Every November, the Halifax Examiner holds its annual subscription drive. Your subscriptions are what keep this enterprise going. The breaking stories, the opinion pieces, the first-person essays, the sharp commentary, the Morning Files — none of this would happen without your subscriptions. There are no ads, there is no branded content, there are no grants. You are the ones who fund the whole operation, and we appreciate it.
I have been a freelance writer for nearly 30 years, most of that full-time. I feel extremely fortunate to have worked for many great editors in that time. Writers who pride themselves on never being edited are misguided. Good editors are invaluable to our growth as writers.
Tim Bousquet is one of those editors. As readers, I think it’s important for you to know a bit about the way he operates. He hires people whose work he likes and lets them loose to follow their instincts.
I believe I wrote my first Morning File in the summer of 2017. I remember sitting in the Wardroom at King’s during my MFA residency, writing for the Examiner in between lectures, discussion sessions, and last-minute readings. Consciously or not, I was trying to imitate Bousquet’s style. Don’t try to sound like me, he said. I hired you because I want you to sound like yourself, not like me.
I have seen far too many small business owners who don’t trust their staff and want to micro-manage every aspect of the business. As Bousquet wrote yesterday, when he started the Examiner in 2014 it was a one-person operation. It is still very closely associated with him, of course. Even though we all have our bylines in red up at the top of the page, I’m sure there are people who think Bousquet writes most, if not all the stories. So it would be very tempting for someone in Bousquet’s position to be overly controlling about what appears on this site.
But that’s not his style. Sometimes, while I’m writing Morning File I might get a note that says something along the lines of “Jennifer has a story coming soon. I’m not sure what it is.” Bousquet knows Henderson’s work is top-notch, he trusts, her, he’s fine with not knowing what the story is until it lands. He hires people he trusts and lets them do their thing. At the same time, he’s there to offer positive guidance and direction on stories, as good editors do.
Of course, he’s not completely hands off. That would be ridiculous. As the editor/publisher, he gives direction to the Examiner, hashes out stories with us, and proposes larger projects for us to take up. That’s as it should be.
All this to say, please subscribe.
1. Cuttell confirmed in District 11 after recount
Patty Cuttell will finally get sworn in as District 11 councillor at the next council meeting. She could not participate in the same ceremony as her colleagues, since her 28-vote victory over Bruce Holland was pending recount.
The win for Cuttell means gender parity on council — eight men and eight women, plus the mayor — for the first time.
He also notes her margin of victory changed ever-so-slightly:
In the end, the results stayed the same, except the gap between Cuttell and Holland closed by one vote. The recount gave Holland one more, meaning the difference was 27 votes, not 28. The recount also gave another vote to candidate Kristen Hollery and took one from Ambroise Matwawana.
2. Corey Rogers’ mother seeks legal advice while appealing to police review board
Zane Woodford also has the latest on Jeannette Rogers’ quest to see the officers who arrested her son Corey and put him in a spit hood face harsher punishment than suspensions. Corey Rogers died in a cell at Halifax Regional Police headquarters in 2016. The two booking officers who were supposed to be responsible for his safety have been convicted of criminal negligence causing death. But the officers who arrested Rogers and put him in the spit hood were never charged. Instead, they were suspended after an internal investigation.
Jeannette Rogers doesn’t think that’s right, and is appealing to the police review board.
Rogers is representing herself, but has asked for a break in the proceedings in order to consult a lawyer.
Rogers is representing herself in the hearing, which has proven in the past to be a challenging endeavour for people who aren’t lawyers. She’s facing an administrative tribunal of three panelists, retired Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Simon MacDonald, and John Withrow and Stephanie Myles; lawyer Brian Bailey representing two of the officers, Murphy and Paris; lawyer James Giacomantonio representing the third officer, Morris; lawyer Ron Pizzo representing Fraser and Gardner; and lawyer Ted Murphy representing Halifax Regional Police.
Under the officers’ collective agreement, Halifax Regional Municipality pays their legal costs in this hearing.
But Rogers is on her own. She’ll even have to pay out of pocket to get Fraser and Gardner to testify at the hearing, to cover their transportation costs.
“It’s difficult to represent yourself. You don’t know all the legal ins and outs that a lawyer would know,” Rogers told reporters on Monday. “But I’ve been dealing with this now for four and a half years. As far as questions that I have for witnesses and that sort of thing I think I’m fairly well prepared.”
This is not a criminal trial, so the circumstances are different, but I remember talking to a defence lawyer about someone I knew who wanted to represent themselves. It’s not about being smart, the lawyer told me. It’s about knowing the law. She said she had seen plenty of smart people talk their way into convictions. The imbalance in our system over access to representation really does stack the deck in favour of those with resources.
3. Tennis facility opens and celebrants get up-close and personal
Elizabeth McSheffrey covers the opening of the big new tennis facility in Bedford for Global, and notes that the various attendees did not exactly maintain proper distancing. “Only a handful,” she writes, “stood six feet apart from one another.” Physical distancing is required for gatherings of more than 10 people.
The Atlantic Tennis Centre has 18 courts, and received funding from the federal, provincial, and municipal governments.
Provincial Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, who spoke at the launch, told Global News that because everybody wore masks and the building is “well-ventilated,” the amount of physical distancing was probably “okay.”
Well, that’s comforting. (I am also curious to know what Lohnes-Croft actually knows about the ventilation of the building.)
I see a couple of things going on here. First, people who have a certain social status are pretty much used to doing whatever they want and often not suffering a whole lot of consequences. These are also the people who rarely get tickets for non-compliance with public health rules.
Think of the photos of our maskless federal health minister, Patty Hajdu, in an airport (she says she was following the rules and only took it off to eat or drink), or British Tories like Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown rules to travel between residences several hours apart.
The other phenomenon is the false sense of protection masks can bring. If I’m wearing a mask, I don’t need to worry about distance, right? Wrong.
The Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota warned recently about assuming exposure to SARS-COV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, while wearing a mask may stimulate immunity by exposing people to lower-than-infectious amounts — a notion that CIDRAP’s Lisa Brosseau called “really, really dangerous.”
Angela Rasmussen, a researcher at CIDRAP, said, “I think that could encourage irresponsible behavior… Of course, people should be wearing masks, but they should also be social distancing; masks are not the only nonpharmaceutical intervention.”
I found these paragraphs from the CIDRAP quite interesting too:
Also problematic is that no one knows what constitutes an infectious dose of the coronavirus, which likely varies from person to person and doesn’t appear to follow a classic dose-response relationship, Rasmussen said. And although it seems counterintuitive, high doses of coronavirus can be less virulent than low ones, Rasmussen said.
That’s because viruses mutate, some to the point that they can no longer cause infection, and may thereby alter a host’s immune response to the virus. “They think the more virus you have the more sick you’re going to get, but that’s not necessarily true,” she said, adding that it probably depends more on the proportion of noninfectious-to-infectious virus. “There’s not always a linear relationship between dose and disease severity and outcome.”
[Tulane University’s Chad] Roy pointed out the complexity of trying to define infectious dose in a virus that doesn’t necessarily cause symptoms, even in people with high viral loads. “Most particles are probably empty and just made up of mucous and water with no virions, or else everyone would be infected,” he said.
4. Military aims to target Canadians directly with propaganda
David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen continues his excellent reporting on the Canadian military’s plan to directly subject us to propaganda. He writes:
The Canadian Forces wants to establish a new organization that will use propaganda and other techniques to try to influence the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of Canadians, according to documents obtained by this newspaper.
This reporting follows that seemingly bizarre story in which Nova Scotia residents received letters warning them about wolves wandering loose in the province. The letters turned out to be part of a military propaganda training exercise.
This newspaper reported in July the military had planned a propaganda campaign aimed at heading off civil disobedience by Canadians during the coronavirus pandemic. That campaign was to use similar propaganda tactics to those employed against the Afghan population during the war in Afghanistan, including loudspeaker trucks to transmit government messages. The propaganda operation was halted after concerns were raised about the ethics behind such techniques.
The public affairs enhancement plan also calls for harnessing the social media accounts of select Canadian Forces staff to push out pre-approved government and military messages to the public. Although the social media activity would be seen to be coming from the personal accounts of military personnel, it would actually be Canadian Forces public affairs officers behind the scenes crafting and coordinating the messages.
There is a lot more in this piece that should raise all kinds of alarms. It is worth reading.
5. Owls Head assessment undervalues property
At CBC, Michael Gorman continues his reporting on the provincial government’s plans to de-list land at Owls Head, which was designated for provincial park status, and sell it for a golf course development.
The 285 hectares of Crown land, Gorman writes, were assessed based on its being protected — not a commercial golf course.
The parcel of rocky, rugged Crown land in Little Harbour is worth $216,000, according to the valuation report commissioned by Lighthouse Links and filed with the court. Although that report was previously made public, the value of the land had been redacted.
Jamie Simpson, the lawyer for the parties suing over the decision to delist the property, noted the value is based on what the report determined to be the “highest and best use” for the land: conservation and recreational purposes.
“This is valued as if it were undevelopable land,” he said.
People should not have to keep going to court to get basic information like a property valuation in a matter of public interest like this.
And for anyone who thinks the golf course could be a green (as in eco-friendly) development that will create a lot of jobs, I encourage you to read the rest of Gorman’s story.
6. Affordable housing in Bridgewater
Also at CBC, Taryn Grant reports on the Family Service Association of Western Nova Scotia’s plans to turn the site of a once-iconic Bridgewater retailer into an affordable housing centre.
Once the finishing touches of the building’s renovation are complete, the storefront on King Street will reopen as a hub for affordable housing. Anyone who is without a permanent home, or struggling to keep their home, can walk through the doors and ask for help.
For some, the answer won’t be far away; the upper levels of the building are being converted into apartments that will soon be ready for about one dozen tenants.
Although the project has been in the works for years, it’s nearing completion in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Fisher said has highlighted “huge gaps” in the services available to people in Bridgewater who are at risk of homelessness.
The story gets into the largely overlooked issue of housing insecurity in small towns and rural communities, and discusses plans that Bridgewater and other communities have for addressing the problem.
I’ve been listening to local talk radio over the last few days, and there is a huge amount of discussion about unaffordable housing and rent spikes. I’ve been impressed with the range of ideas I’ve heard proposed and this overwhelming sense that we need to do something.
What’s the fuss about branded content?
Up at the top of the Morning File today, I said the Halifax Examiner has no branded content. Branded content goes by many names: special advertising section, sponsored article, and so on. At a time when media organizations are struggling, they can offer advertisers credibility by producing news-like articles and publishing them on their platforms. Sometimes the font is slightly different, sometimes there is a disclaimer somewhere on the page. If you’ve opened the New York Times app over the last few weeks, you’ll notice that every day there is a story on the history of work, with “Citrix” above the headline and the words “paid post.” That’s branded content.
It’s easy to see why media companies would be interested in this stuff. They have expertise and, one hopes, a certain level of credibility. Advertisers have money and can gain some of that credibility.
The trouble is the risk that the branded content operation can undermine or appear to undermine the legitimate news operation. I’m talking here about media companies that produce branded content, not about say, a museum which produces a podcast. (Note: I am currently helping to produce a podcast for a museum.)
Sponsored stories often do not have a byline, or, if they do, they are not written by the journalistic staff. A few years ago, there was an uproar at the Globe and Mail, when the paper wanted journalists to write these advertorials.
Now, CBC is entering the branded content game, with a new project called Tandem.
This is, to put it mildly, a terrible idea. And CBC journalists are not happy about it. Earlier in the year, many of them spoke out about the racism they experienced at work. Now, we are hearing voices that are upset about the branded content plan.
Last week, Simon Houpt of the Globe and Mail wrote about the anger among CBC reporters, past and present, saying the CBC is facing an “uprising.”
In Houpt’s story, Linden MacIntyre does not mince words:
Mr. MacIntyre, the former crusading host of The Fifth Estate, said during an interview that, while traditional advertising on CBC “is one of the realities” that has been accepted by the public, branded content is tantamount to “deception. Why do special corporate interests, institutional interests need to disguise content as something that is objective and something that is disinterested from their mercenary point of view? Why do they have to do that, other than to create an impression that is untrue, which is that they don’t have a particular stake in how people respond to this?”
Houpt also writes:
Tony Burman, who served as editor in chief of CBC News from 2000 to 2007, told The Globe that Tandem is “a terrible initiative. They’re selling the journalistic reputation of the CBC to the highest bidder. That’s not what a public broadcaster should be doing. In an era where the fiction of so-called fake news is undermining trust in journalism, I think this just makes it worse.”
As Canadian media options become increasingly littered with sponsored material, something important has been lost. There is rapidly diminishing time and space to consider fundamental questions of quality of life, fairness, equality, environmental preservation, and healthy communities.
What happens when the material we read and watch no longer boosts political and scientific literacy and provides the transparency essential to developing informed citizens who can participate in the creation of a vibrant society?…
Will people pick up on the cues, that words like “sponsored, supported, special” are euphemisms for advertisement? And will people care about the potential deception as long as the content entertains or interests them and is delivered under the trusted flag of the CBC?
After four years of Donald Trump railing about fake news media and accusing media outlets of lying when they quote him accurately; after decades of right-wing politicians complaining about mistreatment at the hands of the media, and big media agendas, and the suppression of information, we need to be doing whatever we can to increase the perception of news media as credible. And, of course, media have to live up to that.
I’m not suggesting media doesn’t suck sometimes. The National Post prides itself on running tired opinions it thinks are edgy. The Atlantic just had to retract a piece by a journalist accused of plagiarism in the past because — surprise! — she made stuff up. We have biases — both conscious and unconscious — and are not always good at recognizing or acknowledging them.
But in an era in which actual fake news websites abound — either running completely made-up stories or pieces that have been paid for but not acknowledged as such — a public broadcaster openly saying it is leveraging its credibility to the benefit of advertisers is not a good thing.
Let me leave you with a story from our region. Yesterday, I was listening to CBC’s Maritime Noon, and host Bob Murphy was interviewing Theresa Blackburn, publisher of the River Valley Sun, a community paper in New Brunswick. Blackburn had broken the news of a COVID-19 infection at a local school. The provincial government had only said that there was a case in the Fredericton region, and Blackburn said many people think that means in Fredericton — whereas the region covers a large area.
Blackburn was shocked at the Facebook comments on this story (last I checked there were 318), many of which accused her of just making it up, or pursuing some ulterior agenda to cancel Halloween. Maybe it was part of a conspiracy to get people to wear masks.
Some called it gossip. Others questioned Blackburn’s credibility and suggested that the information should not be believed since it didn’t come from the government (!). Blackburn’s story was later confirmed by the government and the school in question. The whole thing was absurd, and yet here we are.
Does the CBC creating branded content have anything to do with people disbelieving the River Valley Sun? I’d argue it does. It’s part of a continuum.
If you thought vanity licence plates were over-indulgent…
Can we use a little distraction right now? I bet we could use a little distraction. So let me point you to a story published on Jalopnik yesterday about the phenomenon of cars in Russia painted with elaborate airbrushed artwork.
The piece, written by Misha Lanin, is called “Russia’s Airbrushed Car Scene Is Out Of Control”, and it is filled with images of just wild artwork on cars. Everything from your classic macho big cats and cowboys to images of hand-picked forest mushrooms, pop culture/manga imagery, and lemurs hanging onto tree branches.
There is a very practical reason in Russia for car owners to paint their vehicles with these unique images: to prevent theft. Lanin writes:
It turns out that the primary reason Russians airbrush their cars is for theft-prevention.“Airbrushed cars are instantly recognizable to bystanders and security cameras.” And so the artwork functions as a psychological deterrent to thieves. “The key,” [artist] Marina [Oleinikova] notes, “is for the artwork to cover the rear fenders of the car,” which are the hardest, if not impossible to remove.
This makes sense. If you’re a car thief and, in an ocean of forgettable crossovers, you choose the one car with the fucking Ice Age squirrel on it, maybe you should pick a new crime.
Beyond theft prevention of course, there is the question of status. Lanin again:
The longer answer digs a bit deeper into the realities of car ownership in contemporary Russia. After all, this is where one’s car is the foremost signifier of wealth—and, with that, status. Sure, in America too, wealthier people tend to drive expensive cars; but there are notable exceptions. I’m sure that in Greenwich, Connecticut you can find a seven-figure-salary lawyer who still drives their beat-up 1997 Volvo just because they don’t give a shit. In Russia’s status-oriented car culture, however, there is no “stealth wealth.” Here, you’ll actually find the exact opposite: long lines of Range Rovers and BMW Gran Turismos parked outside cramped Soviet apartment blocs.
So why not make that Beemer stand out with several thousand dollars of movie squirrels eloping in a forest?
Lanin includes lots of images of cars painted by Oleinikova and her long-timer partner, Yulia Shehirina, and spends time with Oleinikova as she works.
I’ve noticed an increase in luxury cars on the roads in Halifax over the last few years, but my reaction to seeing a Porsche on Chebucto Road, heading for the Armdale Roundabout is generally something like, “seriously?”. A few years ago, when I went to Toronto with one of my kids, we watched a Lamborghini pull up at a red light while we waited for the bus. It seemed pretty cool. If I saw the same thing here I’d think it was laughable. I’m not sure what the difference is.
North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting; agenda here.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Jeannine Lagassé from Health and Wellness; Paul LaFleche from Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal; John O’Connor from Nova Scotia Lands Healthcare Infrastructure Projects Division, and Paula Bond from Nova Scotia Health. More info here.
Isotropy Groups of Quasi‑Equational Theories (Tuesday, 2:30pm) — Jason Parker from Brandon University in Manitoba will talk.
In , my PhD supervisors (Pieter Hofstra and Philip Scott) and I studied the new topos-theoretic phenomenon of isotropy (as introduced in ) in the context of single-sorted algebraic theories, and we gave a logical/syntactic characterization of the isotropy group of any such theory, thereby showing that it encodes a notion of inner automorphism or conjugation for the theory. In the present talk, I will summarize the results of my recent PhD thesis, in which I build on this earlier work by studying the isotropy groups of (multi-sorted) quasi-equational theories (also known as essentially algebraic, cartesian, or finite limit theories). In particular, I will show how to give a logical/syntactic characterization of the isotropy group of any such theory, and that it encodes a notion of inner automorphism or conjugation for the theory. I will also describe how I have used this characterization to exactly characterize the ‘inner automorphisms’ for several different examples of quasi-equational theories, most notably the theory of strict monoidal categories and the theory of presheaves valued in a category of models. In particular, the latter example provides a characterization of the (covariant) isotropy group of a category of set-valued presheaves, which had been an open question in the theory of categorical isotropy.
 J. Funk, P. Hofstra, B. Steinberg. Isotropy and crossed toposes. Theory and Applications of Categories 26, 660-709, 2012.
 P. Hofstra, J. Parker, P.J. Scott. Isotropy of algebraic theories. Electronic Notes in Theoretical Comp
Fire the Canon! (Tuesday, 4pm) — with Teiya Kasahara and Aria Umezawa from Amplified Opera. More info and Zoom link here.
Sound, Silence, and Ecosperimental Film (Tuesday, 6:30pm) — a program of short films and panel discussion with Dawn George, Lukas Pearse, Rena Thomas, and Sol Nagler asks how experimental film can be made in more environmentally friendly ways. More info and livestream link here.
In the harbour
01:30: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
09:00: Maersk Palermo, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Montreal
16:00: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
20:30: Maersk Palermo sails for sea
Booking an early-morning car undercoating appointment the day after the US elections was not a great idea. Oh well. Not going to get enough sleep tonight.