Reality Bites provides the best coverage of current affairs and political issues related to Halifax and City Council anywhere in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Oh, and we bring the snark, too. Contact jacob@thecoast.ca to send a tip.

Monday, August 20, 2018

25 for 25: episode 2003

Phonse Jessome talks Hells Angels, Kirk Johnson on his human rights win and Hurricane Juan devastates Halifax.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2018 at 11:15 AM

THE COAST
  • THE COAST

Author and journalist Phonse Jessome calls in to talk about Operation Hammer—what made the Hells Angels ride out of town and why the cops got lucky.

Then, boxer Kirk Johnson shares stories about his landmark Human Rights victory against the Halifax police department for racial discrimination, and why 2003 was such a hard year for him for personally and professionally.

Plus, Allison Saunders is back in studio as we discuss Hurricane Juan, Iraq War protests and Tara's first trip to Sundance.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

People are losing it over Halifax Transit’s new giant-ass bus tickets

“This blows my mind with how dumb it is,” responds members of the public.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 10:55 PM

The new tickets will cut down on...something...by being extra cumbersome. - VIA HRM
  • The new tickets will cut down on...something...by being extra cumbersome.
  • VIA HRM

As part of ongoing efforts to modernize Halifax Transit's technology and improve the ridership experience, bus tickets will soon be really, really, really big.

The city put out a tender this week looking for someone to print the new transit tickets, which will each measure six inches in length by 2.75 inches in width.

That's approximately the size of a five-dollar bill, and almost as large as 10 of the current orange blue-and-yellow tickets.

Bigger is necessary, says the city, because the old-style tickets can't be accepted by the expensive new fare boxes already purchased for HRM's fleet.

Those boxes will enhance transit technology by validating and counting both paper money and paper tickets—providing a “ding” of acceptance for honest customers or a buzz of shame if someone's fare falls short.

The new system will “lay the technological foundation for enhancements and additional customer conveniences to be implemented in the future, including the adoption of smart media,” says HRM's specially created FAQ on the new tickets. (Always a good sign!)

Anyway, people are having absolutely none of it.


Prior plans to replace the fare boxes and allow for electronic bus payment options were delayed three years ago, then split in two after it became clear no single contractor could handle both halves of the upgrades.

A year ago, city council approved a $14-million deal for Trapeze Software to handle the first half of that overhaul by creating new back-end scheduling software and installing the shiny new boxes

“This new fare box will allow us to improve the performance of the system,” councillor Waye Mason said at the time. “I think it’s very exciting and wanted to jump on the mic and say how important and exciting this is.” 

Mason was less excited this week upon finding out about the ticket girth.

“Everything that is happening makes sense to me EXCEPT six-inch long tickets,” tweeted the deputy mayor. “That is just plain weird.”

The second phase of the fare management upgrades, still to come, will allow riders to use electronic payment options—potentially some combination of smart cards, credit cards and/or cellphones.

In the interim, the new tickets will fold accordion style “so they can fit in wallets with other bills.” They'll also include infrared ink to cut down on transit ticket forgeries. OK.

The redesigned tickets will replace Halifax's current orange blue-and-yellow stubs at the end of the year. Old tickets can be exchanged for new ones at specially designated locations that are yet to be determined.

The new fare collection system should be up and running sometime next winter.
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Updated: Neo-nazi art thief publishing memoir

White supremacist John Mark Tillmann's book, Stealing the Past, has been put on hold by Nimbus.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 12:47 PM

On the left, the book jacket for Stealing the Past. On the right, a photo of John Mark Tillmann holding one of his Nazi collectables. - SCREENSHOTS
  • On the left, the book jacket for Stealing the Past. On the right, a photo of John Mark Tillmann holding one of his Nazi collectables.
  • SCREENSHOTS

UPDATE: Nimbus has issued the following statement about Tillmann's book:
“In August 2017, Nimbus signed a contract with Mr. Tillmann after receiving a manuscript submission from him, which he had written in prison while serving a nearly eight-year sentence for over forty charges, including fraud, theft, possession of property obtained by crime, possession of a forged document, and obstruction of justice. We immediately knew Mr. Tillmann’s story was of immense public interest. It contained no racist views and focused exclusively on his career as an international art thief and his time in prison. Nimbus entered into a legally binding contract with Mr. Tillmann, which specified that Mr. Tillmann would not profit from the book and that all of his royalties would be sent directly from Nimbus to a registered local charity.

“Mr. Tillmann’s memoir is currently on hold while Nimbus consults with legal counsel. We will announce our decision regarding the project once those conversations have concluded. Until that time, we will not be making any further statements.

“We are also in the process of creating a new policy for inclusion in all contracts to avoid any situation like this in the future.

“To anyone who has been upset or harmed by this story, we sincerely apologize. This was never our intent. We have learned a valuable lesson and will continue to publish the stories of this region in a respectful and responsible manner.”

A white supremacist art thief who calls Adolf Hitler “one of the greatest men in history” was going to have his tell-all book published this fall. But that project is now on hold, according to Halifax-based publisher Nimbus.

Stealing the Past: My Life as an International Art Thief by John Mark Tillmann was scheduled to be released September 15, but that was before Nimbus learned about Tillmann's racist history.

“We only found out some of these things in the past month when we started pitching this thing to media,” says managing editor Whitney Moran. “It’s in a place right now where it’s not, we can’t say it’s being published. We’re trying to figure out what to do.”

Tillman gained notoriety and a certain kind of celebrity after police arrested him in 2013 for stealing a hoard of historical artifacts.

The Fall River man had pilfered over 1,600 works of art, rare documents and antiques from around the province during his decades of crime, including a first edition copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species stolen from Mount Saint Vincent University.

Stealing the Past covers those events along with other reflections from the author.

“In this candid memoir, Tillmann offers his unvarnished life story,” reads the promotional write-up. “Everything is on the table, from how he used methods like simple distraction through the use of decoys—once using his pet cat; usually his beautiful Russian wife, Katya. He describes their extensive dealings with the Russian mob (the Black Hand) and the tactics he used to once steal a van Gogh and a thousand-year-old gold Viking amulet.”

Aside from being one of the country's most infamous art thieves, Tillmann is also a self-proclaimed white supremacist who collected Nazi memorabilia.

A video tour of his Nova Scotia home—recorded back in 2011 and screened at his trial five years ago—shows various Nazi paraphernalia including a swastika flag hanging over the railing and a framed photo of Hitler.

In his accompanying narration, Tillman calls the photo “a picture of the great man—one of the greatest men in history. A decent man and he has a special spot in my office in my home.”

Tillmann makes a Nazi salute next to the Tillmann Brook sign. - TROY MEDIA
  • Tillmann makes a Nazi salute next to the Tillmann Brook sign.
  • TROY MEDIA
In the same video, Tillmann boasts of having renamed the nearby Tillmann Brook back in 1999, partially to flaunt his family's German heritage and intimidate a Jewish neighbour.

“There’s a Jew who lived in that cove there and he’s a doctor, so I think it’s kind of an appropriate name to go near him.”

Nimbus general manager Terrilee Bulger didn't have an answer when asked why the company was publishing a book by an admitted white supremacist, but promised an official statement on the matter will be released in coming days.

“We are looking into this question,” says Bulger. “We’re meeting with his parole officer. We’re trying to get a sense of the whole situation.”

Tillmann pled guilty in 2013 and was sentenced to eight years in prison. At the time, defence lawyer Mark Bailey said his client was remorseful and wanted to “get on with his life.” But as written by Macleans in 2014, being locked away had little impact on Tillmann's ego.

“He says he detects admiration from fellow inmates, signs the occasional autograph and fancies a future with book and movie deals,” writes journalist Aaron Hutchins.

Nimbus' promotional material says that Stealing the Past was written by Tillmann while serving his sentence in prison.

“By writing his story himself, Tillmann exposes both his weaknesses and his strengths, making no attempt to hide his unorthodox way of thinking.”

Tillmann was granted conditional parole in 2016, despite being rated a “high” risk for future spousal assault and of violently reoffending within three years.

“In criminal profile, he was described as having opinions on feminism relevant to past and potential aggression—including an alleged attack on his mother in 2009,” writes CBC at the time.

In a parole board document obtained by CBC News, Tillmann is described by a former partner as a “white supremacist, anti-feminist and a police hater” who made “threatening behaviours” towards her.

As recently as two years ago, Tillmann proudly defended his racist politics to the media.

“I stand by that,” he told CBC's The Fifth Estate in 2016 when asked about his white supremacist views. “I stand by that today.”

Moran says the company didn’t know any of these details when it signed its book contract with Tillmann last summer.

“He brought us a lot of materials, a lot of articles, and he must have just been strategic about which ones he brought us,” she says. “Obviously we didn’t do our due diligence. I’m willing to admit that.”

Bulger says Tillmann's book only focuses on his art thievery and does not contain any mention of his political beliefs.
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Monday, August 13, 2018

25 for 25: episode 2002

Stephanie Domet on censorship scandals at the Daily News, Mary Vingoe on the day the Arts Council was killed and Delvina Bernard on Black musicians fighting for recognition in Nova Scotia.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 12:26 PM

image_from_ios_3_.jpg

Stephanie Domet is in studio reflecting on censorship scandals at the Halifax Daily News and ethics in journalism.

Mary Vingoe also joins us to talk about the day future-premier and fiddle fanatic Rodney MacDonald killed the province's Arts Council.

Then, African Nova Scotian Music Association co-founder Delvina Bernard stops by to tell us how Black musicians fought for recognition in Nova Scotia.

Plus, G7 protests, art pranksterism, listener feedback and a violent cat named Cocoa Puff!

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Misleading billboard fuels false information about abortion

Research lawyer Jennifer Taylor was “fired up and frustrated” when she saw the sign on Windmill Road.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 10, 2018 at 6:52 PM

VIA FACEBOOK
  • VIA FACEBOOK

A Dartmouth billboard reading ‘Canada has no abortion laws’ is turning heads and raising ire.

The sign on Windmill Road is rented on a four-week contract and paid for by We Need A Law—a religious advocacy group based in Vancouver and Ottawa.

Jennifer Taylor, a research lawyer with Stewart-McKelvey was “fired up and frustrated” when she saw the sign.

“It’s a common misconception about Canadian law that we don’t have law protecting abortion rights,” she says.

“The billboard just fuels that misinformation.”

The billboard’s message arrives on the heels of a massive overhaul in this province’s handling of abortion. In September 2017, Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government removed the requirement for a doctor’s referral to obtain an abortion.

Today, women can call the Termination Pregnancy Unit directly to book an appointment. The abortion pill ‘mifegymiso’ is also now available free at pharmacies.

This comes 30 years after access to abortion became a federally protected right. In its now-famous 1988 Morgentaler decision, the Supreme Court of Canada declared the abortion provision in the Criminal Code unconstitutional.

The ruling referred to section 7 of the Charter, which protects liberty and security of the person.

“As a result, government can’t impose unreasonable barriers to abortion,” Taylor explains.

But this isn’t how the president of We Need A Law interprets the ruling.

“Since 1988 Canada has had no abortion law, neither a federal criminal law nor a provincial health regulation. You can find acknowledgement of this fact at abortionlaws.ca, our own website weneedalaw.ca” writes Mike Schouten in an email to The Coast.

Along with leading We Need A Law, Schouten also works with the Association for Reformed Political Action—a group that lobbies government on issues surrounding same-sex marriage, “pre-born human rights” and “multiculturalism.”

He doesn’t share lawyer Taylor’s view that the billboard spreads “misinformation.”

“It is a clear and accurate statement,” he says.

The billboard is leased out by Pattison Outdoor Advertising, a business whose Halifax chapter has received a number of complaints since the sign went up.

But the Toronto-based owner of Pattison, Randy Otto, says the billboard won’t come down unless his business is instructed to do so by the regulating body Advertising Standards Canada.

In fact, Otto is sending people with complaints directly to the group.

When nurse activist Martha Paynter wrote to Pattison to register her complaint about the billboard, she received an email response encouraging her to take it up with ASC.

“We most certainly do not need a law criminalizing abortion,” Paynter wrote, “Abortion is health care. We don’t criminalize knee replacements.”

Otto says his business complies with basic standards, including not posting any “advocacy advertising”—as We Need a Law is considered—that is “misleading.”.

But Otto adds, “I’m not an expert on Canadian abortion law.”

Taylor, for her part, says we could use more of those kinds of laws.

“[There are] layers of law. There is no one piece of federal legislation about abortion.

“In Nova Scotia, there is no one piece of provincial legislation about abortion,” she says. This is what leads to confusion amongst the public.

“We have the charter. The charter applies everywhere in Canada,” Taylor explains, “but we need to make this framework clearer so there’s a ready-made document.”

Taylor is working with LEAF, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, to develop such a document and outline the differences between access, province by province. It's something advocacy groups could use to distribute clear information.

“We also need lobbying of provincial governments to make clear what abortion access is in each province,” Taylor adds.

Requests for comment to ASC were not returned.

“If if they review it and find it’s a statement and it is not factual, then we’ll absolutely address it immediately,” says Otto. No word on how long that'll take, but if “multiple people complain multiple times” the matter will likely be resolved swiftly.

“They’ll move it to the top.”
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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

25 for 25: episode 2001

Talking 9/11 with Halifax airport president Joyce Carter, activist Michael Karanicolas and former Atlantic Film Festival director Lia Rinaldo.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2018 at 11:51 AM

From left to right: Joyce Carter, Lia Rinaldo and Michael Karanicolas.
  • From left to right: Joyce Carter, Lia Rinaldo and Michael Karanicolas.

Airport president Joyce Carter calls in to talk about 9/11 and looking after the thousands of stranded passengers who suddenly found themselves stuck in Halifax.

Activist Michael Karanicolas is here in studio discussing the erosion of privacy rights in the aftermath of devastating catastrophes. Plus, former AFF director Lia Rinaldo reflects on running a film festival the same week the world turned upside down.

Also on this week's episode, Atlantic Canadian musicians are whiny, “Baby Hitler” visits Halifax and we discuss the old ATM next to CD Plus.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Sobeys pharmacist spied on, shared private medical records

Manager Robyn Keddy illegally accessed highly sensitive personal health information over a two-year period to satisfy personal curiosity, says privacy commissioner.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2018 at 5:15 PM

“Intrusion into the private lives of patients is a real and present danger,” says the privacy commissioner. - SCREENSHOT
  • “Intrusion into the private lives of patients is a real and present danger,” says the privacy commissioner.
  • SCREENSHOT

A Sobeys pharmacist “snooped” on the confidential medical history of friends, family and coworkers over a two year period and the province failed to adequately look into the serious privacy breach.

Those shocking details are contained in two new investigations released Wednesday by Nova Scotia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

According to Catherine Tully’s office, from 2015 to late 2017 a manager at one of Sobey’s rural pharmacies illegally accessed prescription histories, medical conditions and other personal health information for 46 individuals.

The pharmacist in question would casually discuss the privacy breaches in front of employees and gossip about what she discovered with her spouse.

“This is a case of a pharmacist accessing highly sensitive personal health information over a two-year period to satisfy personal curiosity,” reads the report.

Upon learning she was being investigated, the manager tried to get other employees to lie for her and even visited the homes of the people whose medical privacy she violated hoping to get them to sign off on homemade consent forms.

In the end, she was fined $9,000 and given a six-month suspension on her pharmacy license.

While there are administrative safeguards in place that are supposed to prevent events such as this, “they were not effectively used and are not sufficient to protect Nova Scotians from this type of ‘snooping’ behaviour.”

The privacy commissioner found both Sobeys and the Department of Health and Wellness failed to adequately monitor access to personal health information. Inquiries into the breach that were conducted by both the company and the province’s health department failed to properly investigate the crime and wrongly concluded there was no evidence of malicious intent.

The frightening conclusion, says Tully, is that personal health information in Nova Scotia is critically vulnerable.

“Intrusion into the private lives of patients is a real and present danger.”

Although unnamed in the OIPC investigation, the pharmacist in question appears to be Robyn Keddy, who’s still listed as the manager for the Sobeys Greenwood in Kingston.

A recent hearing decision from the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists states that Keddy “unlawfully accessed patient files, some on multiple occasions, with no valid, clinical, medical or professional reason.” It also states that she was fired in September of last year for the privacy breach.

Those and other details in the college's decision match with the facts released by the privacy commissioner.

Concerns about the unauthorized use of medical information were first raised by the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists last summer. Likely acting on a tip, the OIPC says the college notified Keddy back in August that it would be conducting an audit.

Witnesses say Keddy panicked after being informed about the site visit, told coworkers she was considering going on sick leave and began adding notations to the files she had illegally accessed. She also, futilely, tried to get other employees to assist her in coming up with reasons for all the unauthorized access logged in the computer.

The Provincial Drug Information System is a multi-use database operated by the province and used by over 11,000 doctors, pharmacists and health practitioners. Once a user is trained on and given access to the system, they can view the confidential medical information of any person in Nova Scotia.

In order for a pharmacist to bring up that medical history, the subject would first need to be a patient at that particular pharmacy. Keddy used a workaround by created fake customer profiles for whoever she wanted to snoop on, which she was then able to use to access detailed, sensitive medical records.

The individuals include Keddy’s doctor, coworkers, former classmates and her child’s therapist, teachers and girlfriend.

One Sobeys coworker witnessed Keddy access the DIS and then call her spouse to discuss what she had discovered. She allegedly told her husband their child couldn’t see his girlfriend anymore because of the medications the young woman and her parents were prescribed.

Several of Sobeys’ employees gave evidence that they were aware of the unauthorized access “for some time.” They would either overhear Keddy talking about it on the phone to her husband or she would discuss the breach of privacy law directly with her employees. The pharmacy staff hesitated to report the violations because Keddy was their supervisor.

“They feared they would not be believed and they would suffer some form of retaliation.”

The college’s audit was eventually provided to the Department of Health and Wellness, which shared the findings with Sobeys. Keddy was fired shortly thereafter because of the privacy breaches.


After losing her job, she and her husband visited the homes of at least a dozen of the individuals whose privacy she had violated, asking them to sign a homemade and retroactively dated consent form.

Despite all the evidence and witnesses, the initial investigation from the province concluded only that Keddy had used the system to lock up cell phone numbers for people she knew.

“To be clear, even if the pharmacist had genuinely been looking up contact information, using a sensitive health information system as a personal phone book would not have been an authorized access and would have been considered a privacy breach,” writes the OIPC.

Instead of a phonebook, however, Keddy was using the medical information because she was nosy. The privacy commissioner’s office determined the pharmacist had a personal relationship with all of the impacted individuals and casually disclosed that sensitive information to her spouse.

“The temptation to ‘snoop’ is difficult for some individuals to resist,” Tully says in Wednesday’s release. “Custodians of electronic health records must anticipate and plan for the intentional abuse of access by authorized users.”

The commissioner made 10 recommendations for improving and strengthening provincial privacy controls, including adjusting departmental protocol so that if a user is found to have breached personal privacy, their actions are audited for all other implicated databases. Tully also says notification to affected parties should happen within days, not weeks or months.

As for Sobeys, the OIPC’s eight recommendations include developing a privacy breach protocol and training for managers within the next six months, immediately notifying the 28 people whose information was copied into its system (and delete what profiles still exist) and create new policies to document all database access any time when prescriptions are not being dispensed.

Tully also personally wrote to the minister of Health asking for prosecution time limits for health privacy breaches to be lengthened to a more realistic two years, instead of the six-month limit currently used.

For agreeing to the findings of professional misconduct from the college of pharmacists, Keddy was fined $5,000 (plus $4,000 in legal costs), had her pharmacy license suspended for six months and must attend a business ethics course. A letter of reprimand has also been placed on her file.
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Sober second thoughts on Halifax smoking ban

Council asks for staff report on exempting tobacco from new public smoking restrictions. Cannabis not so lucky.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2018 at 11:52 AM

Dartmouth Centre councillor Sam Austin inside City Hall. - RILEY SMITH
  • Dartmouth Centre councillor Sam Austin inside City Hall.
  • RILEY SMITH

After banning darts and breaking hearts, Halifax may ease off its public smoking prohibition—for cigarettes, at least.

City council asked this week for a staff report on filtering out tobacco from the new public smoking ban that was created two weeks ago when HRM amended its nuisance bylaws.

Dartmouth Centre councillor Sam Austin brought the idea forward at Tuesday’s meeting, despite having voted in favour of the original bylaw amendments on July 17.

Having spent the past few weeks reflecting on the controversial decision to outlaw all smoking and vaping on municipal property unless done in specially designated smoking zones, Austin said he came to the conclusion that Halifax needs to revisit the matter.

The current bylaw, says Austin, will be a nightmare to manage and enforce.

“We’re going to go through all this process of designating these areas and for what?” asked the councillor on Tuesday. “This feels very bureaucratic. It feels like micromanagement of the public space and I just can’t say what the underlying practical purpose of doing it is.”

Smokers in violation of the new bylaw face potential fines ranging from $50 to $2,000 for flagrant abuse. Those tickets will be largely complaint-driven, handed out during the days by municipal bylaw officers and during the night by Halifax Regional Police. Or at least, that was the plan.

“I can tell you we’ve talked to many police over the last couple weeks and they think we’ve lost our minds to think they’re going to be running around giving people $25 or $50 or whatever-dollar tickets for smoking on one side of the sidewalk when the other side of a sidewalk is a designated area,” said councillor Tim Outhit.

Austin's new motion aims to refocus the ban solely on smoking cannabis in public, which was the original reason this whole clusterfuck came to council in the first place.

But by removing tobacco from the ban, some councillors worried it will be impossible to tell who's smoking cigarettes and who's lighting up a joint—let alone prove that case in court.

“There will be no evidence,” said councillor Shawn Cleary. “If we go ahead with this, we would have to logically extend it to cannabis and allow all smoking in all the public right-of-way because you can’t have one without the other.”

Austin’s motion eventually passed 11-5, with councillors Shawn Cleary, Russell Walker, Lisa Blackburn, Steve Craig and Bill Karsten voting against.

Karsten, in particular, took issue with Austin's arguments, which he says have been raised “each and every time there's been a limitation to where people can smoke in public.”

Each and every time people thought the sky was falling, said the councillor, and it didn’t. The Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage representative told his colleagues he was proud HRM had taken this bold step in eliminating smoking.

He was less pleased, however, with how the ban has been talked about online and in the media.

“I’m going to pull my hair out if I hear the word ‘ban’ again, okay?” said Karsten. “Because what we did is not a ban. It is not a ban. It’s an evolution of still allowing smoking but in designated areas.”

The city has already produced 1,000 new designated smoking areas signs for enforcing its ban. Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé says not all of those will be used for the initial rollout, however.

The bylaw changes are currently scheduled to come into effect for October 1, allowing a two-week adjustment period before cannabis becomes legal nationwide on October 17.
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Monday, July 30, 2018

25 for 25: episode 2000

Halifax's urban forester John Simmons recounts tales from the brown spruce longhorn beetle wars.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2018 at 10:54 AM

image_from_ios_2_.jpg


We're finally in the new Willennium.

Our editorial colleague Allison Saunders joins us in studio to chat about Hershey's laying off workers at the old Moirs plant (plus the difference between American and Canadian Pot of Golds). We also run down the greatest Atlantic Canadian albums of all time (as chosen by Coast readers in 2000) and Tara brings up Ashley MacIsaac's scabies.

Then, Halifax’s urban forester John Simmons drops by to talk about the brown spruce longhorn beetle. It was a beetle invasion inside Point Pleasant Park that no one was celebrating 18 years ago. But how much of the panic was driven by industrial concerns? And where are the beetles today? (Spoiler alert: still here)

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If you like the podcast, please feel free to give us a nice rating or leave a review. If you hate the podcast, want to correct something we got wrong or have comments about any events we forgot to mention you can email us at letters@thecoast.ca.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

25 for 25: episode 1999

Andrea Dorfman talks first features and Rick Conrad holds up his union sign at the Herald as the uncertainties of the year 2000 loom.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 23, 2018 at 11:00 AM

img_1866.jpg

Millennium panic looms over us this week so we try to distract ourselves with art, specifically Andrea Dorfman's debut feature Parsley Days. Dorfman biked by the day after wrapping shooting on her fourth feature, Spinster, aka the source of June's Chelsea Peretti sightings. She talks abortion comedies, shooting in the north end on no budget, and going to TIFF.

Also on deck is journalist and author Rick Conrad to tell us about the Chronicle Herald newsroom's unionization saga, which occurred when he was a Herald employee and when he was the president of the Halifax Typographical Union.

Stream it from here or hit up your favourite platform:


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If you like the podcast, please feel free to give us a nice rating or leave a review. If you hate the podcast, want to correct something we got wrong or have comments about any events we forgot to mention you can email us at letters@thecoast.ca.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Auditor general says HRM's planning department too slow, inefficient

Report confirms what developers—and city hall officials—have been complaining about for the past couple of years.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 4:46 PM

Shocker. - DANIELLE CAMERON
  • Shocker.
  • DANIELLE CAMERON

Halifax's Planning and Development lacks clear policy guidelines and consistently fails to meet Charter-mandated timelines for processing new building applications.

That’s the conclusion from a new report by HRM’s Office of the Auditor General that was presented Wednesday to council’s audit and finance committee.

Among other issues, the OAG says Halifax's planning staff have no policy manual on how to process applications and a burdensome review process that contributes to “lengthy timelines” for developers.

“The 11 development agreements or amendments we tested took between nine months and seven years,” reads the audit. “Four of the six rezoning application files tested took more than 14 months to complete.

Downtown site-plan approvals, for instance, are required under HRM's Charter to be completed within 60 days. But that target is rarely met.

Instead, P&D splits the approval process into two parts—pre-application and full application review.

In theory, the pre-application portion is supposed to speed up the process. The 60-day timeframe isn’t started by managers until the pre-application process is finished.
VIA HRM
  • VIA HRM

Meanwhile, staff reports from the planning department are needlessly reviewed several times—from the principal planner, all the way up to the director, HRM finance, legal and the CAO—causing further delays.

“Both the HRM planning staff and external developers we interviewed told us staff reports undergo too many levels of review which they believe are not necessary,” states auditor general Evangeline Colman-Sadd.

Delays in approvals have long been cited by developers as one of the biggest annoyances in working with city hall.

According to Wednesday's audit, senior HRM management blame vacancies in the business unit for the spate of unusually long applications processes over the past two years.

The municipality recently promoted Kelly Denty as its new permanent director of planning and development to replace former planning chief Bob Bjerke, who was unceremoniously fired last summer.

Other problems highlighted by the OAG's audit include an ad-hoc system for submitting applications for review to external stakeholders such as Halifax Fire and the provincial department of environment. There’s also poor communication with applicants, who are often left in the dark with no updates on deadlines or where their proposal stands.

The OAG offered 10 recommendations on improving P&D, including the creation of a comprehensive procedure manual and the establishment of reasonable timeframes for application and review.

All of the ideas were accepted by HRM management, but there's a lot of work to be done before any improvements will be seen.

The implementation of the department’s current five-year strategic plan is currently a year behind schedule, causing further delays in everything from ongoing bylaw simplification to the completion of the long-gestating Centre Plan.

A new bible for development in the urban core, the Centre Plan was originally expected to be completed and approved by 2017.

It's now expected HRM will only be able to adopt a portion of the new guidelines by the end of 2018.
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Halifax police at high risk of cybersecurity threats

A letter from HRM's auditor general says there has been little improvement since significant IT problems were first identified 18 months ago.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 2:50 PM

Maybe they can hire breach teen. - VIA ISTOCK
  • Maybe they can hire breach teen.
  • via iStock

Attention hackers and bored teenagers: the Halifax Regional Police computer systems are woefully insecure and the department has done little to fix the problem over the past 18 months.

Auditor general Evangeline Colman-Sadd outlined her office's concerns about HRP's cybersecurity in a letter sent July 6 to the Board of Police Commissioners.

In the now-public document, Colman-Sadd writes that an external consultant report from 2016 “identified serious security deficiencies” in HRP’s IT security.

Worse, though, is that very few of those problems have been fixed in the last year-and-a-half.

“From discussions with HRP management, we understand a number of the issues identified by the consultant have yet to be addressed in the 18 months since HRP received the report,” writes the AG.

The consultant report by KPMG investigated the likelihood of something going wrong within HRP's information technology systems and what the impact would be if those events occurred.

KPMG highlighted 67 security concerns—35 of which were labelled high-impact and high in likelihood.

The police have pinned the blame on fixing those problems as due to a lengthy recruitment process to hire a new chief information security officer.

But the auditor general says a delay of 18 months in “addressing a large number of significant IT security matters is concerning.

“Issues which have a high likelihood of occurring and a high impact if they do, need immediate attention.”

The police department previously refused to release a copy of KPMG's “Cyber Threat Assessment” to The Coast even after a Freedom of Information request.

Police inspector and HRP FOIPOP coordinator Donald Mosher claimed back in February that releasing even a redacted version of the report, or any emails about its contents, “could reasonably be expected to harm the security” of the police department’s systems.

The Coast appealed that decision, but there’s been no update on whether the documents will be released.

The provincial Freedom of Information web portal, meanwhile, is still down, 100-plus days after its own security flaws were exposed.

In a public response letter sent Wednesday, the board of commissioners and HRP management reassures the municipality that the police have the “necessary controls and practices in place today to protect citizens.”

We're all going to have to take their word on that, though.

“Discussing the specific findings [of the consultant report ]has the potential to introduce further risk,” says the letter.

The office of the auditor general had planned to perform its own audit of HRP’s information technologies systems later this fiscal year.

But as that investigation would likely just repeat what was found by KPMG, instead Colman-Sadd says her office will wait until Spring of 2019 in the hopes that the police will finally be able to fix the flaws in their system.

Meanwhile, the department says it's acting “thoroughly and proactively” to make the necessary changes, starting with the recent hire of Atlantic Security Conference co-founder Andrew Kozma as HRP's new CISO.

Kozma is in charge of developing a strategic view of security and operations for HRP, and will act as the police department's liaison for all IT-related matters with partner agencies.
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Monday, July 16, 2018

25 for 25: episode 1998

Stephen Kimber joins us to talk about Gerald Regan's legacy, 20 years after the former Nova Scotian premier stood trial on multiple charges of sexual assault.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2018 at 3:51 PM

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It was #MeToo moment decades before #MeToo even existed. Gerald Regan, former Nova Scotian premier and Liberal party statesman, brought to court on eight charges of sexual assault against victims as young as 14.

Journalist Stephen Kimber was there watching the trial in 1998 when Regan was eventually acquitted. He wrote about the story for The Coast and later in his book, Aphrodisiac: Sex, Politics, Power and Gerald Regan.

Kimber joins us on this episode talking about the trial and Regan's tarnished legacy.

Also on this episode, we discuss the tragedy of the Swissair crash, Halifax police try to shut down Savage Love, Titanic-mania sweeps through the tourism industry and council starts looking for solutions to cleaning up the harbour.

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If you like the podcast, please feel free to give us a nice rating or leave a review. If you hate the podcast, want to correct something we got wrong or have comments about any events we forgot to mention you can email us at letters@thecoast.ca.
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Monday, July 9, 2018

25 for 25: episode 1997

Mayor Mike Savage talks about his dad, Susan Dodd digs up the Westray Inquiry and we dive into craft beer culture with Brian Titus and Emily Tipton.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 9, 2018 at 11:44 AM

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The year 1997 is when Mike Savage first tried—and failed—to enter politics. It's also the year his father, John Savage, resigned as premier. The mayor joins us in studio to talk about both events and his family's history in Dartmouth of yore.

University of King's College professor Susan Dodd is also here to discuss the Westray Inquiry: the infuriating behaviour of the mining officials who refused to take part and the former premier who blamed the men underground for their own deaths.

If that wasn't enough, on this jam-packed episode we dive into craft beer culture. Garrison founder Brian Titus stops by with Boxing Rock owner Emily Tipton (who's also president of the Nova Scotia Craft Brewers Association) to reminisce about those early days and how the industry has matured two decades hence.

All this, plus future-Buzzfeed editor Craig Silverman measures politicians' heads for bike helmets, the government tries to hire journalism students for propaganda and media bigot Harry Flemming craps back up again to suggest Nova Scotia should re-segregate its schools.

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If you like the podcast, please feel free to give us a nice rating or leave a review. If you hate the podcast, want to correct something we got wrong or have comments about any events we forgot to mention you can email us at letters@thecoast.ca.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Halifax police chief Jean Michel Blais to retire next year

The decision was not made lightly, says Blais, who walks away from the position a year earlier than he originally planned.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 4, 2018 at 1:15 PM

The outgoing Halifax Regional Police chief Jean-Michel Blais.
  • The outgoing Halifax Regional Police chief Jean-Michel Blais.

After six years as the city's top cop, Halifax Regional Police chief Jean Michel Blais will retire next spring.

The chief made the announcement Wednesday via press release, in which he thanked HRP employees and HRM citizens for the “incredible honour” it's been to serve.

“Leading the dedicated Halifax Regional Police team and serving our community as chief of police have been two of the greatest privileges of my professional life,” Blais states. “The decision to retire is not one I made lightly.”

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, a group of reporters grilled Blais for an answer to why exactly he’s retiring. But if the chief has a particular reason, he didn’t spill it.

“We all have to retire at one point or another,” he said, “and that includes you folks as well.”

Blais did credit HRP’s management team as a factor that lets him leave knowing the department will be OK.

At his press conference, HRP chief and dedicated rule-enforcer Blais said he's going to be "refereeing a lot more hockey" after his retirement.
  • At his press conference, HRP chief and dedicated rule-enforcer Blais said he's going to be "refereeing a lot more hockey" after his retirement.
“We have a very senior, but a very mature management style,” he said. “One of the key accomplishments that we’ve brought about in the last few years has been a change in how we arrive at decisions. So I think now is a good time to be able to make that change.”

The chief will continue on in the role until March 31, 2019. A recruitment process for a replacement will be helmed by the Board of Police Commissioners.

“I thank chief Blais for his service and dedication to the citizens of HRM in his role as chief of police,” councillor Steve Craig, chair of the Board of Police Commissioners said in the same release. “We look forward to a smooth transition and a thorough selection process for the next chief.”

Whether that person is an internal hire or an outsider like Blais was when he left the RCMP to join the city cops, the outgoing-chief thinks the department will be welcoming.

“Change is always difficult for people, but I want to bring it back to about six years ago when I had applied for this job, and was coming in from my former employment, and that was considered to be groundbreaking. The people on the ground were just fantastic and very supportive of me, so my expectation is that that will continue.”

Blais was appointed to the role in 2012, replacing former chief Frank Beazley.

He came to the position after 25 years with the RCMP and three tours with the United Nations in Haiti, during which he developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (The chief has since become a vocal advocate for others who suffer from PTSD.)

A self-described leftie, Blais’ tenure has been spent trying to address larger societal concerns about policing, even while HRP's operations were struck by numerous blows, including a disastrous lack of evidence control and the continued overrepresentation of African Nova Scotians in police street checks.

The chief's original five-year work term was extended last August by the Board of Police Commissioners. At the time, Blais told reporters his desire was to stay on in the role until 2020.

“I’ve let the CAO know my desire is to only do three years,” he said last summer. “I’m not going anywhere.”

As for future plans, Blais was noncommittal about entering politics—although he has read former MLA Graham Steele’s books.

“The more applicable question is: What plans do I have afterwards?” he says. “Aside from refereeing a lot of hockey, none at this point. Who knows, I might become a journalist.”
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In Print This Week

Vol 26, No 12
August 16, 2018

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