1. Cracks are forming in the RCMP cone of silence

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

Paul Palango, a former senior editor at the Globe and Mail and author of three books on the RCMP, writes about the cone of silence the RCMP have covered themselves in over the last five weeks since the killings in Nova Scotia.

Palango wrote about the RCMP response, its failures, and the questions that need to be asked in this piece that ran in Macleans last week. He got comments saying the RCMP are not perfect and a response from a 911 dispatcher who says, “people who do not work in this profession can only surmise what it is like and what it takes to do this job.”

But Palago says he’s heard from others, including retired and current RCMP officers, too, like this response from a former high-ranking RCMP executive:

I’ve read everything you’ve written over the years and while I agreed with some of it, a lot of it just made me mad. But now, I have to admit that I agree with you. The RCMP is broken. It’s not ready. It’s a danger to the public and its own members.

He also heard from an anonymous caller he describes as a “Deep Throat whistleblower” who told him to tell the media to keep asking questions. “Don’t give up,” the caller said.

Read the full story here. 

2. Yes, Premier, people are suffering because they can’t say good-bye to their loved ones dying in nursing homes

Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID-19 briefing, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Evelyn White writes about Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health in Nova Scotia, who shared his feelings last week in an interview with CBC about the policy at the Northwood long-term-care home that means some families may never see their loved ones again if they die from COVID-19. White includes the interview in the article. Strang’s response was, “It’s very hard for me to even say that. But that is the reality. Because unfortunately having someone coming in physically to visit can put the whole facility at risk.”

White talks with Dr. Michael Baden, a renowned medical examiner she first met in Manhattan in the 1980s. Baden was the chairman of the US congressional forensic pathology panels that had investigated the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. White spoke with Baden recently about the families of those who are dying in nursing homes.

Families with elders in care are suffering terribly because of the complications of the disease. The process of dying is often more difficult on the living than on the dead. I think people are deeply grateful whenever doctors can show their grief. And it’s even more important now because of the helplessness so many are feeling.

And White talks, too, about the response from Premier Stephen McNeil who went on to say Dr. Strang didn’t express regrets about the policy at Northwood.

What Dr. Strang told your colleagues was that it would be a little longer for the restrictions to come off of long-term care facilities so we may be a little bit longer before we get to see our loved ones,” McNeil said in response to journalist Shaina Luck (also from CBC) who asked him how the province could improve conditions in future senior care facilities.

It was not that we would never see them again,” McNeil continued. “That was not the intent of the comment. Because I actually listened to the conversation and it was about it would be [sic] one of the last things that we would lift the restrictions from.

Read the full story here.

3. Harm reduction: how homeless people are getting their drugs during a COVID quarantine

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Yvette d’Entremont talks to a family doctor who says we need to talk about harm reduction initiatives that support homeless people, especially during quarantine.

Dr. Leah Genge is a family physician with expertise in addiction who works at Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH), Direction 180, and Spryfield Medical Centre. Genge and other groups like MOSH and Mainline Needle Exchange worked on a harm-reduction piece that included safe needles and Naloxone kits. They used the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) guidelines to make sure they had a safe supply.

It was something that happened really rapidly. We got news Thursday afternoon (April 23) that we’d gotten the first positive case, and Thursday night I was going through a list of everybody to make sure that everybody’s methadone and stuff was delivered to them and then by Friday we were on the ground trying to sort everybody.

Genge says she hopes the COVID-19 crisis will give us lessons about how we help the homeless and marginalized populations during a crisis.

We could all be one or two steps away from being without a home, and I hope that this experience has taught us that. We’re all deserving of the same things and the same dignity and respect, so I hope we can all talk to our kids in a different way about this and the generation that comes after us will maybe have a more equitable community that they live in.

Read the full story here.

4. Councillors ask for smaller cuts to Halifax police and fire departments

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella (left) and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Chief Ken Stuebing appeared virtually in front of council’s budget committee on Wednesday. — Screenshots Credit: Zane Woodford
Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella (left) and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Chief Ken Stuebing appeared virtually in front of council’s budget committee on Wednesday. — Screenshots Credit: Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford reports on Halifax regional council’s budget committee, which yesterday heard from Halifax Regional Police chief Dan Kinsella and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Chief Ken Stuebing. The HRP and HRFE are proposing cuts of more than $5 million each, as part of a bid to save $84.5 million from the municipality’s operating budget.

Kinsella says the cuts would mean a noticeable reduction in service, but there would be no impact on emergency response and public safety. Stuebing says for fire services, “a reduction of 7.6% in a budget where compensation represents 96% of our total budget means a total decrease in service is inevitable.”

Part of the cuts in fire service included closing Station 11 in Upper Sackville and moving those staff to stations elsewhere. Station 11 is in Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn’s district. Says Blackburn:

That is an area where population is increasing. By closing Station 11, that impacts not only the Upper/Middle Sackville area, but also will have ramifications for Lower Sackville and even Bedford.

Read the full story here.

5. Why the public is barred from using public lands to access the public Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area

Looking down the length of Ash Lake on a beautiful late Spring day in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area in Halifax. Photo contributed/Irwin Barrett Credit: Contributed/Irwin Barrett

Zane Woodford reports that the public is banned from using publicly owned land to access publicly owned and protected Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area. That’s because an impasse between the Maskwa Aquatic Club Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes, and the province has come to a head.

The club recently put up no trespassing signs in its parking lot where there is a trailhead to the wilderness area. The club says the signs were vandalized and people weren’t adhering to social distancing rules as more people used the trail.

The Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes says access to the area is now cut off.

Chris Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, CPAWS, says a solution is creating a network of official trails since unofficial ones are putting some of the ecological areas inside the wilderness at risk.

Public use of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes has surged and it’s occurring without an official trail system in place. We anticipated that surge. We planned for it by doing the trails planning. And then in 2015, when we were ready to start implementing the plan, everything stopped.

Read the full story here.


Building a better bystander

Don’t be just a blind-twitcher. Photo: Jorge Salvador/Unsplash
Don’t be just a blind-twitcher. Photo: Jorge Salvador/Unsplash

Julie Lalonde is an Ottawa-based women’s right advocate and public educator (you can learn more about her here). She also teaches bystander intervention. I follow Lalonde on Twitter and know about her work. On Tuesday when Tim posted this story about several people who knew about GW’s behaviour, including his abuse toward his girlfriend, and did nothing about it, Lalonde replied with “This is why I teach bystander intervention for a living.” This week, we talked more about that.

Lalonde says there are a couple of reasons bystanders don’t step in. The first is fear of retribution. People worry about being wrong about a situation. Or they worry about being right. They worry about the division that reporting someone could create in a community, or the pressure to choose sides. People worry about becoming a pariah in their community or within a group like a sports team.

That’s a very real fear that came to life in the context of Me Too and we realized all these actors had not just disappeared, but they were made to disappear because they they tried to call out [Harvey]Weinstein. In a way, it helps to shows bystanders, allies, whatever word you want to use, do suffer consequences. I am asking a lot of people, by telling them to put themselves out there.

The second thing is the fear that stepping in will make the situation worse and escalate the violence. But Lalonde says there are subtle and good ways to intervene that won’t escalate the situation. Make eye contact with the woman, interrupt the situation, even by doing something as simple as asking for directions.

Those are things you can do that will not escalate the situation. But again, I can’t blame people for not doing those things if no one taught them. They are not necessarily obvious things … We have to recognize the real barriers people have.

In her bystander training, Lalonde teaches the skills we need to intervene. To start, bystanders can start by simply checking in with a woman who might experiencing violence. That’s tough because most of us are conflict avoidant, Lalonde says, but checking in can be a better way to help and can make a difference.

I think going up to this woman or any woman in a situation of violence and just checking in with her is truly a lifesaving thing to do. It’s a lifesaving intervention. People don’t see it that way. They see it as, ‘Oh, I’m not doing anything unless I approach him directly or the police drag him out in cuffs.’ But in fact, you’re telling the woman, ‘I see what’s happening. What can I do to help?’ It’s so incredibly important.

Lalonde says what bystander training looks like depends on the situation in which it will be used. For those cases of intimate-partner violence, the language around checking-in is important. Communicate with that woman away from other people, in a way that’s non-judgmental, non-confrontational, and opens the door for them to share their story. Lalonde says use words like, “I see” and “I feel” Instead of saying, “I don’t know he talks to you like that and you need to leave,” which has an undertone that’s judgmental and harsh and can shut a person down from being honest.

People know their situations are awful and sometimes they need to look to shine a light on it, but most people know when they are in a situation that isn’t making them happy. They know what they should do, but they aren’t in a position to do those things, so that’s where the shame and humiliation comes in. So, really approaching it from the ‘I see this and it makes me feel this way.’ ‘I see the way he treats you and it really hurts my heart because no one should talk to you like that.’ Or ‘I see that you seem to hang out with your friends less and less and we miss you and we just want to know if you’re okay.’

Bystanders also need resources for the follow-up. Lalonde says a huge part of her training is making sure people walk away with at least one resource they can refer someone to. That could be community-based resource centre, a support line, or a website. That woman may not use that resource or need it, but it’s good for a bystander to know about at least one resource they can share.

The example I give is like poison control. You obviously not hoping someone gets poisoned but if someone comes to your house and they get poisoned you want to be able to know where to refer them. It’s opening up a door for you. And particularly when people are in a domestic situation, there is a lot of planning that goes into leaving. Just to know you can call a support line to explore your options. Very few people know shelters provide more housing. They have crisis lines where they offer emotional support over the phone or text, depending where you live. Letting them know you don’t have to leave tomorrow, but you can call somebody to see what you can do when you’re ready to go.

(I included a list of local resources, including local transition houses, at the bottom of this article).

Lalonde says in her years of work she learned that women often feel more compelled to act while men feel conflicted about stepping in. Women in abusive situations will often worry about men using conflict or using violence to intervene. Women who are experiencing violence may keep it from their fathers, brothers, or other male contacts because they worry he will take over the situation and harm the abuser. “Oftentimes men’s hesitation around that is, ‘Oh, I guess I have to beat somebody up now’ and not thinking through is that the best course of action in this moment,” Lalonde says.

Around sexual violence, Lalonde says women will intervene equally whether they know the perpetrator or not. Men are far less likely to intervene in a situation of sexual violence if they know the perpetrator because they identify with that man.

They will say, ‘Well, he seems like a good guy, and he seems to be falsely accused. And I don’t want to be falsely accused so if I start pointing fingers at him, someone will point fingers at me and my life will be ruined.’ That’s why it’s so difficult to get men involved in this conversation because there are so many parameters around whether they will intervene.

Race also plays a role in how a bystander will respond to a situation. Lalonde says bystanders over-report men of colour and under-report when the victim is a woman of colour.

People want to believe that white men are not seen as violent in the same way as men of colour. So, they minimize the behaviour of white men, rationalize, justify, all of that.

Lalonde says we have to talk about bystander intervention from an intersectional standpoint.

We have to name the bias people have; even in a case like this, race is a factor even though he (GW) was a white man and from what I know, all the victims are all white. But it’s still about race. The fact that people didn’t see him as threatening because he was rich, he was powerful, he was well-spoken, and he was white. All of these myths about domestic violence and sexual assault still exist, even around all this Me Too world we live in, people still have assumptions about who is and who is not experiencing violence and people bring judgment to those conversations.

Lalonde says she knows that judgment well. Last year, she published her book, Resistance is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie S. Lalonde, which chronicles her life with her own abuser, who stalked her for 10 years after she left the relationship. She says she’s had readers angry at her when they first read the book, wondering why she didn’t leave him sooner.

I lived with it intimately and it’s been interesting those past conversations the past couple of months. It’s 2020 and people are still shaken up that these men exist and that women are still going through it. People are biased against women who experience violence and they really do think that they put themselves in that position.

Lalonde says we need a community of support and a community of accountability.

You and I and everyday people do not get to decide who goes to jail, but we do have control over whose business we frequent, who we invite to our parties, whose music we download, whose movies we see. In the case of that community, it was well known he was all of these things, so why were people still frequenting his business? Why was he able to do what he was doing? Again, he’s solely responsible for his behaviour … but abusers don’t live in a vacuum. They are enabled by people all the time. And here is someone who was quite flagrant in telling people he had these weapons, he had these vehicles, he had these attitudes. He was pretty explicit about it and people are still acting like, ‘How could we have ever prevented this?’ That’s where my frustration comes in. There is a trail of red flags that lead to these cases and it’s frustrating as a prevention-focused individual to constantly be having conversations after the fact.

We have to think about the day-to-day message we send to abusers. There’s a sense that abusers should be on high alert because we’ve got their name. We are not sending a message to abusers that time is actually up. And they know that. If you’re a master manipulator you’re easily able to take advantage of what’s going on and you’re hyper, hyper aware of what’s going on. There’s no way he (GW) wasn’t aware of the power he had in that community.

Growing up in a small community in Northern Ontario, Lalonde understands the ways in which people ignore abuse.

It’s always frustrating to me when communities say they rally together better than anyone else, we have each other’s backs. Are we actually showing up for each other or are we hiding behind that as a way to sell how great life is in a rural community? We have to get into teaching these skills. It’s not just having chats about it. We have to raise awareness but we make sure you are equipped, you know what to say, you know who to direct them to. And we are far from there.

Bystander training needs to happen in schools, workplaces, and the larger community, Lalonde says, and now is the time to start talking about it.

Not just because of what happened in Nova Scotia, but we are seeing that COVID-19 lockdown has shone a spotlight on major social issues we’ve been ignoring. Now is the time for us to be talking about what does community look like, what does accountability look like, on top of the broader conversation on where in the hell were the RCMP. But I think it’s too easy to pretend it’s up to one person, that one person could have done something differently. We need to take a step back and think about individually what are some small things that could have been done that weren’t.


This online learning from home isn’t working for every student and family. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
This online learning from home isn’t working for every student and family. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Derek Simon, a lawyer who lives in Dartmouth, wrote a letter to Zach Churchill, minister of education and early childhood development, about his frustration and disappointment around how Churchill and the province are handling the school situation during the COVID-19 crisis. Simon shared a link to that letter on Twitter. Simon and his wife both work full time and have two children. He says their experiences with learning while at home has been mixed. His daughter hasn’t had any online classroom sessions and gets assignments that take no time at all to complete. Meanwhile, he says his son has a more structured schedule with online classes and daily assignments that require little help from parents. Simon says that he’s heard mixed reports from parents about their children’s experiences.

This suggests that teachers have not been given clear expectations regarding their work during COVID-19, and that not enough of them have been trained to use the tools that are available, like google classroom. Nor has the Province provided much in the way of resources to parents to support their kids in learning: No websites, no online subscriptions, and no materials.

This is what I am hearing, too. I know parents whose kids seem to be thriving learning from home. Other parents gave up weeks ago. Many parents are struggling to help their children with this learning while at home, while they work jobs and run a household. Some of these parents are teachers themselves, so they have to manage teaching their own children, while still teaching students.

Simon writes that he’s also disappointed in the lack of or sporadic communication from the Department of Education and the Halifax Regional Centre for Education.

I can only compare this to other Provinces like New Brunswick, where the Minister of Education has been front and centre in leading the response to COVID-19. Even the Prime Minister took the time to directly address students, and made an offer to assist with their homework. That token gesture is more help than we have received from your Department.

Further, there has been little in the way of effort to solicit input from parents. School Advisory Councils are not operating, and neither the Department nor HRCE appear to have undertaken any widespread efforts to solicit parent feedback.

My daughter is in Grade 11. I was frustrated, too, that the response from her school seem to take longer than it should have. She hasn’t had any online classroom sessions. Her teachers send assignments and she’s very self-motivated and mostly an independent learner. Math class has been a struggle. Her teacher refers to her to online resources that were available before the crisis, but they don’t work for her. She needs to work with someone one-on-one. I’ve stepped in to help, which means I have to recall high school math. It was more than 30 years ago I was in high school. I am not a math whiz, but I can manage to remember enough to get her through some assignments (last week it was quadratic equations). But this is not sustainable for either of us and won’t help her with math next year.

But I think she’s learning something else instead. She is doing very well with a new routine that is not routine at all. She’s settled into doing her work on time, she taught herself how to make banana bread, and sometimes we talk about this pandemic, all the rules, and how society handled previous outbreaks of disease, and have great conversations about all kinds of topics. She keeps in touch with friends through video chats and I can hear them laughing like they would any other time. It’s good to hear this. And she’s mentally coping with staying at home all the time — with me no less — even though she misses seeing her friends in person, her job, and even school. She’s learning coping skills and how to manage her life, time, and emotions in a crisis when nothing is normal. I’m impressed and proud of her. This is an important life skill and one hell of a way to learn it.

I’m don’t even know what the answer is to this learning-at-home situation. After June 5, when school is done, we won’t have to think about it (there will be other worries then). I know teachers who miss their students and who worry about those who don’t have online access or computers and whose parents aren’t equipped or willing to help with the work. I think, too, about those kids whose parents over schedule their lives and honestly I hope they’re getting and enjoying a break. I suspect the Department of Education is working on a plan for the fall when we might get a second wave of COVID-19 and schools shut down again. But what will that look like? How will it take into account different teaching styles, the different needs of students and their families, and the online and technical resources we have or don’t have access to. For now, we’re all learning as we go.




9:30am: Special Budget Committee — the virtual meeting continues, as does Zane’s reporting.


No meetings.


No meetings.

In the harbour

06:00: Tampa Trader, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
06:15: Princess, anchor handling vessel, moves from Pier 9 to Irving Oil
08:30: Acadia Desgagnes, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 25 from Aratue, Brazil
16:00: Princess sails for sea
16:30: Tampa Trader, container ship, sails for Kingston, Jamaica


I wrote part of this Morning File while drinking a kahlua and milk. I hope Tim and Iris didn’t have to edit too much.

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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  1. More than 30 years ago, I was writing a column for several community newspapers, directed at small-town and rural women. It was radically feminist but it was subversive. I kept the tone chatty and bright, not wanting to frighten anyone, most particularly publishers.
    One day in the supermarket, a woman approached me, looked around carefully and said, “If I walk away suddenly, don’t be alarmed. I’m watching for my husband. If he sees me talking to you, he’ll kill me.” I believed she was speaking literally then and I still believe that.
    It’s no easier today than it was then to know what to do. After we had a brief chat — nervous on her part — I offered to give her my phone number in case she wanted to talk again. She said that was way too dangerous for her. If he found it, there’d be hell to pay. I told her to call me at the newspaper but I never heard from her again.
    Being the bystander is frustrating and often frightening. We have too often heard the police mantra, “There’s nothing we can do until he breaks the law.” We see too often where hesitating can lead.
    Good for Julie Lalonde for taking us one step further.