News

1. The latest

The Northwood nursing home on Gottingen Street in Halifax. Photo: Halifax Examiner Credit: Halifax Examiner / Tim Bousquet

Yesterday, we learned that 30 more people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, bringing the total to 579. Eleven people are currently hospitalized, four of them in ICUs; 176 people have fully recovered. Three have died.

A big chunk of the increase in positive cases comes from nursing homes, reports Yvette d’Entremont:

As of Wednesday evening, Northwood nursing home in Halifax had 59 cases and Dartmouth’s Admiral Long Term Care Centre had 11 people test positive with COVID-19.

That’s a total of 70 cases at just those two homes.

In a media release issued Thursday afternoon, the province said that as of Wednesday, seven licensed long-term care homes in Nova Scotia have COVID-19 cases. That number includes 42 residents and 23 staff members who tested positive, a total of 65 cases across seven homes.

Asked about the discrepancy in the numbers, a spokesperson with the Department of Health and Wellness responded by email stating that the data reflects official numbers reported by the department as of yesterday.

“It reflects the number of licensed long-term facilities that currently have positive cases of COVID-19, including staff and residents at that point in time (April 15, 2020),” Heather Fairbairn said in her email. “It does not include recovered cases. Individual facilities may report case information differently.”

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, went on to say that one of the

“very interesting things” they’ve seen at Northwood is even though 38 residents tested positive for COVID-19, some have no symptoms and others only experienced very mild symptoms. He said while all precautions must continue to be implemented, he called this “good news” for a population of known increased risk for severe disease.

Yesterday, I compiled my usual sets of graphs tracking the progress of the disease in Nova Scotia, and noted another potentially hopeful sign:

Because of the high number of newly recovered people (39 yesterday), the number of “active” COVID cases in Nova Scotia has for the first time gone down, from 409 to 400. 1

Active cases by date


And because the recovered numbers are increasing and we haven’t had a death recently (any are too many, but we’ve had “just” three), the fatality rate is going down as well, to 1.7%.

Fatality rate of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia 2

So these are hopeful signs. Who knows? Tomorrow’s numbers could reverse all this, and there’s certainly no indication that our vigilance should be relaxed.

Also, yesterday, the Nova Scotia Health Authority issued the following advisory about potential exposure to the disease:

HALIFAX, N.S. – NSHA Public Health is advising of a potential public exposure to COVID-19 on Halifax Transit buses:

  • April 3 on Route 10; 5:56 PM to 1:04 AM
  • April 4 on Route 62; 12:27 PM to 1:33 PM; 4:27 PM to 5:33 PM
  • April 4 on Route 60; 1:33 PM to 4:27 PM; 5:33 PM to 8:20 PM

Public Health is directly contacting anyone known to be a close contact of the person who was confirmed to have COVID-19. While most people have been contacted, there could be some contacts that Public Health is not aware of.

It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus on the named dates on these bus routes may develop symptoms up to, and including, April 18, 2020. People should self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

2. Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes

One of the no trespassing signs posted next to an abandoned cabin in Annapolis Group’s land in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area. Photo: Michael Haynes, via SaltWire

“Environmentalists are disappointed and puzzled after a Halifax developer put up no trespassing signs along trails that have been used for decades in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area,” reports Zane Woodford for Saltwire:

Annapolis Group Inc. posted the signs, reading “PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESPASSING,” in the last few weeks on its property along trails near Charlie’s Lake and Fox Lake — about 500 metres and 1.5 kilometres, respectively, from Kearney Lake.

“I’m not sure why now is the time to have done that, but it’s just disappointing to us,” Diana Whalen, co-chair of the 600-member Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Society, said in an interview.

3. Inequality at City Hall

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Here comes a round of “shared pain” or whatever the politicians are calling it now:

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage and Coun. Richard Zurawski have both volunteered to cut their pay cheques as thousands of their constituents face layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Savage said he’s been planning to shave 20 per cent off of his salary since late March, and Zurawski, who represents Timberlea-Beechwood-Clayton Park-Wedgewood, announced on Thursday that he would take 10 per cent from his.

Looked at one way, Savage is reducing his pay by $38,014, and Zurawski is reducing his pay by $9,226.

Of course, you could look at it the other way: Just as the city has laid off thousands of employees, Savage is still bringing home $152,058, and Zurawski has $83,032.

I don’t want to be churlish here. I’ve said for many years that I don’t in principle begrudge politicians being paid well. What I’ve said, repeatedly, is that these same councillors and the managers at City Hall — that is, the public servants getting paid well north of $100,000 — are exactly the same people who write and enact the policies that leave other city employees working for poverty wages. That’s what’s despicable, not the high pay in itself.

City councillors gave themselves a nearly $4,000 raise last year;  Savage’s pay increased by over $8,000. And yet they passed a budget that left janitors cleaning city buildings working for minimum or near-minimum wage.

As I wrote in October:

This is on city councillors, who refuse to quickly adopt a living wage policy. Back in 2017, on a motion by Lindell Smith, council told city staff to study the [living wage] proposal, but CAO Jacques Dubé has been successfully kicking the issue down the road, first by delaying a “social procurement” report until April of this year [2019], when council was told that a further report would be read by “fall,” but here we are in October, and still no report.

The living wage issue was likewise not addressed in the 2020/21 budget adoption process, most of which occurred before the pandemic.

The hope is that we’ll come out of this pandemic newly valuing the frontline workers who make this society work — including the janitors who quite literally are saving our lives. But who are we kidding? If the managers at City Hall and the councillors and mayor couldn’t bring themselves to adopt a living wage ordinance when city budgets were flush, what chance is there that they’ll do so post-pandemic, when the city is laden with new debt?

It seems it’s never the right time to treat working people decently. We can’t treat them decently when there’s lots of money, and we can’t treat them decently when money’s tight.

But sure, let’s pat the politicians on the back for taking a pay cut of a dollar amount that would rise any given janitor out of poverty.

4. Weapons charges

Back in early March, which seems like a century ago, I wrote about the frightening encounter a family had with the driver of a Crown Victoria car:

On January 3, a couple and their 10-year-old son were driving down Lucasville Road, going the speed limit and otherwise minding their own business, when they were passed on a solid yellow line by a Ford Crown Victoria. The car was distinctive: it was white, but had a black hood and black trunk.

After they were passed, the driver of the Crown Vic held started waving an assault-style rifle out the window, apparently in an attempt to scare the family.

That incident led to a police investigation that revealed the driver, Travis Laing, has a name that, as they say, “is like a rash all over the computer, a real menace.”

That was my tongue-in-cheek reference to the Blues Brothers because, well, if you don’t get the reference it’s too complicated to explain here, except to note:

Crown Vics are very often used as police cars, and are often painted white with black hoods and trunks, like this 2005 Crown Vic, which is being sold as surplus in Alabama for just $4,850:

Laing’s encounters with the police and/or justice system include:

• In 2010, Laing was drinking with “a group of people.” Two men got in a fight, and one of them was stabbed 12 times. Laing “left with the person believed to have committed the stabbing,” but was not charged.

• Also in 2010, Laing threatened people with a knife. He resisted arrest and fled, and was subsequently convicted of all three offences.

• In 2011, while he was drunk, Laing shot a friend’s vehicle with a shotgun, but got the friend to make a false report to the RCMP to cover up the circumstances. Police figured it out, however, and executed a search warrant, seizing a shotgun. He was charged with and convicted of Possessing a Weapon for a Dangerous Purpose.

• In 2012, Laing was suspected of throwing a Molotov cocktail at a house, but police couldn’t collect enough evidence to charge him.

• Later that year, Laing was “suspected of walking around wearing a mask and carrying a machete,” but no charges were laid.

• In 2013, Laing got drunk at a bar in Halifax and was kicked out. He punched the bouncer. He was charged with assault, but the charge was dismissed.

• In September 2014, Laing fled the scene of an accident and was later convicted on charges related to the incident.

• In December 2014, Laing was accused of slashing tires after being kicked out of a Halifax bar, but no charges arose from the accusations.

• In 2019, Laing was said to be involved in a couple of road rage incidents, but no charges were laid.

Long story short, the RCMP got a search warrant for Laing’s house, where they found a trove of weapons:

On Wednesday, the RCMP announced that:

April 15, 2020, Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia… The Halifax District RCMP Street Crime Enforcement Unit (SCEU) have charged a 29-year-old man and seized 17 firearms following an investigation that began in early January after police were called about an erratic driving incident where the driver was waving a firearm out of the car window.

Over a two-month period, multiple search warrants were executed on residences, vehicles and electronic devices. This lead to the seizure of 17 firearms and evidence of the offences.

On April 9, members of SCEU arrested a man and two women without incident. The man and a woman were arrested at a business in Tantallon. The second woman was arrested in Halifax.

Travis James Terry Laing of Hammonds Plains was remanded into custody and will be appearing in court today. The two women were later released and charges are pending.

Laing is charged with 52 counts of firearms related offences.

5. What else is going on?

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Pre-coronavirus, the Examiner spent much time trolling around public documents and databases looking for potential stories. That’s how we discovered the above story about Travis Laing, for instance.

But now, there’s little to no time for such open-ended curiosity. Iris, who’s been an immense help in record gathering, is holed up in her apartment. And I’m either assigning work to writers, or editing that work, or doing my own reporting on COVID-19, or working on the podcast about Glen Assoun’s wrongful conviction.

(Yes, work on the podcast continues. I’m lucky to be working with some fantastic people who prod and shape me, and I’m quite happy about how things are coming together. Yesterday I spent most of the day doing voiceovers for one of the episodes. I’ll have more to say when publication date approaches.)

Besides the restrictions on my time, many of the resources I normally used are simply unavailable because of the crisis. There’s no criticism implied here — in fact, generally speaking, the various government institutions are doing a good job of recognizing the importance of public access, even during the pandemic.

The courts, for example, have mostly moved to videoconferencing for hearings and appearances, but they’ve figured out how to include reporters in the conferencing, and have made dockets and other material available to us electronically. There are real challenges here, but the court administration is rising to the occasion, and they’ve been most accommodating — this week, administrators have responded positively to a quite complicated request I made for records; it is, I know, a hassle, and I appreciate it.

Still, even with that cooperation from administrators, some things are just impossible when everything is on lockdown. I used to go to the law courts building a few times a week and pull the latest filings. Iris and I would split up the Halifax and Dartmouth provincial courthouses respectively, to pull other documents. We can’t do that now, so we’re probably missing all sorts of important stories.

It made me wonder: what else are we missing? I’m cynically inclined, so my thought is that while we’re all tied up with COVID-19 reporting, the powers that be are probably up to all sorts of skulduggery. So, at the end of my exhausting day yesterday, rather than answer my email, I thought I’d take a look at some of those online databases and such that I normally search but have sat aside, and the very first place I looked, I found something. I’ll make some calls today to see if I can chase that story down.

Which is to say, reporters matter. We’re the watchdogs. We keep governments a bit more honest, because government officials fear we’ll uncover their misdeeds. Take away the reporters — either because newsroom staffs have been slashed or because everyone is chasing the pandemic story, or both — and there’s one fewer restraint on bad behaviour.

I hope you value this work. If so, please subscribe. Or, if you’d like to otherwise support our work, we also accept donations from readers, via the PayPal button below. Or, you can send us e-transfers, cheques, and donations with your credit card; please contact iris “at” halifaxexaminer “dot” ca for details.

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1. Spring, Part 4

Photo: Stephen Archibald.

Good news! Stephen Archibald is again notifying me of his new posts. Yesterday, he published Part 4 of his series on Spring.

I don’t like to overly quote from Stephen because you should go and read the whole thing! — but I was taken by this bit:

In summer, we will occasionally come across peepers in our garden. Here is one, found resting sweetly in a daylily bloom.

My introduction to spring peepers came in the early 1980s when the Museum of Natural History organized huge public participation programs to track the awakening of peepers across the province. It might take a month or so from first reports on Digby Neck until peepers were calling in northern Cape Breton.

About 1983, to promote the Frog Watch programming, the museum built a giant, fiberglass, spring peeper to hang on the corner of the Summer Street building. It you can’t place the location, the blue sky in the image will soon be blocked by the eight story parking garage for the hospital.


Government

No public meetings.


In the harbour


05:30: Grande Torino, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Gioia Tauro, Italy
05:30: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
06:15: ZIM Monaco, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
12:00: AS Federica, container ship, arrives at Pier 33 from Puerto Cortes, Honduras
12:30: Grande Torino sails for sea
16:00: Hansa Meersburg, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Kingston, Jamaica
16:00: Atlantic Sun sails for Liverpool, England
16:30: ZIM Monaco sails for New York
18:30: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea


Footnotes

What a time.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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8 Comments

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  1. My brother used to own a car–I can’t remember if it was a Crown Vic or not, but it looked similar–that had in its previous life been owned by CN Police. He could park wherever he wanted and never get a ticket.

  2. Skullduggery in HaRM – The RFP for the 8-storey Parking garage is doubtlessly going to be quietly released this afternoon-(Friday). This follows HRM Mayor and Council’s unanimous approval at last Thursday’s virtual meeting. Now there’s two parkades (~1500 stalls), a pedway across Summer Street but reduced to no underground parking on the Halifax Infirmary site.

    HRM voted yes with no public consultation, no dollar figure, no 3-D model, no geo-technical study, no traffic study, no environmental concerns, no plans for shifting gears with e-passes, car-share, electric buses, park and ride e-bikes, etc. Poor peepers big and small.

  3. I’d like some intrepid reporter to find out who originated the letter to HRM staff which deliberately left Whitman out of the loop – you don’t have to like him but a real reporter is usually a very curious person.
    I won’t hold my breath.
    Which council member will step forward with a motion to require the payment of wages and benefits to employees of businesses which win contracts for HRM in the amount of $15 an hour plus 8% for an RRSP, plus an amount to fund medical benefits ?
    And, ask the Mayor to ensure live streaming of meetings of the Halifax Partnership – they are leading us out the pandemic and on to new pastures https://halifaxpartnership.com/about-us/our-team/
    and the Board https://halifaxpartnership.com/about-us/board-of-directors/

  4. Totally agree with you, Tim, re living wage issue.
    Also miss the giant peeper and its chirping. That was such a fun & special initiative on the part of the museum.

  5. Thank you for setting the proper context for the voluntary yet temporary and ultimately inconsequential pay cut by Savage and Zurawski. Likely both shamed by the actions of the prime minister of New Zealand. It’s important to make the distinction between politicians being paid well and keeping other workers in poverty.

    1. Except Savage claims he took his cut at the begiinning of the month, without publicity, and Ardern’s was made a couple of days ago.
      I also think it important to acknowledge their good intentions and think the best of people.

  6. Covid bus exposure:

    “April 3 on Route 10; 5:56 PM to 1:04 AM
    April 4 on Route 62; 12:27 PM to 1:33 PM; 4:27 PM to 5:33 PM
    April 4 on Route 60; 1:33 PM to 4:27 PM; 5:33 PM to 8:20 PM”

    The length of time on Routes 10 and 60 would indicate a driver, no?