News

1. New class-action lawsuit proposed against RCMP and attorneys general of Canada, NS

The Portapique sign on Highway 2 was adorned with a NS tartan sash following the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

Families of those killed on April 18 and 19 in Nova Scotia are suing the RCMP, along with the attorneys general of Canada and Nova Scotia, for failings related to the mass murders.

The suit is being brought by Patterson Law and has yet to be approved as a class action.

Tim Bousquet reports on the allegations in the suit. In addition to wanting to hold the RCMP to account for operational and communications failures, Bousquet writes, the lawsuit brought by the families also alleges the force “deliberately misled” families, and “released Heather O’Brien’s car back to Andrew O’Brien ‘with gun casings and body parts still in the automobile.’”

The allegation about body parts is gut-wrenchingly horrible, but as Bousquet pointed out on Twitter last night:

People will understandingly focus on the “body parts” of this, but the gun casings are perhaps more important in terms of understanding the crime. It suggests GW was very near the vehicle… It’s weird that they redact the kind of ammo used in documents we had to go to court to get (partially) unsealed, but they just left the shell casings for family. I fully intend to call the lawyer tomorrow and get more information that was released by the court.

Read all of Bousquet’s story, “Body parts still in the automobile” of mass murder victim when RCMP released the car to the victim’s family, claims lawsuit,” here.

In related news, on May 21, Paul Palango wrote a piece about the RCMP “cone of silence” for the Examiner. Palango said:

“It seemed to me from the outset that he may have killed other people in the past,” I said.

The whistleblower just hmmmed.

“There’s something they are hiding that will blow the lid right off this thing,” the whistleblower reiterated. “I can’t tell you what it is. I shouldn’t even be telling you this. Just keep pushing.”

When I ran all this by Maclean’s writer Stephen Maher, he immediately added another possibility. “Maybe he was a CI.”

A confidential informant? With a licence to kill?

Palango, along with Stephen Maher and Shannon Gormley, gets deeper into this allegation in a Maclean’s story published yesterday. The story reveals that the gunman withdrew $475,000 in cash 19 days before the murders. It also speculates further on whether he may have been an informant:

A number of current and former RCMP members familiar with the way the force handles undercover operations but not privy to details about this investigation have speculated that [the] case has the hallmarks of a police informant operation.

Officers are struck by a speeding ticket the RCMP issued [to GW] at 5:58 pm on Feb. 12, 2020, on Portapique Beach Road…

At the time the ticket was issued, the RCMP was in the midst of undertaking multiple arrests of Hell’s Angels and their associates in Halifax and New Brunswick. Officers speculate that if  [GW] was a confidential informant that his cover had been blown.

When the investigation into the police response to the mass murder finally does come, let’s hope the terms of reference are broad enough to be meaningful.

2. Long waits for bloodwork

Jenna Young. Photo contributed

I’ve had to go for bloodwork twice during the pandemic. At first, my doctor doubted I’d be able to get an appointment at all, but then, as the systems got sorted out, he sent me a requisition and told me to call blood collection. Previously a walk-in service, it was now running by appointment.

Back in April, the first time I went, you could only make appointment for the same day or the next day (or for Monday, if you were calling on a Friday). The system seemed to work well — probably because almost nobody was using it at the time.

So I was surprised when I called for my next blood collection a couple of weeks ago, and was told I’d have to wait til the following week for an appointment.

But at least I got through quickly. Since then, the system seems to have become overwhelmed.

Yvette d’Entremont reports on the current situation, which has seen people calling over and over and over, only to then be put on hold for long periods of time and given an appointment far in the future:

d’Entremont speaks to 28-year-old Jenna Young, who had a stroke last week and needs a series of blood collection appointments on a schedule laid out by her doctor:

Young’s shortest hold was 10 minutes, the longest 40 minutes. She said it was stressful being told the next available appointment was days beyond when she was supposed to get her blood tested.

“When I would explain and say ‘Sorry, this is supposed to be urgent and specifically timed,’ the answer was ‘Even our most urgent appointments that we’re supposed to clear the schedule for we’re booking up to a week in advance.’

“That’s what I was told today. So it sounds like they’re falling behind even for those people for whom they’re supposed to drop everything and make it work.”

Young says she has lived with chronic illness for years and is used to advocating for herself, but she worries about those who can’t.

Read all of d’Entremont’s story, “NSHA working on fix for swamped blood collection appointment line,” here.

3.  Police contract made public for first time

When officers are charged or sued, the municipality pays.

Last week, the Halifax Examiner filed a freedom of information request to get access to the collective agreement between HRM and the Halifax Regional Police Association — the HRP employees’ union.

Yesterday, with the freedom of information request still in the mail, the municipality posted the contract to its website.

Zane Woodford reports on the contents of the collective agreement, and explains why these documents are so important.

The collective agreement released Wednesday, in effect from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2020, was imposed by an arbitration board in 2017. It covers around 500 sworn officers and more than 100 civilian employees, and gave those members annual raises of 2.75% for each of the five years.

That wage increase drove corresponding increases to the police budget — and the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency budget, where wages are tied to police — over the last few years, especially as the municipality had to pay out retroactive raises in a lump sum.

Police unions and their collective agreements have been identified as a barrier to reform amid the conversations sparked by police violence in the U.S. and in Canada in recent weeks.

The contract includes provisions for the municipality to pay legal fees of officers accused of criminal behaviour or sued by citizens. Officers charged in criminal matters are also paid for the time they are in court.

Read all of Woodford’s story, “Halifax releases police union’s collective agreement,” here.

4. William Sandeson gets a new trial

Taylor Samson in the hallway outside William Sandeson’s apartment in Halifax, shown in a screenshot from Sandeson’s surveillance video.
Taylor Samson in the hallway outside William Sandeson’s apartment in Halifax, shown in a screenshot from Sandeson’s surveillance video.

William Sandeson’s appeal of his murder conviction for killing Taylor Samson five years ago has been overturned.

Zane Woodford reports on the appeal court decision which, he says, “paints the picture of a chaotic trial.”

Sandeson appealed on four grounds, but the court ruled on only one of them, saying it was sufficient — that the trial judge should have declared a mistrial after it was revealed that a private investigator working for the defence team had secretly shared information with the police.

Woodford writes:

Some of the most damning evidence presented at the trial came from Sandeson’s neighbour, Pookiel McCabe and his friend, Justin Blades. McCabe and Blades testified they heard a loud bang and then walked across the hall and saw a bloody man slumped over a chair in Sandeson’s apartment.

But none of that came out until a private investigator working for Sandeson’s defence team contacted the two witnesses, who originally told police they’d seen and heard nothing the night of the killing.

The investigator, Bruce Webb, tracked down and built a rapport with both men about a year after the killing… The investigator then spoke to a police officer who lives near him, and told him the two men should be reinterviewed. Webb even helped the police contact and meet with the two men…

When the defence and Webb’s boss, Tom Martin, questioned him about whether he was involved, he denied it.

Woodford reports in detail on the appeals court decision and what comes next. Read his full story, “Nova Scotia appeals court quashes conviction, grants new trial for William Sandeson,” here.


Views

Film production and the pandemic

Publicity still from the film The Lighthouse, shot in Nova Scotia.

Jean Laroche has a story at CBC this morning about how the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed what was shaping up to be a promising year for film production in Nova Scotia.

Laroche writes:

[Screen Nova Scotia head Laura] Mackenzie said there would have been at least six larger budget, scripted productions being filmed in the province, as well as at least 40 smaller-budget productions…

Although film production was not one of the businesses ordered closed by the province, the fact only essential out-of-province workers are allowed into Nova Scotia is a major impediment for an industry that relies on outside crews and expertise for much of its most lucrative work.

The need for people to keep their distance from one another will be an ongoing challenge for crews who are sometimes forced to work in close proximity to one another and for actors who need to, well, act.

The story focuses largely on the challenge of the 14-day quarantine rule. Broadly, there are two kinds of Canadian film production: films made by Canadian production companies telling Canadian stories, and service production. With service production, foreign companies shoot in Canada, often with Canadian production partners. As Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada explained to me, “Service production is crewed by Canadians, but the leads are all foreign.”

As you can imagine, flying in a director from LA and having them quarantine for 14 days can significantly increase production costs.

But there are other issues as well, including keeping distance on set, how to deal with catering, accommodations, and on and on and on. Add to that the fact that it’s impossible for productions to get insurance to protect from the financial fallout of being shut down by an outbreak of COVID-19 on set, and you’ve got a recipe for a long delay until production gets started again.

“There are a lot of ideas, and everyone in our industry is working hard together on resuming production,” Parker said. “The really big issues are insurance and health and safety. You can’t get COVID insurance and I’m not sure you ever will be.” Disney may be able to take that risk. But small producers?

Parker says when it comes to TV shows, the writers’ room is dead (“It will be like everything else right now; it will be virtual”) but by its very nature, production brings people in close contact with each other. “There are intimate scenes. Nobody wants to pay a lot of money for a movie where nobody touches. You have to have the cameraman over the director’s shoulder. Everyone works in a very tight proximity, even when they’re not on set.”

I spoke with a veteran crew member who has worked in film and television art departments for decades, but didn’t want to be named. He said he didn’t imagine the type of action movie production where “you shut down Yonge Street and have thousands of extras” was coming back anytime soon. Fortunately for the Nova Scotia industry, that’s not the kind of production going on here anyway.

Some of the concerns for his department included staffing, hours, and budgets. If people have to be farther apart, will work take longer? Will the increased costs of proper cleaning mean smaller crews?

In my department, I could sometimes have 12 to 15 daily hires on top of my regular crew. How do we reduce that number, still get the job done, and still meet the expectations of showrunners? Are the scripts going to become easier to shoot and build sets for? If they ask us to work with smaller crews, can that be done?

The risk to productions is real and dramatic.

If the actors get sick, production is done. If a grip gets sick, it might decimate that department, but the department can be replaced. Even a cinematographer for that matter. But if it’s the director or one your principal cast it’s shutting down production time.

Earlier this month, the provincial agency WorkSafeBC, approved guidelines for restarting film and television production in the province, and “everyone’s eagerly waiting to see how it goes” the crew member said.

The BC guidelines include “individual hairstylists and makeup artists to work on one performer at a time,” extras wearing their own clothes, casting “members of the same household in scenes where physical distancing cannot be maintained and where appropriate” and filming “scenes involving singing, loud yelling, or the use of wind instruments” outdoors, or with people at a safe distance from each other.

And those big crowd scenes?

  • Film large crowd scenes outdoors where possible. Limit the amount of time spent filming these types of scenes. Do not keep people in crowded holding areas for extended periods of time.
  • Consider reducing the number of background performers to a minimum and alter their appearances to recycle them. Minimize day players or develop strategies to film day-players in isolation from the main cast and crew to protect all workers (e.g. splinter or 2nd unit filming).

Some of the guidelines are very specific, particularly when it comes to catering, delivery of goods and so on. Others are much more nebulous, involving a lot of “consider” or “where possible.” Here is the guidance on close contact among actors:

Consider alternative methods to achieve film sequences that necessitate close contact between workers. This may include intimate or fight scenes that require close contact over extended periods. Discuss protocols with appropriate person for performers who have scenes that require closeness or intimacy, and schedule those scenes strategically. The performer has the right to refuse close contact with other performers, such hugging, kissing, and stunts requiring close contact.

Parker hopes production can resume as soon as it’s safe, but she added that with an ongoing general decline in Canadian production, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time.

It’s kind of depressing, actually. It’s bad. Canadian content has been declining for years. So this is just the icing on cake.


Noticed

Chief William Paul, Martin Sack, Ben Knockwood, and John Knockwood in 1948. Photo: Helen Creighton/Nova Scotia Archives. The archives note the tree in the background was thought to have medicinal powers, so a local priest had it cut down.

June is Indigenous History Month, and this coming Sunday, June 21, is National Indigenous Peoples Day.

To celebrate, Halifax Public Libraries have put together what they are calling a virtual experience. And it’s pretty great.

It includes videos with stories, poems, music, and — my favourite —  Sheila Nevin on her famous Aunt Sheila’s Mi’kmaw Indian Tacos.

There are links to videos on throat singing and sash-making, reading lists for adults and kids, and streaming films, including Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s documentary Angry Inuk, which has been on my to-watch list for far too long.

I’ve barely begun to make my way through the materials on offer here, and I’m hoping to spend a lot more time with them.


Government

No meetings.


In the harbour

14:00: Algoterra, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal
16:30: Tampa Trader, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Kingston, Jamaica
20:30: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea


Footnotes

I went to a stock photography website, and when I searched for “film production” almost every single photo featured a hip-looking young white dude behind the camera. I shouldn’t be surprised, but the sameness was startling.

Representation matters.

Feature photo by Vanilla Bear Films / Unsplash

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 appreciate the daily report on shipping, but got some odd looks when I recently mentioned to a few people that I had seen the George Washington Bridge in the harbour, and about a week later, the Budapest Bridge. The shipping reports got me thinking that the Examiner should do a report on the impact the pandemic has had on shipping, rail and truck traffic in and out of Halifax. It’s unfortunate that some people lost work because of the lack of cruise ships this year, but cruise ships don’t have the same economic impact of container ships. But what about rail and truck traffic? I am uneasy about the loss of passenger rail service between Halifax and Montreal. Will it really only be until November? The Maritimes were promised rail service to central Canada as a condition of entering Confederation. Has that condition been breached?

  2. In terms of representation, it would have been better to include a still from a film like for example, Black Cop. Maybe you were trying to make a point that NS can draw big name actors like Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson for glitzy Hollywood productions (because labour costs less). In the vein of representation, I prefer not to see two white actors portraying Maritime sea shanty fantasy stereotypes perpetuated over and over again.

    1. This is a good point. Thanks. The CBC story mentioned The Lighthouse so it was at the top of my mind.

  3. Recently I needed blood work for a medical procedure. Finding nothing easily available in the city, I went to NSHA’s blood collection page, and booked online at the Truro hospital. Only a two day wait, which would not work for everyone, but it did for me.

    1. Yes, my experience as well. I’m quite sure if the person can go to any clinic outside the city, time will be shorter.Try Cobequid or Windsor or South Shore.