA.

Soon after I gave my notice to leave the job, she invited me to a party at her house. I showed up on the appointed night at a sprawling manse in the Hollywood Hills, overlooking the lights of the city below.

I was totally out of my element, and knew it. The partygoers were the elite of Hollywood — famous film people, famous surgeons, famous intellectuals, famous musicians, famous whatevers — all stylish and chic, and I was just some dumbass kid. So I politely said goodbye to my friend, planning to go to some dive bar on Pico Boulevard.

Before I left, however, she had a surprise for me. She explained that her son had returned to Australia and left his car. It was a VW Rabbit that hadn’t been driven in two years, but there it was in her driveway; she handed me the keys.

I left LA a couple of days later, packing up the Rabbit the night before, and hitting the road at something like 5am. I rooted around the glove compartment and found a Tom Waits cassette (kids, ask your grandparents what a cassette is). I was such a dumbass kid I had never heard Tom Waits before, but there I was driving up the Ventura Highway, the sun rising over the hills to my right, the ocean to my left, listening to Ol’ 55:

Now the sun’s coming up
I’m riding with Lady Luck

Freeway cars and trucks
Stars beginning to fade
And I lead the parade
Just a-wishing I’d stayed a little longer
Oh Lord, let me tell you that the feeling getting stronger


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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. Just reread your piece on this “So What” phase of the pandemic and was struck by the fact IWK figures aren’t included in the numbers government report. Why the hell not? Particularly now, when lots of kids are ending up in hospital because of covid in other places. I suppose the government is concerned the public might demand action if people knew how many kids were ending up ill enough to hospitalized as a result of Houston’s bone-headed policies.

  2. Love the story you included in the footnote, Tim. I’m just a little older than you and your story reminded me how much safer the world felt back then – even with the looming threat of nuclear war. As a young woman traveling alone back then – through Europe by train, and thousands of miles around Canada by car – I felt, not “invincible”, but mostly pretty safe. I was so confident the vast majority of the people I met along the way would be kind and good – fellow travellers worth meeting and trusting. I don’t feel that way now. It seems as if late stage capitalism has made our society a good deal more selfish and violent than it was back then. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how many good people there still are, though I try to, of course. Anyway, thanks for the story. I listened to the song and imagined myself driving up that highway in the dark. It gave me a sense of freedom I’ve not felt in a long while. Thanks for that, and for all the great work you and your team do!

  3. I’m in my mid-70s and wear N95 or equivalent mask. I don’t mind being in the company of unmasked for a short period of time. Today I had to go the bank and the trainee tellers took a really long time to do what I needed and I began to get really uncomfortable. I told them so, even said I wanted to leave, but they kept reassuring me it would only take another moment. The tellers were not masked, and at least half of the customers were not. I just don’t understand why it is so hard for people to wear a mask. I’m so used to wearing one now I often forget to take mine off when I first come in, notice it after I’ve been home for while.
    Btw my partner just recovered from covid. I wore a mask in his presence for nearly two weeks. I did not get sick (PCR confirmed negative). Also, btw, his case would likely not be counted as he did not have a PCR as the only way he could get to the testing centre would have been with me driving him and I can’t drive with a mask on (glasses fog). How many other people would willingly get tested if they could get to the testing centre? If PCR tests were still available throughout the community? Instead, as a couple we show up in stats as a negative PCR.

  4. 1. So, where is Dr. Strang? 2. Being a bit cynical, after the release of Census data and the ageing of Canada and in particular the Atlantic provinces, let’s start a conspiracy theory that the Houston approach to Covid just might make a dent in the ageing population!

  5. I wish you would byline everything written. You do the archives but not daily writings, why?

  6. The complaints about the #55 bus are hilarious! We live in a suburb (Timberlea) and the bus comes straight through our subdivision. I always thought it was great to have a bus route so close to home. There was an added bonus: When our kid reached teenage years we bought him a bus pass. Instead of Mom & Dad’s taxi, he learned to navigate the public transit system and to this day doesn’t see the need to own a car.

  7. Ol’ 55 – great story dumbass.
    It was around Winslow that you picked up the pock-marked kid, right?

  8. Re: Tim’s latest on Covid. I am old. Almost 71. I am immunocompromised and I have diabetes. I have had Covid shots. Two Pfizer full vaccinations, one Pfizer booster, and the last was a Moderna booster. I am a Canadian living in part time in Colorado and part time in Nova Scotia. At first, I was in complete agreement with Canada’s, and especially Nova Scotia’s, quite strict Covid prevention measures. Here in El Paso County our population is roughly equal to Nova Scotia’s. The latest stats for El Paso County (from the NY Times) show 108 cases and 0 deaths yesterday. They have never to my knowledge reported hospitalization daily numbers, just general trends up or down. Since they began counting, there have been 184,466 cases and 1642 deaths which I’m pretty sure is a lot higher than NS’s numbers. Of course, there are differences between El Paso County and NS, but I think it’s worth comparing numbers and attitudes. Mask mandates were dropped months ago here, except for federally regulated transport (buses, trains, planes) and medical facilities. Not that they were strictly enforced or followed because this is a Republican county, very don’t-tell-me-what-to-do country with a lot of people carrying guns. Imagine being a store employee and taking a chance on telling one of those people to wear their mask. Anyway, to finally get to my point, I wonder if continuing to step back, then forward, then back every time there’s a slight surge, or because people continue to die, is necessary any more, given that vaccines are readily available to everyone and drugs like Paxlovid are very effective in treating those with more severe symptoms. I’m asking because I really don’t know. I do know what I’ve chosen to do, given my age and my medical conditions. I am not avoiding places like supermarkets and movie theaters, and I am not wearing a mask unless required.

    1. I’m 60. I’ve never really worried about death from Covid. But all of the other medical, psychological, and neurological conditions that occur as a consequence of having Covid at much, much, much higher frequencies than death? Those I worry about and pay attention to.

      The US decided a long time ago that a death rate of some sort was acceptable, and that they wouldn’t worry about the non-death consequences of Covid. Now most of Canada has followed suit. That’s frankly insane, sociologically, epidemiologically, and economically.

  9. I grew up in Dartmouth and sometime around the late 50s I think all homes were give information about evacuation routes to take in case of an attack. Each area had a code letter printed on a large card. I am not sure what we were to do with this card (maybe have it in the car or with us when we fled.)

  10. Tim , Houston is saying ( I R not listening to ‘ Strang ‘ anymore ‘ but am to Jason Kenny )
    so get out there & spend $$$ as ” we ” need the tax revenue

  11. Tim, Walk down to our house and you may be able to see the squirrels which love our trees.
    Nuking Halifax would be a waste of a missile – no refinery and the Navy is a joke.

  12. I also live in central Dartmouth and both me and my dog can confirm there are indeed squirrels around both Oathill and Maynard Lakes. However I think the vast majority of Dartmouth squirrels hear through the squirrel grapevine very quickly that Shubie Park is the ultimate picnic spot this side of the harbour and make their way there post haste.

  13. Re Tim Bousquet’s article on Covid deaths, I could not agree more with his statement: “the median age for COVID deaths is 80, so I suppose old people are considered expendable and not worth requiring masks when they’re around”. Yes we all need to get back to normal life, but it appears this is at the expense of the most vulnerable in society, yet another indicator of systemic and largely unexamined ageism. The attitude seems to be: If all older people would just stay home or not go anywhere they might be infected, wouldn’t that just make life easier for the rest of us? And even if they do get infected and die, well, they’re old, aren’t they?

  14. I grew up with nuclear anxiety because just across the Bay of Fundy sat Point Lapreau nuke plant. I do not miss those days.

    Great story about the car, Tim! You should write all your stories up. It seems you’ve lived an interesting life.

  15. I’ve always thought that Halifax would be a nuclear target, if not a very important one, because of the naval base.

      1. You guys are too funny. Is “worth being nuked” the new “sponge-worthy”?

        Canada doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and there aren’t ships in Halifax that host them or could launch them. There are several air craft carriers, as well as nuclear submarines, based in Norfolk, each of with an entire nuclear arsenal. If Halifax is on any target list, it’s target #682 or whatever.

        1. My assumption was that because the equipment, munitions and ships at the Halifax shipyard and on Magazine Hill could be useful to NATO forces they are a theoretical target. Obviously bases like Norfolk are much higher on the target lists. I’m upset now because although nuclear war isn’t really something I worried about, I liked my world class delusions about dying quickly in the first strike.

          1. I just scrolled all the way down here to say the same thing about Halifax the Target for Nuclear Weapons. Maybe it seems like small potatoes, but it’s a deep water, generally ice-free port with military “stuff.” And 12 months ago who’d a thunk little villages in Ukraine could be targets for a nuclear power?
            Canada is fair and square between the US and Russia. Sure, they have to brave cold weather to make the trek – but not much else, except small potatoes outposts like Halifax.
            Two ways of looking at it: 1.The world is way to small to ignore any itchy part of it … and 2. We’re all going to die of something before we’re 120, so we just do the best we can before that happens, even if it means being the best dumb-ass kid/adult/octogenarian+ that we can.
            Either option requires some personal commitment.
            And I do not like the current world situation.