Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sidney Crosby is wrong: Sports have always been intertwined with politics

Posted By on Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 3:02 PM

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby wearing a camo jersey to honour military veterans during a hockey game last November. - VIA NHL.COM
  • Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby wearing a camo jersey to honour military veterans during a hockey game last November.
  • VIA NHL.COM

In the lead up to the public relations event Tuesday with president Trump, Sidney Crosby kept digging a hole and doubling down on the idea that visiting the office of an elected official was somehow an act totally devoid of politics. More than that, he made the puzzling claim to the Associated Press that he “just grew up under the assumption that [politics] wasn't something really bred into sports.”

Sports have always been
Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
  • JALANI MORGAN
 intertwined with politics and it’s downright weird to claim otherwise. Questions about who will pay for stadiums or how workers should be paid are obviously political, but hockey, in particular, has been central to how Canadians have understood our politics for at least as long as the NHL has existed. The political nature of hockey is one of the reasons why it elicits such passion among fans.

Francophone Quebecers rioted after Habs star Maurice “Rocket” Richard was suspended by the NHL for the remainder of the 1954-55 season for on-ice violence in a game against the Boston Bruins. Many believed that Richard, one the greatest players in the game’s history but who was never properly compensated, was penalized harshly in retaliation for his public criticism of the league’s treatment of francophone players. In a province where francophones toiled for low wages and capital was overwhelmingly owned by anglophones both inside and outside Quebec, a riot in response to Richard’s mistreatment was a riot in response to their mistreatment.

Although historians debate its centrality, the Richard Riot became central to the political imagination of a province which would soon undergo the transformations of the Quiet Revolution. Even if Richard himself never intended to be political, his career and actions became political due to circumstances not of his choosing. This is not some esoteric historical fact: we have a Heritage Minute about it.

Likewise, the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the USSR was a release valve for the anxieties of the Cold War, then at its height. The idea was initially floated to Hockey Canada by Canada’s Ambassador to Moscow and became a central aspect of how Canadians understood not only our own place in the late-20th-century world but also how they understood the USSR. The 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” where an underdog American hockey team beat the heavily favoured USSR in the medal round, served a similar political function in the United States at a time when the Soviet Union’s stability and global influence was starting to wane. The Canadian and American states explicitly understood sports, particularly hockey, as a political tool.

The enduring belief that hockey is some innocent pastime untouched by politics or social conflict is precisely the reason why it serves as such a powerful vehicle for politics. Many of the things we take for granted are the result of political decisions made in specific moments. In order to drum up support for an ultimately pointless series of invasions in the Middle East after 2001, Canadian and American sports teams began the new tradition of celebrating military veterans with on-ice tributes, jumbotron video packages and players wearing camo jerseys. Crosby himself has worn a camo jersey adorned with the stars and stripes on Veterans Day.

Just as Maurice Richard served as a vehicle for an emerging francophone nationalism in the 1950s, and Cold War international hockey helped define the differences and conflicts between NATO and Warsaw Pact states, the celebration of post-9/11 militarism became central to new understandings of Canada’s proper place in a shifting global order.

Importantly, sports ability to reflect and refract political and social struggles are part of what makes us so passionate about them. If they don’t have a connection to larger narratives about collective struggle or shared aspirations then it seems truly silly that watching adults we’ve never met try to put a puck or a ball in a net can elicit so much passion.

———

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 14, 2017

No bullets, no bombs; just fast feet and a football

Posted By on Thu, Sep 14, 2017 at 2:42 AM

A group of Syrian refugees playing football with charity workers in Calais, France. - VIA ISTOCK
  • A group of Syrian refugees playing football with charity workers in Calais, France.
  • VIA iSTOCK

Reporters are having a hard time finding “exciting” news in Syria in the past few days, even weeks.

This makes me happy. A strange thing for a journalist to say. Usually, we look for the action: a fire, robberies, something hot to catch our attention.
Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
  • Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.

But after seven years of war, boring is good. 

Sure, there is still fighting. The Syrian army is set to start a battle for Deir Az Zor, an oil-rich city. This will be important for all sides. But right now the only real news came from a battle with Iran on the football pitch.


It was a qualifying match for the World Cup that took place last week in Tehran. The fighting has prevented any home games from being played at home.

Facebook and Twitter sparkled with news of the game. Down 2-1 in the second half, but there was hope. Could Syria advance?

Of course, there were politics—fingers pointed. It is Syria, after all. We are good at that.

Sport could not be separated from politics, some Syrians believe. Supporting the national team means supporting the Syrian government.

But many seemed good just forgetting seven years of war for an afternoon while their team did battle with Iran. No guns, no bullets, no bombs; just fast feet and a football.

Things were not going so well. Going into injury time, Syria was still down 2-1. Even my heart pumped a little faster than normal. I am not sure if it was because of the game or just the peace that came with it. I was happy just to see Syria’s name apart from death for one day.


Lots of people basically put away their differences and showed the world we are still like everybody else. Well, until the impossible happened in injury time. Syria scores to tie. One announcer actually starts to cry on air. The streets burst into cheers. Social media explodes.

Two years ago, the Syrian national team was ranked 126th. Now, we’re just four games away from qualifying for the World Cup for the first time ever.

A simple soccer game is all it took to take a break from seven years of fighting. A simple soccer game united a people torn apart by hate and war. I wonder...we may be on to something 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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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Is there a non-creepy way to ask someone out when they're working?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 26, 2017 at 5:37 AM

Comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann answers all of Halifax’s most-pressing social dilemmas. - JESSICA HARTJES
  • Comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann answers all of Halifax’s most-pressing social dilemmas.
  • JESSICA HARTJES

Hey Ask Hole,
I’ve got a major crush on the barista at my local coffee shop. I know it’s part of the job to be friendly—and I remember how gross it was when dudes would hit on me back when I was a server—but there’s a serious flirtatious vibe between us and I want to at least try to take things beyond morning lattes. Is there any non-creepy way to ask out a barista/pizza delivery person/bartender while they’re on the job? —Crushing And Feeling Excited

Dear CAFE,
The short answer is, “No. There is no non-creepy way to ask out a barista while they’re at work.”

But, your question does a good job of acknowledging some of the reasons why that is. As you’ve noted, being nice to you is part of a server’s job. Actually, if you look at job postings online, you’ll see that—after “pulling shots”—the second requirement of any barista is to smile and nod all the way through a story about your dog’s diarrhea. A “serious flirtatious vibe” becomes really hard to judge in a situation where social generosity is a person’s primary means of getting paid. When a barista is flirty (see: actually just nice and attentive), you tip them. When they draw a heart with the milk in your latte (which, SPOILER: They do for everyone), you think, “Ooh la la! C’est l’amour,” and keep returning to the cafe. Your crush works in the service industry, CAFE, and good service is not synonymous with flirting. But, your experience as a server has already taught you that.

I don’t mean to freak you out, but those “gross dudes” who used to hit on you at work? They ALSO perceived a “flirtatious vibe,” which they felt justified their actions. Think about how wrong they were. Now, I’m not saying that you are yourself a “gross dude,” just that WOW is there a lot to unpack before you make a move on someone in the service industry. And also, please, please, don’t make that move while the person is working!

Putting someone in that position while they’re at work, where they can’t—for fear of losing their job—tell you to fuck off? YUCKKKKKKK, CAFE! NOOOOOOO! That’s such a gross exercise of power that I want to cry and then die. Please play Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” at my funeral.

Speaking of power, I think it’s also necessary to unpack how much your crush on a barista (or anyone in the service industry) is rooted in the position of power you occupy when you walk into a business as a customer. Do repeated interactions wherein you are “always right” affect the ways you perceive (and perhaps fetishize) that person? I mean, we’re talking about someone who remains friendly while you literally use money to control their body. If that kind of absolution isn’t crushable, I don’t know what is!

If, after you’ve unpacked all of this stuff, you still believe there’s more between you than customer service, then I’d recommend trying to engage your crush outside of the power dynamics of the coffee shop. Do you have mutual friends? Are they on social media? Your crush’s response to a friend request could help you gauge their interest in interacting with you off the clock.

And, whatever you do, be prepared to switch coffee shops if it doesn’t work out. DO NOT keep showing up and forcing another person to interact with you if they’ve made it clear they’re not interested.

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author. Send your 
awkward social questions to 
askhole@thecoast.ca and we might answer it in a future column.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Pathetic, dumb and dangerous: The Proud Boys make their debut in Halifax

Posted By on Tue, Jul 4, 2017 at 2:03 AM

Screencaps from video recordings of the Proud Boys interrupting Saturday's ceremony. - VIA YOUTUBE
  • Screencaps from video recordings of the Proud Boys interrupting Saturday's ceremony.
  • VIA YOUTUBE

On July 1, a group of Indigenous activists and their allies gathered at the statue of Edward Cornwallis that inexplicably still stands in downtown Halifax to commemorate and mourn the genocide of Canada’s First Nations. In the midst of the sombre ceremony, a group of five idiots in matching polo shirts showed up singing, waving a Red Ensign flag, trying to instigate a confrontation. They stuck around for less than 10 minutes and then went to a local bar to pose for photos, post on the internet and drink some beers. This is Halifax’s introduction to the dumbest and most contradictory sub-sect of the dumbest corner of the internet: the Proud Boys.

Self-proclaimed western chauvinists, the Proud Boys were founded by disgraced VICE Magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes, a man whose greatest contribution to western culture is that magazine’s “Dos and Don’t” column—ostensibly a street fashion/photography column that was in practice little more than a thinly veiled excuse to roast drunk 20-something men and ogle teenage girls. Since being forced out of VICE, McInnes now writes and creates videos for Rebel Media with titles like “10 Things I Hate About Jews.” His Proud Boys dress like 1970s skinheads and require members to abstain from masturbation to conserve energy and precious bodily fluids. Joining the frat/proto-fascist brigade involves being slapped by your bros while reciting the names of five breakfast cereals. Their name is derived from a song in the live-action version of Aladdin that was so shitty it got cut from the cartoon version. There’s a not-entirely-unaware childish, comic element to the subculture these idiots have attempted to forge.

But there is a darker, more dangerous element underneath the irony and stupidity. In April, the Proud Boys announced plans to begin training and organizing a paramilitary wing called the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, to be lead by a violent petty criminal named Kevin Chapman. If these shitnerds can get their act together North America’s revanchist right will soon have its own freikorps to break up liberal and left protests and intimidate political foes.

I get that it can be hard to take these clowns seriously—they claim to venerate western civilization but need the idiot who co-founded VICE to tell them to stop masturbating to anime. But the thick layers of irony hides the extreme intention of McInnes’ band of misfit boys.

Last month Irish writer Angela Nagle published Kill All Normies, her deep dive into the rise of the so-called alt-right and its move from internet subculture to fractured but effective real-world political movements. One of Nagle’s most useful insights is to tease out the ways in which groups like the Proud Boys not only use irony to dodge any criticism from outsiders but also to numb themselves from the real world repercussions of their actions. Proud Boys rose from the same hysterically aggrieved internet sub-culture that gave us Jeremy Christian, Elliot Rodger and David Kalac.

It is important to make clear that their attempt at transgressing social norms by calling for archaic gender roles and celebrating an ahistorical idea of western culture does not on its own make these idiots dangerous or even interesting. Their attempts at humour and freshmen understanding of intellectual history are childish and boring and they’re more of an annoyance than truly offensive. By adopting a pastiche of the greatest hits of 20th-century European reaction they’ve constructed the blandest possible politics.

Instead, the danger lies in formations like the Proud Boys using irony to normalize right-wing street politics, using irony to cover truly dangerous political positions and recruiting teenage jokesters into a fascist milieu where more extreme and less cowardly organizations are waiting.

The Proud Boys are disaffected, stupid, bitter and think street violence is a game. They’ve latched onto a cartoonish version of western chauvinism to justify xenophobia and reactionary cultural politics. We should laugh in their pimply faces. But at the same time, we should recognize that disaffected, stupid and bitter men in search of meaning have always served as the fighting arm of fascism. We should take them just seriously enough to make sure that July 1 was the last time they leave the internet and hit Halifax’s streets.

———
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, June 29, 2017

I ended up celebrating: My first year as a Canadian

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 2:18 AM

It’s been a long road going from Syrian refugee to new Canadian, but at her one-year anniversary in this country, Raja Salim has reason to celebrate. - SUBMITTED
  • It’s been a long road going from Syrian refugee to new Canadian, but at her one-year anniversary in this country, Raja Salim has reason to celebrate.
  • SUBMITTED

People stood in the doorway, the hallways and, of course, the kitchen. Dozens of eyes and smiles greeted my sister and I with warmth and a touch of understanding. It was a party to celebrate our one-year anniversary in Canada.

More than two dozen refugee sponsors were there—people who had been working hard to help lots of families who lived in the refugee camps during the Syrian war, to get settled and start a new life. I see them doing this with love and ask myself how they can be so nice and kind after seeing so much misery.

And there are the English teachers from the Halifax Central Library who helped us speak this language and my friends from a local writing workshop.

It’s weird because I wasn
Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
  • Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
’t sure if I would be able to celebrate this one-year anniversary. It was a difficult year—a new city and country, separated from family and friends by thousands of kilometres of salt water.

I was writing for a French-based website about the war in Syria. Although living in Halifax, I felt the dust from the conflict, the cries of the wounded, every day in my work. It was like I was still in Syria, only without the chance of me getting physically hurt.

I remember in the beginning of our time here were the social events—smiling at people’s words because it was expected, laughing because it was expected and never believing I would fit in here. Never believing they would understand me, really.

But as the months passed, English became easier because of my patient teachers, and those social times with my sponsors were not awkward anymore. They weren’t just my sponsors; they were my friends.

Things didn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes I want to scream and run back home. I miss my friends, many still stuck in Istanbul. I miss my language and being able to have silly chats, arguments—being myself, as only you can with your friends.

Maybe because of my good fortune, I came to Halifax. It is one of the friendliest cities I have been to. It was easy here to make friends. My English teacher Therese, who became my close friend, laughed at many of my questions, saying “Your English is good already.”

“Then why do I get confused about ‘in,’ ‘of,’ ‘at,’ ‘on?’” I asked. She laughed and said, “So do many English speakers.”

My Canadian experience is narrow, small really. It’s just Halifax and a few other places in Nova Scotia. Much of my experience matched the first poem I ever read in English, during my writing workshop. It really was a lesson by my writing coach, Sheree Fitch:

“Do Your Best Under the Circumstances”
There is no land of perfect, child
There is no sea of ease
There is no candy apple trail
There’s broccoli and peas.

There is no suit of armour, child
There’s arrows and there’s pain
When your heart is broken, child
Stay strong and love again

There is no perfect person, child
Not presidents or queens
There’s only all us trying, child
To be human—human beings.

Sheree sees something many of us do not. We are Canadians, Syrians, Americans, whatever—we are this second, human beings first.

My first year here has been frustrating, depressing, enlightening, loving, fun and safe. As my first Canada Day approaches, I want to thank my friends at The Coast for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. I also want to thank my sponsors who have become my family and my friends. Without them, I would not be here, and I would not be smiling or 
celebrating.


———

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, June 15, 2017

Why do restaurants put inedible garnishes on their food?

Posted By on Thu, Jun 15, 2017 at 3:52 AM

Comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann answers all of Halifax’s most-pressing social 
dilemmas. - JESSICA HARTJES
  • Comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann answers all of Halifax’s most-pressing social 
dilemmas.
  • JESSICA HARTJES


Dear Ask Hole,
Why, at a restaurant, is food always garnished with other food? I try to eat the garnishes to avoid contributing to food waste, but soggy, BBQ-drenched lettuce SUCKS at the bottom of a plate of wings. Why is this a thing? 

—For Real It’s Extremely Sloppy

Dear FRIES,
It seems to me you have two options here: Enjoy your wet, hot, hickory-smoked salad OR hop on board the crazy train of North American capitalist privilege! WOO-WOO! Since you’ve already expressed how much option one SUCKS, let’s explore option two.

[grabs microphone]

Welcome aboard the North American Capitalist Privilege Express. We are so pleased to have you with us. It is your continued patronage that keeps this rusted-out hunk of scrap metal running. We hope you will enjoy today’s in-cabin meal, which is poached salmon and rice, served on a bed of poor children’s letters to Santa. And, we have a special surprise for our in-cabin entertainment! Instead of showing a movie, we’ll be asking our richest passenger to place our poorest in a headlock and punch them repeatedly while shouting, “Stop hitting yourself!”

The estimated duration of our journey is YOUR ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ LIFE.

If you’d like to plug into our on-board entertainment system, we’ll be playing a live stream of Justin Trudeau’s recent call to Joseph Kabila: “Joe, baby! We’d love to help you with your food crisis, but we need to cut all of our vegetables into tiny flowers to make our meat look good! Bread? No, we let that rot on our counters and then feed it to waterfowl. Anyway, bye!”

Cool, right? And so hunky! Love you, JT!

Unfortunately, our seats do not recline, but if our passengers in coach could work together to hold up these beds, our first-class guests could probably lie down a bit. First-class passengers, your comfort WILL be directly linked to the oppression of your fellows, but we get the feeling YOU DON’T MIND.

Oh! Melissa is coming through the cabin now with a light snack of chicken wings. At the bottom of the plate you will find some dripping wet lettuce. We ask that you please throw it out the window, as we will soon be passing a homeless shelter. If you could hit someone directly in the face with it, that’d be perfect. Enjoy your trip!
drops microphone

In short, FRIES, order a dang salad. It’s like a big plate of garnish garnished with garnish. So safe! So tasty! Besides, if you really think about the chicken that produced the wings on your plate, you’ll end up with a whole new set of questions, and I’ll have to do a big Meat Industry Express role-play. It’ll be exhausting for both of us. Best to just avoid the whole thing. Bon appétit!

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author. Send your 
awkward social questions to 
askhole@thecoast.ca and we might answer it in a future column.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Deciphering which election promises will be kept, and which will be forgotten

Posted By on Thu, May 25, 2017 at 7:34 AM

city.opinion.jpg

My day job involves speaking to Nova Scotians who are struggling to access public health care and trying to help them organize to demand better service in their communities. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been on the road a lot this month and I’ve heard frustrating, often heartbreaking stories of people whose communities, and too often their family members and neighbours, are dying as doctors and health services leave. The conversations about the election almost always lead to some variation of the same question: “All the parties are making promises, but can I actually trust any of them to follow through?”

To be honest, it’s hard to come up with an inspiring answer. What do you say to the woman who had to commute 6,500 kilometres in 2017 to visit her sick boyfriend (because the local hospital can’t treat him) when she tells you she is going to vote but thinks all the parties are lying to her?

Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
  • JALANI MORGAN
After all, as voters in Nova Scotia we’re in a unique situation: Over the last decade, we’ve been able to watch with disappointment as all three major parties broke their election promises. The fourth and fifth parties in Nova Scotia have rosters of candidates who feel ill-equipped or even disinterested in sitting in the legislature if they somehow win and few ridings have independent candidates at all.

In some ridings, local candidates will come to your door and try to distance themselves from an unpopular party or leader. We can all remember when, despite rumours of a caucus revolt, every government MLA voted to impose a contract on teachers. Similarly, many of the most meaningful decisions a government makes are included in the budget as resources are allocated and priorities set. Since a defeated budget also means a defeated government (and usually a fresh election), any MLA who votes against a money bill will soon find the full weight of the hammer of party discipline brought down on them.

As a result, few break ranks. So when all the viable parties are inclined to break their promises and local MLAs bound to toe the party line, how do we decide which promises to trust?

My best suggestion is a simple question: Who does each party believe it will need to keep happy if it wants to win?

Will it need to pander to property developers to fill its coffers for election ads? Will it strip away environmental regulations because it needs to keep a balanced budget to appease deficit hawks while still creating a token number of jobs in ridings it’ll need to hold? Does it believe it can win an election based on grassroots support in the HRM? Is Cape Breton the lynchpin of its electoral map in 2021?

At the end of the day, this isn’t the childish world of the West Wing and politicians rarely make decisions based on high-minded, soaring principles. Electoral politics is largely about compromise and doing whatever it takes to win another mandate. The challenge for parties is to make those compromises based on who they think they can afford to alienate and who they think they need to appease.

If you can figure out who each of the parties thinks it will need to keep happy over the next four years and you can determine if you’re part of that group, then you just might have a shot at deciphering whether that party will keep the election promises that matter to 
you.

———

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, May 11, 2017

We will have another Westray

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 10:55 AM

The Westray disaster was Canada's worst mining catastrophe since the Springhill bump in 1958. - VIA THE NS MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY
  • The Westray disaster was Canada's worst mining catastrophe since the Springhill bump in 1958.
  • VIA THE NS MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY


25 years ago the Westray mine exploded in Plymouth, Nova Scotia killing all 26 miners who were down below. It will happen again.

The last five years have seen an unprecedented attack on labour rights in the province. The Liberal government has passed at least nine separate pieces of legislation to limit the rights of workers to organize or bargain in less than four years. Before the Liberals, Darrell Dexter’s New Democrats shocked their base by revoking the right of paramedics to strike. Federally, the Tories engaged open class war against working people, and the softer rhetoric of the Trudeau Liberals has been accompanied by little concrete action.

Get into an argument with any pro-business bootlicker about unions  on the internet and you’re bound to hear some variation of the same refrain: “Well actually, unions served a purpose back when we had one-armed orphans working in Dickensian widget factories or when people were being blown up in mines, but they don’t make sense in the modern 
Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
  • JALANI MORGAN
economy.” These people are too busy savouring the taste of leather to recognize that long-term care workers are more likely to become disabled due to on-the-job injuries than oil patch workers, or that whatever gains workers have historically won through unions have also been under relentless attack since the 1980s. Such healthcare workers have, of course, been the main target of provincial attacks on worker’s rights.

Even if you accept the weird premise that only workers in traditional dirty trades like coal mining deserve union protection, you should probably be alarmed by McNeil’s Liberal government's’ decision to amend the Construction Projects Labour act to make it illegal for workers on mega-projects related to extractive industries to strike because it’s bad for private profits.

The attempt to strip workers of the legal ability to fight back against employers is nothing less than the state picking a side. For some people worker’s legal rights, including the right to collectively withhold labour to ensure safe and fair working conditions, are less important than protecting private profits or keeping taxes low for corporations and high-income earners.

In Nova Scotia, governments of all stripes have largely chosen to side against workers because as a province we’re desperate. We will have another Westray because we’re desperate. Maybe it will be on a pipeline, maybe it will be on a half-built office tower or maybe it will be in a coal mine. We’re not the only place that has been desperate in recent years.

This year Donkin Mine re-opened in Cape Breton. It is the first operational coal mine in the province since 2001. Despite evidence that unionization dramatically improves safety in coal mines, the mine is operating union-free, just like every mine operated by Chris Cline, the billionaire American coal baron whose company is running Donkin. As reporter Katie Toth documented with nuance, Cape Bretoners still have deeply complicated and ambivalent feelings about the return of coal mining.

The public was only made aware of the sordid details of Donkin’s operators because two journalists who were on strike went digging. Frances Willick and Michael Gorman revealed that Cline had hired a former manager of Massey Energy to oversee Donkin. Massey Energy, owned by Don Blankenship, was responsible for the worst American mining disaster in 40 years when a mine in Whitesville, West Virginia exploded killing 29 coal miners. Amazingly, Cline called Blankenship “one of the most talented leaders” in the coal industry. Cline himself has a safety record which can be shocking to read.


Whitesville is the kind of Appalachian town which has dominated the American political imagination for the last 12 months. The town and its surrounding area also very much resemble many of the former coal mining communities in Nova Scotia: trying to reinvent their economies amid outmigration, reeling from the loss of mining, battling opioid addiction and inadequate access to healthcare.

For many reasons—including the strength of Nova Scotia’s tourism industry and the stabilizing effect of Canada’s federal welfare state—Nova Scotia has not sunken to the level of desperation that has wracked West Virginia, but we’re desperate enough to turn to the same industry and the exact same operator that numerous coal counties across the United States have turned to.

In Nova Scotia, we’re desperate enough to erode workers’ rights to woo big businesses and 25 years later we’re desperate enough to look at a non-union mine and say “well, at least it’ll bring jobs.” Above all else, we’re desperate enough that we've accepted a world where we'll bury people alive to extract a fuel that's poisoning the planet because it makes a few people rich.

———

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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How do I talk to my neighbour about their election sign?

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 9:38 AM

Comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann answers all of Halifax’s most-pressing social dilemmas. - JESSICA HARTJES
  • Comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann answers all of Halifax’s most-pressing social dilemmas.
  • JESSICA HARTJES

Dear Ask Hole,
I've come to accept my downstairs neighbours' love of loud country music. Live and let live, I say. Only now it's election season, and my good neighbours are proudly displaying a campaign sign for a political candidate and party I detest. A party I'd wager the whole neighbourhood detests. What should I do? Should I take the sign down before film industry workers and schoolteachers start egging our apartment building?
Yours,
Stupid Infographic Going Nowhere

Dear SIGN,
I've recently learned—from reading a number of delightful novelty license plates—that Canada is a FREE COUNTRY where FREE SPEECH is more important than YOUR FEELINGS. Also, if WHEN I DIE, you could BURY ME UPSIDE DOWN SO THE WORLD CAN KISS MY ASS, that'd be great. Based on what I've gleaned from these tiny, aluminum works of art (plus several mesh-back hats), there's not much you can do to stop your neighbours from putting up whatever sign they want. In fact, I saw one license plate that just said COOTER, which is the sign I plan to put up! Screw my neighbours, and best of luck to COOTER in the election! Although your neighbours have every right to post the sign, I'm happy to provide a list of things you can do to publicly demonstrate your displeasure with it:

1 Grab a Sharpie (red is preferable) and change all of the As in the candidate's name to anarchy symbols. This way your neighbours will know that at least one person in the building is capital P Punk and capital N Not Having It! Anyone strolling past your apartment will gasp and—clutching the collar of their shirt—proclaim, "Dear me! This isn't my father's election!" This is the guaranteed effect of sliiiightly longer As with circles around them.

2 Consider creating a haunted video, a la The Ring, and leaving it in your neighbours' mailbox. This may take some time and effort, but will have a considerable impact. You can include quick jump cuts between the sign and, say, a box of dead beetles, or the sign and an extended close-up of a horse's eye. Get creative! The key will be a prolonged, stationary shot of tuition hikes and cuts to mental health programs climbing out of a creepy well. BONUS POINTS: If they throw the video tape out, try to find a way to put it back into their apartment (on the bed works best) for maximum "OMG so haunted" effect. Vibe of video should be: Before You Die You See THE SIGN. OK, that actually just gave me a great idea.

3 Weird Al your neighbours with a parody cover of "The Sign" by Ace of Base!!! BOOM. Lyrics could include: "I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes to your lack of concern for arts funding." Whatever you feel! Play this song on a 24-hour loop with your speakers pressed against a shared wall. They will get the message.

In conclusion, any/all of these ideas are probably easier and more effective than knocking on your neighbours' door and having an open and honest discussion about your concerns. Treating them like human beings and trying to understand each other's uniquely formed needs and opinions would be terrifying. AHH! Definitely don't do that! Do the Ring video. And also, VOTE COOTER!

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author. Send your 
awkward social questions to 
askhole@thecoast.ca and we might answer it in a future column.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Taxes are just another “culture shock” to living in Canada

Posted By on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 at 8:04 AM

Income tax, do or do not? - THE COAST
  • Income tax, do or do not?
  • THE COAST

The white wall in my room is always full of coloured sticky notes. Lots of them have new words I have learned in English, and some are notes to self: Do and do not.

In the middle of last March, a new red sticky note has joined the others on the wall, it says: “income tax, do or do not?”

I was terrified before
Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
  • Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
 I did my first income tax returns in Canada. Why? Because my mind got infected from people who described tax payment as a terrible thing (even worse than winter). 

Why is this my first time? Because in Syria we don’t pay taxes. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

While I was filing my Canadian tax return, there were three little voices ringing in my head, each one with a different feeling about the process.

The first one: “I’m not pleased to pay part of my money every year for insipid things. I will say I didn’t make enough money to pay any taxes, and next year I’ll deposit my income under my mattress.



The second: I admire my Canadian friend’s opinion about income tax. “This is the right way to get services and facilities,” she said. “I am happy to pay some money regularly to enjoy them.”



The third (which has the biggest effect on me): Who am I? Am I going to ask myself this existential question every year while I’m paying taxes?


If I have to pay lots of money for my tax, that means I made a lot during the year. If I pay a reasonable amount, that means I had a productive year.


But wait what if I got a refund? That will be a real nightmare! It will prove that I’m the one who needs help.


Will my satisfaction and self-confidence depend on how much I pay in taxes?

Growing up in Syria, the regime (the same one since 1970) didn’t create a legal tax income program. But it did develop many programs and plans to steal people’s efforts and make the rich richer and the middle-class poor and the poor hungrier.


This is the deal. I steal from you, and let you believe that I offer you “free services.” Then you thank me!



So yes, dealing with tax income for the first time is another "shock" in the new culture.

One thing I don’t like about this tax "judgment day" is that it doesn’t happen only once, but I do like something about my white wall now—that it has become red sticky note-free.

———

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, April 20, 2017

What's the right way to make fun of my friends?

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 3:55 AM

Ask Hole asks local experts to answer Halifax’s most pressing social dilemmas. This week, comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann explores how to tease without torturing our friends. - JESSICA HARTJES
  • Ask Hole asks local experts to answer Halifax’s most pressing social dilemmas. This week, comedian, musician and overworked student Cheryl Hann explores how to tease without torturing our friends.
  • JESSICA HARTJES

Dear Ask Hole,
I’ve always thought that a little gentle ribbing was endearing. But, recently one of my jokes didn’t go over so well. My friend “Julie” is a textile artist, and when she asked if I’d be at her opening, I joked that “If I wanted to see some old afghans, I’d go to my grandmother’s nursing home.” I thought I was being funny, but “Julie” was pretty PO’d. I know artists are sensitive about their craft, but can’t she take a joke? What’s the right way to make fun of someone? How can I razz my friends without seeming mean? 
—Jerk, Or So Hilarious? I Need Guidance!

Dear JOSHING,
It’s true that jokes are a delicate business. I once told a “Why did the chicken cross the road” joke to a group of children, and one of them cried for 20 minutes because her grampy had just gone “to the other side.” Tough crowd. Still, if I could offer some general rules for “ribbing,” as you call it, I would start with this: Before you make fun of someone else, you have to be able to laugh at yourself. There are a lot of jokers out there who can dish it out, but can’t take it. So, before you lampoon someone else, take a long, hard look in the mirror and find out what it is that makes you the stupid little baby you are. Huh, JOSHING? What is it? Perhaps it is your tiny baby hands, or the fact that your eyes look less like the windows to the soul and more like the windows of a for-lease Chuck-E-Cheese. One gets the sense that there should be magic in them, but there is only dusty vacancy.

Just joking!

See what I did there? This is another classic means of letting people know that you’re not a jerk, you’re just a fun joker! If you had added “just joking” to the end of your comment, Julie would have known that you weren’t trying to dismiss her life’s work. She would have seen that you were just being a Silly Willy!
Tone can also help with this. Smile as you suggest you think treating art as a profession is inane within a capitalist society. Open up your body as you casually imply your friend should enter a workforce that will consume her very soul.

You could also try an improv class to encourage positivity in your comedy. The “yes, and” mantra of improvisation could really help you here. If Julie says, “You’re a jerk,” you will be well equipped to respond:

Yes, and I am also full of self-loathing. Just joking!”

In short, JOSHING, if you’re worried that you’re being an ass, you probably are. Perhaps the problem is not with your friend’s ability to “take a joke,” but with your ability to tell one. Jokes are great. They can bring people together; they can open up dialogues about important issues. But they can also hurt people. And, if a friend is hurt by one of your jokes, apologize and back off. Getting defensive will leave you both upset. As a general rule, a good friendship is more important than a good joke. 🙂

———

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author. Send your 
awkward social questions to 
askhole@thecoast.ca and we might answer it in a future column.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

The perfect silence in Syria

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 3:16 AM

The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations on Syrian targets while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. - FORD WILLIAMS, VIA U.S. NAVY
  • The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations on Syrian targets while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017.
  • FORD WILLIAMS, VIA U.S. NAVY

I was in Grade Five when the teacher asked me, “What do you want to learn as a second language, English or French?” In some parts of Syria, kids had the chance to choose between the two.

That was the first important decision I had to make. I felt joy at the idea of having options. Over time, options became part of my life. I used to consider it a skill to provide several options for myself, and most importantly to know how to choose between them.

Comparing between my first time dealing with choices and the latest one, I’ve learned that some decisions need supernatural skills to make. It is not always a joy to decide.

Last week, the second chemical attack happened in a small town north of Syria called khan Sheikhoun. In total, 87 people suffocated from sarin gas dropped by Bashar al-Assad’s “air sticks.”

Three days later, the American president Donald Trump took action by bombing the Syrian military airport where the sarin airstrikes had taken off.

Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
  • Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
After Trump’s response, social media sites were filled with Syrian people’s posts—some of them supportive of the American attack, because it tells the Syrian regime that the world is watching and could take action. They started to ask the “Great Trump” for more.

The others saw it as an illegal intervention by America in Syria, and reminded supporters of Trump’s personality. How could we believe this racist man, who doesn’t respect immigrants, women or Muslims?

Syrians started to argue, asking each other about the American actions. “Are you with or against it?” Judging each other, depending on the answer.

We’ve gotten lost between Al-Assad’s crimes and the jihadists who make him look fine compared to their barbaric behaviours; Trump’s attack and Obama’s red lines about Syria; we kept arguing about those details until we almost forgot how to cry or pray for the dead victims.

Now, should I give a logical opinion about it, or choose which path is the right? I could try, but I simply don’t want to.

I don’t believe in weapons, even if they are the only way to end any war. How will the main tool which caused all this death bring the solution?

I don’t want to use my skills as a journalist to analyse the situation in Syria. The most basic version is: the dictator is still there using chemical weapons against civilians, and the extremists have found a perfect focus to be closer to their god. The first world’s leaders are still selling weapons to dictators, and then showing sympathy with victims.

The first-world nations don’t want more refugees, and those refugees don’t enjoy their status. Finding one’s way around a new foreign world can be very painful.
 Refugees arrive here and sometimes are shocked at the first world’s indifference to the massacres, and genocides, hunger that are happening “away.”

As a refugee, I just want to have the luxury to make a simple wish: that the war will stop. Just like any mother, student or child who lives in Syria now and who knows there is no victor in this war; who doesn’t want to die, because there are still little things in life they want to make simple decisions about.

Myself, I still have options, and I choose silence when I am not 100 percent sure about my judgment, especially when the case is life or death, when my words will fog the matter.

Talking about war crimes, or any crimes, is as easy as posting a photo of my cat. A simple activity on social media gives the feeling that we’ve taken real action. Then we feel satisfied. But in real life, the suffering is still there. Our choice didn’t do anything to solve the problem.

———

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, April 6, 2017

Nova Centre is just the latest in long line of big, bold failures

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 4:00 AM

The Nova Centre in downtown Halifax is the same kind of bold mistake the province has been making for years. - VIA HRM
  • The Nova Centre in downtown Halifax is the same kind of bold mistake the province has been making for years.
  • via HRM

By virtually any measure the Nova Centre in downtown Halifax has already been a bad deal for the public. You can debate how bad it’s been, and you can wonder how we ended up in this mess, but we can all agree that it’s been bad. It’s also the latest in a long line of similar disasters, each more grand and modern than the last. Nova Scotia’s ruling class has often touted big, splashy mega projects as the fix for our province’s economic woes.

This week the Halifax Municipal Archives released photos of the Jacob Street area of Halifax that was bulldozed in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for the construction of the Cogswell Interchange and Scotia Square Mall. The slum clearance project razed thousands of buildings and displaced working class families and small business to make way for the big fixes of the 1950s: a shopping mall and Escheresque overpass system meant to link exis
Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
  • JALANI MORGAN
ting roads with Harbour Drive—a waterfront speedway that was never actually built.

City councillors celebrated the brave new future as a consumer’s paradise that Halifax’s dying downtown would become with the addition of a modern shopping mall and web of roads. Private developers built and owned the mall. The city expropriated and cleared the needed land and the city-scape was re-built to facilitate these new shoppers. The government would spend money, the private sector would build something huge and we’d all be rich. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out.

In the late 1960s, Claritone was going to make Pictou County rich by building and exporting colour TVs. Colour TVs were going to be the big thing in the 1970s and this time we could get in ahead of the curve. Peter Monk, now a mining baron, secured $8 million public funding to open the massive Stellarton factory which shut down within five years and ended up costing Nova Scotia $25 million. Once again it didn’t quite work out.

Nova Scotia’s history is littered with these bold quick fixes that turn into money pits. They provide hope and a vision to sell to voters. They promise rapid modernization in a region that has often been wrongly portrayed as a backwater. The Nova Centre is the latest big, modern structure that isn’t quite working out. It’s years behind schedule, is putting downtown businesses at risk and has now dragged all three levels of government into a lawsuit.

The truly bold and innovative thing about the Nova Centre is that it combines the failed mega-project model with the failed private financing model that is often called P3, or Public Private Partnership, financing. When the building is completed, it will be owned by the private, for-profit builder and leased to Trade Centre Limited Events East, a provincial crown corporation, for 25 years. Despite our federal, municipal and provincial governments contributing a total $163 million towards the construction of the building, the will public never own it.

Private financing and management deals are supposed to be better able to deliver public projects efficiently and on time, but they don’t. The Nova Centre is proof of just how off schedule these project can go, particularly when the original contract includes no penalties for the builder missing deadlines. They’re also supposed to save the government money, even though we have overwhelming evidence from across the globe that on average private financing schemes cost governments more and deliver less. This financing model was used by Nova Scotia to build schools in the 1990s—guess what? That didn’t exactly go well.

So how did we end up in this mess? When you combine a funding model that is designed to generate private profit with Nova Scotian politicians’ desperate need for big, splashy fixes you end up with a disaster.

The question we need to start asking is when will our elected officials stop making the same mistakes?

———

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, March 16, 2017

Evidence out-of-control: a provincial inquiry is needed into HRP's drug exhibit audit

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 5:00 AM

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

Last summer The Coast revealed that an internal audit conducted by the Halifax Regional Police had found widespread problems with the security and record keeping inside the HRP’s Drug Vault—the storage area that holds evidence seized in drug crimes—including missing drugs and cash. Now it turns out the problems have existed for much longer and the department knew about it since at least 2007. The audit had been completed in November 2015 but the Police Board of Commissioners were only told about it on June 22, 2016—the day before the story became public.

No politicians seem to want to publicly say it, but the obvious concern is that one or more police officers have simply walked out the door with drugs or cash. In fact, last January, months before the audit was made public, Halifax constable Gary Basso was charged with doing almost exactly that. (Those charges have since been stayed.)

Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
  • JALANI MORGAN
The case against Basso is alarming enough, but what is truly shocking is that after a cop was charged with stealing chemicals from the drug lockup, the department didn’t think it was relevant to reveal to the public that they had an audit showing that missing evidence and improper record keeping were a widespread problem. Since the allegations against Basso were what triggered the report, one would assume that the department would have wanted to signal to the public that they were taking security of evidence seriously.

Chief Blais has said there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise, by police officers. The problem for the HRP is that due to their actions there are still roughly 3,000 instances where there’s no evidence of anything at all because the exhibits are still being tracked down.

The problem is not simply that some small number of officers may have borrowed cash, drugs or chemicals from the vault. The shockingly sloppy evidence control procedures also create uncomfortable questions about the trustworthiness of our criminal justice system. How many people, guilty and innocent alike, took plea bargains because they assumed that missing evidence was still sitting in lockup? How many trials hinged on evidence where, unbeknownst to lawyers, jurors and judges, the chain of custody had been broken? How many days and hours of court time have been wasted by trial delays caused by the scramble to find evidence needed for disclosure?

The city needs to request that the province launch a broad public inquiry into the exact impact that these evidence problems have had on criminal justice in Nova Scotia to try to answer these questions. It’s barbaric enough that we put people in prisons at all, but if we decide as a society that we’re going to cage people up, then we sure as hell have a responsibility to ensure that speedy trials and reliable evidence are the norm.

We place an unreasonable amount of trust and responsibility on police officers as individuals and on the police as a public institution. If we insist on giving the police the kind of powers that they currently have, then as a public we have a responsibility to demand accountability and transparency. It’s possible that nothing malicious has actually happened, and it’s almost a certainty that the vast majority of these cases are unintentional errors. But it is also almost a certainty that people’s lives have been ruined by the way our police department has handled evidence. That’s a problem and we need to own up to 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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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Screaming into the void, to no one in particular.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 6:46 PM

Jane Kansas uses a lot of potty mouth in the north end of Halifax. - PIERRE TABBINER
  • Jane Kansas uses a lot of potty mouth in the north end of Halifax.
  • Pierre Tabbiner

Most presiding judges are intelligent and humane and fair. Almost all judges, probably. Which is why the tiny minority of judges who are mother-wanking toss-baskets stand out so egregiously. It shocks the sensibility of every decent, thinking citizen when these neanderthal arse-waggers render a decision plumbed from the depths of some hideous stinking cesspool of maggot vomit.

In such instances, there are formal routes and methods of complaint. Letters outlining complaints can be sent to the various authorities asking for investigation. Ensuing wheels of bureaucracy can then grind slowly towards a letter of reply and much, much later, if the planets are in conjunction and pigs actually fucking fly, to some action of remediation.

Protests can be held: those aggrieved can gather in a public place, listen to speeches, engage in chanting and then march (perhaps on a freezing fucking frigid afternoon of an early March cold snap) to some edifice related to the injustice.

Some citizens will be left with a deep sadness and feeling of helplessness. Some will be left wanting to stab themselves in the leg. Some, perhaps saddled with a paucity of vocabulary, will pace back and forth in their shitty hovels, gnashing their teeth while muttering insensible strings of “fuck fuck fuck; fuck this fucking one-pump town; no fucking wonder this place is called the Alabama of Canada; fuck that fucking prick and the fucking horse he rode in on.” And so forth.

Some citizens will report, fairly and circumspectly, the facts of these dickweed matters, noting without emotion or editorial comment any disarranged clothing, presence of DNA, state of surroundings, alcohol levels and such. These reports may spark mental clusterfucks just by stating the facts. Online forums will be filled with outrage, disbelief, fired up emoji and swears. Many of these will be abbreviated: WTF; WTAF; FTW. And so on.

It will be rare that some citizen will feel free to spew forth, in print, without censorship or concern for vulgarity, a reaction to these shit bags, expressing a hope that there may be eternal cock punching in hell for such fuck-brained trash heaps.

Such decisions destroy spirit and life. Such decisions discourage others, who are assaulted by no fucking fault of their own, to not ever come forward. To not ever seek justice. To suck it up and leave it to fester inside for a lifetime.

Section 271(a) of the Criminal Code says, “Everyone who commits a sexual assault is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years or, if the complainant is under the age of 16 years, to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of one year.”

Except, not always.

The law, as Charles Dickens wrote in 1838, is an ass. But 179 years later, in our own tiny dimwitted way, it can also be a total fucking asswipe.

———


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

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Vol 25, No 21
October 19, 2017

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