News

1. RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather is being investigated

The fake police car. Photo: Mass Casualty Commission

Jennifer Henderson continues to pore over the documents from the Mass Casualty Commission. In her latest story, she focuses on one document that had more details about why it took so long for the RCMP to warn the public that the mass murderer was driving a fully marked police cruiser. Henderson writes:

A passage on page 247 of today’s Command Decisions report notes that “investigation is ongoing into the role of Chief Supt. Chris Leather, as H-Division Criminal Operations officer, in relation to the release of information about the replica police cruiser.”

Readers may remember Leather as the officer who spoke at the first news conference the evening of April 19 following the massacre. He was accompanied by RCMP Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman, whose role with respect to the release of information to the public is also being reviewed by the MCC.

At this point it’s not clear what role, if any, Nova Scotia’s two top-ranking senior RCMP officers (now both retired) may have had when it came to making or possibly interfering with relaying information to the public. 

We do know it was 10:17am on Sunday before the RCMP tweeted the photo of the replica police car to the public, following the random murders of Lillian Campbell, Heather O’Brien, and Kristen Beaton. The killer was driving a replica RCMP car, complete with stripes, decals, and a push bar. 

We also know it was before 8am when acting Northeast Operations Manager Staff-Sergeant Steve Halliday tasked his colleague Addie MacCallum to work with RCMP Communications officers to get the photos of the car and the suspect out to the public and to border officials “ASAP.” At 7:45am, MacCallum talked with Communications Officer Lia Scanlan about asking the public to watch for this car and to “call 911 if you see it.”

Just before that, at 7:43am, Leather made a rather cryptic suggestion to Scanlan about the content of the proposed media release. “Specific info that the perp is alive — get to the people in the area. Picture and name — not there right now.”

Click here to read Henderson’s story.

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2. Taxi fares up by 16%

A van cab pulls away from the curb in downtown Halifax in January 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford

If you’re taking a taxi somewhere in the city today, you’re going to pay more. As Zane Woodford reports, this is the first time in 10 years council has adjusted the fares taxi drivers are allowed to charge. Woodford writes:

On average, the fare will rise 16.1%, but shorter trips will see a higher increase than longer trips. Much of the increase lies in the initial charge, or the “drop rate,” which is moving from $3.20 to $4.70.

The cost of a 3-kilometre trip is rising $1.56, or 19.16%, to $9.70. A 25-km ride is increasing $2.90, or 6.4%, to $48.22.

Click here to read Woodford’s story.

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3. Council round-up

Reg Rankin. Photo: Halifax Examiner

In his second story, Woodford has this roundup from Halifax regional council’s meeting yesterday. And there was a lot going on.

First up, council voted Tuesday to defer a decision to cut Reg Rankin’s salary as the part-time executive director of the Otter Lake Community Monitoring Committee (CMC). That’s the independent body that oversees operations at the city dump.

You’ll recall, last month, council voted to give the committee notice it would cut the committee’s funding from $90,000 annually down to $42,500. That cut would eliminate former councillor Rankin’s salary of $37,500, as well as the committee’s budget for legal services, $10,000.

Woodford writes:

During council’s meeting on Tuesday, [Scott] Guthrie, the committee chair, gave a presentation to council (read his full remarks here).

“From our point of view, the plan to cut CMC’s funding is part and parcel of a deliberate strategy to enfeeble not only the committee, but the underlying 1999 agreement,” Guthrie told councillors.

Guthrie said council wants to weaken the committee because of its opposition to the deactivation of the front-end processing facilities at the landfill, for which the municipality received conditional provincial approval in March.

As the voice of the communities it represents, the CMC was duty-bound to oppose the application and it has done so vigorously,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie said the committee wants to work with council to “restore the harmony in our partnership,” and be able to respectfully disagree on the issues.

Also, in the roundup, Woodford writes about a study that will look at the effects of a proposed development next to Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes, Halifax Transit getting new electric buses, a new deputy traffic authority, and a rock in Spryfield that will get heritage status.

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4. Union leader pleads for better wages for paramedics

On Monday, Jan. 10, 16 ambulances were lined up outside the Queen Elizabeth II hospital. Photo: Tim Bousquet

Yvette d’Entremont had this report from the Standing Committee on Health meeting on Tuesday, where the focus was on paramedics and better wages. Kevin MacMullin, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 727, told the committee paramedics are struggling and “it’s only getting worse.” d’Entremont writes:

MacMullin said while the union has been told wage increases aren’t being considered because they’re competitive within the Atlantic region, Nova Scotia is no longer competing with other Atlantic provinces.

He said Nova Scotia’s paramedics are among the highest skilled and trained in North America. In the face of a nationwide paramedic shortage, they’re highly sought after and are being lost to better paying jurisdictions like Ontario and Alberta.

“For many, with cost of living at an all time high and wages at a despicable low, leaving is the only option,” MacMullin said. “Wage increases are possible and they make a difference.”

Right now, there are 29 permanent paramedic vacancies to be filled. MacMullin told the committee that since January, the province has lost 30 paramedics who have left for jobs elsewhere or took early retirement. Of those 30 paramedics, 13 left in just the past month. MacMullin also estimated that at any given time, about 200 to 250 paramedics are off work due to sick leave, short or long-term disability.

Click here to read d’Entremont’s story.

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Views

Pastel QAnon: How extremist groups recruit women

An example of a social media graphic used by QAnon followers. Photo: Marc-André Argentino/Twitter

In February, I wrote this Morning File about women’s wellness and its connections to white supremacy. That piece was about my own observations about the wellness industry, how predatory it can be, and how white it is. I also included a bit from Toronto-based journalist Stacey Lee Kong’s much better and nuanced observations about this connection, too. She wrote about it before in this post, Looks Like the Wellness-To-White-Supremacy Pipeline Is Alive and Well. 

In my research for that Morning File, I learned about Pastel QAnon, a term coined by Concordia researcher Marc-Andre Argentino. He used it to describe wellness influencers using feminine aesthetics in their graphic designs to share their extremist views on social media. Argentino wrote about Pastel QAnon here and had this Twitter thread from September 2020 outlining some of his research on the connections between women’s wellness and extremist movements.

Argentino spent time researching women QAnon influencers on Instagram — 76 accounts in total — and as he wrote, many were wellness influencers, mommy bloggers, or into alternative and natural healing. Those influencers also created an aesthetic that was softer, more feminine that would appeal to women on social media. (This reminded me of what Tim Bousquet wrote about how the graphics used by the convoy groups this past fall were crude and bad on purpose to appear as they were just regular people who don’t have skills in PR or graphic design. I used a design website called Canva to create the feature photo for this Morning File. I’m no graphic designer, but Canva is easy to use. Followers of Pastel QAnon use Canva, too.)

QAnon has been around for a while, but this particular branding of it is relatively new, and got its start back in August 2020. As Argentino wrote, that’s when “Facebook updated their policies to address movements and organisations tied to violence, to address the growing threat posed by QAnon and similar movements.” He writes:

Following these policy changes and their impact on the QAnon community’s capacity to spread propaganda and recruit new members, QAnon decided to hijack “left-wing” hashtags on Twitter to circumvent their new policies. The impact of this was QAnon took over #SaveTheChildren, which was trending in July due to their awareness raising campaign. This led the QAnon ideology to bleed into new digital ecosystems and form new radicalisation pipelines. The consequence was the explosion of a phenomenon I have called Pastel QAnon.

There’s a lot of data in Argentino’s work. From those 76 accounts, Argentino learned they had 2.7 million followers. He noticed a few spikes in an increase in followers of Pastel QAnon accounts, including at the start of the pandemic, another one from May 31 to June 6, 2020, which during the release of the anti-vaxx film Plandemic, which was promoted by QAnon, and a final spike in July and August 2020 during the save the children takeover.

Here’s a more breakdown of the accounts Argentino found in his analysis:

  1. There is multi-level marketing QAnon, which is comprised of Instagram influencers who had built their initial brands via various MLM schemes: e.g., Arbonne, Tupperware, essential oils, exotic salts, camel milk, etc.
  2. There is esoteric QAnon, which is comprised of Instagram influencers who have built their brands around Gnosticism, yoga, crystals, 5th dimension spirituality, tarot reading, mediumship, belief in angels, light-weavers, belief in Pleiadians or the Galactic federation.
  3. Lifestyle influencer QAnon is comprised of women who built their brand as Instagram fitness coaches, fitness models, and lifestyle coaches who use their influencer over their followers to radicalise them onto QAnon propaganda.
  4. Alternative healing QAnon is comprised of Instagram influencers that built their brand as mommy bloggers, through the promotion of natural parenting, exotic diets, anti-vaccines, or alternative medicine and cures, who now also amplify QAnon propaganda on top of their medical disinformation.

This is all stuff I’ve seen in my own social media feeds, particularly during the lockdowns of the pandemic. Friends of friends on Facebook would often share their anti-vaxx comments in friends’ posts. Maybe they’re not into Pastel QAnon, but when I looked at their profiles, I did notice they were often also into MLMs, alternative healing, belief in angels, weird diets and detoxes, and life coaching.

So how does this all play out on social media and beyond? Argentino writes:

The initial attempt to regulate QAnon by the platforms, the hijacking of #SaveTheChildren by QAnon, and the anti-child trafficking propaganda associated the #SaveTheChildren, which initially pilled these influencers, morphed into #SaveOurChildren, which lead to global protests against child trafficking and played an important role in sustaining the Pastel QAnon community in its initial growing pains. Female influencers in QAnon also played a role in connecting Pastel QAnon with the wider QAnon community. To that end Pastel QAnon also adapted their narratives to spread QAnon propaganda related to the 2020 US general election.

All of these factors gave Pastel QAnon an important role in radicalising not only other women, but also a younger audience who were likely not familiar with QAnon prior to summer of 2020. Pastel QAnon influencers are quite protective of their brands—as they took years of hard work to build in many cases—therefore they shared QAnon propaganda and narratives via their Instagram stories or by using the page highlight feature. Their Instagram stories paint a picture of women who have been fully pilled on QAnon as they shared and promoted QAnon documentaries like “Fall of the Cabal” and “Out of Shadows”, as well as posts from QAnon influencers. What my research highlights, is that behind the branding and soft colours lies the QAnon we all know, along with all it entails: racism, medical/COVID disinformation, and violence.

There were connections between wellness and extremist movements long before social media came along. We’ve seen in magazine covers, billboards, and TV ads.

In March, Dr. Michelle Cohen shared this very long and detailed Twitter thread on the history of the connections between wellness and the far right. Cohen said it all started with Bernarr Macfadden, who she calls “history’s first fitspo influencer.”

About Macfadden, Cohen writes:

He used aspirational images of his own rippling physique to sell followers on a lifestyle of regimented diet and exercise. One of Macfadden’s most significant impacts was to bind the concept of good health to the glossy perfectionism of celebrity and beauty culture.

Macfadden framed health as a physical project: eating a restrictive diet & exercising by a strict regimen. Health as a series of virtuous activities in perpetuity, a devotional practice. Where virtue is visible on the body as a muscular physique and lack of obvious disease.

It shouldn’t be surprising that early 20th C fascists were fans of physical culture. Macfadden and Mussolini spent time together in mutual admiration. They shared a view of nationalism as embodied in physicality – the virtues of a country manifested in the muscles of its men.

Macfadden’s health ideology leaned into eugenics, such as his teaching that strong parents produced strong children. For him, individual devotion to fitness and diet was not only a personal project, but a way to improve the human race and bolster the power of the nation state.

It’s hard to understate Macfadden’s influence on fitness and diet culture. The glamorization of health, sold through glossy, aspirational imagery of a narrow physical ideal traces its origin to him.

(Cohen also links to this study on Macfadden and Mussolini and the connections between sports and nationalism).

We see those glossy, perfect promotions of health and beauty now, but it’s on social media, too, and much harder to avoid. In that Twitter thread, Cohen winds her way through the history of wellness and its connection to the far right, including even her own surprise at seeing the more modern connections. She points out that not all wellness influencers are promoting extremists movements, of course, still it’s fascinating and frightening stuff.

So, what to do about it? As Argentino wrote, it’s up to social media platforms and governments to take the gender dimension of extremist movements into account. “In the case of Pastel QAnon, this community presents new radicalisation pipelines and vectors that are not part of existing policy and prevention toolkits,” he wrote.

Many of us share what we call our “highlight reels” on social media. You know, just the good stuff happening in our lives. And while some of these wellness influencers may not have connections to or are promoting anything extremist, they’re sharing highlight reels while selling products of questionable value or even pseudoscience. They’ll post polished and gorgeous photos of every aspect of their lives, including of their children, while promoting some sort of health treatment, usually alternative therapies, implying if you get that treatment, your highlight reel can be the same. And that vision they promote is very often privileged, attractive, and white.

I worry about the women who get caught up in this, too, even if they don’t end up following extremist movements because of it. It’s damaging on its own in ways we’re just starting to learn.

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Noticed

Back in November, I wrote about a group residents who live along a stretch of Robie Street where a number of collisions have happened over the last five years, including one in which a woman was killed last June. On the weekend I wrote that story, some of the residents, including Steve MacKay, set up DIY traffic calming using green bins on their street to slow drivers down. MacKay says drivers along that stretch speed and run through stop signs. Over the last five years, he’s been documenting the collisions on his Twitter account. In some of the cases, cars have flipped on the street or crashed into homes.

Steve MacKay launched a protest near his home on Robie Street in November after a two-car collision happened nearby.

Well, on Friday there was another collision along that stretch, and MacKay, as always, tweeted out this photo of it in the Twitter thread where he’s shared photos of other collisions (it’s a long thread). In that tweet, MacKay also demanded an update from councillors Waye Mason and Lindell Smith on what changes would be made to the design of the street to slow drivers down.

THEN, there was another collision on Saturday between a motorcycle and a car at the corner of Stairs Street and Massachusetts Avenue. MacKay tweeted out this photo.

On Tuesday MacKay and his neighbours learned that the city would be installing two all-way stops, stop bars on all cross streets, and painted crosswalks (one resident painted a crosswalk between two of the streets over the weekend. A city worker removed it on Monday). Coun. Lindell Smith tweeted out the details.

MacKay also tweeted out details on more changes to be made in the area, including physical traffic calming measures for that corridor, although those measures will require more design work, so there’s no timeline for that work.

I reached out to MacKay last night and he sent this message about yesterday’s news:

This means a lot to me, my neighbors, to those involved in crashes here and their families. The first thing I did was go across the street to give the news to my neighbor whose house has been hit multiple times. She was so happy to hear the news. I don’t think this is some kind of silver bullet solution that will fix all the traffic problems on our street and I look forward to seeing what other traffic calming measures city staff develop in the coming years.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — virtual meeting

Thursday

Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 10am) — virtual meeting

Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm) — virtual meeting

Province

Wednesday

No meetings

Thursday

Veterans Affairs (Thursday, 9am, Province House) — Transition from Active Service to Veteran and Homelessness Prevention, with representatives from


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

No events

Thursday

Functionally and spatiotemporally selective propagation of GPCR signalling; opportunities for drug discoveries (Thursday, 11am, Theatre A, Tupper Building) — Michel Bouvier from Université de Montréal will talk.

Canada’s Oceans and Coasts: Pathways to Sustainability in a Sea of Change (Thursday, 7pm, Room 1020, Rowe Building) — Elizabeth Mann Borgese Ocean Lecture, also livestreamed on YouTube; Rashid Sumaila from the University of British Columbia will speak, along with others. More info here.


In the harbour

Halifax
10:15: Dee4Elm, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
15:00: MOL Maestro, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
15:30: Toledo, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
16:30: Morning Celesta, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
22:00: Morning Celesta sails for sea

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures listed at this time.


Footnotes

I’ll leave you with this article by Heather Marcoux with Insider about workers at Build-A-Bear. If you’re not familiar, Build-A-Bear is a chain store where you can create your own stuffed bear. You pay for the bear, to have it stuffed, and then you can purchase clothing and other accessories for your bear. My kid has one and I have long said it’s one of the biggest rip-offs for kids’ toys. And it’s incredibly expensive. Parents who host birthday parties with several kids as guests must pay a small fortune.

According to Marcoux, the Build-A-Bear workers she spoke with say they’re serving as grief counsellors for customers who come into their stores and creating bears in memory of loved ones who’ve died. Workers can even put a voice recording of a dead loved one or their cremated remains. Dealing with customers’ trauma and grief is taking a toll on the workers, who are only getting paid minimum wage (and are mostly women, too). Marcoux spoke with one worker who said working with grieving customers was so tough she left her job at Build-A-Bear after five months to focus on her other jobs (yes, jobs).

Some staff at some Build-A-Bear stores told Marcoux they have asked for grief training to help them with customers who are grieving. In a response to Marcoux, Build-A-Bear’s spokesperson gave a typical non-answer about it all. Build-A-Bear, meanwhile, reported a record revenue of $91.5 million in 2021.

It’s a reminder of what we expect of workers who make minimum wage. Build-A-Bear just doesn’t care, it seems.


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Suzanne Rent

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

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