News

1. COVID and universities

Yesterday, Nova Scotia Health issued three advisories about potential COVID-19 exposures.

Two of them were related to the same flight from Calgary to Halifax, WestJet WS 232, landing in Halifax at 5:14pm, but on two different days, August 24 and August 26 (the seat numbers of most concern are at the links). The third advisory was apparently for someone who left the August 24 flight and took a taxi from the airport between 6 and 7pm; “This individual(s) were asymptomatic at the time,” notes the advisory.

They can’t tell us if it’s one or two or three people because in the absurdist collective mind at Public Health, that would reveal the name(s) of the afflicted and their credit score(s) and home address(es).

Regardless, that the person(s) was/were asymptomatic suggests these most recent cases are being detected through the stepped up testing of university students arriving from outside the Atlantic bubble (most other people who are tested have a COVID symptom).

I expect we’ll see lots more of these advisories in coming days, and that’s a good thing. It tells us that the self-isolation and three-test requirement is working to detect COVID cases that are entering the province, and doing so before those people can spread it to others (except, potentially, those near them on the planes and cabs).

So if we get a dozen more advisories this week, no one should freak out. The system is working.

The question, though, is: How closely will the university students follow the self-isolation requirement? It’s not just that some young people have a sense of invulnerability (although it’s that as well), but additionally that some people will get the rules wrong. I was contacted by someone last night who said that their asymptomatic roommate tested positive, but the roommate somehow interpreted that to mean they no longer needed to self-isolate as they are now immune. That’s completely wrong, of course.

It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

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2. COVID and prisoners

A jail cell in the north wing of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Prisoners and their families are raising alarms about the COVID-19 quarantine conditions at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility (known as the Burnside Jail),” reports El Jones:

Reports from incarcerated people and their families recount a number of concerning issues, including: the use of solitary confinement conditions on the range designated for quarantine; lack of access to medical care; dirty and unhygienic conditions throughout the jail; a shortage of staff in the facility; and lack of access to legal phone calls.

These complaints depict a disturbing pattern of human rights violations at the institution.

Click here to read “‘Worse than lockdown’: prisoners at the Burnside Jail are being held in solitary confinement conditions for COVID lockdowns.”

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3. COVID and the legislature

“So, my question today is this,” writes Stephen Kimber:

Why do we bother? Why do we bother to elect members of the legislature to represent us if they won’t, or can’t, or, most certainly, don’t?

Let’s start with the latest iteration of the Fangless Five Space Wasters, which is to say the current Liberal members of the province’s Human Resources Committee: Brendan Maguire (chair), Suzanne Lohnes-Croft (vice chair), Bill Horne, Rafah DiConstanzo, and Ben Jessome.

The committee is required by law to meet monthly and is therefore the only legislative committee the McNeil government hasn’t been able to completely muzzle, either under the guise of keeping our province’s politicians safe from the pandemic peril of having to meet in-person or even virtually, or because the government is too busy governing to deign to discuss matters of public import in public, or both.

The human resources committee’s mandate — highlighted in yellow on its web page— includes dealing with “issues related to early childhood development, labour and education.”

You might imagine such a mandate would allow — even require — the committee to consider a motion put forward last week by NDP MLA Claudia Chender. She wanted the committee to write to Education Minister Zach Churchill asking him to identify which Nova Scotia school classrooms currently meet physical distancing guidelines, and to share the results of the department’s school ventilation testing.

Reasonable requests, you might suppose, as we prepare to reopen our schools in the midst of a pandemic.

You would suppose wrong.

Click here to read “Is your school safe to reopen? Don’t ask your lapdog Liberal MLA.”

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4. COVID and school reopening

Globe & Mail reporter André Picard, who is hands-down the best health reporter in Canada, gives his take on school reopening:

Nothing is 100 per cent safe. But I would also say, if you look at our data, our cases are coming down in most of the country and we are doing relatively well. There’s probably not a better time to go back to school.

We need to figure out how to have cohorts or pods to limit the number of interactions. Every interaction is a risk. The smaller the [cohort or pod], the fewer interactions you have. The other really important thing about pods and class sizes, is when there is a case, we don’t have to panic. It’s going to be easier to track and trace, and limit the spread.

It’s not about having no cases; that’s impossible. It’s about limiting the number of cases and limiting the harm. That’s what we want to do while having the benefits of education.

There’s really good guidance out of the U.S., [whereas] the provincial back to school plans are so obtuse and useless. There’s no practical information. What the Americans do really well is synthesize information and tell you “here’s how to choose.” That’s what we need.

The guidance I really like is the Harvard School of Public Health’s red light, green light system. If there are more than 25 cases per 100,000 population, then that’s a red light and you absolutely don’t go back to school. Yellow light means there are 1 to 9 cases per 100,000, and maybe go back, but be cautious. Green light means you should be fine going to school.

Where’s Canada? Most of Canada is yellow, so we’re not doing too bad. But yellow light is supposed to say “Be cautious, be ready to stop.” That’s the attitude we have to have. Now is a pretty good time to go back. But let’s be careful. Let’s be really vigilant. If the numbers shoot up, we have to be ready to shut it down again.

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5. Gottingen Street bus lane

The Gottingen Street bus lane in a photo from the staff report. Photo: Halifax Transit

“The Gottingen Street bus lane is moving buses through rush hour faster and getting more people taking transit, but it’s meant towing dozens of vehicles monthly,” reports Zane Woodford:

That’s according to a report coming to Halifax regional council on Tuesday evaluating the 2019 performance of the bus lane, completed in late 2018.

The only change recommended for council is to remove the parking restrictions in the morning, when the heaviest traffic flows in the opposite direction.

Click here to read “Halifax Transit says Gottingen Street lane speeding up buses; staff recommend one change.”

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6. Al-Rawi

Bassam Al-Rawi. Photo: Jeff Harper / Metro

“Former Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi has been convicted of sexual assault,” reports Natasha Pace for CTV:

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Gerald Moir delivered the guilty verdict Friday.

At his trial, the complainant, whose identity is protected by a court-imposed publication ban, told the court she was intoxicated in downtown Halifax in December 2012, when a taxi driver picked her up.

The woman said the driver took her to his apartment, where he sexually assaulted her while she pretended to be unconscious.

Although Al-Rawi’s lawyer said there were gaps in the woman’s memory, Justice Moir said he believed the complainant.

Al-Rawi was previously charged with sexually assaulting another woman in his cab in 2015 but was acquitted in that case.

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7. Civilian Review and Complaints Commission

“The RCMP’s watchdog has flagged a number of ways in which the RCMP has bungled past investigations on cases ranging from mental health calls to fatal car accidents,” reports Catharine Tunney for the CBC:

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission recently posted online summaries of its probes into allegations of Mountie misconduct — part of the CRCC’s commitment to greater transparency.

In the past, the independent body has released only the findings of its chairperson-initiated reviews (which often deal with high-profile cases that have generated media coverage) and a smattering of “sample” cases, concealing the details of hundreds of reviews from the public for privacy reasons.

That’s changing under the CRCC’s new chairperson Michelaine Lahaie, said CRCC spokesperson Kate McDerby.

In a bid to become more transparent — and against a backdrop of growing concerns about police accountability and use of force — the agency says it is in the process of posting all of its findings, with personal and identifying information removed.

So far, details of 23 reviews that were completed in 2019-2020 have been released, with more on the way over the coming weeks. McDerby said the findings in all cases — whether they rule for or against RCMP officers — will be made public.

This is good, but I had to hunt around on the CRCC’s website to find them; it’s not intuitively easy, at least for me. They’re here.

My initial scan of the reports is they’re frustratingly vague. I don’t need to know the names of the complainants, but I’d like to know the jurisdictions if only because I want to know how RCMP policing contracts are working out in the various provinces.

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8. The road goes on forever, and the Party never ends

Someone who evidently cares a great deal about the Atlantica Party — can this be anyone at all besides Jonathan Dean? — contacted me to complain that Jonathan Dean is once more Party leader.

“Given his unwholesome past when it comes to following election law, coupled with his unceremonious ejection from the party, I can’t believe that the Atlantica Party is allowing JONATHAN DEAN to lead it again,” wrote my anonymous correspondent, who totally wasn’t John Barron or Jonathan Dean.

Sure enough, Dean shows up on the party’s website as leader.

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Views

1. Dog-eared and Cracked

I had a chance to listen to Philip Moscovitch’s podcast, “Dog-eared and Cracked,” in which Phil talks with some guy named Jay about books.

I listened to the latest episode, about Philip K. Dick’s The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, a book I have not read. Jay had unkind things to say about the book:

Well, I knew that I would have to respond here to your question ultimately about what I thought of the book, and I had to give a lot of thought to how I’d answer that question, mainly because to say you hated a book doesn’t really contribute a lot to the conversation.

So I did spend time exploring exactly why I dislike this book. And I needed to do that so we could write up a review in a way that wouldn’t force me to check the explicit language checkbox when uploading the review.

Now, there’s a few obvious reasons for myself why I dislike this book. I would include the lack of underlining dramatic tension, the storyline, and — we’ll come back to this again and again, but the characters were not likeable. Nothing really happens over the entire storyline. Events occur in this novel that are meant to be thought-provoking and brilliant philosophical insights, but are just plain ridiculous. Dick sets up two or more unlikeable characters, the arrogant Tim and his bitter girlfriend Kirsten, to believe that Tim’s son Jeffrey has returned from the grave as a poltergeist. And they’re convinced it’s Jeff’s ghost because of the disarranged clothes and broken mirrors.

I don’t know. I don’t understand. Was Jeff a slob? One who’s alive and that’s how they know it’s him? I don’t know. It just makes no sense to me. Then they visit a medium to communicate with Jeffrey. And the explanation given is that the medium has read their minds.

So, meaning that it’s implausible that Jeffrey is communicating from the grave, but plausible that mind-reading is a legitimate activity.

It’s great to hear two smart people discuss books without getting too high-falutin about it. It’s a fun, easy listen.

Listen here, or, as they say, wherever you get your podcast thingies.

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Government

City

Monday

No public meetings.

Tuesday

City council (10am, virtual meeting) — here’s the agenda; note the Gottingen Street bus lane issue, item #4 above.

Province

No public meetings.


In the harbour

03:30: Kyoto Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
03:45: Maersk Palermo, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Montreal
05:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
08:00: Berge Sarstein, bulker, arrives at anchorage for inspection from Dunkirk East, France
10:00: Leopard, oil tanker, sails from anchorage for sea
10:30: APL Sentosa, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
12:00: Berge Sarstein sails for sea
12:00: GPO Amethyst, heavy lift vessel, arrives at anchorage from Rotterdam
15:00: YM Evolution, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
15:30: Atlantic Sky sails for New York
20:00: Cape Gavi, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Irving Oil
20:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea


Footnotes

I spent most of the weekend working on the next Dead Wrong Extra, a project that I thought would take a few hours at best. As I’ve gotten into it, however, I’ve been sucked down various rabbit holes and … well, I’ve decided to split this one in two, and just get Part 1 out as soon as possible, which will be today, as I’ve got too much on my plate to let this consume me any more. Part 2 will come out later this week, as I find time for it. So much for “one extra a day.” So it goes.

Also today, I’m “in” court (via telephone) for the continuing saga of the media group trying to unseal the search warrants related to the mass murder investigation.

Lots of articles coming out the next couple of days. It all costs money.

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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. Thanks for the two articles- one on the Harvard generated metrics re COVID and the other for the coverage of RCMP watchdog change of course. With respect to the former, the link to the Picard story identified the thrust of any precise metric- which is that it provides”…clear accessible guidance to policy makers and the public…” and that the metric also produces “…. clear and consistent information about COVID risk levels in different jurisdictions for personal decision-making…” The colors used in the explanation of this metric are quite similar to coded colors now used in NS schools to identify various perceived threats to the safety of people at the school. All staff in schools are expected to be familiar with what each of the codes indicates needs to be done- immediately.

    The decision by the RCMP watchdog, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, as stated by the chair, Michelaine Lahaie, to release findings of all of their investigations is very good news. A read of some of the reviews conducted and the responses given by the RCMP Commissioner indicate that there is a tug-of-war at times. However, there is also progress over what was evident in the past- that oversight was a joke.The increase in the reporting to the public may have the effect of improving the force’s operation and accountability.
    One of the things that occurred to me was that ten months of training and education may not be adequate, given what new officers are expected to investigate with thoroughness and diligence. Investigating a complaint about child sexual abuse allegations is not for a rookie on his/her own. The induction process for RCMP should have seasoned officers assisting new recruits, especially with matters of this nature.

  2. I assume the vessel GPO Amethyst is here to load the rig ‘Noble Regina Allen’ and depart for better prospects beyond Canada.