Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Nova Scotia’s approach to data protection remains stuck in the past

The government’s blasé attitude to securing sensitive data is pretty galling, even by provincial standards.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 11:37 AM

VIA NOVA SCOTIA
  • VIA NOVA SCOTIA


South of the border, U.S. president Donald Trump is facing a barrage of mockery for the fact that his proposed border wall is “a 1st-century solution to a 21st-century problem.” Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge, given the way our own government struggles to implement technology.

Michael Karanicolas is a human rights advocate who works to promote freedom of expression, government transparency and digital rights. You can follow him on Twitter at @M_Karanicolas and @NSRighttoKnow. - SUBMITTED
  • Michael Karanicolas is a human rights advocate who works to promote freedom of expression, government transparency and digital rights. You can follow him on Twitter at @M_Karanicolas and @NSRighttoKnow.
  • SUBMITTED
On Tuesday, Catherine Tully, Nova Scotia’s information and privacy commissioner, released her report into the massive data breach of the province’s Freedom of Information web portal, which revealed that the leak was far more damaging than first reported, and included not just social insurance numbers, but also “extremely sensitive personal information” such as medical information and reports of child abuse.

The government’s blasé attitude to securing this sensitive data was pretty galling, even by Nova Scotian standards. The report tells a story of repeated warnings ignored or kicked down the road, including from the information and privacy commissioner herself, who specifically flagged the possibility that users of the website might be able to access unauthorized documents back in December 2017. The government treated legally mandated privacy and security assessments as little more than a box to check, copying and pasting information from the vendor’s own promotional documents rather than carrying out its own analysis. The report points to the government’s “comfortable vendor relationship” with Unisys as having led to complacency, and a failure to rigorously assess the risks associated with the project.

The report, and an accompanying letter which the information and privacy commissioner sent to the premier, includes a number of common sense recommendations for updating the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, including stronger requirements for privacy impact assessments, and enhanced powers for the commissioner. But while the government claims to be taking these seriously, many of these same recommendations were made by Tully’s office back in June 2017. Indeed, the idea of giving the commissioner order-making power goes back to a Liberal Party campaign promise from back in 2013!

The report raises issues beyond those Tully focuses on. For example, the chummy relationship between Unisys and the government leads to questions about the procurement process by which government contracts are awarded and the need for better transparency and open contracting policies. Similarly, we’ve never received a satisfactory answer as to why the initial messaging was that the government had been hacked, when the truth was that the government had left these files sitting on the open web. Tully does not fault the police in their response, though it is worth noting that, six months later, the “perpetrator” still hasn’t been given back his computer. Still, while the information commissioner’s recommendations won’t solve every problem, they are at least a good start.

Nova Scotia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act was passed 25 years ago, when grunge was king and the commercial internet had just been introduced. Much has changed since then, but Nova Scotia’s approach to data protection remains stuck in the 20th century. While it’s tempting to call this a wake-up call, the information and privacy commissioner—and civil society voices—have been sounding the alarm on these problems for years. Premier McNeil’s government needs to stop pressing the snooze button.

———

Voice of the City is a platform for any and all Halifax individuals to share their diverse opinions and writings. The Coast does not necessarily endorse the views of those published. Our editors reserve the right to alter submissions for clarity, length, content and style. Want to appear in this section? Submissions can be sent to voice@thecoast.ca.
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Forget about commuter rail

Here's a better way to improve HRM's transportation needs.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 4:25 AM

Commuter rail cars run by the Massachusetts department of transit. - MASS DOT
  • Commuter rail cars run by the Massachusetts department of transit.
  • MASS DOT

Won over by the irresistible romance of railway? I’ll try to conjure up the experience of what might be to come. Chuffing slowly but surely along by the shores of the Bedford Basin, you soon leave the crappy sprawling environs of Bedford behind you. Hark! The call of an eagle penetrates the soft rhythmic clatter of wheels on rails. The rotunda flashes past as you gather speed. Order a beverage at the buffet and enjoy the best commute there is to be had for thousands of miles around. The woes of the Bedford Highway long since forgotten, this is travel the way it’s meant to be.

Martyn Williams is a derailed Englishman unlikely to recover from perpetual shock over transportation infrastructure choices in North America. - SUBMITTED
  • Martyn Williams is a derailed Englishman unlikely to recover from perpetual shock over transportation infrastructure choices in North America.
  • SUBMITTED
An unrivalled 21st century commute, right? Right. But our commuting problems are compounded by a disturbing set of circumstances: Increasing use of private vehicles for our transportation needs and its very significant effect on climate change and our health. And the large burden of this on both our personal and municipal financial resources.

Council has approved a 63 percent annual increase in our budget for street recapitalization (maintaining and resurfacing our streets) since 2012/13 from $18.5 million to $30M. Our combined proposed budget over the 2020/21 financial year for road-related spending is a whopping $64.5M. Most of that expenditure is utilized by people making unsustainable journeys by car, with a token $3 million dedicated to active transport projects.

So, no surprise given the very significant and ongoing resource bias towards road maintenance and infrastructure, that more of us are using cars. And with drivers providing the largest and loudest voice for our tax dollars, we need to think clever and efficient to deliver our strongest and most cost-effective solution with the leftover cash. Is a train service that killer number-one remedy?

First up, a train fixes some issues, worsens others. Bedford and every other area blessed with a railway station would become much more desirable as a place to live. House price increases and more development and sprawl will be sparked as soon as plans are firmed up for the railway link. It may also ease congestion on the highway routes to and from downtown which could promote more traffic, speeding and all of those undesirables. Many accustomed to a lifetime of car commuting will not give up door to door convenience for a multi-legged commute on a train, but they will be hoping others do, so their own journey time is quickened.

Crucially a train only “fixes” one commuting journey into downtown. What about the others? No train joy for Cole Harbour, Eastern Passage, Sambro, Timberlea and many more from our geographically dispersed communities. For them, it’s carry on with the cramped car commute.

One solution does stand head and shoulders over all others—express park and ride. We have some “park and ride” parking lots which are served by our regular transit services. We don’t have European-style park and ride solutions which combine enormous out of town car parking lots with express dedicated non-stop buses leaving every 15 minutes max during peak times. This solution is aimed squarely at the unchangeable reality of how we travel, but crucially it wins over drivers before the congested parts of their journey commence, utilizing dedicated bus lanes to get those queue-hating commuters downtown quicker than they could by car.

This last requirement is essential. Why bother taking the bus at all if you can get there quicker by car? So for this, we must use another common European solution—straight swapping traffic lanes for bus lanes, including at congested parts of the “at capacity” Bedford Highway.

Park and ride does not match the romance or experience of railway, but it delivers a solid solution for all out-of-town commuters in our municipality, if done properly. Even better, the understated and unromantic solution it offers is less likely to increase house prices or create more sprawl.

Let’s revisit that commute: Sambro neighbours car-pool to the park and ride at Spry- field, where they pick up a bus within 10 minutes which zips by queuing traffic to take them non-stop to multi drop-off locations downtown. Doesn’t sound quite as idyllic? Nope, but it fits perfectly with how we travel here.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Totem poles and online threats

None of my writings has resulted in violent threats quite like my comment on NHL imagery.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 3, 2019 at 4:27 PM

Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. - VIA TWITTER
  • Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate.
  • VIA TWITTEr

In 2017, I wrote a poem called “What Good Canadians Do” for the Canada 150 events that were held on the Halifax Common. It was a part of my official duties as the city’s poet laureate. I was tasked with writing something celebratory about a country that was built on the removal and eradication of my ancestors. So instead of writing about hockey, being polite, Tim Hortons and winter, I decided to hold a mirror up to the audience.

I stepped on stage that evening and began my poem with “Are you a good Canadian?” to which the crowd responded with a great cheer. I went on to talk about how Canadians love to explore the mountains, the prairies, and ocean, all the while being a supportive community to the people who live in this country. They roared louder with each line. That is until this one: “You would never use words like squaw, red- skin or Indian. Of course not, because you are a good Canadian.” Don’t get me wrong, there was still a small cheer, though this time, it sounded confused. As though the momentum of cheering caught the audience off-guard and the content settled on them as they voiced their agreement.

The subsequent cheers were less robust as I began picking apart the fantasy of who Canadians think they are versus the lived reality for those of us who might not ascribe to the rhetoric of the north. See, “Canadians” are wonderful, community-oriented folks as long as you don’t challenge certain tropes. A fact that I learned quite viscerally these past few weeks when I called out an appropriative knick-knack that was associated with Canada’s most sacred pastime: Hockey.

I tweeted out a picture of an NHL themed totem pole being sold by Lawton’s Drugs, calling the piece appropriative. I came back to my phone to see an explosion of notifications including one from Lawton’s who said they were removing the item. What followed was a series of media interviews and deluge of internet trolls. I was called every dehumanizing thing you could imagine. I was called a mongrel, a freeloading Indian living off the backs of Canadian taxpayers, a crybaby, a snowflake, along with a wish list of violent undoings people were hoping would befall me. All for what? Because I dared to ask a company to stop profiting off Indigenous culture? Cultures that this country spent the better part of two centuries trying to destroy.

I’m not new to criticism. As an Indigenous activist, I’ve had to grow a thick skin. I’ve faced criticisms and backlash when I’ve spoken up about the killings of Tina Fontaine or Colten Boushie by “well-meaning” Canadians who are compelled to share their perspectives on how those two could have somehow prevented their deaths if only they hadn’t put themselves in danger. My critique of the Supreme Court’s decision on Indigenous consent for land development passed without a whisper from the twitterverse. But none of my writings on Indigenous strife and white privilege resulted in violent threats of retribution quite like my comment on cultural appropriation that just happened to involve NHL imagery. My criticisms were about cultural theft, not about hockey.

If an Indigenous woman’s valid critique results in a rage so fierce that anonymous online threats feel like an appropriate response, then perhaps Canada should take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are, in fact, good Canadians.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Friday, December 21, 2018

Alternative Christmas plans

Some ideas for how to spend your holidays when everyone else in town is busy with family.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 12:07 PM

That's it for The Coast until the new year. Happy holidays, everyone!
  • That's it for The Coast until the new year. Happy holidays, everyone!


Ah, the holidays. Finally, the time of year when you can participate in that long-standing Halifax Christmas tradition of having your entire social circle head to Ontario while you're here by yourself. Great!

Vaughn Stafford Gray is an occasional opinion writer for The Coast. - SUBMITTED
  • Vaughn Stafford Gray is an occasional opinion writer for The Coast.
  • SUBMITTED
The yuletide season can be festive, delightful and frustrating all at once. From terrible Secret Santas (really, hand sanitizer?) to over-indulging in mince pies and peppermint schnapps-laced eggnog (don’t knock it till you try it), the holiday season is a rollercoaster of activities and emotions. What to do when you’re spending the holidays by yourself or with a reduced number of friends? We got you! The Coast understands that sometimes you want something off-piste so we have put together an itinerary for a non-traditional yet fun holiday.

Sunday, December 23
Think of a darn good reason to call in from work tomorrow. It’s a half day anyway.

Grab a cup of coffee or tea (if that's your thing). Open up your email and unenroll from all those newsletters that you’re no longer interested in and stores that you no longer shop from. Also, reply to those emails that have been lingering in your inbox since September or just delete them. Purge that inbox.

Head to a decent chain grocery store. Hang out in the baking aisle. Watch pandemonium ensue when key holiday baking items like nutmeg are nowhere to be found.

You know that nice restaurant in the north end that you’ve always promised yourself you’ll go to? Go! Don’t have a paramour or bestie to go with? Still, go. Sit at the bar order a good glass of wine or bubbly, people watch and eavesdrop.

Christmas Eve
Go through your closets and gather gently used cold-weather clothing and grab a few non-perishable items. Make a drop-off at Shelter NS or Out Of The Cold. Let’s not forget to help others this holiday season.

Head to the mall (best bets are Park Lane and Mic Mac) around 11am and watch male shoppers scramble to purchase last-minute gifts. It’s hilarious! There will be hundreds of women who will be getting the same box of chocolates and similar scarves on Christmas morn. It’s a great way to observe the unprepared males of the human species in the wild.

Head to a coffee shop and purchase a few gift cards and hand out to the less fortunate that you pass along the way. It’s a warm gesture that will be appreciated.

Stock up on necessities at the NSLC and your favourite brewery. Splurge on that bottle that you’ve been eyeing for a while. Tis the season for bubbles and excess.

Meet up with a friends/fam and gorge on Chinese food. Technically a Jewish tradition for spending Christmas Eve, it’s a hassle-free way to have a great night out and not worry about clean-up afterwards.

Christmas Day
Have left-over Chinese for breakfast and if there are gifts to open, cool. If not, no biggie. Call your loved ones and that friend who you’ve been meaning to call back since Thanksgiving.

Start searching for vacation deals. Look outside. Look at that picture of Jamaica on your screen. Look back outside. You see? Set up alerts to be delivered to your inbox once the price is right. Hold on, dear frozen one! Your tropical escape in February isn’t that too far away.

Head to the movies. See two. Enjoy the fact that you’re in plush leather seats not sweating over a stove and arguing with the family member who really wants store-bought stuffing.

Pop round to a friend’s or over to your neighbours' for dessert. Folks always welcome randos after the formalities of family time.

Boxing Day
Have a nice bath with lots of sweet smelling stuff you got at Christmas At The Forum. Head outside and help your neighbours shovel. Bond over cursing city hall and nature, then stay in bed and binge-watch something new on Netflix. Order a pizza—there’s nothing more festive than ham and pineapple.

Look at your chequing account balance and get your outfit for work ready. You’ll be leaving on time. Early, if you’re taking the number 7 Robie bus.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Support the artists that create your fantasies

Porn can be deviant and still be ethical. That starts with paying performers.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 20, 2018 at 4:03 AM

Leslie Greening is a queer member of the local kink community and a former cam model. You can find her on Twitter and Fetlife, @PinkPunkSlut. - SHANE SONG
  • Leslie Greening is a queer member of the local kink community and a former cam model. You can find her on Twitter and Fetlife, @PinkPunkSlut.
  • SHANE SONG

You’re probably a thief. If you’re not a thief, you have knowingly benefited from the work of another thief. Watch porn much? Maybe you aren’t a thief and you do buy your porn. Maybe you do support the creators whose content you’ve long enjoyed on Tumblr for free. Excellent! Keep paying for your smut. Changes are brewing and we need your support.

If you’ve been online at all over the last couple weeks you’ve almost certainly heard that on December 17, Tumblr banned all NSFW content. This comes shortly after an issue with child porn being discovered on the site. Apple immediately responded by removing the Tumblr app from the iOS store. Whether the policy shift is a direct response to the child porn issue or simply puritanical Apple strong-arming the platform, this is a major loss. No one is suggesting child pornography should be allowed. Settle down. But this is the latest in a series of attacks on open sexuality happening online.

Since SESTA/FOSTA passed in the good US of old A, Craigslist has ended its “dating” listings and Backpage has closed its advertising services to sex workers, forcing many back out on the streets and further marginalizing the already marginalized. Even Patreon has indicated it’s no longer supporting X-rated content.

This change is a huge blow to a variety of curators like those in the LGBTQ+ community looking for alternative bodies and content different from the cis-hetero normative porn offerings on major sites. This is especially hard on creators themselves. Artists, independent lingerie manufacturers, fetish wear entrepreneurs, smut authors, sex educators and sex workers of all stripes are losing an outlet to express themselves, their products and the opportunity to build fan bases that translates into clients.

If you’re worried about how you’re going to bust your next nut think about the people this change is impacting the most and consider supporting them. The hard-working people who create the material you use for a good wank deserve your continued patronage, even if it does cost you a few bucks. Find your favorite models, photographers, producers on their other social media pages. Buy their content. Louder, for those in the back; BUY THEIR CONTENT.

Help the people in your fantasies survive. Many sex workers have videos you can buy on ManyVids or Onlyfans. Subscriptions give you access to large archives of the same types of imagery you would consume for free on Tumblr but for a nominal fee. There are also sex worker owned-and-operated outlets like PinkLabelTV and Kink.dom. There are so many sites out there that do not steal from content creators. Search them out. Subscribe.

If you want to watch free porn or can’t divorce yourself from Pornhubs ease of use, try and use their verified section so you know the people making the porn are getting paid. Sex can be deviant and still be ethical. That starts with paying performers.

But sex work is illegal! Yeah, well, so is stealing content but you have no problem doing that every time you log into Pornhub or Redtube to get jerk-off material for free. So save me your hypocrisy. You wouldn’t walk into a grocery store and take your shopping home without paying. Stealing porn or using websites that allow stolen porn is no different.

Stop using unethical porn sources to fuel your masturbation fodder. Stop perpetuating the stigmatization and marginalization of folx already marginalized. Stop taking advantage of those you admire in the darkness of your room. Support the artists that create your fantasies. Be better.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, November 29, 2018

On journalism and biting the hand that feeds you

Making the news industry dependent on tax credits risks giving a future government leverage to keep reporters in line.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 4:46 AM

Papers like the The Globe and Mail and Chronicle Herald should be careful about what money they take from the federal government. - THE COAST
  • Papers like the The Globe and Mail and Chronicle Herald should be careful about what money they take from the federal government.
  • THE COAST

Last week, as part of their Fall Economic Statement, the federal government announced several initiatives to provide financial support to news organizations, including tax credits to support the production of original news content and to support subscriptions to Canadian news media. They also announced additional direct support for non-profit local news organizations to create open source news content, and that these organizations would also be able to receive charitable donations. Predictably, Canada’s biggest newspaper chain welcomed the initiative. Equally predictably, opposition leaders accused the government of using the initiative to buy favourable coverage in the election year.

Michael Karanicolas is a human rights advocate who works to promote freedom of expression, government transparency and digital rights. You can follow him on Twitter at @M_Karanicolas and @NSRighttoKnow. - SUBMITTED
  • Michael Karanicolas is a human rights advocate who works to promote freedom of expression, government transparency and digital rights. You can follow him on Twitter at @M_Karanicolas and @NSRighttoKnow.
  • SUBMITTED
Over the past few years, plenty of ink has been spilled about the dire financial straits that the news industry is in, particularly when it comes to high quality, long-form journalism, which is expensive to produce. A robust news industry is an essential pillar of democracy, and we all have an interest in making sure newspapers can stay afloat. But the news industry is also facing a crisis of legitimacy. The constant screaming about “fake news” may originate south of the border, but it has echoes here in Canada as well. The funding plan raises a lot of questions.

In some countries, subsidies to journalists are used explicitly as a tool to control critical coverage. The government has promised that eligibility for the funds will be determined by an independent panel comprised of members of the news and journalism industry, who will also be tasked to “promote core journalism standards [and] define professional journalism.” But who will choose the members of this panel, and what safeguards will be put in place to protect its independence? Just a few years ago, Stephen Harper’s government used the tax breaks that Canada grants to charities as a weapon to attack his critics, particularly environmental groups. Since many of these groups depended on charitable donations, Harper’s audits threatened their ability to stay solvent, and chilled their willingness to challenge his government. Creating a dependence among the news industry on tax credits risks giving a future government the same kind of leverage to keep reporters in line. Just imagine if Donald Trump had the power to put CNN out of business!

The subsidy for local non-profit outlets who produce open source news content under a Creative Commons licence is also worth considering carefully. It could well backfire by further degrading the willingness of Canadians to pay for content, undermining the viability of existing, for profit, local news outlets.

None of this is to say that the programs are a bad idea. They may be the only hope of pushing back against another growing trend, where news outlets are bought up by wealthy patrons. This can be incredibly corrosive to democracy, as the people of New Brunswick can attest.

David Simon, creator of The Wire, and himself a former Baltimore Sun reporter, once responded to calls for government subsidies for the newspaper industry by saying: “High-end journalism can and should bite any hand that tries to feed it, and it should bite a government hand most viciously.” I generally have faith in the ability of Canada’s journalists to stay independent. But it’s not enough that they remain independent—people need to believe that they are independent. Canadians should keep a careful watch over any program which has the potential to expand the government’s influence over the very people that are meant to be holding them accountable.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, November 22, 2018

Gender reveal redux

Acceptance and invisibility at the Transgender Day of Remembrance flag raising.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 22, 2018 at 4:10 AM

Laura and mayor Mike Savage before the flag-raising on TDOR. - LAURA SHEPHERD
  • Laura and mayor Mike Savage before the flag-raising on TDOR.
  • LAURA SHEPHERD

Professionally, I never came out when I came out. I just disappeared.

I couldn’t deal with it. For most of my career, coming out in any way would have demanded doing so very publicly. I held those kinds of jobs—advocate for people with disabilities, legislative researcher, assistant to a provincial cabinet minister, communications person for a school board. All of these meant daily interaction with local, provincial and sometimes national media. I held jobs that came, particularly in rural Nova Scotia, with an unavoidable public profile. In my last mainstream gig, I read the news on the local radio station. Despite my deeply closeted trans identity, and an equally closeted subversive orientation, I would likely have been seen as a defender of the status quo. That’s how deeply I hid. That’s how afraid I was.
Laura Shepherd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax. - SUBMITTED
  • Laura Shepherd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax.
  • SUBMITTED


I still remember the “No Gay Tories” headline in the Herald, about 1985, when some Tory cabinet minister openly mused that the government was justified in cautiously approaching gay rights and protection of those with HIV from discrimination because, after all, there weren’t any gays in the Tory party. The comment pandered to the doddering, nodding heads of the status quo. It belongs in a class of public policy discourse I call Nova Scotia’s Change Prevention Strategy. It’s founded on “othering,” enacted with isolation and exclusion. It’s fear, in power.

I worked in politics for a competing party that briefly held power, and it’s not inconceivable to suggest that if I’d come out publicly as trans in the early ’90s in that role I’d have been the centrefold in Frank Magazine, obliterating my credibility and career in about five column inches.

When I worked for the school board on the South Shore, the province introduced a new sexual health education resource for middle schoolers that you can bet got read by their parents as well. A couple of years later, I swear, a measurable consequence was that people started giving each other permission to talk about being gay. Before that, it was only a topic for ridicule and contempt, never for understanding or acceptance.

Before Caitlyn Jenner came out, trans people didn’t really register on the public radar either, at least in Nova Scotia. We were effectively blind to the existence of non-binary genders before about the midpoint of the current decade. When I first began living openly, I can’t tell you the number of times city bus riders surreptitiously photographed me, elbowing their seatmate to great giggles and guffaws. Once, two women practically jumped up and down in the aisles, excitedly posting my photo to Instagram. That was six years ago. They’d be kicked off the bus, today. That’s real change.

I’ve changed, too. I’ve had to work hard on myself to move past all the shame and self-hatred I had internalized over a lifetime in the closet, and I still find an occasional dust-bunny where I just swept. I can see how I might have projected all that onto others, assuming they could only misunderstand and dismiss me. I really don’t know where the line lies in my own life between accurate perception of the zeitgeist around me and my own repression and self-sabotage.

I’ve studiously avoided contact with those I knew professionally—politicians, public servants, media reporters. It requires me to dead-name myself to everyone I knew—“You used to know me as...well, now...” It’s tedious.

I went to the Transgender Day of Remembrance flag-raising and proclamation at the Grand Parade on Tuesday morning. Organized by the Halifax chapter of PFLAG, it was sparsely attended. The crowd was so thin, mayor Mike Savage had no choice but to shake everyone’s hand, just to get to the podium.

I was acquainted with the mayor before he entered politics, when his father was premier. I occasionally encountered him when he was an MP, and we always exchanged greetings. He approached me Tuesday morning and it was time.

“You knew me a long time ago,” I told him.

“Your face is familiar,” he replied. I dead-named, then reintroduced myself.

“No kidding?” the mayor replied. “Holy shit!”

Then I was Laura to him. Just like that. I took a selfie with him and he seemed perfectly comfortable with me. It made me more comfortable with myself. It occurs to me that’s what acceptance feels like, once you allow yourself to receive it.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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A war on every front

The Dog Island crew explore the Halifax International Security Forum.

Posted By , and on Thu, Nov 22, 2018 at 4:07 AM

Cindy McCain speaking about Lesbos at the Security Forum. - VIA TWITTER
  • Cindy McCain speaking about Lesbos at the Security Forum.
  • VIA TWITTER

You are eight years old and today is the first day of fishing season. Your father has finally taken you out with him and even bought you your own pole. Though you’re too young to understand adulthood, you can tell that this is how you become the person you hope to be. Your chest swells and your hands shake as your father helps you thread the rod. He guides your arms as you draw back. “Not bad!” he exclaims as you cast for the first time.

Andrew, Hugh and Chris are three-quarters of Dog Island, - Atlantic Canada’s premier cultural Marxist podcast. Here the episode they recorded at the security forum right here.
  • Andrew, Hugh and Chris are three-quarters of Dog Island,Atlantic Canada’s premier cultural Marxist podcast. Here the episode they recorded at the security forum right here.
Except it is not 1996. It is 2018 and it is 6:18am on a Saturday. You awake from the dream, the last time you will feel hope. The Coast has given you and your fellow internet radio hosts press credentials for something called the Halifax International Security Forum, which is like comic-con for warmongers. At first, you were excited because you thought you might get to touch a real gun or meet a mercenary. Instead, you sit in a room full of TVs and listen to ghouls on another floor talk about the murder of millions in the most boring way imaginable.

Bleary-eyed you try to make sense of why two Greek boy scouts are standing with Cindy McCain, the beer heiress and widow of failed bomber pilot/senator John McCain. An award, named after the former Arizona senator, is being given to the people of the Island of Lesbos for helping refugees. The mayor of Lesbos didn’t care so they sent these teens. Your comrade asks you, “Weren’t those refugees fleeing the endless wars that John McCain championed?” You don’t have an answer. All you have is the Belmonts in your pocket and the dozens of toothbrushes you liberated from the washroom.

You leave to drink, but you cannot drink water. Water nourishes and you have forfeited any right to nourishment, spiritual or otherwise. It’s 10:30am and the alcohol warms your body. You can feel blood in your veins now, but soon you will feel nothing. Your cohost is singing along to “Escape” by Rupert Holmes. He knows all the words. This does not seem strange.

The hotel has sandwiches, roast beef, good enough. You grab one, removing any and all vegetables before taking a bite.

The three of you sit on a leather sofa in the lobby debating whether or not you really want to try to get an interview with Eli Lake, an egg-shaped natsec reporter. Suddenly you notice the War Conference is playing a Feist song.

You wonder how the actual journalists can bear to do this. They file stories. They moderate panels. Their publications are sponsors. Don’t they understand their complicity in normalizing this charade? Are they, like you, under the spell of the free sandwiches and toothbrushes? Are they simply drunk on the sweet nectar of access?

Your breaking point is a panel on the importance of letting women and minorities also murder people. Your extremities numb as a panelist marvels at ISIS and Boko Haram’s use of social media to increase gender diversity in their ranks. Thanks to corporate inclusivity coaches, the language of progressive campus circles is now flowing from the mouths of generals and nobles as they discuss how to keep Latin America in the West’s sphere of influence.

Darkness and light dance. They consume each other. The light does not fade, it flows into the river of your childhood and becomes the darkness once again. You forget the calm of the air, the sound of the river, your father’s hands holding yours. It is all darkness now.

The darkness you have found here is not the depravity of cackling villains you imagined. These are not beings who are strange to you. You know them. You have always known them. The darkness permeates everything. This is not a fleeting moment in human history, this is the undernetting. It was never a river, but an ancient ocean. An endless darkness. You float upon it and stare upwards at the heavens.

The firmament between this world and an older, darker world has cracked. What floods in isn’t cruelty or callousness: It is pure banality. Nothingness. You forget the taste of food, the sound of music. Even tenderness or affection seem like little more than fever dreams, notes written in the window fog of your old life.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Sharing nudes: Advice for all the Tony Clements out there

You don’t need to be the Annie Leibowitz of dick pics but some thought goes a long way.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 4:30 AM

Leslie Greening is a queer member of the local kink community and former cam model. You can find her on Twitter and Fetlife, @PinkPunkSlut. - JESS HARTJES
  • Leslie Greening is a queer member of the local kink community and former cam model. You can find her on Twitter and Fetlife, @PinkPunkSlut.
  • JESS HARTJES

On Tuesday, November 7, amid the Ameri- can midterm election results starting to roll in, Conservative MP Tony Clement issued a statement admitting to sharing nude images online with a person other than his wife. This came as no shock to many twenty-something women who quickly took to Twitter to share stories of creepy Instagram behaviour such as late night, deep-dive picture-liking by the Tory heavyweight.

Some light Instagram-perving aside, there’s nothing wrong with sharing nudes on the internet. In 2018, it’s normal and maybe even healthy to own your sexuality, including the confidence it takes to capture a nude photo and share it with another. That said, Tony (may I call him Tony?) is married as well as vulnerable to extortion due to his National Security and Intelligence Committee membership. His marriage arrangement is really none of our business, though the vulnerability to extortion due to his access to top-secret intelligence is...well...concerning.

I hope he wasn’t just spamming some poor young lady who decided to take advantage of the situation and now may face a whole heap of trouble. Time will tell. Tony says it was consensual. That is really the most important thing to consider when sending a nude picture. Consent is everything.

Ask any woman who has opened her inbox to find a giant, shiny wang glaring at her. It is jarring, at the very least. Without consent, it’s sexual harassment. So, fellas, ask before you whip that wang out. I say fellas because it would seem it’s men who like to show off their wares without permission. Maybe women do it too, but I am yet to hear complaints from men that this is commonplace.

Why do men feel the need to show off their bits? On hook-up sites, men often use their penis as their picture. Sigh. Even worse is when the first message you receive from an interested party is just a big ol’ close-up of their junk.

Here’s some free advice: Take care in sharing what you seem to think is your most attractive feature. Assuming you get consent, take your time in a well-lit area to get a decent shot. No one wants to see your toilet in the background or your white athletic socks halfway to your knees. Honestly, less is more and a sexy picture can show very little. If you are hellbent on showing your dick and can’t even be bothered to take your underpants all the way off at least make sure they’re clean. You don’t need to be the Annie Leibowitz of dick pics but some thought goes a long way.

If the pictures you sent are not as warmly received as you were hoping, don’t go on the defensive or get nasty. Being rude will not suddenly make your penis charming. I like dicks but I’ll be the first to say they are not nice looking. Even nice dicks look funny. So men, get consent and take a decent picture—not some grainy in-the-dark shadow puppet. And if we are to learn anything from Tony Clement, maybe exercise a little bit of discretion with who you share your pictures with. The recipient may not have your best interests at heart.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Halifax is not Canada’s Black Mecca

In Toronto, the racism we endured was more sophisticated and subliminal. In Nova Scotia, it’s brazen.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 4:07 AM

Tundé Balogun is an investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is owner of The Objective News Agency, a special investigative documentary-style news outlet covering issues important to Black communities that mainstream media miss. Find out more at theobjective.ca
 - SANDRA C. HANNEBOHM
  • Tundé Balogun is an investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is owner of The Objective News Agency, a special investigative documentary-style news outlet covering issues important to Black communities that mainstream media miss. Find out more at theobjective.ca

  • SANDRA C. HANNEBOHM

Growing up in Toronto we all thought of Nova Scotia as Canada’s Black Mecca. My parents, like so many others, were Black immigrants born either in Africa or the Caribbean. They moved to Canada during the first Trudeau era—moving to Canada’s largest city promised economic prosperity, safety and inclusion. However, our elders had no idea what was in store for future generations. Having “weird” accents and “funny” names meant we were never accepted into Canadian society because we came from cultures that spoke different languages. Our parents’ advice was to get a quality education, be polite and work hard, but after years of being unfairly put in special education, denied employment opportunities and being street checked countless times, we realized that no matter what we did we would never be accepted as “old stock” Canadians.

We felt the racism we endured in Toronto was because we were “new” Canadians, therefore the Indigenous Blacks of Nova Scotia would be treated with dignity and respect. We figured, since Blacks inhabited that province for over 400 years, fought alongside the British in the American revolutionary war and the War of 1812, and fought bravely in the first and second World Wars, not only would they have respect, but a social and economic infrastructure that would reflect their contribution to Canadian society. When I left Toronto for Halifax eight years ago, my family was truly proud, proclaiming I was moving to Canada’s Black Mecca. Slightly jealous, they said I wouldn’t have to endure racial injustice, gentrification or police harassment any longer. On the long drive to Atlantic Canada, I daydreamed of Black economic prosperity comparable to Atlanta, or even Chicago; it didn’t take long to wake up to reality.

The same problems that children of African and Caribbean immigrants faced in Toronto were experienced by families that have been in Halifax for centuries. I’ve seen a police department blatantly enforce street checks on Black citizens at a horrific rate. I’ve seen Blacks have difficulty hailing cabs because of the colour of their skin. I’ve seen large employers face civil lawsuits for their treatment of Black employees. Most disheartening of all, I’ve seen an education system that filters young Black learners into special education, causing a schools-to-prison pipeline.

Feeling an obligation to help my African Nova Scotian brethren, I joined 902ManUp, a group dedicated to empowering Black youth through education, justice, employment and health. It was through this community work that I saw the real reason why Blacks in Nova Scotia are so marginalized. We sat in meetings with HRM staff and advocated for employment strategies that would directly help youth in Black communities, but were dismissed without any thought. Asking for a moratorium on street checks was categorized as an unreasonable request. We were turned down by both municipal and provincial politicians for help with small donations for community events, only to see them show up to eat the cake we served. We helped organize wholesome community gatherings, only to see local media show up and ask about violence.

From education to employment, government and media, Halifax has a blatant culture of systemic racism. In Toronto, the racism we endured was more sophisticated and subliminal. In Nova Scotia, it’s brazen. It’s there every morning to greet you and remind you in its own little way that even if your ancestors re-built Citadel Hill or died fighting in the fields of Normandy, you are Black and Black doesn’t count. Halifax is not Black Mecca. It’s the Mississippi of the North.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, October 25, 2018

How I learned to embrace the Halloween spirit

It took me two decades to grow past my Baptist upbringing and treat October 31 as the fun, friendly celebration it really is.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2018 at 4:42 AM

ADOBE STOCK
  • ADOBE STOCK

I celebrated my first Halloween at 22. And since this is now in print, I have to publicly apologize to my God-fearing parents. Sorry, mom and dad, but I am still a good boy.

Growing up Baptist in Jamaica, Halloween wasn’t really a big deal. In fact, it was rebuked. As the end of October rolled around preachers warned of devil worship being dressed up (see what I did there?) as a harmless activity for children. The fear was palpable. And as I grew up, the distance between Halloween and myself grew as well.

Vaughn Stafford Gray is a lapsed Sunday School teacher who enjoys certain church services, switching costumes on the morning of Halloween after weeks of research and buying clearance candy on November 1. In that order. - SUBMITTED
  • Vaughn Stafford Gray is a lapsed Sunday School teacher who enjoys certain church services, switching costumes on the morning of Halloween after weeks of research and buying clearance candy on November 1. In that order.
  • SUBMITTED
Halloween in Jamaica is a funny thing. During the ’90s when I was in high school it slowly began increasing in popularity. There were few costume parties, but these were aimed at expats and the upper classes. Trick-or-treating would be done in a handful of gated communities or along one street in a tony neighbourhood. Rumours about dark arts cults and demonic rituals would mysteriously materialize every October. Whether it was Christian propaganda or the machinations of latchkey children, these rumours just fertilized the taboo fields of Halloween.

When I moved to Canada, I immediately embraced the culture. My wardrobe was suddenly filled with plaid. I shopped at Roots, a lot, perfected making Nanaimo bars and pronounced the second ‘T’ in Toronto as an ‘N.’ However, Halloween was the Rubicon I dared not cross. Then came that fateful day in 2005 when an ex conned me into going to a Halloween party. “We’re just popping in to say ‘hello’ then heading back home.” Stupid, silly me. Full disclosure: I was promised Chinese food and ice cream—the list of things that I would do for both is quite long.

So, there we were at the party. It was a nice group of people. Some went all out on their costumes. Others came as topical puns and a few just went to the costume shop and bought a pre-packed something. I was wearing a multi-coloured striped t-shirt and black jeans. Whenever someone asked me what I was dressed as, I said, “An unwavering Christian.” They thought I was joking. My ex emerged from the bedroom in a costume (one was stashed at our friend’s apartment) and I simply said, “There better be Chinese food and ice cream in there.” Alas. Soon after I was dragged into the bedroom where pieces of costumes from different guests lay on the bed and I was fashioned something festive. I was a hot mess.

However, as I walked around as Fat-Albert-Helen-of-Troy-Mario-Batali-Papa-Smurf-Jafar I began to see that Halloween wasn’t evil. I get where the puritanical lens through which Halloween is viewed by staunch Christians came from. Yes, Halloween has pagan roots, jack-o-lanterns and haunted houses and is a prime time for watching horror films and the witches of Hocus Pocus. But the fear-mongering by the born-again ministers of my youth was a bit much.

Since 2005, I have celebrated a number of Halloweens. Many times I’ve spent months obsessing over costumes. I’ve entered costume contests, put out jack-o-lanterns and handed out candy. One year I was G-Unit-era 50 Cent. Another Karl Lagerfeld. During my lean days, I went once as Achilles from 2004’s Troy. For the last four consecutive years, I’ve been a curmudgeon. Let your imagination run wild with that one.

It took me the better part of two decades to get into the Halloween spirit. This year, as I prepare to attend a costume party dressed as post-Arianna Pete Davidson, I think about what Halloween really is. A fancy dress party that is riotously good fun.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Football and Canada’s duty to consult Indigenous nations

The Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision has changed the rules of the game to favour the visiting team.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 18, 2018 at 4:12 AM

There's a Canadian flag on the play. - ADOBE STOCK
  • There's a Canadian flag on the play.
  • ADOBE STOCK

As problematic as football is, with the Washington R*****ns and the Kansas City Chiefs, the game holds a special place in my heart. For those of you who don’t know, my father is a residential school survivor and without getting into the nitty-gritty traumas of his experiences, it left him with a deficit when it comes to parenting skills. Football was the first way we ever connected.

Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. - HANNAH GRACE
  • Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate.
  • HANNAH GRACE
I’d sit on his knee or on the couch beside him and he’d explain to me what downs  meant, how to spot pass interference, what a challenge was. In football, if the coach of a team doesn’t agree with the play called, they can challenge it and have the ruling overturned. I understand, for the sake of brevity, that each team cannot be consulted with every play before a ruling is made. The challenge flag is meant to be used only when a bad call is obvious. But if the coach challenges and the ruling is not overturned, the team loses one of their three timeouts.

In spite of this loss, the quarterback still gets paid his millions of dollars. The coach lives on to coach another game. It would appear that Canada has the same after-the-fact strategy when it comes to rulings for Indigenous people.

On October 11, 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that lawmakers would not have to consult Indigenous peoples on laws that would directly impact Treaty Rights because it would be too onerous a task. In the court’s opinion, it could slow legislation down to a crawl.

The duty to consult ensures section 35 of the constitution and judicial precedent—set by decades of legislation by the SCC itself—is followed. This ruling essentially says that the Crown is not the Crown in parliament. Or rather, the rules of the game don’t apply if the visiting team is favoured to win.

The financial weight of the challenge will be placed on Indigenous communities to bear—communities that already have funding crises in health care, housing, employment, education and infrastructure. Communities that have had to function with a two-percent funding cap while our populations vastly outgrew that number. Communities that have proven that the government consistently spends less on them than non-Indigenous communities.

We will have to divide up our already meagre slice of funding to cover the court costs of lengthy legal battles. We will have to fight for our rights after-the-fact while damage is concurrently being done by these new laws. However, if we lose the challenge, we lose all the money that goes into those challenges. We lose far more than a timeout and our players don’t get to move on without penalty or consequence because that money came out of an already strapped bank account.

Here’s the thing. It’s really hard to play a game you’ve practiced for your whole life when the rules are suddenly changed. But it’s not a game for Indigenous people; it’s our lives and we don’t get to use any remaining timeouts to pause the damage being done so we can consult our playbook.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

I’d like to tell you about my gang-bang

I'm not ashamed of having a goal, making a plan and achieving a dream.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2018 at 4:04 AM

Leslie Greening is a queer member of the local kink community and a former cam model. You can find her on Twitter and Fetlife, @PinkPunkSlut. - SHANE SONG
  • Leslie Greening is a queer member of the local kink community and a former cam model. You can find her on Twitter and Fetlife, @PinkPunkSlut.
  • SHANE SONG

Most people keep their kinks, fetishes, and fantasies private. Understandably! It’s socially taboo to be loud and proud about one’s sexual appetite. If I fantasized about finding the perfect coconut cream pie I might visit different restaurants, write reviews or write a blog. I’d enlist the support of my peers asking if they’d ever had a good coconut cream pie and sample their suggestions. My fantasies are a little spicier than coconut cream pie, though.

When it comes to sex, we go mum. We whisper in the dark to our partner(s) and watch our favourite porn, typically alone. We don’t talk about our fantasies in regards to sex in the same way we do with our hobbies. Sex just happens to be one of my favourite pastimes and I’m not going to hold back anymore. It’s time to make fantasy a reality.

I’ve been a long time fan of gang-bang porn. All of that attention on one sex-crazed fiend has been quite enviable. One woman in charge of that much sexual energy is explosive. And make no mistake, the woman at the centre of it all is in charge. She dictates the terms, the rules, the boundaries enforced. This is her show. The control she surrenders is prescribed exactly how she wants.

I have a fantasy, but what do I do with that? I make a personal ad on the social media site for kinksters, Fetlife. I advertise what I’m looking for, outline some of my boundaries and start taking “applications.” Really, these applications are just interested parties sending me a private message. We chat a bit and I try to get a feel for what kind of energy they might bring to the room. I want an easy-going, friendly, party atmosphere. I’m not a porn star, just a chubby bunny with a fantasy. So that means 100-percent condom use will be enforced. Barrier sex is the only way to ensure my safety with regards to pregnancy and STIs. Having a familiar face or two also helps ensure my physical safety.

The hardest part of planning a gang-bang is curating a playlist. Maybe not. Perhaps it’s the anal training. You’ve got to have that butthole ready if you plan on using it. A ripped anus would kind of put a damper on the evening. No, I was right the first time. It’s definitely selecting a playlist. Can one have too much Portishead?

I’ll tell you what isn’t difficult about planning a gang-bang—the shame. Shame is not going to be a factor in this. There are a lot of reasons to keep one’s kinks private. There are some really good reasons to live out and loud, too.

I’m not ashamed of having a goal, making a plan and achieving a dream. Frankly, I might even be a little bit proud of myself. If I had dreams of white, sandy beaches I’d save up, buy some travel insurance and hop on a plane headed south. You’d be able to see pictures of my adventures on all my social media.

This vacation that I’m planning to dick mountain is far more exciting to me than laying on a beach for a week. My dream might be a little more primal than most, but just because it isn’t the norm doesn’t mean I should be ashamed or operate in the shadows. Maybe if we were all a little more open about our sexual proclivities we would have an easier time having our curiosities and desires satisfied. Wouldn’t that be nice?

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

White noise

Letting your guard down to party loud and proud in the streets is a privilege students of colour don’t often have.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 4:05 AM

VIA ADOBE STOCK
  • VIA ADOBE STOCK


This summer, I was walking along a street in the south end of Halifax with a few pals. As we walked down the tree-lined streets next to houses I couldn’t fathom of ever owning, they started hollering and causing a ruckus. It was late, they had been drinking, I was DD and I immediately felt nervous, uncomfortable and a little scared. I felt like I shouldn’t be there. Was it because I wasn’t lubricated like my companions? Was it my unrelenting straight-edge personality that was getting challenged? Am I too polite? I was left with this feeling for the rest of the night.

Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. - HANNAH GRACE
  • Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate.
  • HANNAH GRACE
I messaged one of the friends who I had driven home and they told me they always feel a little animosity towards the wealthy neighborhoods of Halifax given their “uncouth roots” and it struck me. They are white. I am not. They come with an automatic safety net to carry on in public in a way that me, and my fellow POCs cannot.

In a world of stereotypes, the “drunken Indian” is still a major challenge for Indigenous people even though Indigenous people, on average, drink less than the rest of Canadians. The thought of walking around a wealthy, mostly white neighbourhood, drunk with a bunch of fellow Natives feels ridiculous and unsafe.

I don’t have to reach far to find stories from my POC community who talk about being stopped and carded or pulled over for no reason. The countless social media stories back that up and confirm that safety is our number-one priority. Letting our guard down to carry on is a privilege we don’t often have.

With the return of university students in the coming weeks, I feel for the homeowners that will have to endure late-night parties and noise complaints. They will undoubtedly, at one point or another, have to clean up the red Solo cups tossed in their gardens and pick up the abandoned road beers left on the sidewalk in front of their homes. There will be hordes of young people pushing themselves to see how many beers they can shotgun, shooters they can down and pints they can chug. Then once the bars close and parties wind down, they will have to make their way home or to the nearest place to crash.

But think, just for a minute, about your initial gut reaction to seeing a bunch of young, pretty, white university students, arm-in-arm, carrying on a little too loud in the streets of Halifax. You’ll probably shake your head, think it’s too cold to not have a jacket on and maybe chuckle at the future hangover these kids are going to have. Now think about the same scenario, except change the race of the students in your mind. Make them Indigenous, African Nova Scotian, international students from across the world. Do you still have the same reaction, or do you judge them a little more? Do you cross the street when you see them coming? Do you think about calling the police?

All these students are here for a reason. For the most part, it’s to find out who they are and what they want to do for the rest of their lives. But some of those students have had to overcome numerous barriers to get there and will endure even more to stay.

There will be plenty of people and systems making students of colour feel like they don’t belong. You don’t need to be one of them.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Thursday, August 2, 2018

The weight

Homophobia, hate crimes and the murder of Gregory Gerald Jodrey.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2018 at 12:12 PM

Gregory Gerald Jodrey was murdered 25 years ago this week. - LAURA SHEPHERD
  • Gregory Gerald Jodrey was murdered 25 years ago this week.
  • LAURA SHEPHERD

On August 7, 1993, Gregory Gerald Jodrey of Gaspereaux, Nova Scotia was murdered in Wolfville. Gregory was my best friend and I loved him dearly. Twenty-five years later, the hole remains in my heart and the anvil remains in my stomach.

The bare facts are that Gregor was at the tavern in Wolfville, met a man there, left the tavern, had sex with him, then was found beaten to death beside the railroad tracks early the next morning.

The assailant claimed he panicked after being raped and instinctively reacted with violence. The defense portrayed Gregor as an aggressive homosexual predator who, when drunk, would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. The prosecution offered testimony the assailant had engaged in sex with men, possibly for money.

The defense disputed this. Gregor’s assailant was convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to four years. Gregor is memorialized in court records as a sexual predator.

Laura Shepherd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax. - SUBMITTED
  • Laura Shepherd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax.
  • SUBMITTED
In 2006, the person who beat Gregor to death received a nine-month conditional community sentence for sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl. In 2008, they were sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 rape and murder of a 92-year-old woman.

The RCMP officer I spoke at length with during the investigation, upon learning I was an occasional sexual partner of Gregor’s, seemed to regard the entirety of my statement as nothing more than an effort to protect my friend, rather than an earnest effort to tell the truth. He displayed no familiarity with the culture of man-to-man sex in rural Nova Scotia, nor even a recognition that it is a culture. My casual reference to the practice of men buying sex from one another at taverns, for example, was apparently a revelation to him. He kept trying to summarize my nuanced statements with simple truisms—none of which were true, all of which were tropes. He seemed to want evidence that Gregor was a predator. He seemed to need it, like it affirmed his worldview.

Gregor, despite being regularly subjected to physical harassment and violence in his community, was not out to his family. In their shock and grief, and their own deep homophobia, they were too bewildered to question the rape allegation. So far as I know, Gregor’s parents just accepted the story.

In the intervening years, Gregor’s murder has been cited academically as an example of lethal homophobic violence and recited in popular journalism as a hate crime. Candles are lit as his name is read at memorial events.

I will never know what happened that muggy night in Wolfville a quarter-century ago. Given the state of Gregor’s body when it was found, this is a mercy to me.

It’s clear to me that homophobia, inherent in the investigation from the start, distorted the facts and skewed the prosecution. Gregor cowered if you stamped your foot. He was physically incapable of perpetrating rape against anyone who resisted. I can’t account for the violence of Gregor’s assailant, other than to assert that rape was not the cause.

Whatever happened between Greg and his assailant triggered the violence, it didn’t cause it or warrant it. That distinction never saw the light of day in court. I have never argued that manslaughter was an unjust verdict, only that Gregor’s murder was an unjust act, and the conclusions of the court an unjust characterization of the man I knew, and likely, the way he died.

I still think I see him, occasionally. I’ll catch a silhouette of a slender guy in a baggy sweater with wispy hair and oversize glasses and I’ll think, ‘Gregor!’ and my heartbeat will increase before the dead weight of memory squelches the thought, leaving me jangling.

There are many things I could wish for, having lived so long without him. What I wish most of all is for the assumptions of those in authority to change—to abandon the default in which the victim of sexual or gendered violence is always to blame, to embrace a nuanced understanding of human relations and the negotiations they entail.

Murders solved with tropes are the stuff of television drama, never real life. The loss of my friend left a hole in my heart, and the process of justice left an anvil in my stomach. Twenty-five years later, I still can’t say which is heavier to bear.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.
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Vol 26, No 34
January 17, 2019

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