News

1. Board of police commissioners’ meeting cancelled and other tales of non-transparency and lack of accountability

Desmond Cole in Halifax. Cole had previously been arrested at a police board meeting in Toronto. Photo: Halifax Examiner

El Jones writes about the cancellation of today’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting, ostensibly because — three months into the pandemic — they can’t figure out how to use Microsoft Teams.

Jones writes:

As the movement to defund the police grows across Canada and is featured in mainstream media, councils and boards that previously operated relatively unnoticed are finding the public taking a sudden interest in their activities. Formerly dry-seeming topics like budgeting and Acts are now at the centre of an international conversation about Black Lives.

The most charitable reading is that at this moment when democratic accountability by these bodies is more important than ever, Halifax’s councillors and commissioners are woefully unprepared to rise to the occasion. If technological inadequacy is the true reason that public input is being silenced at this crucial time, then that is a sad commentary of the ability of the governance bodies in this city to handle these life or death issues.

It is perhaps more likely that Microsoft Teams is not the culprit, but a convenient excuse.

This is an El Jones story, so, of course, it goes much deeper than one cancelled board meeting. She looks at how the militarization of police is reflected in a growing culture of secrecy and threats of force — even at meetings. And she discusses the opacity surrounding police procedures:

Martha Paynter, the Chair of Women’s Wellness Within, recounts the difficulties her organization has experienced in obtaining the use of force policies for the Halifax Regional Police:

“When we met with them, they refused to provide us a copy of any of their policies. We were caught in a kind of loop where they said they welcomed our feedback on their policies, but we were not permitted to actually see said policies. “

Read all of “In the midst of a crisis over policing, Halifax’s police commission has cancelled its scheduled meetings and is declining to accept public input” here.

Meanwhile, at CBC, Pam Berman writes that the Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group “is calling for changes that would make it easier for the public to make presentations and attend monthly meetings of the Halifax board of police commissioners, which oversees police services in the municipality…

“Ideally, we’d like to see all meetings moved to the evenings,” said Harry Critchley, the vice-chair of the East Coast Prison Justice Society and a member of the coalition. “Currently, the board meets in the middle of the day, during working hours for the vast majority of people.”

2. Speed humps coming to school zones

Sign outside Sir Charles Tupper Elementary in Halifax. Image from Google Street View.

Before I link to Zane Woodford’s story on speed humps coming to seven schools this summer, let me tell you about something I’ve learned this morning: the difference between a speed bump and a speed hump.

When I saw the headline on Woodford’s piece, “Speed humps coming to some Halifax-area school zones,” I thought oh, we’re calling them speed humps instead of speed bumps now. But no, they are two different things, as this helpful post from Reliance Foundry in Surrey, BC, explains:

Speed humps, sometimes called road humps or undulations, are used for 10–15 mph speed zones. They’re often seen on local streets or connector roads where traffic needs to flow smoothly but excessive speed will endanger pedestrians. Playground and school zones often use these in traffic management…

Speed bumps are more aggressive traffic calming options than speed humps, and so are useful in places where pedestrians and cars share space closely, like parking lots and driveways. A speed bump generally slows traffic to 2–10 mph, giving both people and cars time to react safely to one another. Speed bumps are rarely used on public roads because they require vehicles to come to a near stop to pass over them, and can do damage to cars moving at regular speeds.

Back to Woodford, who writes:

Coun. Paul Russell represents Lower Sackville, with two sets of speed humps planned for this summer.

“Two is fantastic. I think it’s a start,” Russell said in an interview Monday.

Using a speed radar that Steve Craig — the last councillor for the district — purchased with district capital funding years ago, Russell’s been tracking speeding on streets in Lower Sackville over the last few months…

Speeding is a problem across the municipality, according to councillors, often cited as the No. 1 driver of constituent complaints.

But none of the school zones chosen for speed humps is on the Dartmouth side of the harbour.

Coun. Lorelei Nicoll, representing Cole Harbour-Westphal, said she thinks there are none in that district because most of the schools are on bus routes, which makes those streets ineligible for traffic calming.

Nicoll believes the speeding problem has worsened over the last decade.

Woodford explores the reasoning beside the speed humps, and gets the goods on why they are being placed where they are. Also, I love him for writing, “councillors wanted to speed up efforts to slow down traffic.”

Read all of “Speed humps coming to some Halifax-area school zones” here.

This story is for subscribers only. It’s easy to subscribe! Do it here.

3. How much could good design have reduced long-term care deaths?

The Magnolia residential care home, where the COVID-19 outbreak was quickly contained. Photo: Facebook

The CBC’s Shaina Luck looks into how design contributed to the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood, and also at the limits of design and the importance of policy.

53 people died of COVID-19 at the Northwood long-term care facility. Meanwhile, the outbreak at the Magnolia, which had its first case on March 29, was limited to five people.

At the Magnolia, Luck writes:

The rooms are grouped in households — the home calls them cottages — with specific staff for each cottage, says communications co-ordinator Tracey Tulloch.

“I think it definitely helped limit infection exposure and it also just makes it a more homey feel, which was the intent of the design,” she said.

Tulloch said the home decided to have all staff wear masks after the first infection on March 29, even though the Department of Health didn’t mandate it until two weeks later.

When the masks ran critically low, Magnolia had to be resupplied by the province. Tulloch believes that also helped prevent the virus from getting a firmer hold.

A few days ago, the CBC’s Terence McKenna wrote about the contrast between long-term care deaths from COVID-19 in Canada and Australia:

Canadians have watched in horror as the COVID-19 death toll climbed in Canada’s long-term care facilities, now more than 6,000, according to a CBC News tally. In Australia, that number is just 29, according to Australian public health data.

Greg Shaw, who runs the International Federation on Aging non-profit, is uniquely positioned to compare the two countries. He lives in Toronto but previously served in senior roles in Australia’s Health Ministry. He points out that Australia’s aged care facilities had a detailed plan to deal with a pandemic, while Canada did not.

“When COVID 19 came to Australia,” he said, “many of the care providers basically locked-down and implemented their pandemic plans for infection control. They stopped families from coming in. They didn’t have staff working from one facility to another facility, and generally that’s not the case in Australia anyway.”

In Canada, the fact that some long-term care workers initially had to find shifts in multiple facilities to make a living was a  significant contributor to the spread of COVID-19.

McKenna also looks at other factors that helped COVID-19 rage through nursing homes in Canada, including a lack of inspections, for-profit care, and poor staff-to-resident ratios.

One thing I did not know: after gutting public services in Ontario, Mike Harris went on to become chair of the board of a for-profit long-term care home operator. McKenna writes:

After he left politics, Mike Harris became the chairman of Chartwell Homes, one of Ontario’s largest for-profit senior care providers. Since then, Chartwell has had staffing-level issues.

Government inspection reports show that one Chartwell home in Kingsville, Ont., has been cited dozens of times in recent years for not maintaining adequate staffing. Follow up-inspections often found that the Chartwell operators  repeatedly “failed to comply” with regulations but there has been little consequence for them.

4. Kentville police body cameras work great, say Kentville police

A Kentville Police cruiser. Photo: Kentville Police Facebook page.

Over at Saltwire, Ashley Thompson writes that the Kentville Police Service, who adopted body cameras in 2018, are fielding requests from other police forces on their use.

The Kentville police leadership think the cameras are a great idea. Thompson writes:

“The body-worn camera is a tool that we feel is essential to have for our service,” said deputy chief Marty Smith.

“Body-worn cameras have allowed us to be transparent and accountable to the public, and have shown to be a very effective tool.”…

The force now has six cameras purchased from Axon in operation under the leadership of police Chief Julia Cecchetto.

“They provide an accurate picture of each situation for prosecutions, as well as assisting with public complaint investigations. The members have also noticed when dealing with the public, that they’re aware of the camera and (it) can help in de-escalating certain situations.”

I remember naively thinking cameras on cops would be helpful. It’s one of those things that seems intuitively to make sense. But like all such things, they deserve to be examined. While these cameras may be relatively new to Nova Scotia — Kentville first piloted them in 2015 — they have been widely used elsewhere.

Do the results bear out their effectiveness?

Last week, Tim Bousquet wrote about this in some detail:

First, do body-worn cameras even work? Probably not. A team of researchers from Yale University and the Metropolitan Police Force conducted a randomized-controlled trial among 2,200 cops in the Washington, D.C. police force; half were provided cameras and the training to use them, while the other half were the control group. The finding:

“We are unable to detect any statistically significant effects. As such, our experiment suggests that we should recalibrate our expectations of BWCs. Law enforcement agencies (particularly in contexts similar to Washington, DC) that are considering adopting BWCs should not expect dramatic reductions in use of force or complaints, or other large-scale shifts in police behavior, solely from the deployment of this technology. We would also temper expectations about (and suggest further research into) the evidentiary value of BWCs. The administrative court data we had access to has certain limitations, but preliminary analyses do not uncover any clear benefits. Body-worn cameras may have great utility in specific policing scenarios, but we cannot conclude from this experiment that they can be expected to produce large, department-wide improvements in outcomes.”

And then, as Bousquet notes:

Why don’t cameras affect cops’ behaviour? It may be as simple as cops are so certain their actions are beyond reproach that they can’t think there may be a contrary view. Or, as El Jones once told me (I’m paraphrasing), we already have a ton of videos of cops doing horrible things, and white people see one thing, while people of colour see something else. It’s only in the most stark cases like the police murder of George Floyd when the vast majority of people can agree there was criminal intent; most of the time, cops are given the “benefit of the doubt,” even when the video shows something else.

If you didn’t read the whole piece last week, I encourage you to go read it now.

Over the last several weeks, in the midst of protests against police racism and police brutality, police forces seem to have only increased the violence. We’ve had police shoot and kill two Indigenous people in New Brunswick, during a period in which racist police violence is under more scrutiny than ever before. Do we really believe cameras would have made a difference?

Look at the footage of Chief Allan Adam being clotheslined by an RCMP officer and then having his head pounded into the ground.  Yeah, I know, this clip is missing the context of Adam being angry at the police and oh my God, talking back to them instead of being immediately submissive, something that definitely requires being brutally assaulted.

Note that this footage came from an RCMP dashcam, and that the police figured there was nothing wrong with their actions here. And there are many who agree with them. A CBC story says:

RCMP charged Adam with one count each of resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer. He is to appear in court July 2.

After reviewing the dashcam video of the incident, senior officers determined the arresting officers’ actions were reasonable “and did not meet the threshold for an external investigation.

Body cameras seem like a solution made for five years ago. Let’s try a little harder here.


Views

1. Non-racist vs anti-racist and other thoughts on being a good ally

Photo: Clay Banks, Unsplash

At Halifax Magazine, Gabbie Douglas has a piece called “Learn to be a better ally.”

Douglas talks to Sharisha Benedict and Catherine Wright, the two young women who organized the “Take a knee to make a stand” protest held in Halifax on June 1. She also speaks with New Horizons Baptist Church minister Rhonda Britton, about what those who are not Black can do about systemic racism and injustice beyond protests.

Douglas writes:

“Take the time and do the work to educate yourself,” says Benedict. “Because there’s nothing worse than having an ally that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or is speaking for us in the wrong way.”

And don’t let what you’re learning and feeling now fade from your mind. “I just want people to stay the course, and have the courage of their convictions,” says Britton. “That’s really what it’s about. If you don’t follow through it’s useless. You must acknowledge and be honest with yourself, do some introspection and see what you think about different people, how you react in different situations and challenge yourself to act in a more positive way.”

2. Racism in the newsroom

Over the last few days, a number of current and former CBC journalists have been tweeting about the racism they’ve experienced. Some have done more than tweet. Like CBC’s Yukon Morning host, Christine Genier, who resigned after saying on the air that:

Not to be able to speak the truth is difficult. It contradicts and conflicts with the journalistic standards and practices of the CBC. This is painful. It makes the job difficult and it makes it ineffective.

The tweets are horrifying to me, a white person, who has never had to deal with racism and who is shocked that people will so baldly speak to their colleagues about how they see them as worthless.

Kim Wheeler: “I left my job at CBC because a network manager refused to see my worth and said I would never be senior producer for Unreserved.”

Waubgeshig Rice: “Early in my career I was regularly asked by white journalists how I got into the field. “So did you get into some kind of special Aboriginal program?” they’d assume. I’d respond that no, I went to a mainstream post-secondary institution, just like almost everyone else.”

Adrian Harewood: “It’s June 2006, my 1st week hosting the @CBCOttawa drive home show. A dream job. My 1st permanent gig. I’m back in my hometown. A respected journalist in the newsroom says to my face I’m a token. I’m paralyzed. I say nothing. I vow that’ll never happen again. #BlackintheNewsroom”

Someone accused me of getting a job through nepotism 25 years ago and I’m still annoyed about it. I can’t imagine what it’s like to put up with this kind of soul-crushing and insidious “you don’t belong here and you don’t count” attitude year after year after year.

This morning, CBC reporter Sherri Borden Colley tweeted: “Before I graduated from the University of King’s College School of Journalism in 1997, I wrote my honours thesis titled, Hearing Her Voice: Women of Colour Employed in the Media.” She goes on to add that essentially nothing has changed since then, but every year journalism students call her up and want to interview her about diversity in newsrooms. She won’t do those interview anymore:

I have stopped doing these interviews because the solutions DO NOT lie with Black or Indigenous communities. Across the country, we have repeatedly identified the problem and how it impacts coverage, language used in stories, and whose stories get told.

I know it is a cliché, but Canadian media is a very small and insular world. Over and over, I have encountered people who do not want to offer even the most mild criticism for fear of what it will do to their careers. I’ve heard of people being uninvited from guest spots on shows because of really pretty insignificant criticism. So it truly is remarkable to see people speaking up like this. It is another cliché, but it really does take a lot of courage.


Noticed

So many tragic events seem senseless or unavoidable, and there’s a natural response to take time to grieve before starting to dig into whether they are actually senseless and unavoidable or perhaps the result of failures to ignore warnings, poor systems, and so on. See, for instance, all the calls to not start asking questions about the RCMP response to the April 18-19 mass murder.

I was thinking about this yesterday, when I read David Pugliese’s Ottawa Citizen story about how the Snowbirds have known for four years that their ejection seats needed upgrading.

Captain Jenn Casey, the Snowbirds’ public affairs officer, was killed on May 17 when the Snowbirds plane she was in crashed in BC. Aerobatics would seem to be a high-risk activity, and things can go wrong. We can’t remove risk from every human activity. And we don’t know if better ejection seats would have saved her life. But, as an outsider, it would seem to me that if you know your ejection seats need an upgrade, four years seems like a long time to wait for it, especially since, as Pugliese reports, the project is still only in its early stages.

He writes:

Issues with the ejection seat system on board the CT-114 aircraft were identified in 2015. Canadian Forces tests evaluating the performance of the system were finished in 2016, the military confirmed.

“Based on those results, it was determined that the most effective way to improve the system would be through a parachute upgrade program, which will identify and assess candidate canopy designs, perform testing for airworthiness clearance, and eventually implement a new parachute system in the CT114,” the Canadian Forces noted in an email. “We are still very early in the project.”

No information was provided on when the upgrade would be completed or how much it would cost. Military sources say the cost is relatively minor.

No explanation was provided about why action on the parachute upgrade was not started when the problem was identified four years ago.

I follow the Martin-Baker company on Twitter. They make ejection seats that they claim have saved “7621 air crew lives.” Every time someone ejects from an aircraft with one of their seats, they share the story.

The company gives a special tie to everyone who has successfully ejected from a plane using one of their seats (I know of one person in Nova Scotia who has one) and shares first-person stories on their Ejection Tie Club web page.


Government

City

Tuesday

No meetings today.

Wednesday

Special Halifax and West Community Council (2pm, teleconference) — agenda here.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

08:00: Bigroll Beaufort, deck cargo ship, sails from IEL for sea
17:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
22:00: Augusta Unity, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
22:30: Cape Gavi, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea


Footnotes

God, I know this is shallow, but I bought a new battery-powered lawnmower and I am embarrassed to tell you how happy I am about it.

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. I’ve noticed for a long time that CBC assigns Sherri Borden Colley to the local / regional stories that relate to Black Nova Scotian communities, issues or individuals. I have thought it seemed strange, as though it perpetuates that special Nova Scotian segregation of issues or stories, such that a Black reporter must bring them to us. As a white person trying to understand, learn and be a good ally, I admit I’m still confused by this and wonder if I’m off-base.

    1. I don’t know how the CBC’s editorial assignments are made. I’ve worked in several newsrooms, and each operated a bit differently. That said, however, in general, even within assigned beats, most often it’s reporters who pitch articles to editors, and actual assigned articles are a small percentage of articles. So, for instance, Zane works on the city hall beat, and we certainly discuss what he’s working on, and I suggest stories, but for the most part he generates the ideas. And, El could pitch any topic she wants to — she could propose an 8-part series on cat videos, and I’d probably go for it — but in general she wants to write about race issues, and I’m readily agreeable. All of which is to say, I wouldn’t immediately conclude that Sherri is assigned those stories; she’s done a lot of other work, court reporting and the like, so she’s certainly capable of a wide range of stories, but my guess is she’s bringing the Black Nova Scotian story ideas to the editorial meetings.

      1. Thanks for explaining this general process. I guess it was a dumb question, but I’m not part of the journalism world so I’m glad I asked. Now it seems like it should be obvious to me that Ms. Borden Colley’s work stands out in that way because CBC Nova Scotia has so few Black reporters.

  2. If safety really was the most important thing, we simply wouldn’t have things like the Snowbirds, or for that matter any activity not devoted to meeting the biological needs of humans – nothing is 100% safe. Speaking of lawnmowers, it is weird to think that the ‘Grim Reaper’, which existed as a meme centuries ago was carrying the lawnmowing technology of the time, which was a necessary tool for keeping people fed in a society that still thought about famine.

    1. If you’re suggesting an updated Grim Reaper pursues us aboard a ride-on John Deere mower, it might explain some of the attitude regarding re-opening businesses in some Covid-heavy jurisdictions. Death just wouldn’t look overly threatening.

      1. No, I was just musing on the way the popular image of the Grim Reaper has mutated because we don’t use scythes to feed ourselves anymore.

  3. Journalists need to get off their butts and demand that each police department in Nova Scotia provide copies of https://novascotia.ca/just/Policing_Services/standards.asp and this :

    ” Guiding Principles
    Policing Services is accountable to the Minister of Justice and the public they serve. We will strive to inform the police community as to our activities through a policy of openness and accessibility.

    Policing Services will be sensitive and responsive to the needs of the police community and the public they serve. Our programs and policies will be evaluated on an ongoing basis to measure their validity, reliability and effectiveness.

    Policing Services will ensure that the resources supplied by the taxpayers of Nova Scotia are used to provide the best value in performance and productivity.

    Policing is a shared responsibility of governments, communities and individuals. We believe we can best achieve our mission by entering into partnerships with citizens, organizations and other jurisdictions.://novascotia.ca/just/Policing_Services/ ”

    This secrecy has to end, it is beyond ridiculous; an example – I asked an HRM staffer for a copy of the Federal/Provincial/HRM funding agreement for bike lanes. The staffer replied that I had to use FOIPOP.
    The agreement was announced on July 29 2019 https://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20190729001