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Friday, March 24, 2017

Pop-up soccer stadium could come together this summer

Sports and Entertainment Atlantic wants to build a 5,000-to-6,000 seat facility on the Wanderers Grounds.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 at 12:28 AM

An information session on Halifax FC plans takes place March 30. - VIA SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT ATLANTIC
  • An information session on Halifax FC plans takes place March 30.

Think of it as a free kick. Halifax can test out an open-air stadium in the shadow of Citadel Hill without spending anything more than the price of admission.

Sports and Entertainment Atlantic president Derek Martin pitched the idea to councillors on Thursday for a pop-up stadium at the Wanderers Grounds, between the Public Gardens and the Museum of Natural History.

Current plans call for an easy-to-assemble facility with two large bleachers seating 5,000 to 6,000 people. Martin says it may even have a beer garden for refreshments.

The stadium would be home turf for a still-tentative professional soccer team—unofficially being called supported by the Halifax Wanderers fan group—in the proposed Canadian Premier League. The company is targeting 3,000 season ticket holders, with single ticket prices ranging from $10 to $35.

While it’s too early for him to discuss financials, Martin told reporters the combined costs for a team and stadium would run between $3 to $4 million, and will be financed by private investors. The company isn’t asking for funding from HRM, and SAE will assume all installation and management costs.

The three-year lifespan of the temporary facility allows the city to try on a stadium and see how it fits, before committing to anything permanent.

“In any business, it’s great if you can test it,” said Martin. “We can try to see what works and what doesn’t work before there’s a huge investment needed of taxpayer money, which we think is a much smarter and safer way to go about it.”

Councillors on the community planning and economic development committee were optimistic about the smaller-sized stadium. Lower Sackville’s Steve Craig called it the “sweet spot” missing from previous stadium discussions.

Dartmouth Centre’s Sam Austin agreed, saying too often in talking about a stadium HRM foolishly compares itself to successful football teams in smaller markets like Green Bay, Wisconsin or Regina, Saskatchewan.

“We tend to pick the outlier; the small city that has the big facility,” said Austin. “So I’m really intrigued with what you guys are proposing.”

Martin says SAE is working with three companies on the design of the snap-together stadium, one of whom also helped create the 6,000-seat desert stadium that opens this week in Phoenix, Arizona.

When there’s no league match being played, other local high school and university teams would be able to rent the facility for use at a nominal cost.

“Our intention isn’t to try and make money off the backs of the community that wants to use the field,” said Martin. “We don’t want it sitting empty.”

Sports and Entertainment Atlantic previously helped organize last year’s Canada/Scotland rugby match, which was supposed to take place on the Wanderers Grounds before the poor condition of the site forced the event to move to Spryfield. A tender to improve the turf, irrigation and fencing at the Wanderers has already been issued by HRM and work to repair that damage will happen over the summer.

The timeline proposed by SAE says a team could be announced as early as May, with stadium installation beginning in July and test events held in September. The inaugural Halifax professional soccer season would take place next summer, just after the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The CPED committee will put forward a motion asking for a staff report on the idea at its next meeting in two weeks. Recommendations from that report will still need to be debated at the committee level and by Regional Council before the SEA gets its goal.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cleary's salary freeze plan gets cold shoulder

“Maybe you shouldn’t have run for council if you didn’t want the conditions that come with council?” asks a sassy Russell Walker.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 6:44 PM

Councillor Shawn Cleary getting frozen out by Richard Zurawski. - RILEY SMITH
  • Councillor Shawn Cleary getting frozen out by Richard Zurawski.
Shawn Cleary’s plans to freeze council salaries will have to wait a few more weeks.

The Halifax West Armdale councillor proposed holding remuneration for the next eight months in a motion at Tuesday's meeting of Regional Council.

Cleary's motion would have restricted any further increases to council's pay until either November 1, or the arrival of a staff report on council’s pay formula—whichever came first—that was
requested last fall by deputy mayor Steve Craig.

But both Craig and Cleary's efforts weren't all that appreciated by some of their colleagues.

“I do not understand why council wants to punish themselves with this three times in a year,” said Russell Walker about the multiple salary motions that have come forward in the last several months.

Walker claimed his residents in Halifax–Bedford Basin West don’t care about his salary and suggested Cleary and Craig’s reasons for bringing the issue forward were personal.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have run for council if you didn’t want the conditions that come with council?”

Those comments earned Walker a gentle reminder from mayor Mike Savage not to question his fellow councillors’ motivations.

Other councillors were just tired of being pilloried in the press about the matter.

“I don’t see the point of doing this every three, four years and falling into the pitfalls we have, that are basically a media construct,” said Richard Zurawski.

“I’m done with this, OK?” said a weary Bill Karsten, who apparently had fought his last “battle on [this] hill.

“I say this respectfully to our CAO who is beloved in this community; it’s a flaw to have him give us that recommendation,” said Karsten, about the upcoming staff report. “I can’t say it any clearer than that because anywhere where you see good governance from coast-to-coast-to-coast, it’s somebody external that makes the decision.”

The motion from Cleary came a month after council received an automatic 3.4 percent raise retroactive to November 1—a financial cushion that awkwardly landed smack-dab in the middle of budget talks about fiscal restraint and several union negotiations with HRM’s employees.

Cleary's motion was ultimately deferred by a vote of 10-7, to be discussed again once Craig's staff report comes back at the end of April.

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Council prunes Willow Tree development

Quinpool and Robie tower gets trimmed down from 29 to 20 storeys.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 10:24 AM

This, but with those top nine storeys removed. - VIA HRM
  • This, but with those top nine storeys removed.
What a difference a new council makes. After approving a 29-storey limit for the Willow Tree development last year—against the recommendation of planning staff—this week Halifax Regional Council voted to shrink that height restriction down to 62 metres (or about 20 storeys).

George Armoyan’s Armco Captial, through its APL Properties, first proposed the development at the corner of Robie Street and Quinpool Road as two towers equalling 22 and 11 storeys in height. After two years working with planning staff, Armco revised those plans to a single 29-storey tower.

That’s well above the 10 storeys allowed under current land-use bylaws, and even stretches past the 20 storeys expected for buildings outside the urban core once the Centre Plan is finalized later this week.

Although council gave its approval to the taller height back in September and directed staff to draw up amendments allowing for the 29-storey building, the local community council recently voted to return to staff’s original 62-metre restriction and that brought the issue back to regional council for debate.

David Hendsbee wasn't happy with the proposed limits, telling his colleagues that the lower height will financially shackle the developers. The Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore representative also said concerns about the Willow Tree tower’s shadow are misplaced. A shorter building, Hendsbee suggested, would cruelly submit the Halifax Common to more sunlight.

“In the wintertime, you don’t want the sun on the Oval because it has a thermal effect of melting the ice,” said Hendsbee. “And in the summertime, you don’t mind the shadows because it helps block the sun from the eyes of the baseball players across the street.”

Halifax Peninsula North councillor Lindell Smith was having exactly none of it.

“I understand that maybe for the applicant 62 metres is not feasible, but as council we are not in a position in our jobs to talk about the financial feasibility of the developments,” said Smith. “We are looking at the land use, how that land is used...We are not here to decide how someone can make or not make money.”

Only councillors Hendsbee, Stephen Adams, Bill Karsten and Mat Whitman voted against the lower height. A public hearing will now be scheduled for the slightly less shady Willow Tree tower.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Impassioned debate on police street checks at north end meeting

“Street checks make Black folks feel as if we’re criminals,” says social worker Lana MacLean.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 11:07 PM

From left to right: HRP chief Jean-Michel Blais, Rickcola Brinton and Lana MacLean. - MAGGIE RAHR
  • From left to right: HRP chief Jean-Michel Blais, Rickcola Brinton and Lana MacLean.

“Do you deny institutional racism exists!?” shouts a man, rising to his feet, to cheers and rumblings in a crowd of more than 70 people. There’s a pause. Then Halifax Regional Police chief Jean-Michel Blais responds:

“What do you mean by institutional racism?”

This is just one of many charged exchanges that broke out during a panel discussion Thursday night at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library on racial profiling and street checks.

The event comes in light of data released by the police department which showed that Black people are at least three times more likely to be engaged in street checks than white people. Street checks are interactions with individuals, defined as observations and attempts to collect information by police. They’re not motor vehicle stops or arrests.

Standing alongside chief Blais was Rickcola Brinton. She works as managing lawyer for NS Legal Aid. Many of her clients have been stopped by police.

“You have a right to know why they are talking to you,” she said, speaking in a clear, firm tone directly to the crowd. “You can walk away.”

Brinton said her teenage clients often don’t know why they’re being stopped.

“[They’re] talking to a cousin, talking to a friend…teenagers, who feel like they’re being watched.”

Her young clients often ask her the same question: “Why can’t they just live?”

Brinton said these street checks often lead to charges of obstruction and/or resisting police, but with little else, criminally, to back it up.

Attendees at Thursday night's community meeting. - MAGGIE RAHR
  • Attendees at Thursday night's community meeting.

Lana MacLean, a social worker, specializing in race, trauma, culture and crime, told the room the over-representation of Black people among police street checks points to a systemic, endemic problem. MacLean says her own nephew was stopped by police, biking down North Street, on his way home from Oxford School.

“Early exposures (to police)…sets up a dynamic of mistrust.”

MacLean says there’s a pattern, and it’s a story she’s well familiar with: Police stops in childhood lead to stops at age 16, when Black youth can get a driver’s license. What was once a scared kid being pulled over while biking home from school, she said, is now a young (often male) Black person who already has reason to be suspicious.

“Street checks make Black folks feel as if we’re criminals.”

MacLean wasn’t just speaking on behalf of her clients and community. She’s been stopped by police, herself. She says when you see red and blue lights in your rearview, it’s like having a panic attack.

“As someone who has been pulled over…because of someone being curious about where I was going…those spiritual wounds, psychological wounds engender mistrust.”

Marcus James listened carefully from the back of the room, by the door. He’s worked at the north end branch for more than 20 years. He was also involved in community consultations during the Kirk Johnson inquiry, and helped develop recommendations for the police back in 2003.

“Why haven’t they been implemented?” James asked chief Blais once questions from the public were opened up. “On three occasions I’ve been arrested coming out, locking up after events such as this. I’ll do the same tonight, and there’s a good chance I’ll be arrested. For locking up the north branch library.

“Kids who I mentor in the library have witnessed me being detained, by officers who I have provided diversity training for,” said James. “What can we do to repair that? If the solution doesn’t look like me, it’s not gonna work.”

At the moment, Halifax Regional Police have made no commitments in policy or programming to address the data or the resultant unrest, though Blais stressed the department is committed to a continuing “conversation.” The chief recommended anyone with concerns about street checks could file a formal complaint with HRP.


Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Rickcola Brinton worked for Dalhousie Legal Aid, not Nova Scotia Legal Aid. The text has been updated and The Coast apologizes for the error.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Police accidentally release social media passwords to The Coast

HRP unaware the private information was given out until we noticed and told them about it.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 15, 2017 at 4:49 PM

The Coast wrote none of these tweets, but we could have.

It took several months of trying and a Freedom of Information request to get ahold of the police department’s Drug Exhibit Audit last year. Far easier than obtaining that public report was gaining access to the department’s private social media passwords, which Halifax Regional Police mistakenly and unknowingly released to The Coast.

Two weeks ago, communications advisor Cindy Bayers emailed us a copy of the police department’s Social Media Monitoring Manual as part of her response to questions about HRP's tweeting habits. The 15-page document contains basic rules on grammar and tone as well as guidelines for comment moderation.

It also includes step-by-step instructions for using HRP’s Facebook, Twitter, Photobucket and Hootsuite accounts, along with the corresponding usernames and passwords. The department was not aware of the mistake until The Coast contacted Halifax Police about it earlier this week.

“It was an error to not redact the passwords prior to the manual being sent to you,” emails Bayers. “In future, our documents will be vetted by our FOIPOP office prior to sending.”

The information was accurate at the time of the manual’s publication in February 2016, but Bayers says only two passwords hadn’t been changed since that time.

One of the still-active logins was for HRP’s Hootsuite account, which provides full access to all of the department’s Twitter accounts. The other was the email and password used to access the admin page where press releases are created and published.

It’s “potentially a serious screw-up,” says David Fraser, a privacy and technology lawyer with McInnes Cooper.

“[The Coast] is trustworthy, I presume, but credentials like that could be used for some pretty mischievous purposes,” he says. “There’s a lot of power in those passwords.”

The unsecured entry points have since had their passwords reset.

Fraser says he's glad to hear the police are using a combination of letters, numbers and symbols in their social media passwords, but he’s less impressed the login details weren’t being regularly changed and were so casually documented.

“Login credentials should never be stored in a manner where they’re even potentially widely accessible like that,” he says. “I think, kind of, just basic information security practices says that should be the case.”

According to Bayers, the department had already been having earnest discussions over the last few weeks about a new “password strategy” for its social media, which when implemented will begin changing the login info every month.

The Social Media Monitoring Manual is used by the public relations unit to help train HRP staff tasked with monitoring police social media accounts. You can read the full document below. To the best of Bayers’ knowledge, it hasn’t been shared with any other members of the public or media.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Province announce over $1 million in new funding to combat fentanyl

More naloxone kits and increases to Mainline Needle Exchange part of provincial plan to prevent opioid overdoses.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 4:08 PM

Dark green fake oxycodone laced with fentanyl. - VIA HALIFAX POLICE
  • Dark green fake oxycodone laced with fentanyl.
The provincial government is putting an extra $1 million towards trying to prevent a fentanyl-fuelled opioid crisis in Nova Scotia.

In a press release sent out Friday, the Department of Health and Wellness announced details of the increased spending, including $564,000 for expanding access to the overdose-countering naloxone drug kits to pharmacies, police and health care organizations across the province.

Naloxone blocks the effects of opioids like fentanyl and can potentially save an overdosing user’s life if administered in time. The kits were already being used as a pilot project in ambulances and emergency rooms across Nova Scotia. Today’s release says naloxone has been administered “more than 30 times to save lives” during the course of that pilot.

“We have learned from other provinces that illicit opioids are a serious risk to anyone using street drugs and, more often, that includes young people,” writes health minister Leo Glavine. “These drugs are becoming more widely available in Nova Scotia, which is why we're taking action now before this becomes a crisis in our own province.”

The Mainline Needle Exchange in Halifax will also see its funding increase by $247,000, while an extra $300,000 in funds will go to the Northern Healthy Connections Society in Truro and the Sharp Advice Needle Exchange in Sydney. Mainline director Diane Bailey writes in today’s release that the funding will allow the organization to now provide its mobile outreach project seven days a week.

Fentanyl has cut a deadly path across the country on its way to the east coast. Halifax Regional Police recently issued a warning to drug users that officers have found thousands of illicit fentanyl pills during six drug raids conducted since January 1.

According to the province, 60 people in Nova Scotia died from opioid overdoses last year. Four of those cases involved fentanyl.

A full opioid response plan is expected from the provincial Liberal government in the spring.

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Canadian Bar Association asks public to cool it with the name-calling

Personal attacks and vitriol towards judges are unacceptable says the organization.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 2:51 PM

Members of the public gathered to protest judge Lenehan's acquittal of Bassam Al-Rawi earlier this week at Grand Parade. - THE COAST
  • Members of the public gathered to protest judge Lenehan's acquittal of Bassam Al-Rawi earlier this week at Grand Parade.

The Nova Scotia branch of the national Canadian Bar Association is condemning some of the emotionally-charged comments and commentary that have been voiced against judge Gregory Lenehan.

Debate and complaints made in the proper channels are important features of the justice system that can lead to positive change, writes CBA-NS executive director Tina Tucker in a press release sent out Thursday, so long as those are done in a civilized manner.

“Commentary, analysis and even criticisms of judicial decisions and our justice system must be respectful, regardless of the forum in which they are taking place,” Tucker writes. “Vitriol, name-calling and personal attacks directed at anyone, including a sitting judge, are unacceptable.”

Lenehan’s acquittal of sexual assault charges against taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi has drawn strong, vocal outrage online and in the media since it was first reported last week by Metro's Haley Ryan.

Political figures and members of the public came together twice this week in Grand Parade to protest the judge’s remarks, and an online petition calling a formal inquiry now has over 36,000 signatures.

The CBA’s statements echo those already made by the Nova Scotia Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, which on Monday published a letter supporting Lenehan’s character and saying he is “the type of person that any reasonable, informed member of the public should want as a judge.”

The Crown has meanwhile already launched a formal appeal of the Al-Rawi verdict just six days into its 30-day limit, stating in a release that Lenehan made numerous judicial errors in his judgement. The decision also drew harsh words from premier Stephen McNeil, who said in an interview with TC Media that he was angry “with the system.”

The Canadian Bar Association represents some 36,000 lawyers, judges, legal professionals and law students all across Canada. The organization has also released a podcast this week, “Not Just a Bystander,” which deals with the legal implications of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

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Police trying to determine who owns interest earned off seized drug cash

Halifax Regional Police seeking outside help to figure out what to do with the $12,400 in accumulated funds.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 1:34 PM

Police chief Jean-Michel Blais (right) and deputy chief Bill Moore address the board of police commissioners last week. - THE COAST
  • Police chief Jean-Michel Blais (right) and deputy chief Bill Moore address the board of police commissioners last week.

The cops don’t want it, but what to do with it and who owns it is proving difficult to figure out.

Halifax Regional Police has generated $12,378 over the last four years by depositing seized drug money into an interest-bearing bank account.

Last year’s Drug Exhibit Audit recommended that practice stop immediately—and the funds be transferred to a non-interest account—because the cash doesn't belong to HRP.

“It was the Audit team’s position that the police should not make a profit from seized cash that was deposited in the bank account as it’s not our money to make a profit from,” writes HRP spokesperson Theresa Rath Spicer in an email.

While no new deposits are being made, nine months later the account is still collecting interest and the question of what to do with its money is in limbo.

“Given that this was an interest-bearing account and interest did accrue, we need to determine the most appropriate way to deal with that interest and have been seeking external advice as part of this process,” says Rath Spicer.

The dollar amounts being talked about here are largely small, but it does create a tricky situation for the department when it comes to who decides how to spend that money; or what to do if any of its previous owners who were found innocent come looking for their dividends.

Interest-bearing accounts for seized cash aren’t uncommon in other police departments, according to evidence control expert Joseph Latta, but they’re usually handled by city hall’s finance teams and not sworn officers.

Latta is executive director of the International Association of Property and Evidence (IAPE), the standard-bearer for evidence control in the policing industry that HRP cites multiple times in its drug audit reports to demonstrate the department’s own shortcomings.

All that cash collected by police has to be parked somewhere, he says, and so the city might as well make some money off of it. But a police-managed fund is a little more unusual in his experience.

“I say, put it in an interest-bearing account, let the city manage it,” says Latta. “I don’t think the police department needs to even get involved in if the person gets their money back.”

The Special Enforcement Section bank account was opened in 2012, in part as a way to prevent large quantities of cash from sitting around police headquarters where it would be at greater risk of being stolen. According to documents presented last week to the Board of Police Commissioners, an initial bulk deposit of $267,263 was made to the account in September of that year.

Police chief Jean-Michel Blais told the board that the bulk deposit likely contains the nearly $5,000 in seized cash evidence that has gone missing from HRP custody. While the SES department kept a ledger of what went into the account, the initial bulk deposit consisted of a lot of old exhibits—often lacking proper documentation—making it impossible to know for sure where the missing cash has ended up.

Last summer, Criminal Investigation Division superintendent Jim Perrin told The Coast he expected HRM's auditor general's office would be stepping in to help to determine what to do with the bank account's accumulated interest.

The account was audited by Halifax police's review team over the last several months, says Rath Spicer, but the OAG hasn’t been involved.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Halifax CAO off work dealing with “personal issue”

Jacques Dubé hasn’t been at City Hall for the past two weeks, and no one’s saying why.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 5:17 PM

Halifax's CAO Jacques Dubé, pictured in City Hall. - RILEY SMITH
  • Halifax's CAO Jacques Dubé, pictured in City Hall.

Halifax’s chief administrative officer is missing from City Hall, and the reason why might be related to a confidential motion passed earlier this week by city council.

Jacques Dubé has been “out of the office dealing with a personal issue” for the past two weeks according to HRM spokesperson Brendan Elliott, and that’s basically everything the municipality is saying on the matter for the time being.

Reached via Twitter, Dubé says he was out of the country last week visiting friends with his wife, and that this week he’s spending time with his daughter, son-in-law and grandson who are visiting from New Brunswick.

The CAO didn’t respond to follow-up questions asking for clarification about what, if anything, was the cause of his time off. Elliott confirms Dubé isn’t on vacation and was unable to say when he would be back at work, “given next week is March Break.”

Perhaps coincidentally, earlier this week Regional Council met behind closed doors for nearly three hours to discuss a sudden agenda item (added the day before) regarding an undisclosed “personnel matter.”

Before reporters were kicked out of the room, councillor Waye Mason said he didn't know what the item was about. After council came back from in-camera, a confidential motion was voted on and approved 15-0 (councillors Stephen Adams and Matt Whitman either abstained or weren’t present).

What that motion is, which HRM employee it relates to and what any of this has to do with Dubé absence isn't being talked about. Elliott wouldn’t confirm or deny whether the “personnel issue” relates to the CAO.

The Coast wasn’t able to reach every HRM councillor, but Lorelei Nicoll, Richard Zurawski, Sam Austin, Waye Mason, Matt Whitman and Tim Outhit all strongly refused to comment on any aspect of the “personnel issue” dealt with in-camera.

In-camera discussions are completely confidential, of course, but the secrecy around this matter is at least a little unusual given past “personnel issues” at City Hall. When Reg Rankin was charged with impaired driving in 2014, council discussed the issue in-camera for 43 minutes before publicly voting to grant the former councillor a leave of absence.

That’s not to suggest Dubé (or whoever the issue involves) is in a similar situation. For starters, as of Tuesday the CAO wasn’t facing any criminal charges in Nova Scotia. The length of the in-camera meeting and the secrecy after-the-fact is only worth noting given that there’s no indication from city hall when, or even if, any further information on the subject will ever be released.

Dubé only started working for HRM last September, after leaving his former job as Moncton’s city manager. He replaced Richard Butts, who quit unexpectedly in December 2015 to take a job with Clayton Developments. Butts’ departure was another “personnel issue” discussed in-camera by council and announced via press release later that same day.

Before he stopped responding to The Coast’s questions, Dubé at least confirmed he isn’t resigning.

“Just got here and enjoying my work immensely,” he writes. “No intention of leaving anytime soon.”

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Sickle Cell blood drive this Friday at Dal

An estimated 5,000 Canadians are living with the condition, which mainly affects people of colour.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 6:45 AM

Walker says she wants to raise awareness to help people with Sickle Cell Disease, because it’s nothing short of living in hell. - SANDRINETTE M. MANIANIA
  • Walker says she wants to raise awareness to help people with Sickle Cell Disease, because it’s nothing short of living in hell.

Geneive Walker is a registered nurse back home in Jamaica, where she’s had first-hand experiences helping persons living with sickle cell disease.

“I’ve seen it, how it actually, you know, destroys peoples’ lives. Their quality of life completely diminished,” she says. “It’s very painful to watch.”

Walker is a member of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Nova Scotia. She wants people to come out to the National Blood Drive at the IWK Health Centre this Friday, March 10.

“We wanna get blood because that’s one of the most important ways of managing sickle cell,” she says, “apart from the pain management.”

People living with sickle cell anaemia have low immunity because they suffer from a disorder of red blood cells affecting blood flow. Persons with the disease are protected from Malaria. Mostly people from African, Afro, Caribbean, Middle-Eastern, East Indian and Mediterranean descent are sickle cell carriers.

Walker says that individuals who have had malaria cannot donate blood. This is why Friday’s blood drive is targeting second-generation Canadian students in university, who are less likely to have been exposed to malaria.

Students interested in giving blood will be provided transportation from Dalhousie to the IWK.


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A “universal design” for accessibility called for at law amendments committee

Clumping together barriers and denying accessibility was a recurring criticism last week during public hearings at Province House.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 5:32 AM

Jim McDermott addressed the law amendments committee last week at Province House. - SANDRINETTE M. MANIANIA
  • Jim McDermott addressed the law amendments committee last week at Province House.

Jim McDermott, professor of deaf studies at Nova Scotia Community College, wanted to express his frustration last week during public hearings at the law amendments committee about the province’s Accessibility Act.

“I wanted to know different people’s comments, what they were saying, and I have no idea because it was not accessible to me,” he says, through an interpreter.

Closed captioning on the hearing’s live feed was unavailable due to a technical glitch. McDermott, whose hearing is impaired, protested that the complication caused him to miss out on important points that could have allowed him to better prepare his speech about Bill 59.

“As a Nova Scotian, do I feel included? Do I feel seclusive? Do I feel of equal partner, of equal individual? No.”

A lot of the criticism of Bill 59 from those who presented at the public hearing stemmed from the act’s vagueness about person with disabilities. The needs of individuals living with conditions such as Down’s Syndrome are not often mentioned, for instance. Others took issue with its limited scope in addressing the diverse accessibility issues faced by Nova Scotians.

“I just want to emphasize, accessibility is not, you know, intended to be a ramp only,” said Elliott Richman, with the Deafness Advocacy Association of Nova Scotia.

Many of the speakers present at the two-day hearing were adamant that cost should not be a factor in making the province more accessible.

“The Charter of Human Rights doesn’t say that all are equal before the law as long as it’s, you know, cost effective,” says Richman, through an interpreter. “I want to make sure that people realize that accessibility is a right therefore, end of story.”

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Province announces expanded services to address sexual assaults

Nova Scotia could offer free legal advice—pending federal funding—to those who've experienced sexualized violence.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 5:05 PM

A protester Tuesday afternoon at Grand Parade. - THE COAST
  • A protester Tuesday afternoon at Grand Parade.

While hundreds gathered at Grand Parade to protest a Nova Scotia judge’s comments that “clearly, a drunk can consent,” the province quietly announced several new initiatives it says will support survivors of sexual assault as they navigate through the justice system.

The new services include the hiring of two special prosecutors to handle sexual assault cases, as well as opening a new domestic violence court in Halifax. The Liberal government will also look at providing free, independent legal advice for those who’ve experienced sexual violence.

Free legal advice for victims of sexual assault is something the government of Ontario started to provide last year. Nova Scotia will be asking the federal government for funding to help set up a similar program in this province.

In a news release announcing the changes, Justice minister Diana Whalen said the province has already invested $6 million into Nova Scotia’s first Sexual Violence Strategy, “but there is more work to do.”

“What I have heard clearly from women and support groups is that we need to provide better supports for victims of sexual and domestic violence in the criminal justice system,” writes Whalen.

The province also promised to provide specialized training for Crown attorneys, amd audit police departments to ensure their capability to investigate assaults. Whalen writes that the justice system’s response to sexual assault cases will be a priority agenda item at the next federal-provincial-territorial meeting of justice ministers and attorneys general.

“Sexual assault complaints must be treated fairly and effectively, with sensitivity, respect and compassion in our system,” writes the justice minister. “Nobody should feel deterred from coming forward with a complaint.”

The initiatives were announced the same afternoon that hundreds of protesters (and opposition MLAs from the NDP and Progressive Conservatives) gathered to protest the justice system’s handling of assault cases in the wake of Bassam Al-Rawi’s not-guilty verdict.

Judge Gregory Lenehan acquitted the taxi driver last week, stating in his oral decision that the Crown failed to offer satisfactory evidence that consent had not been given. The judgment was made in spite of the passenger’s blood alcohol being three times the legal limit, and her being unconscious when she was discovered by police in the back of Al-Rawi's cab.

The judge's remarks have sparked outrage across the country, and prompted calls for a formal inquiry into his conduct.

So far, Whalen hasn't responded to requests for comment about Lenehan's decision. On Tuesday, premier Stephen McNeil finally addressed the biggest news story in the province, telling TC Media in an interview that the decision made him “mad, quite frankly, with the system.”

The Crown also announced on Tuesday that it has filed an appeal against Lenehan’s decision on several grounds, including that the judge engaged in speculation about the issue of consent “rather than drawing inferences from the facts proven in the evidence.”

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Appeals committee might offload taxi license decisions to UARB

Motion asks for changes to licensing appeals process, in the wake of Bassam Al-Rawi decision.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 1:16 PM

Matt Whitman says his colleague's motion will help avoid the kinds of controversial legal appeals that at present come to councillors for review. - RILEY SMITH
  • Matt Whitman says his colleague's motion will help avoid the kinds of controversial legal appeals that at present come to councillors for review.

As political leaders call for a provincial inquiry and thousands get ready to march in the streets, a procedural amendment at city hall being proposed this week could see big changes in who's deemed fit to drive a taxi.

Councillor Waye Mason will bring forward a motion at Tuesday’s meeting of Regional Council asking to change the way HRM’s Appeals Standing Committee handles taxi license reviews.

The motion asks for a staff report on possible amendments to the licensing appeals process, including transferring that responsibility to the Utility and Review Board (or a newly created tribunal) and reducing the scope of the appeals committee’s decision-making process.

Mason is also asking staff to look at “strengthening standards of conduct” in HRM's taxi bylaw, and clarify the requirements for the suspension of cab driver’s license.

“The municipality cannot address the concerns we’re seeing for the public about the criminal case, but we can clarify who’s allowed to drive a taxi and when they’re allowed,” says Mason.

“In a criminal case you have to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but in a civil case it’s just a balance of probability, and licensing is civil.”

The request comes a week after taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi was found not-guilty on charges of sexual assault. Comments about drunken consent by Judge Gregory Lenehan in his decision about that case have sparked outrage across the country, and put a renewed focus on the appeals committee’s unanimous decision in 2015 to overturn Al-Rawi’s license suspension while he awaited his day in court. The council committee made the decision, against the advice of HRM staff, after a 20-minute in camera meeting with the defendant’s lawyer.

In an unsolicited statement delivered via text message, former appeals committee chair Matt Whitman writes that he’s pleased to support Mason’s motion.

“It will help committee members in the future when potentially very controversial legal appeals would typically come to councillors for review,” says the Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets representative.

As recently as last week Whitman defended the committee’s 2015 decision based on “innocent until proven guilty.” The Progressive Conservative candidate for Hammonds Plains–Lucasville says that legal principle is still a “huge factor” for the appeals committee (which he no longer is a member of), and that his prior decision was based on the available evidence.

Details of the Crown's case against Al-Rawi that have since been reported in the media were unknown by the appeals committee in rendering its verdict, says Whitman. The councillor wouldn’t say whether that evidence and Al-Rawi’s acquittal would cause him to make a different call were the appeal in front of him today.

“I’m glad I’m not on the 2017 committee and I hope that Waye’s motion has the intended consequences,” writes Whitman, who says that he's “as outraged by the judge’s comments as others.”

According to HRM spokesperson Brendan Elliott, the municipality and the province have already been reviewing the appeals committee’s “quasi-legal” authority to make decisions on taxi licenses. Part of Mason’s motion on Tuesday requests mayor Mike Savage also write a letter to Justice minister Diana Whalen asking if the Utility and Review Board can be the body responsible for license reviews.

As previously reported by Metro Halifax, the committee heard multiple appeals last year for cab drivers facing criminal charges. Along with Al-Rawi’s successful petition, the same 2015 appeals committee granted a cab driver who had been found guilty of sexual assault the ability to reapply for his license after a one-year suspension.

Whitman recused himself from that vote after the driver’s lawyer argued that prior comments made in the media by the councillor indicated a conflict of interest.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Looks like no one showed up to the Halifax M103 protest

Opposing group, Special Olympics fundraiser hold events on the same day, same time.

Posted By on Sat, Mar 4, 2017 at 4:10 PM

This is awkward. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • This is awkward.
  • via Facebook

A national organization opposing Motion 103 and calling for a “Canadian government for Canadians” held rallies across the country today, including in Halifax.

Police separated M103 protesters and counter-protesters at larger rallies in Toronto and Calgary, but if the event's Facebook page is to be believed, not many people showed up locally.

Only four people on the Facebook page were confirmed to attend the event, which was held outside City Hall at noon. One commented that she “didn't see anyone” there at 11:45am. Another said he arrived at 1pm but “it was all over and done.”

An opposing protest, in comparison, had 180 confirmed on its Facebook. Organizers called out the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens' “marches for freedom” as “thinly-veiled anti-Muslim rallies.”

At the very least, the protest was overshadowed by a Special Olympics fundraiser happening in the same place at the same time, where the chief of police and local politicians jumped into an ice-cold dunk tank.

The Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, based out of Montreal, is self-described as “an advocacy group comprised of men and women from all walks of life,” but the very motion its members are protesting is one against “systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

The group states its reservations about the motion stem from a desire to protect freedom of speech. Issac Saney, Transition Year Program director and senior instructor in Black Studies at Dalhousie University, doesn't believe that.

“Words do actually have a concrete impact in the world,” he says.

“Given the events that have unfolded in the United States—also events with people like Kellie Leitch and so forth—that some groups feel they’ve been given license, right? To engage in this so-called reactionary, extremely backward politics.”

M-103 was tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid last fall. In part, the motion asks the government to “develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.”

In a statement issued earlier today, Solidarity Halifax says: “The backlash against M-103 that emphasizes 'all religions' is eerily similar to the slogan 'All Lives Matter.' These alternatives attempt to erase the issues of violence at hand.”

The motion was last debated in mid-February, which prompted a protest in Toronto, where politicians such as Leitch spoke along with members of Rebel Media. Vice reported attendees throwing up Nazi salutes. Two days later, a separate rally involved a group of people blocking the entrance to a Toronto mosque, preventing some of those who arrived for Friday morning prayers from getting inside.

“When people try to rehabilitate the Nazi salute or calls of 'sieg heil,' these aren't harmless things,” says Saney. “It's preparation for putting into place those practices that were carried on before. It's a frightening phenomenon.”

Whether it's a protest, such as the ones taking place today, or a violent attack like what happened in Quebec, Saney says it's heartening to see people pushing back.

“Those things are positive,” he says.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

PC leader calls for formal inquiry into Judge Lenehan’s consent comments

“Rape culture is real and pervasive,” says Jamie Baillie. “The government has the power to act. They should do so without delay.”

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 3:13 PM

Jamie Baillie, leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative party. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • Jamie Baillie, leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative party.
  • via Facebook

Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie wants Nova Scotia to conduct a formal inquiry into the inflammatory comments made by Judge Gregory Lenehan that “clearly, a drunk can consent.”

In a release sent out Friday, Baillie says he’s written to justice minister Diana Whalen asking the province to address the issue “swiftly and conclusively.”

“Victims must always be protected, and we need to make sure we’re operating in an environment where they know they will be treated with respect when they come forward,” writes Baillie. “Rape culture is real and pervasive. The government has the power to act. They should do so without delay.”

Lenehan's not-guilty decision in the sexual assault case against taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi largely blamed the Crown for not proving a lack of consent on the part of the alleged victim—even though her blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit and she was unconscious when found by police.

“A lack of memory does not equate to a lack of consent,” Lenehan told the court. “Where the Crown has failed to prove beyond a reasonable (the complainant’s) lack of consent, I am left with no alternative but to find Mr. Al-Rawi not guilty.”

The judge’s comments have ignited outcry from Nova Scotians and made headlines across the country, with Lenehan’s conduct being compared to the Albertan judge who asked a rape victim “Why couldn't you keep your knees together?”

Several public protests of the judge’s decision are also being planned, and a petition calling for an inquiry into Lenehan’s conduct is at 20,000 signatures.

Lisa Roberts, NDP MLA for Halifax Needham, appeared on the Sheldon MacLeod radio show today where she stated that “Any person who is so intoxicated…is not able to give consent.”

The department of Justice and minister Diana Whalen did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the decision.

Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard told CBC’s Michael Gorman that Judge Lenehan's comments show there’s clearly “lots of work to be done” around informed consent.

Robyn Doolittle, reporting in the Globe and Mail, writes that the Canadian Judicial Council has received multiple complaints against Lenehan since his decision. As that council only handles conduct of federal judges, the complainants were referred to Nova Scotia’s Office of the Chief Judge.

In a small-town Nova Scotian twist, that judge (Pamela Williams) will apparently be recusing herself from hearing the complaints because (according to the Globe) Wiliams and Lenehan used to be married.

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