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Monday, October 30, 2017

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry: Day One

The family of Loretta Saunders and Ecology Action Centre coordinator Rebecca Moore offer testimony at first day of national inquiry.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 30, 2017 at 10:09 PM

Members of Loretta Saunders' family speak at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry Monday in Membertou First Nation. - STEPHEN BRAKE
  • Members of Loretta Saunders' family speak at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry Monday in Membertou First Nation.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is holding community hearings in Membertou First Nation this week, from October 30 to November 1.  Approximately 40 families have registered to make statements. Journalist Maureen Googoo is live-blogging the hearings each day on Twitter and her crowdfunded news site, Googoo is sharing her coverage over the next three days with The Coast. Here's what happened on Monday, when Monique Fong-Howe, Rebecca Moore and the family of Loretta Saunders shared their stories.

The family of slain university student Loretta Saunders and two survivors of violence and harassment gave emotional testimony during the first day of hearings into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls on Monday in Membertou First Nation, N.S.

Loretta Saunders’ parents, Miriam and Clayton Saunders, along with her sisters, Delilah and Audrey, told inquiry commissioners Qajaq Robinson and Michèle Audette how her death affected them and how they were treated by police, the media and victims’ services.

Loretta Saunders, an Inuk from Labrador, went missing from her Halifax apartment on February 13, 2015. Her body was found two weeks later stuffed in a hockey bag located in the medium of the Trans Canada highway near Salisbury, N.B.

Saunders’ two roommates are currently serving life sentences for murdering her.

Miriam Saunders said investigators with Halifax Regional Police spoke directly to her on the phone about her daughter’s case until they learned Saunders was Inuk.

“When they started calling her Inuk, I had to start swearing and everything at them in order to get answers. I didn’t get to talk to the investigators after that,” Miriam Saunders explained.

Delilah Saunders testified that she learned that her sister was killed was from a text message from a television news producer in Toronto.

“The way they knew so early is because they were there filming Loretta being dug out of the snow,” Delilah Saunders told the commissioners.

“I think the media were very insensitive, how they handled our sister’s case even though we were fortunate to have the media coverage that we did,” she explained.

Delilah Saunders also explained how a counsellor referred through the Nova Scotia Department of Justice’s victims services acted inappropriately towards her. She said the male counsellor kept commenting on Loretta’s looks and at one point, placed his hand on her leg.

Monique Fong-Howe travelled from Halifax, to Membertou to tell her life story as a survivor of violence and abuse.

Fong-Howe, who works with the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, said the pre-inquiry hearings held in Halifax in January 2016 inspired her to share her story with the inquiry commissioners.

“I’ve been living here in the Maritimes for about 30 years now and many people see me in my role now as an advocate and a worker but they don’t know my history,” Fong-Howe explained.

Through tears, she recounted her childhood and teen years being sexually abused while growing up in Saskatchewan. She left home when she was 13 years old and was homeless for a period of time.

“I grew up living on the streets, being involved with drugs, being involved with drinking and partying,” Fong-Howe said.

“I was always in violent relationships. It seems I was attracted to violent men,” she recalled.

Fong-Howe said she got pregnant and had a son when she was 17 years old. She said lost her son for a while because of her alcohol and drug use.

While Fong-Howe was living in a women’s shelter in Saskatoon, her mother and step-father came to visit. They informed her they were moving to Nova Scotia and wanted her to join them.

At first, Fong-Howe said resisted the idea of moving but then decided to sell all of her belongings to a pawn shop owner in exchange for a ticket to Halifax.

“I would see more and more people go, from being murdered and killed and drug overdoses. I wanted a different life,” Fong-Howe said.

“I had all of the intentions of staying here for six months and here I am, 30 years later still here,” she said.

Rebecca Moore, a Mi’kmaq with the Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia, was born and raised in Halifax.

Moore told the inquiry commissioners about the sexual harassment and threats of violence she has experienced as an Indigenous woman living in Halifax.

“Halifax is a very creepy city,” Moore said.

“We have a lot of johns driving around all the time. We have a lot of sexual harassment on the street happening all the time,” she said.

Moore recalled a time when she was walking to her apartment around midnight when a car pulled up beside her with the trunk open.

“There were three guys in it. The driver got out and he cut me off on the sidewalk. The passenger had his door open and his legs out like he was going to jump out,” she recalled.

“I saw the setup. I caught the play. I didn’t let them get close enough to actually grab me or anything,” she said.

The Mi’kmaw woman explained she walked backward and went to her sister’s home nearby and “freaked out.”

Moore also told commissioners she has also been threatened with violence ever since she became active in the Cornwallis statue and Alton Gas protests. She explained that she and other Indigenous activists are more of a target by white supremacist groups as a result of their activism.

Day Two of the national inquiry’s public hearings in Membertou begin on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Click here to help support Ku'ku'kwes report on Indigenous news in Atlantic Canada.

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Africentric Learning Institute project invites African Nova Scotians to share stories from their communities

Originally a Canada 150 project, ALI will continue to share African Nova Scotian "legacy stories" beyond this year.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 30, 2017 at 3:01 PM

Project coordinator Nzingha Millar speaks at last week's screening. - SUBMITTED
  • Project coordinator Nzingha Millar speaks at last week's screening.
  • submitted

What started as a Canada 150 project focusing on the stories of African Nova Scotians will continue beyond its original December deadline. “The project has received immense support,” says Harvi Millar.

Millar is a professor at Saint Mary’s University, and he runs the YouTube channel for the Africentric Learning Institute. In October, ALI applied for funding from the Canada 150 program for “African Nova Scotian Experiences in Canada: 150 Legacy Stories” in October. Since they didn’t get approval until May, Millar realized it would be next to impossible to create 150 videos in the planned timeframe. Now, they’re just putting together as many as they can.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could create a group of people who can use their mobile devices?’” explains Millar. “Instead of consuming, why don’t we use the technology to produce something—to make a contribution?”

Sarah Poko and Nzingha Millar (Harvi’s daughter and a former Coast intern) teamed up as project coordinators. As Poko and Nzingha have both studied journalism at King’s, they held three workshops to teach people to be “citizen journalists” with the tools that they had. Last Wednesday, a screening of stories that have been produced so far took place at the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

“We give them the tools. That is, how to interview people, how to edit, how to frame an interview shot and all of that,” says Poko. “But it’s up to them to decide, OK—which story do you want to tell about your community and about your day-to-day life as an African Nova Scotian?”

The official Canada 150 project will end in December, but ALI wants to continue helping people record and share legacy stories. The hope is that this will help tell African Nova Scotian stories more widely, and maybe encourage more African Nova Scotians to pursue journalism in their studies.

“Yes, we need to put some pressure for these [media] institutions to be more responsive, to be more inclusive,” says Millar. “At the same time, we have a whole bunch of people who are on their cell phones, who have a piece of technology that is readily available to them—that they could actually help to change the landscape or the image of their own communities.”

Additional project screenings will take place in Yarmouth, New Glasgow and Sydney. 

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Halifax councillors keep fighting about racism on Twitter

Lindell Smith has to ask Matt Whitman to please stop using “negroes” when referring to Black people.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 1:36 PM

Whitman, pictured here not tweeting. - RILEY SMITH
  • Whitman, pictured here not tweeting.

A city councillor’s use of the word “negroes” while stating that it's impossible to be racist against Mexicans has prompted the latest public tweet storm between Halifax’s elected leaders.

The back-and-forth between city councillors devolved out of Halifax West Armdale representative Shawn Cleary’s statement Tuesday that he would personally no longer use the term “marijuana” when speaking about cannabis products.

The Anglicized spelling of the Spanish word for Canada’s soon-to-be legal pastime was purposefully used in the early 1900s by American authorities hoping to tie their criminalization efforts to already ostracized Mexican communities and immigrants. A dialogue about whether the term still carries those hateful connotations has recently increased with the Trudeau government’s legalization efforts.

So Cleary’s not going to say it.

“Let’s do what we can to not perpetuate racism,” the councillor tweeted Tuesday.

But Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor Matt Whitman feels it’s impossible to be racist against Mexicans because it’s a nationality, not a race.

It’s the sort of nit-picking counter-argument one usually finds in online comment sections, and entirely irrelevant to Cleary’s larger point that Latin Americans and those of Mexican descent have faced—and continue to face—discrimination, prejudice and hatred based on their ethnicity. (For more info on the subject consult The News, Every Day.)

“Race is a social construct, not a biological characteristic,” Cleary tweets in response to his colleague.

The two dug in from there. A sustained debate about civic issues can be, as it is often described by the councillors themselves at public meetings, a “good discussion.” This was not that.

“Italian is a nationality but is now a race according to the newest definition of #SocialConstruct,” mockingly replies Whitman.



“It would be awesome if, when you spoke, you knew what you were actually talking about,” tweets Cleary. “Even just once would be good.”

“Please educate us, oh wise one!!” trolls Whitman.

Declining Cleary’s suggestion of getting a coffee to explain the concept of social constructs further, Whitman tells his coworker he’s already wasted enough time.

“Fuck! Don’t I know it,” says Cleary.

But it didn’t stop there.

The next day Cleary suggested one of his council colleagues belonged on a list of “hopeful Trump interns and Ford nation wannabes.” Whitman then stated the use of “fuck” by a “genius public official” didn’t offend him, so marijuana shouldn’t offend anyone else.

“Ya but at least I didn’t call a Chinese fire drill or wear a Mexican Halloween costume,” Cleary says, referencing two of Whitman’s social media blunders.



Last Halloween the very-white Matt Whitman donned a poncho and overly large moustache to portray a “Mexican Trump supporter” for Halloween.

The former deputy mayor also publicly apologized earlier this year after publishing a video of himself performing a “Chinese fire drill” while in traffic.

“If someone dresses as a nurse or firefighter for Halloween does that make them racist too?” Whitman rhetorically asks of Cleary.

The flame war ended up being covered by CTV Atlantic on Thursday evening, where Whitman again defended his argument.

“The word marijuana may be racist because of caucasians, negroes or some other race, but not because of a nationality,” he said on television.

Leaving aside the geographic origins of the term caucasians, the councillor’s use of the outdated descriptor “negroes” motivated Lindell Smith—the only non-white elected representative on Regional Council—to tweet at Whitman.

“Please don’t use the word ‘Negroes.’ It’s not appropriate and we are not in 1950,” Smith writes, before stating he would not be commenting on the matter further to the media.

The online discussion about race comes the same week it was revealed councillor David Hendsbee joked about smoking a “peace pipe” after making racially loaded comments about Indigenous protesters and then later expressed concerns to a resident that reconciliation efforts will lead to white Canadians giving the “keys to our homes” to First Nations.

Earlier this same month, Halifax South Downtown councillor Waye Mason seemingly agreed with a tweet calling Hendsbee, Whitman and councillor Stephen Adams “shitheads” that needed to be “publicly shamed” for their comments about Indigenous people. Mason later clarified he only meant to agree with the public-shaming half of the tweet.

All of these people make $85,443 a year.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

“It’s awe-inspiring in the ignorance.” Rebecca Thomas frustrated by David Hendsbee's Cornwallis comments

Municipality's poet laureate says councillor’s remarks show he “isn’t fit to represent ridings that have diverse individuals.”

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 5:07 PM


Halifax’s poet laureate says she’s “frustrated and sad” by comments HRM councillor David Hendsbee made to his colleagues via email.

“I think that goes to show the lack of perspective that some individuals have when it comes to acknowledging their positions of power,” says Rebecca Thomas.

Emails were obtained by The Coast via an FOI request, containing more than 500 pages of the councillors’ correspondence regarding Halifax’s founder Edward Cornwallis. Due to his violent history against the M’ikmaq people, members of the Indigenous community and their allies have spoken out against the glorification of Cornwallis, particularly Cornwallis park and his statue which stands there.

Thomas, a Mi’kmaw woman, spoke to Halifax Regional Council in April, performing a poem she wrote in response to city infrastructure being named after Cornwallis. Councillor Shawn Cleary later said Thomas inspired him to introduce a new motion for a public engagement on how HRM celebrates Cornwallis. However, it seems that Thomas’ words, then and since, have not reached every councillor.

“I don’t think he’s gonna change,” Thomas says of Hendsbee, who has gotten himself in hot water before for making insensitive comments. This time around, Hendsbee’s comments included joking about the peace pipe: a ceremonial pipe used by some Indigenous groups.

“Pipe carriers—that is a huge honour and that tends to get passed down through families,” explains Thomas. “It is a very big deal for you to be a pipe carrier. Not everyone gets that. You’re kind of chosen, you just can’t opt into it, and that is an incredible symbol of sacred culture. And to make light of that—It’s awe-inspiring in the ignorance, I guess.”

Thomas points out that it’s one thing to make a mistake out of ignorance and genuinely apologize, “but to have somebody like this who, in the face of conversation and correction, still blatantly denies and flexes his power in a way that’s really oppressive shows that he isn’t fit to represent ridings that have diverse individuals.”

On the other hand, it did make Thomas feel heartened to see fellow councillor Waye Mason call Hendsbee out on his remarks.

“To see someone like Waye who says these things publicly and privately, it’s—I don’t know. It goes give me hope, I guess, to see that.”

Halifax Regional Council is currently proceeding with an expert panel to examine how the city commemorates Cornwallis.

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Masuma Khan isn't letting Dal off the hook after complaint withdrawal

Lawyer sees university effort to smooth things over without engaging Khan as further evidence "they're not treating her respectfully."

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 3:24 PM

And then the glare of public attention around the whole Masuma Khan discipline case got to be too much for Dalhousie University.

The school's vice provost, Arig al Shaibah, this afternoon posted an "Important message" formally announcing that the complaint against Khan has been withdrawn. The full message is here, but the bottom line comes down to what al Shaibah calls "three critical reasons." 

Dalhousie vice-provost Arig al Shaibah. - DAL.CA
  • Dalhousie vice-provost Arig al Shaibah.
To paraphrase those reasons: First, given the way the Student Code of Conduct is written, it has a hard time supporting both one person's freedom of speech and another person's ability to take offence to that speech. Second, on further consideration Dal realized a formal Senate discipline hearing probably isn't the best way to deal with an assertive Facebook post. And third, the social media hate that's been unleashed by putting Khan through a discipline process makes a mockery of the university's claims that the process is important to maintain an atmosphere of respect and safety.

Masuma Khan from a Coast cover shoot in August. - MEGHAN TANSEY WHITTON
  • Masuma Khan from a Coast cover shoot in August.
"I’m happy with the outcome and I think my client is also pleased they were able to make what we think was the right call," says Khan's lawyer, Nasha Nijhawan. "But I still really do feel that this decision should have been made by the vice-provost at the stage that she conducted a full investigation into the complaint. We provided her with all of this information and context and explanation that we eventually took to the media. That could have avoided a lot of additional harm to Masuma."

Nijhawan says Dal let her know about the decision by email, just minutes before the public memo went out. "My client and I were not included in any discussions with the university prior to the decision to withdraw the referral. There's been no personal contact with her from the administration, or even through me in terms of including her in that conversation or expressing any concern for her wellbeing.
"She’s not been invited to participate in the quote-unquote campus dialogue series that's referenced in the memo. And I gotta say, I disagree with the position taken in the memo that the problem here was the process that's available in the code. The code is actually quite clear; it says that free speech will not be infringed by the interpretation of the policy. That's not news to the university. Everything that they rely on now to withdraw the complaint is information they had at the time they referred the complaint. "

While the university would doubtless like nothing more than for this whole episode to disappear, Nijhawan isn't there yet. She may never be.

"We'll be exploring options on how Masuma can hold the university accountable for the harm that they've caused her to date by the approach that they've taken. That matter could have been completely settled if they had talked to us about it, but just as before, they're not treating her respectfully."

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Dal to students: It's not about white fragility or reverse racism

Dalhousie official Arig al Shaibah publicly weighs in on the Masuma Khan discipline case.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 at 8:13 PM

Dalhousie vice-provost Arig al Shaibah writes that "to reference or challenge 'white fragility' would not, in and of itself, be an issue" under the university's Code of Student Conduct. - DAL.CA
  • Dalhousie vice-provost Arig al Shaibah writes that "to reference or challenge 'white fragility' would not, in and of itself, be an issue" under the university's Code of Student Conduct.

Adding to whatever homework they received in classes today, Monday afternoon Dal students were emailed a 900-word memo about white fragility and the Code of Student Conduct.

The email came from the university's vice-provost for student affairs, Arig al Shaibah, who just a week ago sent a similar note responding to the homecoming street party. But unlike that one, which dealt with a situation involving hundreds of drunken students behaving badly, today's memo centres on a small handful of students, including Masuma Khan.

Al Shaibah doesn't explicitly name Khan, instead referring to a confidential university Senate Discipline Process involving the vice-president academic and external of the Dalhousie Student Union. Going public is something al Shaibah does "reluctantly" and after clearing it with people involved in the complaint, because the process "has generated speculation and inaccuracies that require clarification."

Funny how that happens when a racially charged issue about the line between free speech and harassment becomes the subject of national news and a letter from supportive faculty. Full text of al Shaibah's note follows.

From: Dalhousie University Announcements on behalf of Dalhousie Notice
Sent: October 23, 2017 3:13 PM
Subject: Updates and clarifications regarding Code of Student Conduct complaint


To: The Dalhousie University community

From: Arig al Shaibah, Vice-Provost Student Affairs

Date: October 23, 2017

Re: Updates and clarifications regarding Code of Student Conduct complaint

Dear members of the Dalhousie community,

Last week I made a statement to provide some general information about Code of Student Conduct processes and the principles and values that underpin whether and how the Code applies.

Today I want to provide additional specifics because there has been some sharing of confidential information which, placed out of context, has generated speculation and inaccuracies that require clarification. I do so reluctantly because the Senate Discipline Committee process is a confidential one, creating a safe place for all participants in the process, including witnesses, to explore the matter at hand.

I have communicated to the complainant and the other witnesses about the information I am about to share.

There are a few important points here:
  • There has been no finding made in this case involving a student allegation against the Vice-President Academic & External of the Dalhousie Student Union (VPAE DSU). The case is following due process under the Code of Student Conduct.
  • After I determined there was enough evidence for the case to be further considered, informal resolution was offered and was declined by the VPAE DSU. As such, the matter now is set to be considered by the Senate Discipline Committee.
  • The matter is moving forward based on the section of the Code related to “unwelcome or persistent conduct that the student knows, or ought to reasonably know, would cause another person to feel demeaned, intimidated or harassed.” It is not moving forward based on the discrimination section of the Code, as has been incorrectly suggested.
  • Our faculty have raised concerns about political speech. This is an important value, particularly for universities, and we hope the Senate Discipline Committee takes Charter values into account in their consideration.

Allow me to elaborate on this process.

“Reverse racism” and “white fragility”

It has been suggested that the matter before the Senate Discipline Committee involving the VPAE DSU, is about “reverse racism.” I clearly outlined to the parties in writing that there was insufficient basis to proceed under section C1.e (the discrimination section) of the Code. The matter is proceeding in relation to section C1.f of the Code: “unwelcome or persistent conduct that the student knows, or ought to reasonably know, would cause another person to feel demeaned, intimidated or harassed.

Furthermore, “white fragility,” as a theoretical concept, is not new to me as an educator. For a student to reference or challenge “white fragility” would not, in and of itself, be an issue under the Code.

Referral to Senate Discipline Committee and possible sanctions

When allegations of this nature are received by the Vice-Provost Student Affairs office, they are reviewed to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to the next step. This is not a decision as to whether a violation did occur. Only the Senate Discipline Committee can make that decision.

In this particular case, there was enough evidence for me to determine that this should be examined under section C1.f of the Code. As the VPAE DSU did not agree to explore resolution of the matter through informal means, it is now left to the Senate Discipline Committee (SDC) to weigh the evidence of all students participating and determine whether a violation of the relevant section of the Code occurred. As part of this process, it is open to the Senate Discipline Committee to consider Charter values, of which freedom of expression is one. A panel of peers and academics will determine the merits of the case brought before them, which is a healthy approach in that the decision doesn’t lay in the hands of one administrator.

If there is a finding that a violation occurred, it has been made clear to the SDC and all participants that my recommendation is for non-punitive educational/learning opportunities — suspension or expulsion were never placed on the table by me.

“Respect” and student leadership

In this case, several students of multiple intersecting identities (along the continuum of privilege) had approached me about feeling disrespected, demeaned, and invalidated as a consequence of the language and tenor of the post in question authored by VPAE DSU. The VPAE role and position of power as a student leader was particularly salient as they spoke about their expectations of their student leader and the impact on their real or perceived ability to participate in campus programs and activities, including debate. We are a diverse community with a large international population — all leaders (regardless of their social identities) on campus set the tone for a sense of inclusion by all.

Moving forward

As we move forward in addressing this particular Code complaint, as well as the broader related issues of respect and inclusion, Dalhousie will continue to do so following fair and just process, guided by core values of equal dignity of all persons, freedom of expression and inquiry, intellectual integrity and respectful relationships.

As part of our Diversity & Inclusiveness Strategy, ongoing education, skill-building, critical dialogue, policy enhancement and coalition building must be undertaken so that we, as a community, are better equipped to truly create a culture of respect and inclusion that is also free of harassment, discrimination and violence on campus.

Arig al Shaibah
Vice-Provost Student Affairs

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Dalhousie faculty pen letter in support of Masuma Khan

Student leader has been the target of hate-speech and violent threats over the last week due to her battle with university administration over freedom of speech.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 at 12:04 PM


Professors, students and staff at Dalhousie law are speaking out in support of Masuma Khan, as hate speech and violent threats against the student leader flood in.

Since The Coast first reported on Khan’s case last Thursday, the story—and a firestorm of response—has broken open across the country. The vice-president academic and external for the Dal Student Union is facing potential disciplinary action from the university over a Facebook post where she commented that “white fragility can kiss my ass.”

Threats against Khan are spiking in the wake of the news, with the student and her lawyer posting several examples over the weekend.

An example of messages Khan received and later shared on social media.
  • An example of messages Khan received and later shared on social media.

“I’m horrified by the hateful and violent messages directed at Masuma Khan,” says Jocelyn Downie, law professor and co-author of a letter signed by over 20 professors at Dalhousie, all voicing their support for Khan.

“Encouraging speech which challenges us as a community to reflect upon our roles in colonialism, oppression of marginalized communities and systemic racism is critical to the mandate of this (or any other) university: censoring such speech is antithetical to that mandate,” reads the letter. “Members of the Dalhousie community must be permitted to speak to these issues freely, with
emotion or even anger, especially those who come from communities which have historically been silenced and marginalized on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, sex, ethnicity, ableism, or religion.”

The hate speech directed at Khan must motivate Dal to find a way to better protect its students, says Downie, who’s also concerned with Khan’s protected rights to political free speech.

“University censorship of political expression should not be tolerated.”

Philosophy professor Letitia Meynell points to the charter of rights and freedoms in defending Khan’s free speech, specifically, section 15b, which protects “activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

“This seems to me like a sensible norm for public institutions to follow,” Meynell says.

Downie says it’s “unprecedented” in her experience that political speech could mount to “evidence that a student has committed an offence.”

As reported by other media sources, Khan’s remarks prompted a formal complaint from graduate student Michael Smith, who also wrote an opinion piece attacking her comments for the National Post.

This is what prompted the university’s vice provost to initiate a hearing about Khan’s comments with the senate discipline committee—a formal judicial measure that wasn’t even applied during Dal’s dentistry scandal two years ago.

While she awaits that session later this fall, Khan continues to be the subject of hate speech.

This isn’t the first time she’s received violent threats. In fact, Khan first approached Dalhousie’s vice provost with similar messages when the story garnered national attention back in June. Khan says the school told her those messages weren’t “violent enough” to justify a safety plan.

“Their definition of violence is very different,” she says.

In response to the violent messages directed at Khan, Dalhousie president Richard Florizone released his own statement on Twitter over the weekend, writing: “Let’s be clear: At Dal we abhor racism, gendered violence, and Islamophobia.”

Meanwhile, Downie says the case is providing an opportunity for Dalhousie to look inward—from the top-down.

“I would like to see Dal take a step back and take a hard look at our own institutionalized racism. So long as we deny its existence, we won’t be able to address and ultimately eliminate it.”

You can read the full letter here.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Halifax’s Amazon bid to be repackaged for other potential investors

But exactly what the city is offering isn't being released to the public.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 3:19 PM

A parcel from, before being opened by the addressee - HOARY, VIA WIKICOMMONS
  • A parcel from, before being opened by the addressee
  • Hoary, via WikiCommons

The municipality’s pitch for Amazon’s second headquarters will be used to influence other potential investors—and even Haligonians themselves—should the bid prove unsuccessful. But the details of what's in that offer aren't being released to the public.

A glimpse into that submission was released Friday in the form of a declassified council report. The in-camera document broadly touches on some of the locations, incentives and actions the city is willing to take to lure the giant online retailer to HRM. But specifics about those plans are being kept confidential, even though the deadline for submissions to Amazon is now closed.

The bid was prepared by the Halifax Partnership with the blessing of CAO Jacques Dubé and mayor Mike Savage. Partnership spokesperson Krista Juurlink says the document won’t be released to the public “due to a non-disclosure agreement with Amazon.”

More than 100 cities across North America have either considered or submitted bids for Amazon’s gargantuan second headquarters since the Washington-based company announced its open call for entries weeks ago. Many of those locations have subsequently released their offers and engaged in embarrassing PR stunts to show Amazon how desperate they are for jobs.

Although the idea has faced significant local criticism for how grossly out-of-place Amazon would be in Halifax and how utterly, ridiculously small the city’s chances are at winning this contest, staff suggest the assembled bid will be beneficial to HRM regardless of Amazon’s decision.

“The Halifax bid campaign is not just aimed at Amazon decision-makers,” the report reads. “HQ2 watchers and influences, other potential investors and Haligonians themselves are also important audiences.”

Significant components of the bid will be re-purposed for other investment efforts, says staff, while portions of the bid package “may be released to the public.”

Although that hasn't happened yet, the declassified staff report does offer a glimpse into what Halifax will offer up should Amazon decide to call Nova Scotia home.

Staff suggest the 80 acres of Shannon Park's former military compound in Dartmouth is prime waterfront real estate for Amazon to build on. Amazon’s request for proposals called for room to build 500,000 square feet of office space, expanding to 8 million square feet over the next decade. Somehow putting such a massive structure on the Shannon Park redevelopment meets the objectives of the Centre Plan, according to city staff.

“Developing Shannon Park into a work campus would meet the overarching goals of the Regional Council-approved Centre Plan policy document by promoting the co-location of workplaces and residential communities.”

Halifax is also pitching the new downtown community set to rise from the ashes of the soon-to-be-demolished Cogswell Interchange as a home for up to five percent of Amazon’s planned 50,000 employees.

The Partnership also hired National Public Relations to build a “compelling quality of life segment” for its submission and threw in some tax breaks. The staff report proudly acknowledges Nova Scotia Business Inc’s willingness to create an “incentives package,” and HRM’s “ability to provide some property tax incentives. Federal money is also on the table, but presumably, that would apply to anywhere in Canada that Amazon wanted to build.

The full document can be read here. Amazon will make its decision early next year.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Halifax councillor calls for municipal lobbyist registry

Shawn Cleary wants the public to know who’s meeting behind closed doors at city hall.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 12:38 PM

Councillor Shawn Cleary wants to let the sunshine in. - RILEY SMITH
  • Councillor Shawn Cleary wants to let the sunshine in.

At the next meeting of Regional Council, councillor Shawn Cleary will ask for a staff report on the creation and maintenance of a municipal lobbyist registry to keep track of the people and businesses trying to influence HRM.

Currently, there’s no record of the consultants, business owners, property developers or special interest groups who bend the ears of HRM’s elected officials. Across Canada, other cities and municipalities have increasingly been using public lobbyist registries to shed some light on that problem.

“I can only speak to my point of view,” says Cleary, “but the number of government contractors that call you up and ask to meet, the number of developers and anti-development groups that want to meet—I think if a group of company is meeting with elected officials or senior bureaucrats, the public has a right to know that.”

Last year mayor Mike Savage told The Coast he didn’t see lobbying as a pressing worry in Halifax but admitted the obvious difficulty is we don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors.

“I don’t think it’s a big problem, but none of us can know completely who everyone’s talking to,” said the mayor.

Cleary says he wants HRM to err on the side of letting the public know more, rather than less.

“I’m not saying anything untoward happens in those meetings, but you should have the right to know those meetings are taking place.”

It’s part of a “10-point agenda for cleaning up elections” the Halifax West Armdale councillor campaigned on a year ago. Along with throwing his support behind already-in-motion campaign finance reform, Cleary is also hoping to improve conflict of interest rules and “in the near future” will make a request to install cooling-off periods for HRM managers and elected officials. All in an effort to have a more open and transparent municipal government.

“People should know who we’re meeting with,” he says. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to open up the doors and curtains and let that sunshine come into city hall.”

Rather than setting up its own registry, one option the municipality could try is asking Nova Scotia to extend the provincial lobbyist registry down and have it cover HRM’s activities. Doing so would be simpler procedurally, but would also come with its own challenges.

Opposition leaders recently decried the province’s lobbyist registry as woefully antique and called on the government to bolster its legislation to include the recording of meeting dates and topics.

“Nova Scotia is still in the dark ages and I think it’s time we shed light on lobbyists’ activities here,” Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie told the media.

Premier Stephen McNeil was less inclined to discuss the issue, telling CBC the registry “seems like a pretty good thing that’s working on behalf of the people.”

There has never been a single reported violation from the province's nearly 1,000 registered lobbyists since the database was created in 2001. The number seems suspiciously low, but results aren’t much better from other governments. The Federal Lobbying Act created in 1988 has only had one charge issued. As of last year the city of Toronto, which created its lobbyist registry in 2008, has had 30 infractions involving 16 lobbyists. Of those violations, the city was only able to hand out a single $1,000 fine.

But Halifax city hall is more nimble than Province House or Parliament Hill, counters Cleary. The municipality’s lobbyist registry would only have to track 17 elected officials and a handful of executives. Any setup costs could also be offset by charging registration fees to business groups and individual lobbyists, he suggests.

“I’m not saying we’re going to be the most open and transparent government in the world, but simply by having a registry, even if it’s updated infrequently, is better than not having one at all,” Cleary states. “Are we going to have the Cadillac of registries? No. But can we have a Chevy? Maybe.”

Council will meet to discuss the idea on October 31.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pain and no gain: HRM looks to write-off nearly $300,000 in gym fees

City hall feeling the burn for Sackville Sports Stadium’s uncollectible accounts.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 10:32 AM


Changing banks was easier than cancelling a Sackville Sports Stadium gym membership, and that could end up costing HRM over a quarter of a million dollars.

A report headed to Wednesday’s Audit and Finance committee is asking city council to write-off slightly over $295,000 in outstanding accounts from the Lower Sackville fitness centre.

The lost money is a result of changes the stadium made to its membership contract a decade ago, as per the advice of an “independent private fitness facility consultant.”

Under new policies, customers were no longer able to cancel their fitness centre memberships early. Automatic payments continued to be taken from their bank accounts for the entire annual contract.

In response, many of those customers simply changed banks.

“The continued billing process that resulted from this policy (either through credit card or authorized withdrawal from the clients’ financial institution) forced many former members to cancel and/or change their financial service providers to stop SSS from continuing to process their payments,” reads the staff report. “Despite this reality, SSS continued to invoice the monthly membership fees and subsequent [non-sufficient fund] fees as accounts receivable until the end of the original membership contracts.”

The municipality absorbed operations of the Sackville Sports Stadium in 2014, but the policies remained in place for another two years. City hall’s legal department has since reviewed the paperwork and found many of the contracts lacked enforceable language and sufficient signatures, making them invalid.

“The rigid membership policy, in addition to lack of documentation, provided a real challenge with respect to collections,” says staff.

“As the majority of the accounts are very old and have not been acted on in a while from a collections perspective, it is staff’s recommendation that they be written-off.”

The Sackville Sports Stadium generates roughly $1.8 million in annual revenue, though it's faced declining membership in recent years due to competition from private facilities like Goodlife. The stadium shut down its women's gym in 2015 citing declining usage.

This is the stadium's first formal write-off . Regional council approved $73,000 in writes-offs across all of HRM at the end of last fiscal year.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Dal moves quickly to meet with residents at homecoming ground zero

“What happened in your neighbourhood is not acceptable to us.”

Posted By on Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 4:33 PM

Just another Saturday afternoon on Jennings Street. - SUBMITTED
  • Just another Saturday afternoon on Jennings Street.

The adults at Dalhousie University are busy trying to clean up the mess after Saturday afternoon’s homecoming party/riot/debacle.

Houses around the Jennings Street scene of pro-Dal chanting, public intoxication and mass arrest received a letter from university president Richard Florizone today, inviting them to a meeting Tuesday night.

”Dear neighbour: I want to apologize for the actions of some of our students over the weekend,” Florizone opens, before promising that Dal is “working on a plan to discourage similar behaviour in the future.” Then comes the invitation: “We would like to hear directly from you to help inform our plan for moving forward.”

The meeting is Tuesday night, 7-9pm, at the University Club.

Dalhousie president Richard Florizone's letter to residents.
  • Dalhousie president Richard Florizone's letter to residents.
there are no specifics offered about the meeting’s discussion topics, the letter is clear on the apology front. “Again,” Florizone writes, “I am very sorry for the noise and disruption you experienced over the weekend and for any actions of Dalhousie students that made you feel unsafe in your neighbourhood.”

Along with residents and other “Dalhousie community” members, the guest list includes police reps and area councillor Waye Mason. If you want to talk before the meeting, Florizone encourages you to contact Dal’s community relations person, Karen Cairney, who can be reached by phone at 902-494-2786 or by email.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Watch this: Dalhousie students riot during homecoming

Nearly two dozen arrested by police on Saturday at off-campus parties.

Posted By on Sat, Oct 14, 2017 at 6:40 PM


Close to two dozen people were arrested Saturday afternoon as police responded to several off-campus parties being held by Dalhousie students.

Halifax Regional Police estimate up to 1,500 people were a part of the unsanctioned homecoming events, which took place off-campus in the area of Jennings and Larch streets.

Videos of the disturbance uploaded by those in attendance show a crowd of young men and women in black-and-gold Dalhousie clothing chanting “fuck these cops” at the assembled police presence.

“Just an average riot,” reads one caption. The videos were publicly viewable on Snapchat’s location-based map.

“You got actual lives to save but you’d rather watch a university party?” one woman can be heard yelling at the assembled emergency personnel.

At one point the crowd repeatedly chants “Let her go; let her go” at officers arresting a young blonde woman.

A statement from Halifax police says 22 people were arrested during the parties for a variety of offences under the Liquor Control Act, Criminal Code and HRM bylaw violations.

A post shared by Ross (@rosserikandersen) on

University president Richard Florizone condemned the students’ actions later in the day, writing on Twitter that he was “disappointed to hear that some students are drinking excessively and disturbing our community.”

“Not only is this dumb behaviour and subject to the law, these few students may also be subject to university discipline,” continues Florizone. “Be safe!”

Earlier this school year, Dalhousie banned alcohol in residences during orientation week as part of a harm-reduction policy around student drinking.

The school was sued last fall after international student Xiaomeng (Melody) Shang died from alcohol poisoning following a night of dorm-room drinking.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Dealer’s choice: Nova Scotia launches public cannabis consultation

Online survey seeks input on age limits, selling pot at NSLCs.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 11:14 AM

The survey is completely anonymous (we hope). - VIA TWEED CANADIAN CANNABIS
  • The survey is completely anonymous (we hope).

Nova Scotia’s government wants the blunt truth.

The province has unveiled an online survey seeking public input on proposed rules and regulations for recreational cannabis.

“As the federal government moves toward legalizing cannabis, our top priority is to protect the health and safety of Nova Scotians,” claims Justice minister Mark Furey in a press release. “We want to hear from Nova Scotians as we develop a well-regulated legal market that encourages responsible use and minimizes organized crime.”

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is set to legalize cannabis use and production come July, 2018. But it’ll be up to individual provinces to regulate distribution methods, as well as decide if they want to strengthen federally-approved minimums for possession, cultivation and age limit.

According to the 13-question survey, Nova Scotia’s government is considering using an existing Crown corporation (such as the NSLC) to sell recreational cannabis, and bumping the minimum legal age limit from 18 to 19.

If you have any thoughts on those plans, the survey is open and accepting comments until October 27. Print copies will be available at Access Nova Scotia Centres beginning October 12.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

In memoriam: Energy East (2013-2017)

The pipeline project’s sudden death was announced Thursday morning.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 6:24 PM

News of the pipeline's passing was celebrated in the streets. - VIA TWITTER
  • News of the pipeline's passing was celebrated in the streets.

Energy East, the gargantuan, $16-billion pipeline project that would have transported over one million barrels of oil a day from Alberta to New Brunswick, has died.

It was four-years-old.

Parent company TransCanada announced the death of its 4,500-kilometre pipeline baby on Thursday morning. Chief executive officer Russ Girling offered his thanks to the businesses, Irvings and “various governments” who have supported Energy East over the years.

“Most of all, we thank Canadians across the country who contributed towards the development of these initiatives,” Girling states.

Energy East's sibling, the Eastern Mainline natural gas project, was killed in the same news release.

Condolences flowed in from across the country, including New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant, Alberta premier Rachel Notley and federal Conservative House leader Lisa Raitt, who called the decision “disastrous.”

Cause of death is not yet known. Girling cites “changed circumstances” in his news release, while federal energy minister Jim Carr told reporters it was a business decision based on oil prices, having little to do with government regulation.

In recent months Energy East had been battling a regulatory application by the National Energy Board. Its health took a turn for the worse when the NEB ruled that review would include climate change impacts and oil tanker traffic.

A report by environmental think-tank the Pembina Institute found the pipeline project had the capacity to generate 32 million tonnes of new greenhouse gases each year.

Energy East—which potentially would have put the drinking water for over five million Canadians at risk—was also considered controversial by many of the towns, municipalities and First Nations running along its proposed route.

News of its death was met with celebration by some of those same critics.

“Today is a great day for the climate and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who stood up to Energy East and its risks to our land, water and communities,” Andrea Harden-Donahue with the Council of Canadians said in a press release.

“Both the Northern Gateway fight and this Energy East one show that when First Nations stand together, supported by non-Indigenous allies, we win,” writes Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, on behalf of the 150 First Nations and tribes who made up the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion.

“This is an enormous win,” said Stephen Thomas, energy campaign coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. “For the past five years a broad movement of people in frontline communities and across Canada have been working to stop this pipeline. These communities took on the largest pipeline ever proposed in North America, and they won.”

Funeral arrangements are expected to cost TransCanada $1 billion next quarter. In lieu of donations, maybe just idle your car for a couple hours.

Energy East is survived by its sibling, the Keystone XL pipeline, along with cousins Trans Mountain Expansion (Kinder Morgan) and Line 3 Replacement (Enbridge).

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Eight-person expert panel proposed to determine the fate of Cornwallis

Terms of reference for the citizen committee, made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents, will be debated by city council on Tuesday.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 5:36 PM

Red paint thrown on the base of the Edward Cornwallis statue in 2016. - VIA INSTAGRAM
  • Red paint thrown on the base of the Edward Cornwallis statue in 2016.

Eight people will help decide Edward Cornwallis’ place in history, but it’ll be up to the 16 members of Halifax Regional Council to follow through on the expert panel’s advice.

The municipality has released its tentative terms of reference for the special advisory committee it hopes to task with examining Halifax’s commemoration of its controversial founder.

The terms of reference, which will be debated by Regional Council at its Tuesday meeting next week, were developed by staff after discussions with representatives from Aboriginal Affairs, local historians, Parks Canada, Mi’kmaq scholar Daniel Paul and the Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society. A draft version of the document was also shared with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.

The committee, when it's formed, will be tasked with conducting historical research and public engagement on HRM’s commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and the area's Indigenous history, and report back to council with recommendations on its findings.

Staff are suggesting an eight-person panel be struck, composed of experts on military and Mi’kmaw history, and those with Indigenous and non-Indigenous community experience. Two co-chairs—one Indigenous, one non-Indigenous—will lead the committee.

Four of the experts proposed by staff are selected out of nominations put forward by the Assembly of Chiefs. But for now, none of those names are being released. The identities of the panel members are contained in a separate in-camera report and will only be disclosed to the public after confirmation from council on Tuesday.

No deadline is included in the proposed terms of reference. Staff only suggest the panel should first tackle and report back on Cornwallis’ legacy before reconvening on the broader issue of how to best celebrate the region’s Mi’kmaq heritage.

Cornwallis, who commanded British troops as they raped and murdered their way through the Scottish Highlands, founded Halifax in 1749, in direct violation of England’s treaties with the Mi’kmaq. The same year Cornwallis issued a proclamation for Mi’kmaw scalps in an effort to “destroy” the area’s Indigenous population.

In recent decades, thanks in no small part to the advocacy of scholars like Daniel Paul, Cornwallis’ legacy has increasingly found itself debated inside City Hall. Councillor Shawn Cleary proposed this, HRM’s latest effort to start a conversation on how the city honours its complicated founder, after being inspired by a performance from poet laureate Rebecca Thomas this past spring.

A statue of the infamous governor still stands in the south end park that’s also named in his honour. It was erected by CN Rail in 1931—partially to increase Halifax tourism. The name of Cornwallis Street in the city's north end, meanwhile, dates back at least as far 1817, according to staff.

The only other HRM-owned asset branded with Cornwallis’ name was a Dartmouth Ferry that was sunk beneath the waters off Georges Island in 1944 after its engine room caught fire mid-transit.

The city’s former Cornwallis Junior High was renamed Halifax Central Junior High in 2011.

Current municipal policies don’t allow for the renaming of either Cornwallis Park or Cornwallis Street, however. A civic street name can only be changed for public safety reasons, or if initiated by—and with 100 percent agreement of—the road’s property owners. Park bylaws only offer renaming scenarios for a “living person who no longer meets the criteria for which they were commemorated.” Edward Cornwallis, being very dead, skates through that loophole.

Rules can change, though. Staff suggest council could amend both policies to allow for renaming, depending on the committee’s advice.

Total costs for the expert panel’s work is estimated to run between $50,000 to $75,000, with a large chunk of that expense taken up by public engagement. Even that process, when it comes to Cornwallis, won't be cut-and-dry.

Traditional methods of public consultation might need to be altered, staff note, given that Mi’kmaw territory—and thus the community most impacted by the continual celebration of Cornwallis—doesn’t readily align with the municipality’s borders.

And there's no guarantee any of this will result in any changes. Recommendations brought back by the expert panel will still need to be debated and voted on by city council.

Staff also caution that some residents will inevitably question the validity and credentials of a small table of fallible experts deciding what’s best for the city’s soul. Indeed, that’s already been a concern brought up numerous times during staff's consultations about the terms of reference.

“More than one individual suggested that while experts, narrowly defined, have an important role to play in the discussion, the key challenges being addressed—namely how we choose to remember the past, what do we do in terms of understanding our relationship with the past, and how that informs and influences us today—are questions for community, citizens and politicians rather than for experts.”

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