Reality Bites provides the best coverage of political issues related to Halifax and City Council anywhere in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Oh, and we bring the snark, too. Contact email@example.com to send a tip.
Ticket sales went through the roof. Games one and two of the series were both sold out. For tonight’s game, fans were lined up as early as 2am to buy tickets that went on sale at 10am. Enter: scalpers, buying tickets at face value and selling them to desperate fans for double or triple the marked price.
But if the thought of spending $200 for seats in the upper bowl has you down in dumps, some Haligonian kijiji users have offered comic relief. There are number of ads parodying typical offers on the website.
“Offering 2 seats on my couch to watch the game on Eastlink," reads one ad. "Clean non-smoking home. You can bring your own beer and put it in my fridge. I will be selling 50/50 tickets to both of you, which guarantees that one of you will win! The seats are $25 each, but if you want to pay $40 each, I'll make them 'all inclusive' and I'll provide the beer and popcorn. Free parking too, right next to the venue. The TV is HD and has surround sound. Washroom facilities on site.”
Another user from Ketch Harbour posts about her voluntary donation of an eye, kidney, ovary, slightly damaged lung or liver for a seat anywhere in the Metro Centre.
Other honourable mentions include someone longing for the winning 50/50 ticket so he or she can afford tickets to go.
There is also a ticket-holder willing to give the ticket for free to an underprivileged or sick child.
Lastly, there are tickets up for $400 but the description states that the ad is a joke and that “people are douchebags trying to make money off people that actually want to see the game.”
Oh, if you happen to be a Drakkar, one Kijiji user has a ticket for you, at face value! But prepared to show ID proving you're from Baie Comeau. "If I do not get any interest from fellow Baie Comeau fans, will rip all the tickets up and go by myself," says the philanthropist.
If you are ticket-less and unwilling to donate organs but still want to show your support for our beloved hockey team, the game will be broadcasted on Eastlink at 7pm.
Wills has worked for over 25 years with the Nova Scotia chapter of the national advocacy group, which lobbies all levels of government to “defend human life” against abortions and other "threats to the family."
“Campaign Life supports traditional families, there's no question about that, but we don't impose on anybody. We try to point out the advantages of that,” Wills said when contacted for this story.
A past president of the CLCNS, Wills retired from his position in 1997 but still serves on the board of directors. At the time of his retirement, a press release announced that “Herm's trademark has been a constant stream of pro-life messages and updates to every government member, church leader and community activist whose fax number or e-mail address he could get.”
In the same release, Wills expressed his displeasure towards the state of Canada, and its “appalling expansion” of sex education, “militant homosexual activism” and “virulent anti-family legislation.”
A soft-spoken, polite speaker over the phone, Wills says he tries to offer opportunities instead of imposing intolerance.
“People come to our door in need, we help them. We don't turn them away,” he says, noting that “family life is the first community we have.”
Talking to him, Wills doesn't come off as a raving misogynist. Despite his organization's clear message to legislate women's bodies, he in fact took some time to bemoan the Canadian media's lack of equal coverage of women's sports (in 1974, Wills was responsible for introducing the game of ringette to Nova Scotia).
It's possible Wills has no malicious intent towards women or gays, but organizations like the CLC will often cloak their ideological mission under the banner of "family values," making any opposing viewpoints seem inherently immoral.
“It's frankly laughable, says Jude Ashburn. “I think that putting out some sort of notion of what the family is is really funny in terms of reproductive justice. I mean, whose life are you valuing? Whose family?”
Ashburn, of Dalhousie's sexual and gender resource centre, South House, says phrasing any battle for reproductive rights in terms of “values” misses the point.
“Reproductive justice is not a moral issue. It's a health care right,” she says. “Anyone else is just anti-women and anti-autonomy. It's not a philosophical standpoint. It's not a moral dilemma. It's health care. Deal with it.”
The Campaign Life Coalition recently hosted its 6th annual "March for Life" rally on May 9 in front of the Legislature. The group claims to specialize in political action, identifying and supporting pro-life politicians in all parties. They're currently working against an “anti-bullying” bill in Manitoba which, in part, seeks to create Gay Straight Alliances as "safe spaces" for high school teenagers. The CLC warned its national members that the bill “could force all schools to promote morally depraved sexual concepts,” while also contradictorily reaffirming its stance opposing “bullying against any child for any reason.”
Organized by the public affairs council for the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, the Family Values Awards are being handed out on May 24 at a ceremony in Dartmouth. Other recipients this year include Margit Weschler, who has fostered 40 children since moving to Canada from Germany 17 years ago, and MITE theatre education instructor Janice Cruddas. Messages for the organizers were not returned by press time.
In January, in The Coast’s annual “Fix the city” issue, we called for more concession stands and cafes in public parks. Now, one community group is taking up the challenge.
The Shubenacadie Canal Commission is a non-profit organization charged with stewarding and promoting the Shubenacadie Canal, which stretches from downtown Dartmouth to the Bay of Fundie. The Commission owns the Fairbanks Centre in Shubie Park, and is looking for a vendor to open a cafe or kiosk on the building’s patio, overlooking the canal lock.
“The park is busy,” says commission volunteer Suzanne Roy. “And we noticed that every other person was carrying a Tim’s cup, so we thought this might be a good way to generate a bit of revenue. Also, it would make the Fairbanks Centre a more user-friendly building, and we’d increase visits to the canal museum.”
The commission has asked for expressions of interest. It can provide water and electrical hook-ups, and possibly free wi-fi. “We think this first season a vendor would just want to test the waters, with maybe a kiosk selling ice cream and water,” says Roy. “But down the road we envision a full-fledged cafe.”
Interested parties should email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (902) 462-1826.
After two baristas were allegedly dismissed from the roastery and cafe chain for unionizing, labour activists continue pressuring the company with protests and informal boycotts. But for the Spring Garden cafe, business has remained reliable. “Business always slows down this time of year, with the mass exodus of students,” says head barista Stu Cochrane.
Currently, a labour board hearing date has been set for June 27, between Just Us! and the union. However, both parties are still trying to come to an agreement before that date. They’re meeting this week about the two dismissed employees; they’ll also discuss how Just Us! can create a friendly environment for the union. “I’m pretty optimistic at this point,” says Jason Edwards, a union organizer with the SEIU.
Meanwhile, the SEIU keeps pushing back. Backed by the union, three employees filed a new complaint to the labour board on Monday, alleging that the company has repeatedly overlooked work breaks on shifts over five hours. Edwards says the complaint “shows the obvious nature of why people wanted to organize.”
At press time, management hadn’t yet received the document and couldn’t be reached to respond to it. But Cochrane has said that he regularly receives a break on his shifts and that Just Us!’ policy around breaks is one of the best in the food and beverage industry.
“We’re not really sure what they’re talking about at this point because nobody’s putting their cards at the table,” says Debra Moore. “Adversarial stuff just isn’t in my nature. Solutions that are win-win for everybody: that’s my goal. It might be naïve.”
Neither is the appointment of Honsberger controversial. The pick of the former executive director of the province’s prisons to the police commission might strike an odd tone in a department that is increasingly promoting itself as a progressive voice trying to address the root social causes of crime, and moving away from old-school knock-heads-and-throw-them-in-jail policing, but there’s no reason to think Honsberger won’t perform well on the commission.
Still, whatever else Honsberger may be, he’s not a visible minority. A white man, Honsberger joins five other white men and two white women on the commission.
The racial make-up of Nova Scotia police commissions became an issue in 1989, after the royal commission on the Donald Marshall Jr., case found that an insensitivity to minorities was prevalent in police departments across the province.
“I drafted the entire section on policing for The Marshall Inquiry,” says Don Clairmont, a sociologist at Dalhousie University. “Yes, it included a recommendation about having visible minorities on police boards.”
In the aftermath of the Marshall report, the Nova Scotia Advisory Group on Race Relations suggested “all municipal police commissions be encouraged to reflect the racial diversity of the communities they serve.”
In 1992, then-provincial solicitor general Joel Matheson wrote two letters, one to all the mayors in the province, the second to all the police commissions. “Although the appointment of municipal designates on the boards is clearly the responsibility of municipal councils,” wrote Matheson to the mayors, “I would strongly encourage the consideration of visible minorities. As you know, boards of police commissions have a pivotal role to play in the establishment of policing policy. It is critical, therefore that they be sensitive to the policing needs of all members of the community.”
The former cities of Dartmouth and Halifax both appointed visible minorities to their respective police commissions, as did the newly created HRM in 1996. But the last visible minority on the HRM police commission was Eartha Monard, whose term expired in 2004. Monard, a black woman, was, and still is, the principal of Dartmouth High School.
Three years later, in 2007, Clairmont, who had written the draft for the Marshall report, was hired by then-mayor Peter Kelly to oversee the Mayor’s Roundtable on Violence, and in 2008 published his findings in a report titled Violence and Public Safety in the Halifax Regional Municipality. That report criticized the city for letting the Community and Race Relations Committee become moribund, and pointed out the need for racial sensitivity in the decision-making process.
Clairmont declines to speak publicly about the lack of a visible minority on the commission, because he is currently conducting a review of the Mayor’s Roundtable on Violence, interviewing commissioners and other city officials. He says he doesn’t want to complicate the interview process with his comments.
Mayor Mike Savage, however, acknowledges that appointing a visible minority to the commission wasn’t a consideration until The Coast raised the issue. “It’s on our radar screen now,” he says over the phone from Houston, where he’s attending a conference. “One of things that has occurred to me and other councillors, in the nomination process for boards and commissions, is that we can do a better job in a whole bunch of areas---soliciting applications, how we make judgments as to who should be on them.” The appointments of visible minorities “is something else we have to factor into our decision-making.”
Savage says the city and the police department are doing a better job on the race relations front. “But clearly, we need to consider things we never considered before.
“One of the real measures of effectively dealing with diversity,” continues Savage, “is not just how many people you employ in a certain area, or do you do sensitivity training, but are you grooming people for leadership positions, whether it’s boards or commissions or even running for office. There are a lot of places doing that well, and we can learn from them. I know we can do better.”
Last Thursday, the Halifax Association of Black Firefighters and the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Department officially buried the hatchet, effectively setting aside a human rights complaint the black firefighters had filed against the department.
As The Coast detailed in 2009, the black firefighters' complaint cited a series of racist incidents dating back to 1996 and continuing right up to that point.
The relationship between the black firefighters and the department was acrimonious, but took a decidedly better turn after former chief Bill Mosher retired and current chief Doug Trussler arrived, in 2011.
"It was my very first order of business," Trussler tells The Coast. "We're going to address that human rights complaint."
By all accounts, Trussler has presided over a sea change in racial relations at the department, which started an 18-month series of meetings cumulating with a "reconciliation circle" Thursday at the north end YMCA. Present were members of both HABFF and the recognized union for the department, Halifax Professional Firefighters/International Association of Firefighters Local 268, as well as representatives of the department, city legal and human resources staff and from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
There, Trussler read an apology to the black firefights. This was part of a broader agreement that also involved the adoption of a restorative plan by the city and the dropping of the human rights complaint by the black firefighters.
At the circle, each party of the circle spoke at length about repairing relationships and moving forward with a better understanding of the issues at play in the past.
The truth and reconciliation process is becoming increasingly important in Canada, perhaps best illustrated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which held hearings in Halifax to detail the wrongs committed at the Shubenacadie Residential School. The foundational premise of the process is that the wrongs of the past have to be named and detailed, before victims and the society that has wronged them can build a more just relationship.
Trussler's apology was certainly heartfelt and welcomed by HABFF, but it hits nowhere near the level of detail found in most reconciliations. It relies on weasel phrases like this:
When allegations of poor treatment were brought forward by individual firefighters and the Association of Black Firefighters, the allegations were not addressed as effectively as they could have been; allowing old hurts to reopen instead of heal.It contains a vague nod to "allegations," not enumerated. The "top of command" is mentioned, but Mosher's name not used, and Trussler declined to elaborate when asked to by The Coast. In total, the apologize comes off with a bit of a "I'm sorry if you were offended" feel.
In any fire service, the standards of behaviour are established at the top of the chain of command. I apologize for our failure to bring a swift end to any discriminatory behaviours you experienced in the workplace.
Of course, it's not up to newspapers to decide these things. The black firefighters themselves accepted the apology and clearly want to move on, continuing their jobs and setting the bad blood with the department behind them.
Still, there's one black firefighter who feels re-victimized by the reconciliation.
Cromwell says now that originally the HABFF agreed not to settle their human rights complaint unless Cromwell was hired back into the department.
"I know Blair feels bad," said HABFF rep Ray Adekayode Thursday. "But there's nothing we can do for him."
Chief Trussler declined to discuss Cromwell with The Coast, but acknowledged that Cromwell will not be offered his job back.
There seems to be a double standard at play. Trussler's apology makes vague reference, no doubt vetted by city lawyers, to problematic actions at the "top of the chain of command," but the specifics of Cromwell's past sins have been enumerated in enough detail to first get him fired, and now un-re-hirable.
"Racism is violence," says Cromwell, and certainly the various targets of racism are going to respond in different ways, some more "acceptable" to the racists than others.
This part of the reconciliation is awkward, and mean-spirited. Now that the apology has been issued, at least obliquely acknowledging past racism towards the black firefighters, including against Cromwell, it's as if the city and the department are saying to Cromwell: "your response to our racism was unacceptable."
“I felt like a proud mother the day I realized a former student had her own business,” says Swinemar. “That's the reason why you keep doing it.”
Swinemar won’t be doing it for much longer, though. She announced her plan to step down as executive director last Tuesday, effective June 2014. The search for her successor will begin after the board revisits the job description.
“There will be some time that will overlap,” she says. “There are a lot of people here who make this place hum: the staff, the volunteers, the donors and other supporters. I'll try and introduce them to as many people as possible, and then just step aside and let the new person take over.”
Swinemar says she’s tired, and now just feels like the right time.
“It’s going to mean a huge hole for that organization,” says Kathy Large, program manager at CBC Nova Scotia. Large helps organize the annual Feed Nova Scotia Day and the Sharing the View Calendar Project, which collectively raised over $260,000 for the food bank last year alone.
“It’s not just a job with Dianne; it’s a calling,” Large continues, “but we wish her a great retirement; she’s certainly earned it.”
In addition to her position at Feed Nova Scotia, Swinemar helped found Beacon House Interfaith Society and sits on the committee for the Nova Scotia Leadership Prayer Breakfast, among many other projects. But just because she’s retiring, doesn’t mean she plans to disappear.
“I'd like to get involved in a couple boards that deal with issues I feel very close to,” says Swinemar. “That, and enjoy my grandson.”
While the guilt or innocence of Rehtaeh's alleged rapists is a matter for the courts to decide, there's no question that the entire sad story is wrapped in a context of degrading girls and sexual relations as a power relationship, rather than of mutual pleasure between equals. In fact, there's no other possible explanation for the distribution of the photo of the event, as well. And while the alleged rapists' friends and family have an understandable, and not necessarily bad, bias in favour of the boys, they expressed that bias by relying on that old standby, slut-shaming. "She wanted the d," explained one Facebook post.
I don't pretend to have a deep philosophical understanding of misogyny. If you're interested, read some second-wave feminists, who spoke directly to the issue in ways that are currently out of fashion, considered bad form. But I don't need to be a philosopher to know what I see, and that's misogyny at every turn. Our culture reeks of it.
Women have talked about these issues forever, but men still don't get it. And the amount of casual, off-hand misogyny is simply stunning. We might expect this from teenage kids who haven't the experience to get a little wiser about these things, but what are we to think about adult male journalists, college grads mostly, people who work in a profession that regularly discusses and explores issues of misogyny?
As Rehtaeh's story unfolded, I watched as a series of self-styled wise men, older male journalists, stroked their chins and expressed reservations, caution, "let the system work" commentary, even though the system had obviously failed.
Stephen Kimber worried about a rush to judgement against the accused boys, but penned not a word about the casual sexism demonstrated in Rehtaeh's story.
Parker Dunham patiently lectured us that our legal system has a presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but he too overlooked the blatant sexism that drenched every other aspect of this story beyond the guilt or innocence of the accused boys.
Andrew Douglas, at the Frank Magazine blog, was "guessing" that there "wasn't enough evidence" to charge the boys, but he seems pretty certain that the real guilty person here was Rehtaeh's mother, Leah Parsons, who didn't stop Rehtaeh from tweeting about drugs at 3am: "My mother wouldn't have given me the chance to kill myself," wrote Douglas. "She would've done it for me."
Now, caution and careful consideration are required, but I got the sense that these wise men will never agree to calling the sexual encounter "rape" until they themselves see the photo in question, and use their profound powers of discernment to give thumbs up or thumbs down to the rape allegation. The contextual issues of a culture of misogyny don't seem to matter to these men. It's all about "was this rape or not?"
Females in the media brought a much more nuanced view to the story. Marilla Stephenson, with whom I rarely agree about political issues, concentrated on the slut-shaming of Rehtaeh, even after her death.
Lezlie Lowe discussed how women's allegations of rape are often ignored or not believed by the police.
Hilary Beaumont interviewed people who argued that Rehtaeh's story underscored the need for broad societal change.
Halifax is in the centre of global attention because of a story couched in misogyny, and yet men in the media continue to reflexively fall back on cruel and crass misogyny. Consider, for example, this throw-away tweet from Frank Magazine presumably written by the same Andrew Douglas who blames Leah Parsons for Rehtaeh's death:
That a Canadian journalist will just casually use the word "whore" to describe a woman, and that there wasn't an out-falling of criticism for it, shows just how little we have progressed.
But it gets worse.
Wednesday, I woke up at 3:30 and couldn't get back to sleep, so got up and read the Chronicle-Herald on line, finding a piece by crime reporter Dan Arsenault. Headlined "Missing woman battled addiction," the article detailed Reita Jordan's problems with drugs and multiple arrests for prostitution.
Jordan has been missing since March 19, and of course the big fear is that she is the victim of foul play.
I tweeted my first reaction to Arsenault's article:
But I had just woken up, and wanted to think about it some more. I started a pot of coffee, sat down and thought about it some more. Two hours later I summarized my thoughts with this tweet:
Arsenault is a great reporter. He's done good work, and has a knack at getting information that others can't find. And I certainly understand the joy—there's no better word—at discovering new information that advances a story. But in this case, how exactly does the new information advance the story? Tuesday, we knew that a woman was missing. Wednesday, we knew that that woman was, in Frank Magazine's word, a whore.
Of course the fact of Jordan's addiction and history as a sex worker could very well be part of a well-crafted article that put those facts in context of a life struggle, or dealing with loss, or whatever Jordan's story may be. That's the point: we don't know what Jordan's story is, and Arsenault doesn't bring us one iota closer to understanding that story.
All the article does is leave the reader with the vague notion that "oh, a drug-addicted prostitute is missing, it's not like it's a respectable person. I don't need to worry about it." Arsenault doesn't even explore the small idea that sex workers are more likely to be victims of violence, which might at least give some redeeming value to the piece. Without that small fig-leaf, the article comes off as slut-shaming, pure and simple.
Moreover, it's a horrible article, even besides the slut-shaming. Arsenault relies on an anonymous source, but doesn't give us context for why the source doesn't want to be identified. (I have rules for using anonymous sources, and this violates all three of them.) And then there's that issue of using the past tense, implying that Jordan is dead. Let's hope not.
The response on Twitter to Arsenault's article was swift:
Rene Ross is the director of Stepping Stone, an organization that works with sex workers. At 1pm Wednesday, she was the first to use the "if I go missing..." phrase, which was picked up by others and resulted in hundreds of tweets with the hashtag #ifigomissing:
And on and on.
Slut-shaming-shaming is an absolutely appropriate response in this situation. Here's hoping it does some good. Maybe one day, men in the media will realize that not only are they missing the big crime in this story, they're contributing to it.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Société Radio-Canada’s Enquête
CBC’s Investigative Unit and Enquête demonstrated links between industry funding and “independent” research that had downplayed the health risks of asbestos mining in Canada to support a “safe use” policy of continued exports to Third World countries. The compelling series forced government finally to act on a serious public health issue. The newly elected PQ government rejected a proposal to re-open a Quebec asbestos mine. Ottawa withdrew its opposition to putting warnings on asbestos exports, Saskatchewan created an asbestos registry of government buildings, and the asbestos lobby, the Chrysotile Institute, closed. The Coast
In the lead up to the 2012 municipal election, the investigation by The Coast, an independent alternative weekly newspaper, revealed that Halifax’s popular three-term mayor had taken more than $160,000 from an estate of which he was the executor. More than seven years after the death of Mary Thibault, Peter Kelly had not dispersed hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities and her heirs. The impact of this exemplary reporting was immediate: Mayor Kelly chose not to seek re-election, which changed the focus of the election campaign. Postmedia News and The Ottawa Citizen
The detailed and sustained reporting exposed the use of “robocalls” to mislead and harass voters during the 2011 federal election campaign. The coverage shed light on how technology can subvert our most fundamental democratic value: the right to vote in a fairly run election. The impact has been resounding: Elections Canada is investigating a deluge of complaints about calls sending voters to non-existent polling stations; a Federal Court ruling is pending on a legal challenge to overturn results in six ridings; charges were laid against a PC campaign worker. La Presse
The death of a young woman led to this investigation into the business of miracle cures in Quebec. The multimedia inquiry tracks the tentacles of these healers in hospitals and schools, exposing fraudulent receipts for insurance claims and tax receipts, and few prosecutions. The series shocked the medical community into action. The Association of Psychologists and the Quebec College of Physicians launched inquiries into these fake healers. The College has asked the Ministry of Justice to enact laws to prosecute such charlatans. The Toronto Star
The autism project turned the spotlight on the failure of Ontario’s health and social policies to address the challenges faced at different stages of life by those with autism. The comprehensive series looked at all facets of the issue – from groundbreaking scientific research to the heartbreaking stories of young people, homeless or in jail due to the severe shortage of services and funding. The series sparked an intense debate and put questions about treatment squarely on the political agenda. The province is reviewing children’s services and looking at ways to bridge gaps for young adults. The Vancouver Sun
Catastrophic explosions that killed four workers at two northern B.C. sawmills led The Sun to investigate gaps in public safety concerning the risk of wood-dust explosions. Using inspection records from WorkSafeBC, the provincial fire commissioner and local fire departments, The Sun created databases to analyze the documents. They found that frequently wood dust was involved in fires and that fire-code inspections were lax. The impact was swift. The B.C. government created a program to reduce the risk of dust explosions, and major forest companies promised an independent audit of dust levels.
Of course, the dead can't take it with them, which is why we have the byzantine probate process, which regulates how wills are administrated, and what happens if someone dies without a will. Today, we asked Cora Jacquemin, Nova Scotia's registrar of probate, how much money goes through the system every year.
"Gee, I have no idea," says Jacquemin. And Jacquemin can't point us to any resources to help us out.
8,500 people die every year in Nova Scotia. Some of those will be filthy rich millionaires. Some of them will be average people with maybe a house with some equity, a car, some money in the bank and some credit card bills. Others still will be paupers, with not a penny to their name and a boatload of debt. (Don't worry, we don't have debt inheritance in Canada. You won't be stuck with your deadbeat uncle's unpaid bar tab after he dies.)
A lot of the money belonging to dead people never makes it to probate. They have surviving spouses, who continue on with the jointly owned property. Or they're kids, and the parents keep whatever property was at stake.
How much money do dead people have, on average? We'll throw a figure out there, just for argument: $25,000. We've looked at a lot of probate cases over the last couple of years, so we have some idea of these things. Twenty-five thousand dollars isn't a complete stab in the dark, but neither are we comfortable calling it an educated guess. Call it half way between a stab in the dark and an educated guess—a stab at a guess, maybe. We're the first to admit that the real figure might be ten times as much. Or tens times less. Who knows?
But if it is $25,000 per dead person, and there are 8,500 dead people, that's $210 million worth of dead people money, every year, moving through the probate system.
Most of the people charged with making sure that dead people money goes where it's supposed to go—they're called "executors"—are conscientious and ethical. Let's be gracious and uncynical types and say that fully 98 percent of executors do a bang-up job.
That leaves just two percent who are inept or, well, thieving bastards. And two percent of $210 million is still $4.2 million.
That's $4.2 million, each and every year, that isn't going where it's supposed to be going. Widows cheated out of a supplementary income for their sunset years. New families who could've used a small inheritance to add a baby room to the house. Charities, who always need every penny they can get. You get the idea.
By all accounts the Public Trustee does an excellent job. It's never been sued. And auditor general Jacques Lapointe has praised it. "We found the Office of Public Trustee managed client investments appropriately, using the prudent investor approach outlined in the policy," wrote Lapointe in last year's audit of the corporation.
But the presence of Estelle Theriault, who oversees operations of the Public Trustee, at the legislature gave MLA Andrew Younger the opportunity to point out what he deemed "a gap in the legislation" related to probate.
"No, we don't," answered Theriault. "There is a clause in the [Probate] Act that says an estate should be closed within 18 months. So the interested parties, the beneficiaries, the heirs, do have the right to seek an order that the registrar will order the executor to come to court to show cause as to why the estate's not progressing."
"But they would have to know that they're beneficiaries first, and that's the gap that I'm getting at" pointed out Younger. "If you speak to Probate Court, they will say the same thing. They'll say, 'well, it's up to the heirs of the estate to come and tell us that it hasn't been dealt with'...The Probate Court and the Public Trustee both say if it's not settled in 18 months, the heirs can come [and ask the court to remove the executor]. And that's right. But the heirs of course have to know that they are heirs in order to do that. If the heir is not being appropriately probated, they may not know that they are heirs."
The rules of Province House disallow any mention of a member of the public's personal situation, unless that person first agrees, so there was a sort of dance around the issue, but by now you've figured out that Younger and Theriault were talking obliquely about the estate of Mary Thibeault, which was horribly mismanaged—or worse—by former Halifax mayor Peter Kelly.
It's true that even though they weren't officially notified, most of the people named as heirs in Thibeault's will knew they were heirs, but for whatever reason, they opted not to ask the court to remove Kelly. They were free to make that decision. But the five charities named in Thibeault's will were not free to make that decision—they couldn't decide because they didn't know they were heirs, and they didn't know because Kelly had never notified them.
These charities were being deprived of a total of at least $210,000.
Kelly's mishandling of the Thibeault estate made national news and led to his decision not to run for reelection, but while the dollar amounts involved are substantial in their own right, they're likely a drop in the bucket in terms of the larger problem.
The Coast was very fortunate to have stumbled upon the problems with the Thibeault estate and then to be able to detail the specifics, but there are undoubtedly many other problem-plagued estates that fly below the radar screen. If a specific systematic failure can happen once, it can happen again. And again. If our stab at a guess is right, there are so many systematic failures that there's another $4.2 million in misappropriated or otherwise bungled dead people money in Nova Scotia, each and every year.
Shouldn't we do something about that?
When Younger pointed this out, Theriault, the Public Trustee, offered lamely that all people named in wills are listed in the Royal Gazette. The Royal Gazette is "the Province's official weekly government record of proclamations and other statutory notices." Some of the MLAs at Province House today didn't know it existed, or where to find it. Certainly, most of the public is completely ignorant of the Gazette. But Theriault seemed to suggest that we all regularly read it, just in case our names popped up as heirs to an estate.
In a scrum with reporters after Public Accounts, Theriault declined to discuss the Kelly case, and said the "gap" that Younger had identified was a policy issue, outside of her jurisdiction. She's right about that.
This afternoon we spoke with Jacquemin, the registrar of the Probate Court. She understood the issue we had identified. We spoke at length about the legal requirement for executors to notify heirs, and to enter the paperwork into the court record.
But, she said, "executors are requited to swear an oath to faithfully meet the terms of the Probate Act."
"But in Peter Kelly's case, he swore the oath, and then didn't faithfully meet the terms of the Act," we pointed out. "And no one cares."
"I can't speak to that," said Jacquemin.
It gets frustrating, talking about this flaw in the process. People in positions of authority seem to simultaneously admit there's a breakdown in the system and say there isn't a breakdown in the system. They say executors can be held to account because they must swear an oath, but when executors violate that oath, the authorities do nothing. The authorities say the heirs can move the process along, but sure, maybe the heirs don't know they're heirs, but that's only because the heirs don't faithfully read an obscure government newspaper.
Look, there are probably a lot of people getting ripped off by unscrupulous executors. How 'bout we cut through the crap and do something about it?
Obviously, there needs to be in place a system to verify that all heirs are properly notified. In fact, the paperwork should be right in the court file, right in the courthouse, right on Water Street, a building filled with clerks and administrators. Maybe some of them could, you know, look in the files and see if the notifications have been properly made.
Jacquemin says she doesn't have the resources to do that and, again in the Bizarro world of bureaucratic logic, it's up to the un-notified heirs to complain about not being notified.
But we insist this is a solvable problem. A simple line of computer code could notify a clerk, say 45 days after an executor is named, to go check the file and see if the proper notifications have been made.
This isn't an overwhelming chore. Even if all 8,500 dead people entered into the probate system, that would be about 30 files checked per working day. Probably it could fit into the current work scheme. But even if we had to hire a full-time person to do the check, it'd be—what?—$50,000 in salary to save $4.2 million in dead people money.
Isn't that worth it?
HRM has spent more than $650,000 since it gained possession of the vacant school in 2011. That’s for minimum maintenance, utilities and security, totalling about $210,000 over the 2011-12 fiscal year and $322,568 so far in 2012-13. By comparison, the recent concert scandal cost just under $360,000.
St. Pat’s is a problem the city made for itself. In the summer of 2011, HRM publicly asked for proposals for the property, and that December council voted to sell it to Jono Developments. But the sale contravened a city policy giving non-profit groups first dibs on old school buildings, so three non-profits that had also submitted proposals for St. Pat’s took the city to court.
Instead of using in-house lawyers, the municipality outsourced, costing a further $100,000. HRM lost the court case.
In recent months, the legal firm Pink Larkin sought costs associated with its pro-bono representation of the three community groups. The firm was awarded $7,531.43 from Jono Developments and $22,594.29 from the city. HRM plans to consult the Gottingen-area community in late spring or early summer about future use of the school site. The city will then solicit proposals from non-profit groups. The three groups that took HRM to court plan to re-apply. The groups asked permission to use the former school for a Christmas party and tree-lighting ceremony last December, but HRM denied their request, citing safety concerns: The groups didn’t have the minimum $2 million liability insurance, says HRM spokesperson Tiffany Chase.
“If anything were to happen in relation to the event, HRM would have been liable,” Chase says. The Trailer Park Boys’ insurance covered up to $10 million.
At issue is the Youth Advocate Program. Started with help of a $1.9 million grant in 2008, YAP is an intensive intervention in the lives of youngsters aged nine to 14, those judged most likely to get involved with gangs at a later date.
As we explained in 2010, using the example of one child, called "File #400":
Thirty children, including File #400, are targeted in those areas. Six youth advocate workers---college students, mostly, studying social work and from the neighbourhoods or living in them---are assigned to the children and their families, one worker for five families. The worker connects the family to existing services, but also provides coaching for things many of us take for granted.A staff report for today's council meeting detail's Ungar's report, misspelling his name in the process:
In File #400's case, for example, the parents were "unreliable," reads a report. "They were unable or unwilling to take responsibilities for their children's actions---it wasn't uncommon for he and his younger brother, who's around seven, to be out at two o'clock or three o'clock in the morning, on a school night. There was no structure or schedule in the home, there was role confusion between the mother and the daughter. There was role confusion between the parents, a lot of violence in the house. There were no rules of authority established between the parents and the children."
The youth advocate worker helped the parents learn basic skills—how to get children up, dressed and ready for school, making household rules, developing routines, returning stolen property and so forth. Eventually, a regular family life was established, and after nine months, "the criminal activity stopped," says the report. The boy entered into a normal childhood, the parents had newfound skills to raise their other children, the neighbourhood was at peace.
The Youth Advocacy Program is expensive—about $600,000 annually, or $20,000 per child. But that's arguably far less expensive than the future damage wrought by these worst-of-the-worst kids that don't get the attention: the policing and legal costs, the prison costs, the stolen property, the loss of a potentially productive citizen.
Unlike most government social programs, the success of the YAP is judged by an outside evaluator, Michael Ungar, a professor of social work at Dalhousie. Ungar can't give specifics until his final report comes out, but a preliminary report praises YAP. "It successfully targets who it's supposed to target, and it does it well," says Ungar. "We can't say that it works with every child, but it's clear it's making a big difference."
Dr. Michael Unger, Director of the Resilience Research Centre, Dalhousie University, is an internationally recognized researcher of at-risk youth, and was retained to evaluate the program over the four-year pilot. In March 2011, in the Final Program Evaluation Report, Dr. Unger concluded the program to be “a national model for at-risk youth”. In August of 2012, the National Crime Prevention Center confirmed the YAP to be successful, evidence based national model in preventing youth from joining gangs. A summary of the key evaluation findings include:YAP costs $550,000 a year, but the savings are quite large. The staff report includes this chart:• youth who successfully graduate from the YAP program, show an increase in school attachment and a reduction in anti-social behavior, and increase in resilience;
• there is decreased engagement in risk taking behavior, specifically substance abuse;
• there are clear reductions in impulsivity levels; attitude toward aggression, guns and violence and gangs have become less permissive;
• there is increased family relationships and family cohesion;
• partnerships have been established with over 70 different non-profit, private, and government organizations; and
• utilization of para-professionals (staff) is innovative and effective.
But beyond the monetary savings, the positive effect YAP has on human lives is incalculable. It is a good program. A great program.
City staff, however, want to muck around with the administration of the program. Why? Because a lawyer didn't like it. Explains the staff report:
YAP has traditionally been provided under the jurisdiction of Community and Recreation Services; however, during the Program review, staff from Legal Services observed that YAP’s key objectives and functions relate to “crime prevention” rather than “recreational programming”.So from the comfortable confines of a City Hall office, some random lawyer decided that running YAP out of the Rec department offended his or her sensibilities, and so council is being asked to move YAP's administration from the Rec Department to the Police Department.
Thing is, no one bothered to ask Ungar if this was a good idea or not.
The Coast called Ungar today to ask. He was completely in the dark about the suggested administrative move.
"Jesus, is that what they're going to do?" asked Ungar.
He then explained his view:
We have an amazing police force that's doing some great outreach into the communities. And the police have been very, very supportive of the Youth Advocate Program. They've been very integral to keeping the program vibrant, and supportive of it.Council is scheduled to discuss the issue some time after 1pm today.
But, when we evaluated YAP, it sat very nicely where it was, because it wasn't sold to parents who had burnt out on systems as a heavy-hand in their lives. The way it was done, and the way it was positioned, it was perceived by parents of these kids as something that was not intrusive.
So, yea, if I had a vote, I definitely would not shake it up, one, because the team that has been built over at recreation has done an excellent job with it, and the perception by the parents has been that it's not child welfare, it's not corrections, and it's not IWK or mental health. It's a program that can get into the communities and get into families that have not been happy with, or have been flooded with too many services.
My perception is that it works very well under recreation, and in fact that is actually part of its appeal.
I don't want to make the police out to be the bad guys. They've been very helpful in keeping this program alive. This should not come off as they're going to screw it up or that they're evil in any way, shape or form.
It's how it's presented to the parents. You've got to think about it not from the point of view of administration, but from the point of view of the kids and families who had previous contact with the law. And this is to prevent the kids from becoming involved. The perception with these families is extremely important, and one of the big findings we had through the evaluation is that some of the perceived informality of the workers allowed the families to join with the workers, much more so than many other agencies they had gone through.
There's no good clinical reason to move it, and certainly the evidence would support the opposite: that the program's success was based on where it was positioned.
As vacant lots go, the Texpark site at the corner of Granville and Sackville Streets is the epitome of Halifax's "missing teeth"—an otherwise prime development lot that sits empty, without buildings or even landscaping. A dented and rusting chain-link fence surrounds the gravel lot, which is rented out for parking, but it's not hard to imagine an office tower or condo complex rising above Granville, providing spectacular views of the harbour. As it is, however, Texpark is a blight on downtown, an embarrassment.
Readers will best know Texpark as the site of two failed development proposals: Twisted Sisters and Skye Halifax, both put forward by United Gulf Developments.
But here's something that isn't so well known: The city can reclaim the Texpark site, taking it away from United Gulf and allowing some other developer to build there. In order to claim the site, all the city has to do is invoke a "buy-back" clause that was included in the 2004 sale of the property to United Gulf. That would cost the city $5.36 million upfront, but an analysis of the potential value of the site shows that the city could re-sell it for at least $10 million, and probably much more.
Moreover, if the city invoked the buy-back clause, it could very quickly get Texpark developed, filling in the embarrassing missing tooth.
Last week, as The Coast was making inquiries about the buy-back provision, politicians, developers and city officials began discussing the issue in earnest. As a result, potentially as soon as next week, regional council will discuss a potential buy-back.
In 2004, city council decided to put the Texpark site out to tender, to prospective developers. Five developers bid on the site, and council selected the winning bid at an in camera session of its May 25, 2004 meeting. The staff report to council was secret, but last week The Coast asked to receive the report, and it was declassified and released to us. See the complete report here. The report outlines the five proposals for Texpark, as follows:
Giffels ManagementThe highest bidder was Templeton Lawen, which offered $5.8 million for the property, but city staff recommended that the next highest bidder, United Gulf, be awarded the tender, even though that meant the city would receive just $5.36 million, nearly half a million dollars less than Templeton Lawen was offering.
Pay to city: $3.5 million
Building: one 17-storey tower
Use: retail and office on first two floors, 224 residential units above
Cost of development: $33 million
Pay to city: $4.025 million
Building: one 22-storey tower
Conceptional use: retail and office on first three floors floors, 150 hotel rooms on the next 10 floors, with residential on the top nine floors
Cost of development: $46 million
Pay to city: $5.36 million
Building: one 26-storey tower
Conceptional use: Commercial at ground floor, with a hotel and unspecified number of residential units above
Cost of development: $59 million
Pay to city: $5.8 million
Building: two towers, 24- and 28-storeys, atop a base.
Conceptional use: Commercial at ground floor. One tower would be a hotel, with 240 rooms. The second tower would hold 176 residential units.
Cost of development: $60 million
Universal Property Management
Pay to city: $3.7 million
Building: one 21-storey tower
Conceptional use: Commercial on first two floors, with the remaining consisting of 108 hotel rooms and 95 residential units.
Cost of development: $33.2 million
Staff had several objections to Templeton Lawen's bid, but the biggest concern seemed to be that TL wanted guaranteed approval for development. As the staff report explains:
Through these conditions the proponent is seeking a “guaranteed project” on their terms and has placed the majority of the project risk on the Municipality. The property has been offered for sale as is vacant without purchaser conditions, except standard due diligence. The terms requested by Templeton Lawen are a significant departure from the tender specification and represent an unacceptable and undefined environmental and financial risk for the Municipality. [emphasis in original]The staff report is clear: The city would not guarantee that the development proposals submitted by prospective developers would automatically be approved. The winning developer had to go through the normal public hearing process and development approvals that any developer would have to go through, and if the developer couldn't get approval, well, tough luck.
There was, however, an interesting twist to the process. If for any reason, the winning developer could not get construction started within four years, the city could buy back the property for the purchase price. Then, should council decide to, the city could re-tender the property, opening up the entire process all over again.
It's hard to nail down exactly what the buy-back clause says. The initial tender offer, which was a public document and would spell it out in detail, has been destroyed, says city spokesperson Michaelyn Thompson, explaining that it is common practice to destroy such documents after seven years.
But the staff report awarding the tender makes mention of the buy-back clause in several places, most particularly in a section detailing "acceptable amendments," where two of the bidders wanted the buy-back to be a second lien on the property, so as not to affect bank financing. Still, that staff report doesn't spell out the language of the clause.
Neither does a 2007 development agreement for the site contain the buy-back clause.
Thompson acknowledges that the buy-back clause exists, but says it "is included in the purchase and sale agreement which remains confidential and can’t be released."
Still, the buy-back clause has been an open secret for nine years. Then-councillor Dawn Sloane mentioned it at a public hearing in 2006. Last week, former councillor Sue Uteck confirmed that the buy-back clause exists, and said the city could invoke it after four years from the sale.
"I’ve seen the contract and can confirm that it includes a buy-back clause," says councillor Waye Mason. "But I can't release it. The city says it can't release the contract, but I'm not sure they're right about that."
Mason says that for the time being he is obligated to respect city lawyers' view that the sales contract is not a public document, but he has asked for a report to council on the issue, detailing the legality around the secrecy and whether the city should invoke the buy-back clause.
How soon might we see that report?
"Well, I told them [The Coast] was asking questions about it, so I think we'll probably get it next week."
But a funny thing happened after council awarded the tender to United Gulf: The company went and put together a development proposal that looked nothing at all like the single building it had outlined in the tender, but looked a lot like the two buildings Templeton Lawen had proposed.
development application forward in 2005, it contained two 27-storey towers, one a hotel, the second condos. The project was dubbed "Twisted Sisters" after the twirl in the two towers.
After the required public hearings, council unanimously approved Twisted Sisters on February 7, 2006. But heritage groups had opposed Twisted Sisters, saying it reached into the protected viewplanes from Citadel Hill, and appealed council's decision to the Utility and Review Board. In September of 2007, the UARB ruled that the project could move forward.
By that time, however, the American housing bubble had burst, and the world's financial institutions were in crisis. Financing for new developments, particularly for residential developments, had dried up. Twisted Sisters was never built. Council's approval for the project expired in 2008.
Theoretically, the city could have invoked the buy-back clause in 2008, but it made no sense to do so at that time, says Mason. "The reason [the clause wasn't invoked] isn't because the city is lazy or not following up, but rather because the economy went into the crapper in 2008."
With no financing available, no other developer would be able to build on the site either, so if the city bought Texpark back, it'd simply have an empty lot.
But financing has eased considerably since 2008, and now the global financial industry is working more or less as it did pre-crisis. There's money to lend for new developments again. Moreover, HRM By Design, the planning strategy for downtown that fast-tracks development approvals for projects that fall beneath certain height limits, has been implemented. As a result, we're seeing lots of new construction downtown.
HRM By Design puts a height limit of about 24 storeys on the Texpark site. Any proposed development under that limit merely has to meet basic design guidelines to get approved without a public hearing. Any proposed development over the height guideline, however, must go through a much more complicated and lengthy Development Agreement process, which entails multiple reviews by city staff and a public hearing before final approval by council.
called Skye Halifax. Consisting of two 48-storey towers containing apartments, it was by far the largest and tallest development ever proposed in Halifax, and more than doubled HRM By Design's height guidelines for the site.
It's impossible to know if Skye was a serious proposal or not. Some speculate that United Gulf simply wanted to break the HRM By Design height guidelines so that other properties downtown would get similar approval even though they too violated the height guidelines, or that the company was looking to get approval and then flip the project to another developer.
Regardless, every planner and regulator who looked at the Skye Halifax proposal said it was too big for the services available downtown and would overwhelm the downtown market for other developments, much the way Purdys Wharf did in the 1980s.
In November, the newly elected city council voted to kill Skye Halifax, refusing to allow the proposal to continue to the public hearing state. Notably, new mayor Mike Savage issued a blistering attack on the project.
With Skye rejected, we're left with an empty Texpark lot, downtown's biggest "missing tooth." Clearly, United Gulf has run out of steam, and observers don't expect the company to put forward a new proposal for Texpark any time soon. But, there's that buy-back clause that council could invoke at any time.
But would anyone buy it?
We asked a commercial real estate appraiser what he thought Texpark was worth. The appraiser doesn't want his name used, because he has not looked at the situation in detail, but he gave us some back-of-the-envelope calculations to run.
"For that site, I would say the land is worth $30,000 per unit," writes the appraiser in an email. "Get the development agreement for Twisted Sisters (the one that was approved and not built). Each unit should be 1,150 square feet of gross floor space (1,000 net of hallways). That is a typical two-bedroom unit. If the plans list the gross floor area of each floor plate, divide by 1,150 SF and multiply times $30,000 and you will get your answer. My gut reaction is that it's worth it."
The staff report for Twisted Sisters says each floor plate was 12,800 feet, or 11 units per floor by the appraiser's reasoning. But it's unclear if that 12,800 feet is for one or two towers. The diagrams in the proposal, however, show two towers—the larger residential tower has 10 condo units on each floor, while the smaller second tower had 12 smaller hotel rooms on each floor.
Using Twisted Sisters as a loose guide, we think conservatively that a developer could fit eight two-bedroom units on each floor of each tower. If that developer built to the HRM By Design height limit of 24 storeys for the site, the developer could construct 384 units. At $30,000 each, that's $11.52 million.
"Your calculations seem right on," says the appraiser. "I would just round your numbers off to $10 to $11 million."
So there we have it: the city could invoke the buy-back clause and obtain the Texpark site for $5.36 million, then turn around and re-sell it for $10 to $11 million to a developer who wants to build something that meets HRM By Design's fast-track approval guidelines.
Mason says the issue should at least be explored, and so has asked for the staff report.
And while the appraiser thinks the buy-back makes immense sense, he's skeptical the city will pursue it. "They have no balls and will never do that," he writes. "But it's interesting."
Basically, we want you to identify Municipal Malfunctions for us, and we’ll use our reporting skills to find out why the problem exists, and who’s going to fix it.
What’s a Municipal Malfunction?
Simply put: something physical in the city that’s broken. A broken sidewalk, the Common fountain not working, a pile of garbage left in the park, like that. Here are some examples we’ve put in the paper before:
Lights left on all day at Government House
Peeling community signs
Environmentally unfriendly signs promoting environmentally friendly lights
Missing Life-Saving equipment
Common Tennis Courts are falling apart
And, our favourite:
An overly descriptive sign at the Clayton Park McDonald’s
You get the point.
What isn’t a municipal malfunction?
If you can’t take a picture of it, we’re not interested. We want infrastructure failures—broken things, not “my councillor sucks” or “taxes are too high.” Also, you may have noticed we don’t usually deal with potholes and other car-related issues. If it’s especially bad, we’ll consider it, but generally we like to encourage people to take transit or ride a bike or walk, so we’re not big on covering car-related infrastructure problems.
How to contribute.
Just take a picture of your favourite Municipal Malfunction, and sent it to email@example.com, along with the location of the problem. We’ll do our best to get someone on it.
Listen to the pod cast here.
wait though. While I totally agree that the mental health system is fucked and really…
It is so sad that this young woman has lost her life. Unfortunately, it is…
I think I hear Kyle Shaw calling up HIS lawyer right now: "Hi, yeah, could…
"IWK denies strip search took place".
JUSTICE FOR REHTAEH! JUSTICE FOR REHTAEH! JUSTICE FOR…
I use Windsor Street every day on my commute, because of where I live and…
Judah will say what his employer wants him to say; as for 'ethical' - excuse…
Demand the Criminal Code be enforced now! Enough Cover up and stupidity!
spaustin has it exactly right, seems to me, and the conclusion drawn by Bosquet is…
Isn't Judah saying that if he actually asks Williams, she'll ask the adjudicators and their…
What a great idea. They will sell a ton of ice cream. Maybe even homemade…