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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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Coming Out Ministries preys on LGBTQ+ youth through guilt and shame

This is not about godliness, but about power and punishment.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 11:20 AM

Photos from the @nsyouthproject at Monday's rally in Grand Parade. - VIA INSTAGRAM
  • Photos from the @nsyouthproject at Monday's rally in Grand Parade.
  • VIA INSTAGRAM

I’m a preacher’s kid and I’m trans. I’m not a believer and I never was but I spent my childhood conscripted into ritual practices, performing a personhood that wasn’t mine, essentially because the family enterprise demanded it. I was expected to be what I was expected to be, not what I am. That I would gravitate toward something else was regarded, in my family, as tantamount to blasphemy. I went on from a childhood steeped in conformity enforced by guilt and shame, to spend over 30 years of my adult life in the closet.

Laura Sheperd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax. - SUBMITTED
  • Laura Sheperd is a writer, storyteller, parent and worker who lives in Halifax.
  • SUBMITTED
Nobody locked me in. They didn’t have to. I adopted chains of guilt and shame as my own and used them to bind myself, like a trans Harry Houdini, except escaping from them wasn’t part of my act. It took me years to learn how. When I finally found my way out, eager to begin living my life, I was already old.

My birth family still doesn’t believe in transgender people. My presence in their midst does nothing to dissuade them. It’s simply ‘against their religion.’

I don’t get how someone can profess faith in a higher deity, then decide for themselves and others exactly what that deity wants. It begs the question, who’s in charge? What if fears and shames of their own lie between the lines in their reading of scripture? What if we’re all traumatized? What if we’re all holy?

I am still learning how to distinguish myself from my trauma. I got so good at being someone I was not that I believed it, myself. When I look closely at the behaviours of the zealous in faith communities, I see those same traumas reflected. I know where they come from. Trauma—like religion—is nothing, if not a family tradition.

Enter Coming Out Ministries, the travelling troupe of “ex-gay” (read: re-closeted) self-described spiritual ‘leaders’ invited by the Seventh Day Adventist Church to provide conversion programming at their annual camp meeting in Pugwash later this month. Conversion programming means shaming and stigmatizing lesbian/gay, bi/pan, non-binary, trans and questioning youth in a concerted effort to change behaviour by, essentially, combining social exclusion and the trauma it induces with religious practice, like prayer. It has the impact of psychological violence. That it is led by people who once identified as gay is no stamp of approval.

Coming Out Ministries maintains that queer people do not deserve condemnation, so long as they themselves condemn their own identities and expressions. Gaslight thy neighbour. Hate thyself.

Monday night’s public protest at the Grand Parade and the month-long online petition effort that preceded it, reflect community rage. This is not about godliness, but about power and punishment. It’s political. It’s also predatory. We’re talking, at least in part, about the youth of this faith community, some of whom can safely be regarded as unwilling conscripts in the faith, nevermind the program. It deserves to be halted.

As the Youth Project's Kate Shewan said Monday night, this program will cause harm. NSRAP's Susanne Litke called for legislation to outlaw conversion therapy in Nova Scotia and the action at-large called on the church to cancel this program.

If we’re all children of God, any and all conversion programs are child abuse.

———

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 4, 2018

UPDATED: False outrage over this past weekend's Marine Band protest

The only people who should apologize for the events at Grand Parade are the reporters who botched the story.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 4, 2018 at 11:56 AM

“U-S Marines Band walking away after protesters shout them down at Grande Parade,” reads Ron Shaw's tweet. “Never played their outdoor concert here.” - VIA TWITTER
  • “U-S Marines Band walking away after protesters shout them down at Grande Parade,” reads Ron Shaw's tweet. “Never played their outdoor concert here.”
  • VIA TWITTER

Update: Since this piece was published Shaw has deleted his tweets and web producer/social media manager Andrea Jerrett has apologized to Masuma Khan. Her emailed message is shared below with Khan's permission.

“While CTV Atlantic always strives to report accurate information, in this case, our reporter did issue a tweet with incorrect information,” Jerrett writes on behalf of the CTV newsroom and news director Dan Appleby. “He quickly corrected that information in a subsequent tweet. Unfortunately, some individuals or groups have chosen not to acknowledge that correction. No matter what, the original tweet did not meet our standards and we unequivocally regret the error in our content.”

———

This past weekend, the United States Marine Band walked into a political protest against the very government they represent.

It was largely uneventful and likely would have passed without much consideration except for a series of inaccurate tweets from CTV.

Reporter Ron Shaw twice made the false assumption that Saturday's protesters caused the military band to cancel a planned outdoor concert at Grande Parade.

The marines were “going to play an outdoor show...but refugee issue protesters chased them away,” Shaw tweets.

This is not true, in several important aspects.

First and foremost, there was no outdoor concert planned. While the marines were in town for the Nova Scotia Tattoo, they were only at Grande Parade looking for a group photo. A cursory glance at the Tattoo’s official schedule shows there was no outdoor performance scheduled.

What was scheduled was the protest. Activists in Halifax were joining together and speaking out on the same day as tens of thousands of other people across North America who are horrified and outraged by the Trump administration’s war on children.

Rebecca Faria’s tweets about the same incident paint a much calmer picture. After confirming the band wasn’t going to perform, she states that some protesters with signs stood next to the marines on the steps. A call-and-response chant about stolen Indigenous land was also led by Masuma Khan.

“And then the marines left,” writes Faria. “We laughed. We cheered. We went on with our afternoon.”

It’s worth noting that the marine corps' official policy says uniforms cannot be worn at any events that further political activity:

“Marines and sailors cannot wear their uniform when participating in public speeches, demonstrations, assemblies, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration which may imply service sanction for a cause that furthers personal or partisan views on political, social economic or religious issues.”

Meaning that the band probably couldn’t have stayed at the protest even if they wanted to.

Shaw has still not deleted his original tweets, but he did offer a separate, non-threaded “clarification” to confirm the band was never going to play.

“But,” the reporter took great pains to note, “that doesn’t change the issues or the emotions, whatever side people take on these issues.”

But it does change those issues and emotions entirely because the reality of events is so far from the inflammatory false version first presented.

The localized portion of an international protest against the inhuman abuse of children by the United States government is briefly interrupted by polite American military members who just as quickly leave.

Compare and contrast that against the story of screaming protesters disrespecting brave men in uniform who only wanted to share music with the city they’re visiting.

Nevertheless, the damage has been done.

Shaw’s original tweets continue to be shared—provoking outrage and scorn from easily offended local politicians and angry internet commenters. Those aggressive thugs band together in shaming the protesters while begging for civility towards military guests who are visiting Canada from a country currently committing gross and obscene crimes against humanity

It’s something of a minor miracle that the story hasn’t been picked up more by the right-wing media rebels who normally feast on this sort of inaccurate theatre.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Khan—the most visible person at the protest—hasn’t spent the last few days receiving personal threats for her role in the day's events.

“Since you hate Canada so much why not move to a Muslim majority country where your [sic] not allowed to go outside without a make [sic] guardian?” Calgary electrician Chris Holowenczak writes to her on Facebook. “You can practice your evil ideology there. Or are you only here to bleed out [sic] welfare system dry like all the other muzrats?”

The truth of Saturday doesn't matter to people who've already made up their minds, but the framing of the story can do a lot to hold back or provoke more intolerance.

During these times of heightened irrational hatred, a special responsibility and care are needed to ensure accurate information gets out.

Otherwise, we cause very real harm to the people choosing to stand up for the safety of others.

———

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 28, 2018

100 different ways to keep a government secret

The broken freedom of information system has dozens of exceptions, loopholes and bureaucratic tricks available to keep public information out of the public's hands.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 4:34 AM

Premier Stephen McNeil on election night. - TED PRITCHARD
  • Premier Stephen McNeil on election night.
  • TED PRITCHARD

Politicians of all stripes love to talk about transparency. They praise it, they throw around buzzwords like “open by default” or, in the direct words of Stephen McNeil, promise to make Nova Scotia “the most open and transparent government in the country.” None of these promises mean much if you don’t read the fine print associated with them. There are nearly always exceptions, loopholes or bureaucratic tricks which ensure that, even where information is technically open, in practical terms it remains off limits to the public.

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
The most recent case to hit the headlines involved Dalhousie University, which faced an information request from the Canadian Union of Public Employees about the number of full-time and part-time faculty at the school over the past decade. Although legally required to respond to the request, the rules around how much they can charge are more difficult to enforce. The university demanded $55,000 for the information, claiming that it would take 1,845 hours to complete the request. While the information commissioner has said this is the biggest estimate she has ever seen, it is by no means an isolated case.

Last year, I was contacted by a journalist from Cape Breton who sought expense information for the mayor and five CBRM employees and was told it would cost $42,804.50 to deliver the information. In both cases, the requesters are technically allowed to access the information, but that right is not worth very much in practical terms.

In addition to exorbitant pricing, another common challenge is delays. Across Canada, our freedom of information systems are notorious for their backlogs. A request for files from an RCMP corruption investigation came back with an estimate that the information would take 80 years to review. Earlier this year, the Canada Border Services Agency 
decided that the best way to deal with ballooning backlogs in their access to information system was to ask requesters who had been waiting years to simply abandon their requests.

Even where information is made available, there are a range of technical or accessibility challenges which can still put it out of people’s reach. A recent study found that Nova Scotia’s public tendering website was riddled with broken links. The province’s FOIPOP portal has been down for months now, after its shoddy security led to an infamous breach earlier this year.

And of course, the ability to get your hands on any information about what the government is up to depends on them leaving a paper trail in the first place. In 2016, Stephen McNeil told reporters that when he has to do sensitive policymaking work, he prefers to use the phone, in order to ensure that there are no records that the public might later request. Nova Scotia’s former finance minister claimed that the use of private email accounts was rampant for the same reason. The premier has brushed aside calls from the information commissioner to institute a duty to document, which would require officials to leave an official record of their deliberations.

All of these are hallmarks of a broken system. Accountability and oversight are never pleasant, and given a choice, many people would rather avoid them. But that’s not how democracy is supposed to work. Transparency systems are a lot like the tax code: You have to design them under the assumption that people will try and cheat, but to make it as difficult as possible to do so. These examples show that there is much more work to do. Nova Scotians need to demand 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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Educating Shawn Cleary about journalism

The Halifax councillor's comments that reporters need formal credentials is elitist, dangerous and counter-productive.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 4:08 AM

Councillor Shawn Cleary speaking to reporters. - THE COAST
  • Councillor Shawn Cleary speaking to reporters.
  • THE COAST

District 9 councillor Shawn Cleary went on one of his ill-advised Twitter rants this past week. What set him off this time was an opinion piece by Stephen Kimber published in Tim Bousquet’s Halifax Examiner. (Disclosure: I have written for the Examiner and I am enrolled in a King’s MFA program in which Kimber teaches.) Kimber was critical of the councillor’s support for the controversial Willow Tree development. He painted Cleary as developer-friendly, but also as someone who has refused money from developers and who favours a municipal lobbyist registry.

“Cleary is clearly a complicated, sometimes contradictory fellow. Like the rest of us,” Kimber said.

Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer and journalist living in Halifax. He does not have a journalism degree. Find him at moscovitch.com and @PhilMoscovitch - SUBMITTED
  • Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer and journalist living in Halifax. He does not have a journalism degree. Find him at moscovitch.com and @PhilMoscovitch
  • SUBMITTED
Well. That was simply too much. Cleary complained that he hadn’t been interviewed (writers do pieces on politicians based on their public record and statements all the time), suggested to Bousquet that “in the interest of actual journalism you might think about checking with the source,” dismissively called the Examiner a blog and asked what journalism school Bousquet went to. When I asked Cleary on Twitter if he was arguing that all journalists should be j-school grads, he replied, “Medical school required for doctors. Engineering school required for engineers. Given potential public impact of news reporting...”

Following the principle that once you’ve said something dumb, you should proceed to say something dumber, Cleary—who has an MBA along with a BA in financial and economic studies—then explained journalism to Bousquet, an award-winning journalist: “Journalists do journalism. Non-journalists do ‘citizen journalism,’ blogs, opinions, et cetera. There are skills of balance, ethics, standards one learns in j-school.”

Insisting that reporters go to journalism school (or have any other kind of formal credentials) is elitist, dangerous and counter-productive. Journalism remains a profession in which it is still possible to make a living without going tens of thousands of dollars into debt. If you can write decently, have a talent for finding good stories and are willing to constantly upgrade your skills, you can do well. Of course, you’re going to need to understand journalistic ethics and standards, but those don’t require a degree.

Like politics, journalism is strengthened by welcoming people from varied backgrounds and a range of life experiences. Carol Off earned a BA and tried to start a career in fiction before falling into journalism. Peter Mansbridge never finished high school. Francine Pelletier has an MA in comparative literature.

Are there problems in journalism? Of course. Is fake news an issue? Sure. Today I saw a fake report saying that under new legislation insulting Islam in the UK can land you a six-year prison sentence. Last year at Peggy’s Cove I met a tourist from Quebec who believed a fake report about police cars replacing French with Arabic. Would ensuring journalists had to get a j-school education do anything about cracking down on this garbage? Of course not. The young Macedonian guys pumping out stories through dozens of faux journalism sites aren’t suddenly going to pack it in.

Who wins when you create requirements for being a journalist? Authoritarian regimes and politicians with something to hide. They get to exclude anyone who asks uncomfortable questions. Last year Justin Brake (now a reporter with APTN) and Amy Goodman (celebrated host of the Democracy Now radio show for more than 20 years) were both arrested for trespassing while reporting on stories. Brake was at the site of Muskrat Falls, while Goodman was in North Dakota, covering protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I have no idea if either of them has a journalism degree or not. I do know their work was inconvenient to people with power and money, and if we lived in a world where journalists had to meet legislated criteria to do their jobs we would all be worse off because of it.

In the follow-up to Cleary’s rant, some compared him to Trump, which I don’t think is fair. But we do live next door to a country in which the president has repeatedly called journalists enemies of the people. Hectoring the publisher of a site who ran a piece about you that you didn’t like doesn’t contribute to improving the climate. Would an education requirement for journalists mitigate the fake news problem by ensuring minimal educational standards? Let’s just say I can’t imagine people who now consider journalists enemies will suddenly embrace them if they all have approved university degrees.

Cleary didn’t point to any actual errors in Kimber’s story. Politicians are always going to take issue with the work of journalists. They may complain stories are unfair, but then fail to point to any actual, you know, inaccuracies. And, like other human beings, journalists will make mistakes and should apologize and correct them. You don’t need a degree to know that.

———

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 21, 2018

DNA does not define us

Culture and community is what makes us Indigenous, not faulty genetic testing.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 4:13 AM

A young dancer participates in the Mawio’mi 2011 International Pow wow held on the Halifax Common. - VIA ISTOCK
  • A young dancer participates in the Mawio’mi 2011 International Pow wow held on the Halifax Common.
  • VIA iSTOCK

I’m ambiguously brown. By that I mean I have brown skin and almond-shaped eyes. I get those from my dad who is Mi’kmaq. I also have curly hair, freckles and thin lips from my mom, whose grandparents came from Scotland.

“Where are you from?” is a very common question in my day-to-day as people try to sleuth out my ethnicity. In high school I once had someone tell me that everyone knew I was “not white” but weren’t quite sure what I was. When people find out I’m Mi’kmaq, the inevitable next part in the conversation is the person telling me about their great-great-grandmother who was part native.

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
There has been an explosion of DNA testing that has led people to find tenuous Indigenous genetics in their family tree with the expectation First Nation communities will roll out the buckskin carpet for their arrival to their newfound identity. They use these genetics to undermine Indigenous struggles by turning fights for sovereignty, dignity, basic respect and empathy into indignation because Costco wouldn’t exempt the tax from their TV purchase.

What’s worse is individuals rate what identity is best with a sliding scale to Metis—a gross insult to the Metis who have fought long and hard to be recognized and now have to compete with new “metis” communities that have jumped on the DNA bandwagon. I have had individuals tell me they tried for a status card but were rejected so they got a metis card instead. What. The. Fuck.

Furthermore, what these genetic groupies don’t understand is that identity is earned and shaped by experience. Not by DNA. Whether a person is born and raised on the rez, a fluent language speaker, dealing with generational and residential school traumas, reconnecting after being a victim of the ’60s scoop, growing up in foster care with a white family, an urban aboriginal or thriving as an artist, activist or poet, they are all real Indigenous experiences that build upon a long history of being native in Canada. There is a story thousands of years old that connects us to this land. Our culture defines us and our communities claim us.

Recently, CBC published an article where a man sent in a cheek swab from his dog only to have the results come back saying that it was 20 percent Indigenous; 12 percent Abenaki and eight percent Mohawk. So the legitimacy of these tests should be just a questionable as Mikinak band cards.

If you can trace your family tree back to initial colonization of Turtle Island, of course, you will have an Indigenous ancestor. But that does not an Indian make. When early European explorers came to the shores of Mi’kma’ki, they didn’t bring women with them. The women they had access to for their “entertainment” were the women who were already here—a thought I shudder to think about.

I get it. We’re cool as shit. I can understand why you want to sit at our table. But if you’re going to eat with us, I better see you at the next language class at the Friendship Centre or holding a flippant sign at the next Alton Gas protest. I might get my eyes from my dad and my hair from my mom but I get my band number from an oppressive colonial and racist document called the Indian Act that seeks to arithmetically eliminate Status Indians and our ties and rights to our land. Genetics have nothing to do with 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, May 24, 2018

Canada needs more space for Indigenous people in academia

If we lived in a world where all things were equal, then yes, white professors could teach Indigenous courses. However, we do not live in an equal world.

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2018 at 4:34 AM

Mount Saint Vincent University's campus. - VIA WIKIPEDIA
  • Mount Saint Vincent University's campus.
  • VIA WIKIPEDIA


Last week, Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax came under fire for assigning a white professor a course about the residential school system that housed Indigenous children for forced assimilation. The university picked a knowledgeable and well-meaning ally. And I am not here to discredit her.

But I have long been a proponent of Indigenous peoples telling our stories. We’ve always served as background characters in our own history.

Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. This piece was first published by the Washington Post, and is reprinted with the author’s permission. - HANNAH GRACE
  • Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaq activist and Halifax’s former poet laureate. This piece was first published by the Washington Post, and is reprinted with the author’s permission.
  • Hannah Grace
I am l’nu of the Mi’kmaq Nation of Mi’kma’ki. We have the dubious honour of being among the first Indigenous peoples contacted by European colonizers. For 500 years we had to work with, be oppressed by and share land with the British and French. The Peace and Friendship Treaties signed by my ancestors led to precedent-setting landmark decisions for Indigenous rights at the Supreme Court of Canada. However, that doesn’t mean we’ve avoided the pitfalls of colonization.

For more than 100 years, 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend the residential schools where their culture, language and spirit were violently removed from them in an attempt to “save” the child and kill the Indian. Thousands of children died in the system. The schools were active until the last one closed in 1996. My father is the product of this system, which took him away when he was five years old. It took him decades before he was able to talk about what happened to him. The legacy of residential schools has left Indigenous peoples over-represented in the criminal-justice system and the foster-care system. We have higher morbidity and mortality rates than non-Indigenous Canadians, along with suicide rates up to 11 times that of the rest of the population.

I believe that the university course should be taught by an Indigenous person. But we, as Indigenous peoples, cannot be solely responsible for the decolonization of institutions.

I’ve worked in postsecondary institutions for the entirety of my career. I’ve been the sole Indigenous voice at the table far more often than I’ve been surrounded by my peers. I am often the one-stop shop for knowledge on Indigenous history, law, culture, social structure and language.

I try to help faculty members who don’t quite understand why their teaching approach can be exclusionary or isolating for Indigenous students. I’ve spoken with the president about what it’s like being the child of a residential school survivor. I have been asked to be on every diversity and inclusion committee. If there is anything remotely related to Indigenous peoples, I get asked and am expected to take the lead on it. I do so willingly but at a cost.

I am exhausted.

I feel a tremendous obligation to my community. On days when I simply cannot muster the energy to step up, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that I am letting my people down.

Organizations can’t be allowed to simply throw their hands up and say they tried their best after their token minority member decided not be the mascot for their reconciliation attempts because they were tired or had other interests. After all, we are a part of the people they are trying to reconcile with, a fact often forgotten.

It’s important that you understand that I don’t tell my family’s story to get attention. It’s not fun to bring up painful memories. I tell them so people understand where I and so many other Indigenous people are coming from. They are important stories that give context. But no mistake, they are my stories to tell.

I’m often asked whether I believe only Indigenous peoples can teach Indigenous subjects. I say yes. That often leads to the all-or-nothing argument that if that’s the case, then only women can teach women’s studies and only Black professors can teach African studies.

If we lived in a world where all things were equal, then yes, white professors could teach Indigenous courses. However, we do not live in an equal world. We live in a world where I have to apply for my ethnicity to be validated by the government every 10 years. We live in a world where we have to beg and plead for empathy when our girls and our women go missing. We live in a world where an unarmed 22-year-old Native Canadian man can be shot point-blank in the back of the head and his killer walks free. We live in a world where I have to reopen my scars over and over so individuals and organizations can feel good about giving me bandages.

I do this so those who come after me hopefully won’t be asked to. I take up space, not always because I want to but because I have to.

———

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 17, 2018

Halifax cosplaying an accepting community

Transgender cosplayer Rae O'Neil says the local geek community is a welcoming and liberating space.

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2018 at 4:01 AM

Rae O’Neil in costume at the recent Spring Geequinox. - APRIL BAIRD
  • Rae O’Neil in costume at the recent Spring Geequinox.
  • APRIL BAIRD

Rae O’Neil is dressed in an outfit based off a mash-up of two Final Fantasy characters. The cosplay is a bit out of the ordinary in everyday life, but at local conventions like the recent Spring Geequinox or Hal-Con it’s a perfectly normal—and fun—mode of creative expression.

“I get to build stuff, which I like to do, and show it off in an homage to something I enjoy,” says O’Neil. “It’s also a great way to learn a multitude of new skills.”

The first time O’Neil cosplayed was two years ago at Hal-Con, shortly after she came out as transgender. At first, it was an anxious experience.

“As the con went on I got less scared as I would kind of forget myself,” she says.

Some assumed she was “crossplaying,” which is when someone of one gender cosplays as a character of another.

“But others would gender me correctly, which rarely happened in public at all at that point, which felt pretty neat,” adds O’Neil.

“Here I was presenting female and no one was recoiling like my internalized transphobia and anxiety kept making me think they would. In a way, at the time, this was the most out I’d felt in public. It was super liberating.”

O’Neil says the cosplay community as of late is very body positive, welcoming all newcomers.

“Everyone’s crammed at the same restroom mirror fidgeting with their makeup or making last-minute adjustments, helping each other,” she says. “I rarely feel unwelcome and usually end up participating in those well-worn discussions on how to keep your makeup on, cover something up, squeeze into something, breath inside a constrained costume.”

Cosplay, she says, is a movement that’s often pushed back against misogynistic ideas of body image. So far, O’Neil says she’s had nothing but support from the community.

“I’ve been lucky locally,” she says. “Some bad eggs pop up on the con Facebook page from time to time, but I haven’t run into any overt transphobia at the local cons. Knock on wood.”
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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Smudge for sale

Selling Indigenous medicine and ceremony intends to profit off of another person's pain.

Posted By on Thu, May 10, 2018 at 4:54 AM

Mini white smudge stick value-pack available at Canada’s largest book retailer. - VIA CHAPTERS INDIGO
  • Mini white smudge stick value-pack available at Canada’s largest book retailer.
  • via Chapters Indigo

I learned to pick my medicines from my white, Acadian stepmother. I was around 14 years old when we walked out to the salty marsh grass with a handful of tobacco. As we walked to the spot near her home where sweetgrass still grows, she explained to me the concept of respecting Mother Earth; how it was important to leave behind some plants and never take more than I needed. When we got to where the grass grows, she put tobacco in my hand, we said a prayer and offered some to each of the four directions and to the ground to say thank you for what we were taking.

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 learned from her because my father wasn’t able to teach me during that time. He was still battling his demons from Residential School. My stepmother had learned from him and the Elders he would bring around when he was sober. When we got home with our bundles of grass, she taught me how to separate the blades and how to tie and braid them. Then over the course of the summer, she gave them all away. She said other people needed them more than her.

As an adult, when I asked my Elders if it was OK for non-Native people to smudge and teach, they said everyone has a right to heal and that sharing our ceremonies honours the intentions of what they are. My father always told me that the only thing I was to ever ask for when I smudged was to think in a good way. Which leads me to the sale of “smudge sticks.”

There has been an uptick in the commercialization of medicines and ceremony by both non-Native and Indigenous peoples. Urban Outfitters pulled their “energy balancing smudge kit” in 2015 after Indigenous peoples called for its removal, but a quick search shows they still sell “sage incense sticks” and other medicine bundles. And it isn’t just large companies like Urban Outfitters that appropriate and exploit our ceremonies. Here in Halifax, you can buy smudging services where you pay per square footage to have your home cleansed of negative energy. Every craft fair has someone selling “smudge sticks.”

I started smudging at a very young age. It was one of the very few parts of my culture that has been present in my life at nearly every stage. The smell of sweetgrass brings me back to my childhood. As an adult, I smudge regularly to stay connected to my culture. I smudge to start meetings. I smudge my students when they need grounding. They don’t have to be Indigenous to do so or to take part. But like 14-year-old Rebecca who was just learning to pick medicines, the intention behind the use of them is what matters. I learned to respect medicines because of the significant role they play in connecting and healing people. Furthermore, given the ban on Indigenous gatherings from 1885 to 1951, the fact that smudging continues to persist only cements my beliefs that medicines should be honoured.

Sometimes, Indigenous peoples might have no choice but to buy their medicines because they lost the knowledge of where to get them. Some people sell medicines because they think it’s their right to do so. My goal is not to shame people for the misuse of medicines, but rather invite them to rethink their intentions. Whether or not they choose to believe it, selling medicines and ceremony intends profit off of another person’s pain. Let me ask you: How is that supposed to help them? How is that supposed to help you to think in a good way?

———

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 26, 2018

A housing-first model will help end homelessness in Nova Scotia

Offering a place to live to anyone who needs it is a cheap and effective alternative to social support networks.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2018 at 4:05 AM

VIA DAVID TREMBLAY, ON FACEBOOK
  • VIA DAVID TREMBLAY, ON FACEBOOK

In 2015, the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta took a compassionate and unprejudiced approach to ending homelessness by using a housing-first model.

Homes are offered to anyone who needs them. Ten days are now the most an individual or family stays in a Medicine Hat shelter. With a roof over their head, people are able to address other challenges; reducing the financial burdens in the health, justice and child welfare systems.

Housing someone in Medicine Hat costs about $20,000 a year. Leaving them on the street works out to around $100,000.

It’s high past time Nova Scotia look into similar programs to fill the gaps in this province’s spotty homeless support network.

Recently, it was found that Cape Breton has more homeless women than men. However, there is no shelter services for women on the island. Ally Centre of Cape Breton provides services during the day but at night the doors close. According to Christine Porter, who runs the centre, many women end up trading favours for a place to stay.

Then there was Lucy MacDonald, who sought help from a women’s shelter for herself and her daughter. Due to MacDonald working full-time, she was declined shelter but her daughter was accepted. Arbitrary red tape separated a mother and daughter during a very traumatic time in their lives.

We have a homelessness epidemic in Nova Scotia and the disingenuous approach is not working—it’s perpetuating it. We have shelters and outreach programs that all do great work, but it is not enough and we need to rethink how we invest in combatting this growing epidemic.

Leaving people in shelters and on the streets to work through the issues that caused them to become homeless is cruel, and we should be ashamed that we are willing to burden our health, justice and social service sectors financially instead of investing directly in the affected.

How can anyone overcome addiction or become mentally healthy living in shelters or sleeping rough? We house people together in shelters who are facing similar issues and expect miracles of them.

The average cost per person to stay in a shelter is $100 per day to the taxpayer. At $3,000 a month, that’s almost four times what a disabled ESIA recipient receives for shelter and personal allowance.

We have been using the same unviable approach for decades to ending homelessness and expecting different results. Our vulnerable need investment, not Band-Aids.

Medicine Hat mayor Ted Clugston had little faith in the housing-first initiative of his city at its outset, but within a year the cost savings motivated him to advocate other governments about using similar community models.

Utah has taken the same approach and reduced its chronic homelessness by 91 percent.

We can end homelessness, but we have to be bold and provide housing along with the means for basic needs to the homeless, without judgment.

It’s time to be compassionate and logical. We spend far too much on shelters and outreach programs. It’s time to rethink how we distribute the funds available to help some of our most vulnerable residents.

Homelessness can end with a community approach that is humane and that addresses the issues by actually investing in those impacted, instead of cumbersome programs with high costs that only patch over 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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In Print This Week

Vol 26, No 24
November 8, 2018

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