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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A decade late, Halifax police close the book on its Drug Exhibit Audit

Cops promise thousands of kilograms of drugs won’t go missing again.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 8:48 AM

THE COAST
  • The Coast

Jim Perrin isn’t happy with the results of the final Drug Exhibit Audit, but he’s confident Halifax Regional Police will be a “better police department” because of its findings.

The Criminal Investigations Division superintendent presented his final audit update to the Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday, closing the book on a two-year black eye for the department that’s still unable to locate thousands of exhibits.

Over $8,000 in seized cash, 30 kilograms of cannabis, 1,900 cannabis plants, three kilograms of cocaine, 5,400 opioid pills and more than 2,000 additional smaller drug exhibits are all still missing and presumed destroyed.

“Certainly we’re not pleased with the results,” Perrin told reporters after the meeting, stressing that at no time did the force believe any of the missing exhibits were stolen by officers.

“If we had come across that, we would have dealt with that...That being said, we couldn’t physically account for some of these items. We believe they were destroyed, but we can’t conclusively say that for a variety of reasons.”

The final audit blames decades of shoddy paperwork, incomplete training and faded exhibit tags for the thousands of items still unaccounted for and presumed destroyed.

As an example of just how bad record keeping was, some of the large drug exhibits listed in official records may have never been in police possession in the first place.

The years of improper, possibly illegal evidence controls include “learning moments for everybody,” says Perrin.

“I think there’re assumptions we can make sometimes as leaders that everything is going along as it should. Unfortunately, sometimes you’re awoken by an incident that happens and when you look a little deeper, you think that things haven’t been going as well as you thought they have.”

The original audit—conducted over the summer of 2015 and released to The Coast a year later under a Freedom of Information request—found a nearly 90 percent failure rate for evidence continuity. Drugs were often stored in Ziplock bags with incomplete paperwork, exhibits were routinely destroyed in batches without documentation and the storage area lacked basic security measures such as security cameras. Close to 25 percent of the evidence exhibits and over half of the seized cash in police possession couldn’t be located.

From the 2015 audit's findings. - HRP
  • From the 2015 audit's findings.
  • HRP

“We're humans,” Perrin says. “We're people that are doing these processes, and from time to time there are going to be mistakes. So don't only judge us for the mistakes that we make, but judge us for how we respond to those mistakes.”

The department has since implemented all 34 of the audit’s security and safety recommendations and will be conducting full inventories of its evidence lockers on an annual basis.

“This has not been comfortable for everybody involved, and guess what? It shouldn’t be comfortable,” councillor Steve Craig told the board. “Confidence in police is paramount.”

Only one possession charge on one court case was impacted by the thousands of missing exhibits, say police. The Crown withdrew that charge after being informed the evidence was unlikely to be found.

When the audit’s findings first became public, defence attorneys routinely contacted prosecutors wishing to see exhibits related to their files. Perrin says the department handled all those requests as they came in, but no other charges, convictions or cases were impacted.

“This has been a difficult process, but I think we tackled it head-on,” says the superintendent. “We didn’t try to hide it...and I think we’ve made things better.”

Widespread problems with HRP’s evidence control system were known about internally since at least 2007, and possibly much earlier.

Former detective Tom Martin told The Coast in 2016 he had been accused of stealing evidence after two sergeants mistakenly destroyed exhibits without authorization.

“That was in 1989,” said Martin.

In 2007, a management review of the Integrated Drug Unit concluded that evidence being stored improperly was common.

“The circumstances and practices that were observed have a higher than acceptable risk to cause damage to the integrity of exhibits and to cause embarrassment to the organization.” [Emphasis: HRP]

Criminal Investigation Division superintendent Jim Perrin. - THE COAST
  • Criminal Investigation Division superintendent Jim Perrin.
  • THE COAST

Another high-level evidence control audit conducted in 2014 found not much had changed. There were unsecured exhibits, security risks, a lack of training and a gargantuan backlog of items all past the mandated curfew for destruction sitting on the shelves.

Months later, the Serious Incident Response Team charged detective Gary Basso with stealing drugs from the evidence room. Charges laid from that investigation were dropped by the Crown a few months later.

In the wake of Basso’s alleged crime, the department began a full Drug Exhibit Audit. A draft version was complete by September 2015. On November 5, narcotics detective sergeant Darrell Gaudet emailed several high-ranking HRP members—including Perrin—that the money vault was “insecure” and there was no clear record of “who is going in at what time and for what.” 

Perrin previously told The Coast he only saw the complete draft audit several months later, in February of 2016. Chief Blais was briefed on it three months after that.

The audit's conclusions were not disclosed to the board of commissioners, the Public Prosecution Service or defence counsels until reported on by this newspaper.

Talking to reporters on Tuesday, Perrin had little to say about past decisions made by the department or why the warnings issued in 2007 didn’t fix the evidence control system a decade earlier.

“I’m sure when it happened it was [followed up on]. But over time you probably—and again I’m making an assumption here—but over time it didn’t seem as important as it did in 2007, and other priorities crept into play.”


He promises that won’t happen again.

“Part of the work we’re doing today is not only to fix this issue today but that 10 years from now the police leaders aren’t trying to look in the rearview mirror and fix what happened 10 years ago.”

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, January 15, 2018

Abdoul Abdi released from custody, still facing deportation

Former child refugee fighting to remain in the country he calls home.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 15, 2018 at 5:13 PM

Protesters gather outside Sackville High School last week before Justin Trudeau's town hall event. - JULIA-SIMONE RUTGERS
  • Protesters gather outside Sackville High School last week before Justin Trudeau's town hall event.
  • JULIA-SIMONE RUTGERS

Abdoul Abdi is a free man, but still not a Canadian according to the federal government.

Lawyer Benjamin Perryman announced on Monday that his client will be released from custody, by order of the Immigration and Refugee Board, and sent to a halfway house in the greater Toronto area while he fights to remain in Canada.

It’s a small victory for the 23-year-old former child refugee who was failed by the same welfare system set up to protect him.

Abdi arrived in Nova Scotia from Somalia with his sister and aunts at the age of six. He was shortly thereafter taken from his family by the province and placed into foster care.

In his 18 years of state care, Abdi lived in over 30 homes and suffered abuse at the hands of the people charged with looking after him.

Neither the department of community services nor any of his guardians ever applied for his citizenship.

Earlier this month Abdi was released from prison after serving four years on multiple charges, including aggravated assault. As a permanent resident with a criminal record, he’s now facing deportation back to Somalia—a country he hasn’t seen since he was a toddler, and a fate his sister likens to a death sentence.

Activists and public pressure around Abdi’s case have boiled over in the past few weeks thanks to the amplification of his story by writers like El Jones and Desmond Cole, culminating in Abdoul’s sister confronting prime minister Justin Trudeau during last week’s town hall in Lower Sackville.

“Why are you deporting my brother?” Fatouma Abdi asked. “If it was your son, would you do anything to stop this?”

As reported for The Coast by Julia-Simone Rutgers, Trudeau declined to comment the specifics of the case but promised to “try to do the right thing based on both rules and compassion.”

Premier Stephen McNeil stated last week that the department of community services will complete a full review of any similar cases of children missing supports.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , , ,

Friday, January 12, 2018

The worst bus in Halifax

Route 1 on Spring Garden Road is late over half the time during rush hour.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 7:09 PM

Number one in the streets, and number one in the data sheets (for being awful). - VIA SEAN GILLIS, AT HALIFAXBLOGGERS
  • Number one in the streets, and number one in the data sheets (for being awful).
  • VIA SEAN GILLIS, AT HALIFAXBLOGGERS


Halifax Transit’s buses continue to arrive on-schedule far below industry standards, with the flagship Route 1 being late over half the time during rush hour.

A performance report headed to HRM council next week says the overall percentage of Halifax Transit's fleet that arrived on time in the second quarter of 2017/18 was a humbling 73 percent. That’s down from 77 percent in the previous period.

The worst bus in Halifax for anyone looking to be on time used to be Route 20. The Herring Cove bus was late 45 percent of the time last quarter. Those numbers were even worse during peak hours when the 20 was late 51 percent of the time.

But the Herring Cove was replaced at the end of November; combined with Route 19 into the new Route 9 that connects Spryfield to the downtown. On-time performance numbers for that new route won’t be available for another three months.

Meanwhile, Halifax Transit’s flagship Route 1 fared even worse in getting people where they need to be during rush hour. It’s late 53 percent of the time during peak service hours, and 40 percent of the time the rest of the day.

The transit authority defines “on time” as between one-minute early and three-minutes late. Industry standards for hitting that benchmark range between 85 and 90 percent. Only 11 out of 64 Halifax routes operating during peak hours were able to meet that target.

screen_shot_2018-01-12_at_7.02.45_pm.png
screen_shot_2018-01-12_at_7.02.56_pm.png

“With construction season in full swing, on-time performance was significantly impacted in the second quarter,” write transit staff about extended closures on St. Margarets Bay Road over the summer that detoured multiple routes and pushed a higher volume of cars onto the Bayers Road corridor.

The best bus for meeting its schedule was once again Route 56, which arrives when it’s supposed to 95 percent of the time. Unlike most routes, the Dartmouth Crossing bus actually improves in reliability during rush hour.

The Mount Edward Express bus, while technically on time for 99 percent of its stops, only runs 12 times a day during peak hours along a much shorter route.

Other buses that manage to be late less than 10 percent of the time include the 57 (Russell Lake), 58 (Woodlawn), 83 (Springfield) and 88 (Bedford Commons).

This is the second ranking of quarterly on-time performance for individual routes released by Halifax Transit. Comparisons to previous years won't be possible until next quarter.

Overall, ridership increased 1.7 percent last quarter compared to the same period in 2016, while revenue dropped by 0.04 percent.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Regional Main Streets plan pitched for HRM's suburban and rural growth

Everyone deserves a good main street, says coalition of community groups behind calls for an “outside-the-centre plan”

Posted By on Tue, Jan 9, 2018 at 11:11 AM

Jenny Lugar works as the sustainable cities coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre and as coordinator for Our HRM Alliance. - SUBMITTED
  • Jenny Lugar works as the sustainable cities coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre and as coordinator for Our HRM Alliance.
  • SUBMITTED

Several citizen and economic advocacy groups joined together Tuesday morning in asking for a new strategy when it comes to guiding development in HRM: the Regional Main Streets Plan.

The proposal would group together several separate planning documents—many of which haven't been updated in decades—into a single strategy for HRM's growth throughout both the suburban “doughnut” of communities surrounding the urban core (Clayton Park, Spryfield, Cole Harbour, Fairview and Bedford) and the municipality's more rural areas (Porter’s Lake, Sackville, Beaver Bank and St. Margaret’s Bay).

“Only with updated plans can transit and development investment work together to create great main streets, places that make life convenient and affordable and that form the centre of local pride,” reads the press release, which was signed off on by Our HRM Alliance, the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, the Halifax Cycling Coalition, It's More Than Buses, the Main Street Dartmouth Community Improvement District, United Way, Walk n' Roll Halifax, CARP Nova Scotia and the Spryfield Business Commission and Community Association.

In advance of Tuesday's press conference, Our HRM Alliance coordinator Jenny Lugar spoke with The Coast about the proposal, density in Spryfield and why in the rush for urban renewal we've forgotten about the rest of the municipality. Her answers have been edited for length, style and content.

———


Why is this needed?
A lot of these communities haven't had updated plans [in years]. Spryfield, for instance, hasn't had an updated plan since 1978. So HRM has said in the Centre Plan we want 60 percent of our growth in our rural and suburban areas, yet not given any updated direction to this for a lot of communities. They're dealing with this booming growth and this ability for developers to come in and build in their communities, but it's really happening in a very piecemeal way. It doesn't really reflect what the community wants, or it doesn't really reflect what we know makes a good community or a good main street. Essentially, what we're saying is, is it possible for the city to take all of these areas that have a lot of similarities and make kind of a big master plan for them, and allow communities to have input on the particulars? Just to expedite the process, so we're not spending five years on every single community plan.

So this would be the Outside-the-Centre Plan?
Exactly. That was actually one of our ideas. The “Outside-the-Centre Plan.” The other one being “Doughnut Plan,” but that got confused with planning for doughnuts.

What distinguishes this from the Regional Plan, the IMP, Moving Forward Together and other planning documents?
How many years are we post-amalgamation now? Twenty? You really can't have a fully amalgamated regional area if each of the communities isn't given an updated plan that acknowledges amalgamation and how they can and should benefit from the growth and the transit in other areas. I think where this differs is it would acknowledge and get into the nitty-gritty of the land-use bylaws in the other communities. It would allow the communities that need these plans to have a bit of a say in the growth happening in their communities and what kind of amenities they want—what they want their densities to look like and that sort of thing. The key takeaway here is that the suburbs are crucial to the future of the region. This is where more than half of our population in HRM lives. If we're not starting from the ground-up and building really good communities, we're going to be dealing with problems. The idea is everyone deserves to have a good main street or a good place that's walkable that they can live and enjoy to live.

The city's answer to that has been densification. In the process of that urban renewal, have we let those other areas lag behind?
Oh, I would agree. And I'd also say Halifax is not alone in that. A lot of cities have put all this money into urban renewal and making these great places for people to come live and they've really forgotten about that whole other cohort of people who really don't want to live in the urban core. They want to have some of the amenities suburban areas do offer, but that doesn't mean they should be sacrificing all of these amenities like transit or like being close to a doctor's office or grocery store or being able to walk down to a coffee shop. It's not necessarily something to put blame on because you do have to start at the core and move outward. But we're getting to the point where it's really, really time to start looking at the suburbs because pretty soon it's going to be completely beyond our control.

Is there a development market in the suburbs and rural areas for this investment, or are we just going to have bus lanes, sidewalks and empty storefronts?
I think it's probably different for every community. You want this overarching plan that tells you how best to make a walkable, transit-accessible area but you also want to get into the communities and ask them exactly what they want. Because you're right, there are places—maybe Larry Uteck would be very different than Spryfield, in terms of business appetite and economic feasibility. I know in general that having a main street and having the ability to walk around and get out in your community does do good things for a community economically, but I think that's just something that's going to have to be explored as it comes.


You write in the press release that these communities have big ideas that can't happen right now because of these outdated strategies. Can you give me an example?
I'm going to use Spryfield as an example again. I think there are a lot of areas of Spryfield that they'd like to densify, but literally the land-use bylaws aren't there. They'd like to have some mixed-use, and we pretty much didn't write "mixed-use" into plans in the '70s. It just wasn't a thing in the suburbs. So the ability to even just create mixed-use areas and mixed-use buildings that do create a good kind of dense main street for a lot of these communities isn't there. 


Given how overworked we know the planning department is, and that the Centre Plan is still not finalized, is having another sweeping plan for the rest of the municipality going to be helpful or delay other projects even more?
To be very clear, we're not asking the city to do this before the Centre Plan is done. This is for post-Centre Plan. We're looking at the spring for the Centre Plan and now for the IMP, spring for the Green Network. So the hope is once all these plans finish up or get into these final steps, it'll be kind of a ripe time to get moving on these other plans.

You're announcing a “common position” Tuesday, and then what? What comes next?
That is kind of up to how this moves along. We're hoping to get some attention put onto this. We're hoping to get some engagement with the city. We're hoping to ensure the people we included in this statement are stakeholders once we get this process started. One of the things we've talked about a lot, in general, is that consultation from the ground up is really, really important starting from the basics. We wanted to get in at the first step, make sure these people are being included in that.

Any feedback from city hall officials so far to the idea?

I've talked to a couple of the councillors who have said, “Yes, of course, that would be wonderful if we could get going on this sort of thing.” Not even just the suburban councillors. A lot of the peninsula councillors whose areas will benefit from the Centre Plan have said yes, absolutely. So I think the drive is there. I think we're pushing with the grain, which is really an enjoyable thing to do, for sure.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , ,

Monday, January 8, 2018

You up? It’s time for The Coast’s Sex+Dating survey

Our annual anonymous survey on HRM’s sexual fantasies and emotional baggage needs your input.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 1:48 PM

Anyway, how is your sex life? - THE COAST

Not to be too forward or anything, but can we ask you some questions about your sex life?

Yes, it’s time once again for The Coast’s annual Sex+Dating survey.

At this point, we’ve got a pretty good rhythm going, Halifax. Last year over 1,200 of you shared your biggest secrets, sweetest memories and kinkiest fantasies with us. But it’s time for another round.

The full survey is available here. Spend as much time as you want with it, or skip over any questions that don’t apply or you don’t feel like answering.

All we ask is that you speak truthfully. It’s completely anonymous, so feel free to bare it all.

Any identifiable information submitted in the open-ended questions—whether accidentally or on purpose—will be edited out at our discretion to preserve privacy. Comments or feedback can be included at the end to help improve next year’s survey.

Answers will be collected and the highlights published in The Coast’s February 8 issue.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , ,

Friday, January 5, 2018

Province says HRM can dump plastics in Nova Scotian landfill

Temporary reprieve of recycling rules lets HRM offload its mountain of trash bags in West Hants, instead of shipping them across Canada.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 5, 2018 at 1:35 PM

Plastic bags like these will soon be shipped from Halifax to a landfill in West Hants because it's better for the environment (than trucking them across Canada). - VIA ISTOCK
  • Plastic bags like these will soon be shipped from Halifax to a landfill in West Hants because it's better for the environment (than trucking them across Canada).
  • VIA iSTOCK

The province is letting Halifax ship its garbage mountain of trash bags to another Nova Scotia dump.

The department of environment announced the temporary exemption in provincial recycling law on Friday.

The change lasts for six months and only applies to the Halifax Regional Municipality’s dumping of plastic shopping bags and the plastic wrap around commercial products such as toilet paper and water bottles.

“This is only a temporary measure,” minister Iain Rankin said in an accompanying press release. “Nova Scotia is a leader in recycling and waste diversion, and we will continue to be.”

Several hundred tonnes of Halifax’s plastic bags have been rotting (or whatever plastics do) at a storage facility since last August, as a result of China’s decision to no longer import recyclables due to environmental and health concerns.

The municipality, and West Hants landfill operator Green for Life, had requested a temporary reprieve from the province to skirt laws banning recyclable materials in Nova Scotian landfills.

When that took too long, the municipality started sending its 300 tonnes of recyclable plastics to an out-of-province dump. As reported elsewhere, three tractor-trailer loads of plastics have already been shipped.

The municipality refused to disclose where the materials were going, other than it was potentially “even further west than Ontario.”

According to CBC, the municipality has found a recycling source for newly trashed film plastics, but the materials in storage were too degraded for that option.

Halifax’s manager of solid waste, Matt Keliher, writes in today’s release that putting the film plastics in a landfill is a last resort: “We have been actively looking for new markets and will continue to do that in the months to come.”

Prior to China’s announcement last year, 80 percent of the city’s recyclables were sent to Asia.

According to Friday’s press release, “other applications for a variance will be considered promptly.”

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Halifax shelters scramble to keep people warm during winter storm

Emergency Management Office opens up 11 comfort centres across the city.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 4, 2018 at 6:10 PM

VIA TWITTER

UPDATE: Despite HRM's press release listing 1223 Lower Water Street as one of the comfort centres open all night, NS Power has apparently shut it down for the evening.

The lights are on at Out of the Cold—for now, anyway.

Organizer Eric Jonsson says the power has already gone out twice today, which has left the emergency winter shelter scrambling.

“We don’t have a lot of faith it’s going to stay on, so we’re actually going to close the shelter tonight.”

High winds from the bomb cyclone battering Atlantic Canada have already knocked out power throughout the city. Conditions will only worsen overnight and into the weekend as temperatures drop severely, leaving the city's most vulnerable residents at the greatest risk.

In response to the storm event, the municipality’s Emergency Management Office has opened up several comfort centres in select spots across HRM. They include:

NS Power Halifax Headquarters, 1223 Lower Water Street
—Sheet Harbour Legion in Watt Section, 6644 Highway
—Moser River Community Centre, 36 Parlee Road
—Gaetz Brook Royal Canadian Legion, 6644 Nova Scotia Trunk 7, Head of Chezzetcook
—Musquodoboit Harbour Community Centre Rink, 67 Park Road
—Station 26, 51 Old Trunk Road, Oyster Pond
—Prospect Road Community Centre, 2141 Prospect Road, Hatchet Lake
—St. Margaret’s Bay Road Community Centre, 1492 St. Margaret’s Bay Road
—Canada Games Centre, 26 Thomas Raddall Drive (opens at 7 pm)
—Station 16 Community Centre, 1807 Caldwell Road, Eastern Passage (opens at 7 pm)
—Findlay Centre, 26 Elliot Street (opens at 7 pm)

Spokesperson Nick Ritcey says the goal is to keep the comfort centres open until 8 am, “but we will have to reassess if a location loses power.”

There won't be any beds available, however. Those are only put in place by the Red Cross during an evacuation scenario, says Ritcey.

“These comfort centres will be places to sit and stay warm with light refreshments as needed.”

Even before Thursday's storm, space was already at a premium at Halifax’s homeless shelters. Adsum House executive director Sheri Lecker says the women’s and children’s centre has been over-capacity since before Christmas.

“All our beds are full and we’ve been using cots and sofas ever since it got really cold,” she says.

While HRM isn’t yet facing the kind of horrifying scenario that’s putting so many lives in jeopardy in Toronto, Lecker says she’s still aware of several people who will be “sleeping rough” outside tonight.

According to Jonsson, any guests who would have slept on Out of the Cold's 15 beds tonight are being bussed where they can to other shelters.

“We’re going to try and scrounge beds here and there from the other shelters to try to give people a place to go,” he says. “It’s not much of a plan. We’re trying to figure it out as we go.”

VIA OUT OF THE COLD
  • VIA OUT OF THE COLD

The EMO is meanwhile asking residents living in flood-prone areas or locations with only one access point to stay with friends and family for the night or visit the nearest comfort centre in advance of the worsening storm.

You'll have to get there on your own, though. Ferries are already suspended and Halifax Transit cancelled all its bus routes earlier this afternoon—with less than an hour’s notice and two hours before the comfort centre locations were announced.

As for what else the municipality and province can do to help, Jonsson would prefer longterm planning over a short-term fix.

“Mostly we just need affordable housing,” he says. “If we just had enough places for people to live, we wouldn’t need beds in shelters.”

Lecker agrees. The best way to support Halifax's homeless shelters is ensuring they aren't needed in the first place.

“I don’t want to see more shelter space open,” she says. “I want people to be in homes and have stability and know where they’re going to sleep at night.”

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , , ,

Class warfare and the Irving Shipyard

Nova Scotia's bosses would rather kill their own companies than negotiate with their workers.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 4, 2018 at 4:57 AM

At work inside the Halifax Shipyard. - VIA UNIFOR
  • At work inside the Halifax Shipyard.
  • VIA UNIFOR

With the holidays coming to an end, negotiations between the Irving family’s Halifax Shipyard Inc. and its unionized workers are set to resume this month with the help of a mediator. In December, the workers, members of UNIFOR Marine Workers Local One voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate after the employer tabled a raft of demands for concessions on rest periods and safety regulations. The Irvings are the eighth richest family in Canada and despite amassing an unfathomably large fortune they’re now demanding that they get a little bit richer by trying to force 800 shipyard workers to give up a little bit more.

Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. He is the co-host of Dog Island, Atlantic Canada’s premier cultural-Marxist podcast. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. He is the co-host of Dog Island, Atlantic Canada’s premier cultural-Marxist podcast.
  • JALANI MORGAN
We’re now four years into a prolonged period of obvious and open class warfare which has been waged from above. The history of capital and the state doing everything they can to bring working people to heel goes back centuries in Nova Scotia. But since 2013 the provincial government and private sector bosses have shed any pretence of accepting open negotiations and have chosen to use a combination of intransigence and exceptional legislation to break unions and suppress 
wages.

The most notable labour battles have been in the public sector with teachers and water workers forced on to picket lines, zero provincial public sector contracts successfully negotiated and at least a dozen pieces of substantial anti-labour legislation passed since 2013. But private sector bosses have also changed tactics and decided that digging in their heels on even small issues is preferable to trying to compromise with their workers. From the Chronicle Herald to Egg Films, Nova Scotia’s bosses would rather cripple or kill their own companies than negotiate with their workers.

Here’s the thing about the economy: The divide between private and public industries is an artificial one and the Irvings demonstrate this better than anyone. Their wealth has come from public resources that the labour of generations of Atlantic Canadians has transformed into private profit. Technically, the 
Irvings are a private employer, but the resource they extract comes from Crown land, travels on public infrastructure and is often sold to government entities.

Despite being worth over $7 billion dollars, the Irvings have parked that money off-shore for 45 years in order to make sure that they’ll never pay their fair share of taxes.

The Halifax Shipyard’s largest current contract is a deal to build warships for the 
Canadian navy using taxpayer dollars. The procurement program is worth up to $40 billion. On the side, they’ve also got another contract worth $2.4 billion to build publicly financed Coast Guard ships in Halifax. These projects are being built in a facility whose upgrades were paid for by a $304 million gift from the provincial government and, for some reason, they were also given an absurd tax-break from the city of Halifax.

After receiving billions of dollars in contracts, and hundreds of millions of dollars in direct subsidies and tax breaks, one of the richest families in Canada (or Bermuda) now expects shipyard workers to work even harder and less safe.

The refusal by the Irvings to negotiate a fair deal with their workers tells us a lot about the nature of the economy and about labour relations in this province, but it also tells us a lot about what the ultra-rich want. They don’t need any more money or power, but for some reason they want it and they’ll do whatever they need to do to get it. It’s up to the rest of us to stop them.

———

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

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , ,

Province wants extra $300,000 from HRM for new Convention Centre

Marketing and transition expenses go above and beyond what city hall (informally) agreed to pay two years ago.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 4, 2018 at 4:27 AM

VIA TWITTER

The province wants HRM to reimburse it for $301,500 in transition costs for the new Halifax Convention Centre that it says was the municipality’s responsibility to 
pay.

City staff, however, aren’t so sure about that.

In a somewhat tautological statement to The Coast, finance manager Bruce Fisher says city hall is reviewing the bill’s validity.

“Regarding outstanding invoices from the province, we are reviewing these expenses to determine if we do indeed have outstanding commitments,” says Fisher.

At issue is an information report that went before city council in 2015, which is now “evolving into a pivotal document,” according to a briefing sent to the CAO’s office.

Unlike construction and operating costs, marketing and transition expenses weren’t outlined in the original MOU signed between HRM and the province to cost-share the new convention centre.

So two years ago, the province came to the municipality asking for help with those 
additional expenses.

The aforementioned information item went to council, and subsequently staff began budgeting transition funds for Trade Centre Limited (now Events East) assuming a 50-50 split with the province.

But while there was some discussion on the issue by councillors, no motion was put forward and no vote occurred.

“No formal agreement on transition costs was ever made with the province or Events East,” writes Fisher in an internal report.

Nevertheless, over the last few years, HRM has dumped more than $3 million into upgrading software and other preparations for the convention centre’s launch. The province has kicked in over $5 million during the same period.

All of that money is in addition to the governments’ regular operational subsidy to Events East.

Back in August, only a few months before the convention centre was set to officially open, the province sent a bill for over $300,000 in transition costs above and beyond the scope of what HRM had originally agreed to pay.

The request included two items—$38,000 for ICT peripherals and $108,000 for “governance”—that weren’t included in the list of expenses brought to council two years ago. The province also wants an extra $156,000 in addition to the $633,000 for sales and marketing HRM paid Events East last year.

“Staff have not agreed to pay these amounts,” writes Fisher, who adds that those same staffers are concerned the matter “lies at the margins of their authority under the HRM budget.”


Erin Esiyok-Prime, spokesperson for Events East, says the $108,000 for “governance” that HRM owes was required to “support the transition” of Trade Centre Limited to Events 
East.

“This included establishing our new board of directors, development of our strategic plan, development and implementation of our Events East brand and new website.”

The money for ICT peripherals involved a “virtual server, mobile technology, firewall and network data storage,” explains Esiyok-Prime in an email.

“Sales and marketing activity was focused on the national association market and included advertising, creative campaign development, website enhancements and in-market promotions.”

The downtown convention centre officially opened last month after several lengthy delays. It’s being leased by the province from Joe Ramia’s Rank Inc. through an annual payment.

The municipality agreed to split that $117.8-million cost with the province, but how much the two levels of government will have to shell out each year is still being negotiated.

Initial construction estimates and operating costs would have slotted the annual lease payment in at $13.3 million—half of that covered by HRM. But with construction delays and interest payments still being finalized, the actual lease payment will likely be higher, writes Fisher.

The federal government is also committed to pay out $51.4 million to Ramia upon “substantial completion” of the convention centre. When that will happen is also still up in the air while finishing touches are added and the province negotiates its lease.

To help cover the costs, several years ago city hall established a Convention Centre Reserve to save up all the property taxes from the surrounding Nova Centre—including its office tower, retail, parking and hotel.

But seeing as how most of the Nova Centre still sits empty and unfinished, staff are predicting those taxes won’t offset HRM’s lease payments for several more years. The province has agreed to defer Halifax’s share of the lease payments for the next 10 years (with interest) if taxes aren’t sufficient, as a way to mitigate that financial risk.

According to Fisher’s briefing to the CAO’s office, the $300,000 the province wants now might be better placed in the convention centre reserve, and used for any upcoming shortfalls in lease payments.

Any final decision on whether to pay the money will still need to be debated at a future council meeting.

Until “substantial completion” of the Halifax Convention Centre, the original MOU says the province carries all costs and risks associated with delayed construction.

A welcome weekend for members of the public to tour the expensive Argyle Street project they’re paying so much for will take place next weekend, January 12.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , , ,

Who checks the street checkers?

New research from Princeton might offer a solution to police discrimination in Halifax—target the worst cops.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 4, 2018 at 4:11 AM

Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street. - THE COAST
  • Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street.
  • The Coast

It was just about this time last year that Halifax Regional Police released a decade’s worth of statistical data on the use of street checks.

In the 12 months since the department has repeatedly shown it has a long way to go to combat racial bias both real and perceived in its policing.

But while efforts like the Human Rights Commission’s continuing investigation will examine police discrimination en masse, not much is being done to track and eliminate the racial bias held by individual officers.

Maybe there should be. New research from Princeton University shows that monitoring those individual incidents can be a fast and efficient way to effectively eliminate racial bias across the entire department.

According to an economics paper released late in 2017 by PhD candidates Felipe 
Goncalves and Steven Mello, the discretion with which police issue fines to speeding drivers can be an accurate early warning 
system for an individual officer’s racial bias.

The two analyzed how often Florida Highway Patrol officers show mercy by discounting a driver’s speed to just below a higher fine bracket and then compared that to the racial makeup of the drivers.

What they found was that the department’s overall racial discrimination could be accounted for almost entirely by 40 percent of its patrol officers.

Using their method, Goncalves and Mellow argue a police department could feasibly identify racial bias in its personnel very early in their career—within the first 100 tickets issued.

The excuse of a “few bad apples” causing all of a police department’s discriminatory behaviour isn’t a new idea, and has largely fallen out of favour in recent years thanks to increased attention towards the systemic racism at work in public institutions.

Halifax police chief Jean-Michel Blais, for example, spoke out in December at the Board of Commissioners about improving relations with the city’s Black community via department-wide training in fair and impartial policing.

“A lot of the issue seems to centre around the quality of the interactions between police officers and members of the community, and that’s the type of training that would allow us to look at many of the things that could cause friction in those interactions,” he said.

But Goncalves and Mello argue in their research that general policies are “only mildly effective” in reducing bias, and thus, creating a better police service. More important, it would seem, is being able to identify the worst offenders.

“Without knowing which agents are discriminatory, it is not possible for institutions to target individuals for discipline or training.”

As it stands right now, even armed with over a decade of data on officer behaviour at its research fingertips, HRP has no operational policies in place to track the racial bias of individual personnel.

“At this point, to my knowledge, there are no specific policies in place that talk about that, aside from the street check data we have,” Blais told reporters shortly before the holidays.

Aside from the compiled street check data, the only other avenue to check racial bias of individual police officers is the province’s formal complaint system.

Nova Scotia’s Police Complaints Commissioners’s Office receives hundreds of complaints each year from both members of the public and police officers alleging abuse of authority, corrupt practices and neglect of duty.

Halifax police, as the province’s biggest cop shop, make up most of those files. There were 87 public complaints and 37 internal complaints made against HRP officers in 2016 (the latest numbers available).


The majority of those were deemed unfounded, withdrawn or were found not to have met the statutory six-month time window to file a complaint.

Goncalves and Steven Mellow write that firing the most racist officers can help reduce racial bias, along with increasing departmental diversity (women were less biased on average than men). But the easiest solution to regaining public trust, the researchers argue, is reassigning officers so that minority communities are exposed to more a more respectful presence.

“Using a simple personnel policy that reassigns officers across locations based on their lenience, departments can effectively reduce the aggregate disparity in treatment.”

Both the Board of Police Commissioners and HRP committed themselves last year to 
addressing the use of street checks and improving the public trust that’s been eradicated from lifetimes of biased policing.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission’s final report on the subject is tentatively expected by this fall.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

SCIENCE MATTERS: We ignore urgent global warnings at our peril

Posted By on Tue, Jan 2, 2018 at 11:10 PM

VIA THE DAVID SUZUKI FOUNDATION
  • via the David Suzuki Foundation

A year ago, we revisited the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” Signed by a majority of Nobel laureates in sciences at the time and more than 1,700 leading scientists worldwide, the document warned, “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.”

It called for a new ethic that encompasses our responsibility to ourselves and nature and that recognizes our dependence on Earth and its natural systems. It also called for stabilizing human population through “improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.” Now, 25 years later, we’ve added two billion people, a 35 percent increase.

Despite progress in stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, all the other problems scientists looked at in 1992 have worsened.

On the declaration’s 25th anniversary in November, more than 15,000 scientists from around the world signed a new warning—“the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article.” The BioScience article states, “By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”

It raises concerns about climate change, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from “burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production—particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption.” And it points out, “we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.”

Some have criticized the warning for being overly alarmist, but the situation is alarming, and we aren’t doing enough to avert catastrophe. Where will we be 25 years from now? It won’t be chance that determines our future. It will be the choices we make today.

There’s a hint of hope. The scientists note that co-operative government actions resulted in a “rapid global decline in ozone-depleting substances,” and that global poverty and hunger rates have dropped. Investing in education for girls and women has contributed to falling birth rates in many regions, deforestation has been reduced in some countries, and the renewable-energy sector has been growing rapidly.

We can make positive changes if we co-operate, but it will take action from all of humanity. We can’t leave it to governments, especially as so many in thrall to the fossil fuel industry are failing to work for citizens. As the scientists argue, “Sustainability transitions come about in diverse ways, and all require civil-society pressure and evidence-based advocacy, political leadership and a solid understanding of policy instruments, markets and other drivers.”

The warning offers many solutions, many policy-based. They include protecting habitat on land, water and air; recognizing and maintaining the important services intact ecosystems provide; restoring forests and other “native plant communities”; re-introducing native species “to restore ecological processes and dynamics”; using policy to protect species from poaching and illegal trade; reducing food waste and promoting a shift to more plant-based diets; reducing fertility rates through “access to education and voluntary family-planning services”; promoting nature education and appreciation; shifting investment and spending to “encourage positive environmental change”; fostering advances in green technologies and renewable energy while eliminating subsidies to fossil fuels; altering the economy to reduce wealth inequality “and ensure that prices, taxation, and incentive systems take into account the real costs which consumption patterns impose on our environment”; and “estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal.”

In short, if we take the urgency to heart, there are solutions.

Although government action and policy are crucial, so too is citizen engagement. “With a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing. It’s also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviours, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita ­consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources.”

As a new year begins, we can and must do everything possible to shift course. If we wait another 25 years, it will be too late.


———
Science Matters is a weekly column on issues related to science and the environment from David Suzuki, written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , ,

Friday, December 15, 2017

World-class convention centre “opens”

Despite today's soft launch and nearly two years of repeated delays, the publicly funded $169-million Halifax Convention Centre is still not finished.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 6:36 PM

Open for business. - SUBMITTED
  • Open for business.
  • SUBMITTED

A still-unfinished Halifax Convention Centre hosted a grand opening for media and dignitaries Friday—nearly two years after it was supposed to be completed.

As documented on social media, the convention centre’s interior is still lacking drywall in some areas. Several escalators are non-functioning and wires are sticking out from the walls.

But despite the work in progress, government representatives on hand were eager to offer their praise.

In a news release, premier Stephen McNeil proclaimed the convention centre would “help build a stronger Nova Scotia.”

Treasury Board of Canada president Scott Brison said the building confirms Nova Scotia is a “world-class destination” and represents the kind of “innovative” investment that is “vital to creating middle-class jobs.”

The $169-million project is funded by all three levels of government and is part of developer Joe Ramia’s larger Nova Centre doomsday device.

It was originally supposed to open in January of 2016, before being pushed back to September, then spring 2017 and eventually this December.

And it’s still not ready. The substantial completion date for the convention centre remains up in the air as finishing touches are added, and the province negotiates interest amounts and other details on the 25-year lease it will enter into with Ramia’s Argyle Developments.

The federal government will cover its $51.4-million upfront share of the building’s cost upon substantial completion. The province and the municipality will finance their payments over the lease’s 25-year span.

There are 90 events booked for the convention centre’s first year of operations, which Events East coordinators say will bring in 75,000 delegates. Half of those events are national or international.

A welcome weekend for the public to see the unbaked convention centre it’s paying so much for will take place January 12.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

New home for Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre moving forward

Council approves plans to sell vacant property next to Citadel Hill, and create a new Legacy Room at City Hall, during its last regular meeting of 2017.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 4:58 PM

Design mock-up for what the new Friendship Centre could look like. - EKISTICS PLAN + DESIGN
  • Design mock-up for what the new Friendship Centre could look like.
  • Ekistics Plan + Design

Regional council approved an agreement Tuesday to sell the former Red Cross property on Gottingen Street to the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Society.

Terms and conditions of the deal are contained in a confidential report that wasn’t released to the public, but what is known is that the sale will be at market value and is still very much dependent on additional funding help from both federal and provincial governments.

Friendship Centre executive director Pam Glode-Desrochers cautions there’s a long road ahead before anything’s official, but is nevertheless thrilled with the decision.

“Now that we’re this far along, it’s a piece of leverage that we’re able to gain access to,” she says. “HRM’s taken a huge leap of faith here, and we’re going to make it to the finish line.”

Council voted back on National Aboriginal Day to pull the vacant property next to Citadel Hill off the market and explore selling it for use as the Friendship Centre’s new home.

Glode-Desrochers has estimated the non-profit will only need 70,000 square feet out of the 200,000 available on the site. Use of the remaining space, she says, will be determined through public engagement with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents. Office space, affordable housing; “It’s all on the table.”


Preliminary mock-ups for the site completed by Group ATN and Ekistics Plan + Design imagine two buildings on the lot, with the new Friendship Centre standing prominently at the corner of Gottingen and Rainnie Drive.

Whatever the final designs are, Glode-Desrochers says the Mi’kmaw territory will be well-represented by an “iconic” building.

“Right now, everybody refers to us as the building with the paintings on the outside,” she says about the Centre’s current location. “We want it to be, when you’re in HRM or the province of Nova Scotia, you need to go see the waterfront, the [Central] Library and don’t forget about the Mi’kmaw Friendship Centre.”

Appraised at $6 million, the property at 1940 Gottingen Street has been vacant since Canadian Blood Services moved out in 2013. The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre has operated out of its current home down the road on Gottingen since 1984.

At the same meeting, council also voted to create a Downie Wenjack Legacy Room inside City Hall’s main floor boardroom to better educate HRM residents about Indigenous history and the horrors of the Residential School system.

“For a lot of us, we grew up at a time when the Indigenous point-of-view was not represented in textbooks, in conversations, in museums,” said mayor Mike Savage. “We, as leaders and as, I think, politicians, have a responsibility to make this a teaching moment.”

Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy from Ontario, died in 1966 while attempting to run away from one such school. His story inspired Gord Downie’s Secret Path Project in 2016.

Council will consult with its new Indigenous advisor Wyatt White and the Mi’kmaw community on the Legacy Room’s details. The municipality also pledged to donate $25,000 to the national Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Former firefighter reaches human rights settlement with Halifax

Liane Tessier says she experienced gender discrimination while working at a station in Herring Cove.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 8:13 PM

Liane Tessier is shown in a handout photo. - VIA LIANE TESSIER
  • Liane Tessier is shown in a handout photo.
  • VIA LIANE TESSIER


A former Halifax firefighter is expected to receive an apology for the gender discrimination she faced while working at a station in Herring Cove almost 20 years ago. 

Liane Tessier was granted a hearing from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission last year, after fighting for nearly a decade to have her case heard. Tessier told CBC during her career she experienced “bullying” and “devaluing” from her male colleagues, who ostracized her and even tampered with her belongings.

In interviews with CBC and the Canadian Press, Tessier says the Halifax Regional Municipality will issue a public apology on Monday as part of a settlement. Municipal spokesperson Brendan Elliot would not confirm whether or not the apology is taking place, as the commission hasn’t “concluded its work.”

Speaking off-the-record, a high-level official with HRM confirmed the apology would be taking place next week, but didn't know any details of the settlement.

Tessier is far from the only person in recent years to complain about discrimination while working for Halifax Fire, per a 2016 CBC investigation.

In 2009, the Halifax Association of Black Fire Fighters filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission in regards to racial discrimination. The group received an official apology in 2013 from newly hired chief Doug Trussler.

The apology to Tessier will be given by the city's new fire chief Ken Stuebing, who started in October. According to CP, the settlement will include financial compensation and a commitment to policy changes towards a safer workplace.

with files from Jacob Boon

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Tags: , , , , ,

Friday, December 8, 2017

Halifax skirts around first test of its new Integrated Mobility Plan

No protection for dangerous Hollis Street bike lane an “intense whiplash” from what council passed earlier this week, says Cycling Coalition director.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 2:55 PM

The unprotected, painted bike line on Hollis Street. - JORDAN BLACKBURN
  • The unprotected, painted bike line on Hollis Street.
  • JORDAN BLACKBURN

The city’s new active transportation priorities don't have a lot of traction when it comes to improvements for the Hollis Street bike lane.

On Thursday HRM's Transportation Standing Committee voted to continue the ongoing planning process for a permanent, protected “all ages and abilities” bike route in the downtown, which will either enhance or replace current lanes on Lower Water and Hollis Streets.

But it'll take another 18 months, at least, before anything is ready to be installed. Meanwhile, no interim safety measures are going to be added to the perilous Hollis Street bikeway.

Halifax Cycling Coalition executive director Kelsey Lane says that betrays both the spirit and letter of the Integrated Mobility Plan that council heartily approved just two days prior.

“On Tuesday we got this great plan passed, but when it comes to doing the hard work—when it comes to doing something about that—it's same-old business as usual,” says Lane.

The much-anticipated IMP was unanimously endorsed by council earlier this week—a move hailed by active transportation advocates as a culture shift towards improving walking, cycling and public transit in HRM.

Included in that vote was an amendment to move up the target date for a completed Halifax bike lane network to 2020.

If the city wants to meet that ambitious goal, Lane says it needs to start prioritizing what’s needed now, rather than waiting for what’s going to happen tomorrow.

“The issues that people are experiencing on that lane are very real today,” she says. “We have to do better than telling them to wait for years when it comes to their safety.”

Delayed for years, the Hollis Street lane was finally installed in the summer of 2015 and has since earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous in the city.

According to HRM staff (and social media evidence), it’s routinely and illegally blocked by parked cars and delivery trucks. Cyclists have to suddenly merge from the left into south-bound traffic full of trucks headed for the container terminal.

The cycling coalition—and municipal staff—say the current configuration isn’t safe even for the most experienced cyclists. Which is why Lane wants an interim solution now, rather than waiting another two years for a permanent, protected bike lane downtown.

“It’s treated like an option, not an imperative,” she says. “It’s almost like they put off what we can do today for what we can do tomorrow...I think we really need to flip that on its head.”

Lane says installing plastic bollards, such as those already in place on Rainnie Drive, could be done in a couple of months. The $30,000 cost could also be accommodated within the Transportation and Public Works department's capital budget.

Municipal staff warn it's not that easy, though. Thursday's report says there would still likely be two breaks in the barriers to accommodate a hotel loading zone and construction site. The bollards would also have a severe impact on the loading vans, deliveries, couriers and other vehicles currently using the lane (often illegally).

Area councillor Waye Mason calls the decision to hold off on an interim solution disappointing, “but not necessarily critical.”

Speaking at Thursday’s meeting, Mason predicted staff will likely come back from current public engagement sessions favouring a bi-directional protected lane along Lower Water Street. While waiting for that report, the deputy mayor suggests staff should focus next year on installing what bike lanes they can elsewhere in the city.

“I’m OK putting a pause on this as long as I know other things are happening in the next construction season,” said Mason. “I really think that it’s very important that we actually construct these bike lanes next year.”

Lane says Mason's comments are disheartening, however. Residents are putting their lives at risk every day on Hollis Street for something that has an easy fix and council, she adds, has a “nonchalant attitude” about the matter.

“The moment it comes to do something...they’re just kicking that can down the line.”

The staff report on a permanent north-south bike route downtown won't be completed until at least late winter next year. By the spring, it’ll be a year-and-a-half since the last bike lane was installed in HRM.

  • Pin It
    Favourite

Recent Comments


In Print This Week

Vol 25, No 32
January 11, 2018

Cover Gallery »


Real Time Web Analytics

© 2018 Coast Publishing Ltd.