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Monday, February 26, 2018

Outdoor alcohol on Argyle and Grafton

Staff report floats easier rules for public drinking during special events.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 10:26 AM

Revellers enjoy Argyle Street's new foundations last November. - VIA DOWNTOWN HALIFAX BUSINESS COMMISSION

Soon you might not need a patio to party downtown.

A staff report headed to city council this week wants to make it easier for outdoor events to allow public drinking on Argyle and Grafton.

The proposed amendment to the Municipal Alcohol Policy would create a new category of “HRM Streets Where Alcohol is Permitted When a Temporary Street Closure has been Approved.”

Currently, booze can only be consumed on municipally-owned properties through either permanent or special one-time event licenses.

One such license was granted last year to the Downtown Halifax Business Commission for a public celebration of the completed Argyle's streetscape project.

According to HRM Corporate Affairs coordinator Paul Johnston, the pedestrian-friendly redevelopment of Argyle (between Duke and Blowers) and Grafton (between Carmichael and Prince) creates a “unique opportunity” for future event venues.

“Moreover, the direct proximity of these spaces to the new Halifax Convention Centre increases the potential and desirability of this area, in the heart of downtown Halifax’s entertainment district, being used to host events and gatherings.”

The business commission has already received several requests from event organizers about using the newly refurbished public streets in coming months and “temporary street closures are being planned for many, and possibly all, weekends during the summer.”

Simplifying the administrative approval for serving alcohol during those streets closures will save council and event organizers a lot of time.

Any street closure will still need to obtain a Special Occasion License from Alcohol and Gaming and follow all other municipal special event policies around security and public safety measures before the party starts.

Council will discuss the idea Tuesday at City Hall.

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Protest potpourri scheduled for Province House

The legislature’s spring session kicks off Tuesday and people are having absolutely none of it.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 2:24 AM

Bells ringing, fists raised, last year at province house. Expect a similar sound on Tuesday. - THE COAST
  • Bells ringing, fists raised, last year at province house. Expect a similar sound on Tuesday.

Nova Scotians are spoiled for choice when it comes to protesting their government.

In what’s practically become an annual tradition, this week hundreds of people will once again gather outside Province House demanding change and voicing their opposition to a growing portfolio of disappointments.

The Nova Scotians Rise Up event—scheduled for noon on the 27—will take place the same time Stephen McNeil's government sits down inside to officially begin the legislature’s spring session.

There are a lot of topics on the agenda for both groups.

“Whether you are fighting for education, health care, mental health care, our forests, our waters, clean air, against fracking, citizens in poverty, seniors, collective bargaining, our wildlife, fisheries, or other social and economic concerns, please join us to raise your voices and be heard,” reads the Facebook event page from organizers Trish Keeting and Stacey Rudderham. “Our government may not want to listen to us, but they will hear us if we come together as Nova Scotians.”

The continuing argument around education reform is the biggest garbage fire currently raging in the province.

The Liberals are planning Education Act amendments that will dismantle English-speaking school boards, shift principals and vice-principals out of the teachers union and implement dozens of other recommendations made in the disputed Glaze Report released last month.

In response, last week 82 percent of NSTU members voted in favour of illegal strike action to protest the Glaze reforms. Should a strike actually occur, the union will face steep fines for walking out while still under a contract imposed by the province last year. (AKA the last time everyone gathered to protest at the Legislature.)

Both sides have been meeting behind closed doors to try and figure out some compromise.

But the NSTU is just one voice in a chorus of critics that’s come to include teachers, students, school boards, political opposition and a cottage industry of academic experts.

And that's just on the education file.

Equally cheesed off is anyone who's had to deal with Nova Scotia's health care horror show. People are literally dying in hospital hallways. The province’s healthcare facilities are, technically speaking, busted-ass. We’re dangerously low on doctors and increasingly high on fentanyl.

Looking for something a bit more green to get mad as hell about? The environment is an oldie but a goodie. Currently, old growth trees on Crown land are being cut down to seemingly fuel a biomass plant that's been running flat-out for months. That's in addition to Northern Pulp, Alton Gas, heck, even the fracking debate has resurfaced.

Protesters might also want to prepare a few signs for the department of community services. Stagnant Income Assistance rates, the dismal condition of public housing and DCS' utter failure to obtain citizenship for Abdoul Abdi—who now faces deportation to a country he left as a young child—are just some of community services' failures, says The Coast columnist Gayle Collicutt.

“The department is callous and lacks the ability to apply a social justice lens in its decision making,” writes Collicutt. “Policies and poverty rates issued by the IA program have exasperated child poverty, food insecurity and burdened healthcare, education and justice.”

All that, and we haven't even mentioned Jamie Baillie. The current #MeToo reckoning happening for politicians accused of inappropriate and ugly sexual behaviour will surely put MLA behaviour under close scrutiny this legislative session.

Also, probably some film industry workers are still mad?

More information on the Nova Scotians Rise Up event can be found here.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Halifax searching for next poet laureate

Call for submissions opens up to replace outgoing Rebecca Thomas.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 3:13 PM

Who will be the next Rebecca Thomas? Could it! - ALEX LANDINE
  • Who will be the next Rebecca Thomas? Could it!
  • Alex Landine

Rebecca Thomas has some advice for whoever replaces her as Halifax's next poet laureate.

“Grow thick skin, but keep your heart soft,” she says.

The poet’s two-year term as the municipality's supreme scribe is ending in April and HRM is already seeking nominations for her successor.

Applicants can be a poet, storyteller or spoken word artist who's been recognized for excellence in their field and whose body of work demonstrates a connection and relevance to citizens of HRM.

“The poet laureate will be an ambassador for the Halifax region and its residents by engaging the community in activities, programs and events that demonstrate the positive impact of literature, poetry and spoken word,” says a call for applications released Thursday by HRM.

The municipal program was created in 2001 to contract an advocate for language arts who would compose original poetic works for civic events. But Thomas hopes her successor also carries on as a voice for social justice.

“I would like to hope that this position continues on as the activist position it seems to be turning into,” she says. “So the person who holds this position has the right and the privilege to speak out on topics and access politicians and policy-makers.”

Like her predecessors El Jones and Tanya Davis, Thomas regularly used her time as poet laureate to speak out about social issues.

Most notably, she took to the stage to address colonial oppression during Canada Day and changed the hearts of HRM councillors during a performance of her Cornwallis-themed “Not Perfect” at City Hall.

Her words directly inspired a motion to re-examine how the city commemorates its controversial founder. Those actions ultimately culminated in Edward Cornwallis' south-end statue being removed and temporarily placed into storage.

Poet laureates receive a $4,000 honorarium from the municipality for their two-year term.

The deadline for nominations is next Friday, February 23. More information is available here.

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Matt Whitman worries #MeToo climate could impact how politicians hug

“It’s a time we have to be more careful,” says councillor about sexual misconduct accusations against his political mentor, Peter Stoffer.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 1:00 AM

Councillor Matt Whitman (left) and his mentor, former MP Peter Stoffer, pictured last spring inside City Hall. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • Councillor Matt Whitman (left) and his mentor, former MP Peter Stoffer, pictured last spring inside City Hall.

Matt Whitman warns that politicians need to be more careful about who they embrace, given the rising number of sexual misconduct complaints against elected officials.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday at City Hall, the Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor lamented how changing times are impacting the behaviour of men like him in politics.

“You can’t be quite as free with your hugs and with your compliments and talking to strangers,” says Whitman. “It’s a time we have to be more careful. So I think that’s what’s coming out of it. But I think it’s a shame that folks might not, sort of, voice their compliments to people. You know, ‘Nice hat.’”

Allegations of sexual misconduct have recently been levelled against two former politicians who Whitman says were his mentors.

Former Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie was forced to resign last month after an independent investigation concluded he had behaved inappropriately towards a party staffer.

Over the last week, the National Post has published several stories of alleged sexual impropriety by former NDP Member of Parliament Peter Stoffer.

Whitman tells reporters he’s disappointed if the accusations against Stoffer are true, but he didn’t want to comment on any specifics.

“It’s not for me to say if someone’s allegations are true or not,” he says. “There’s an awful lot of allegations coming in. I’ve seen a lot of them.”

Whitman unexpectedly appeared at a press conference Stoffer held last Friday, where the former MP denied ever sexually assaulting or abusing anyone. Despite the refutation, Stoffer still apologized to anyone who he hurt through inappropriate comments or his “friendly” demeanour.

“I’ve always been a gregarious, fun-going person,” said Stoffer.

Whitman tweeted while at the press event that Stoffer is a “class act.” He followed that up by presenting a hypothetical scenario seemingly conflating complaints about his own social media use with the allegations against his political mentor.

“Ten years ago an MP in Ottawa kissed a staffer on the cheek. Ten other MPs witnessed it and did nothing! Just hypothetical. No need to send complaints to”

In a direct message to The Coast last Friday, the councillor said he remains a “big fan” of Stoffer and only believes the details he read in the Post.

“She was kissed on the cheek in front of 10 MPs and no one did anything,” Whitman writes.

As reported in the national newspaper, former NDP staffer Lauren Dobson-Hughes says Stoffer groped her waist and kissed her hard enough near her mouth to leave saliva drooling down her cheek.

Asked if that was appropriate behaviour for an elected official to make towards a staffer, Whitman replied “TGIF.”

In the same news story, another former NDP volunteer accused Stoffer of linking arms with her at a party several years ago and asking if she wanted to have a threesome with him and his date. When she tried to pull away, the volunteer says Stoffer tightened his grip and said, “Oh come on, don’t be a bitch.”

Since the initial story was published, several other women have come forward in the media and online with stories about Stoffer’s past inappropriate behaviour. The accusations range from uncomfortable inquires about young women’s sex lives, to grabbing bodies, unwarranted invitations for sex and belittling behaviour.

“In my time as a staffer and as a member of provincial and federal council, Peter Stoffer is the only person that made me continually feel disrespected, uncomfortable and insignificant just because I was a young woman in politics,” writes Allyson Marsh on Twitter.

Despite the accusations, Whitman says he still appreciates all the work Stoffer has done over the years for veterans. The councillor worries now that Stoffer is stepping back from the “speaking circuit,” those veterans won't have the same strong advocacy.

“That’s a sad casualty of the process.”

Whitman is currently facing a record-setting number of public complaints about his own behaviour, stemming from online posts made after HRM toppled Edward Cornwallis’ statue.

But when it comes to sexual misconduct, the councillor says he’s in the clear. He unequivocally states that he’s never behaved in a sexually inappropriate way.

“No, but I’m definitely a lot more careful than to talk to strangers or give someone my opinion on the street,” says Whitman. “It’s risky. It’s risky to talk to strangers. It’s risky to talk to the media. It’s risky to talk to anyone. You could be misinterpreted or misconstrued.”

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dalhousie looks at fossil fuel divestment

Board of governors approves motion, spurred on by student activists against climate change.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 11:48 PM

Activists celebrate this past Tuesday after the board of governors votes to look into divestment. - VIA DIVEST DAL
  • Activists celebrate this past Tuesday after the board of governors votes to look into divestment.

The province’s biggest university will look at divesting its financial portfolio from fossil fuel companies.

The Halifax school’s board of governors approved the motion Tuesday to investigate a new ecological option for its investment portfolio.

A third-party financial consultant will be hired to figure out a financial strategy free from climate-changing fossil fuels is viable.

It’s a big win for student activists in Divest Dal, who’ve been calling on the school to divest its endowment fund for the past five years.

“This fund search is the crucial first step towards changing our investment strategy and aligning it with our institutional values,” says Divest Dal member Alex Ayton in a press release. “Students have worked hard on this motion and we’re glad it was passed. We’ll continue to hold the Board accountable and continue to advocate for a commitment on divestment.”

The board of governors previously voted against divestment back in 2014. Since that time, Divest Dal says it’s been working with an “ad hoc” university senate committee to move the idea forward.

Following a nine-day campout last November, Ayton addressed the board of governors once again calling for divestment. The board’s student representatives then put forward the motion that was finally approved this week.

Canadian universities have faced increased pressure in recent years from students and climate change advocates to extricate their endowment funds from any shares in the world’s top 200 coal, oil and gas companies.

Université Laval and the Atlantic School of Theology have already voted in favour of divestment, along with over 800 other institutions, municipalities and pension funds worldwide.

“This is an exciting moment for the Canadian divestment movement,” says fellow Divest Dal member Laura Cutmore. “On the 200th anniversary of the founding of our university, we have the opportunity to make history and show true leadership on the most important issue of our generation.”

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Nova Scotia teachers set strike vote

Education system "under attack" from Glaze report, says NSTU president.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 7:33 PM

Members of the NSTU on strike outside Province House last year. - THE COAST
  • Members of the NSTU on strike outside Province House last year.

A year after the first teachers strike in Nova Scotian history, unionized educators are once again at war with the province.

On Tuesday the Nova Scotia Teachers Union announced it would hold a strike vote on February 20 for its 9,3000 members.

The action is a direct response to the recently released Glaze report and its recommendations for sweeping changes to how schools in this province are run.

“Our education system is once again under attack from the McNeil government,” writes NSTU president Liette Doucet in a statement. “Last week we held information sessions around the province to discuss what the Glaze report will mean for our students, our classrooms and our profession. It was clear NSTU members agree the situation is dire and that as teachers and administrators we need to stand up for public education.”

If approved, the strike vote will give the NSTU a mandate to begin a job action. That doesn't necessarily mean there would be a strike, however. Ultimately, the NSTU says that would depend on “if the government is unprepared to back down from implementing the Glaze report.”

The external consultant report by Avis Glaze called for 22 changes to the administration of Nova Scotia’s schools. Education minister Zach Churchill—currently touring the province trying to sell the idea—has promised the Liberal government will act immediately on half of those recommendations, including dissolving all seven English-based school boards, moving principals and vice-principals out of the union and creating a regulatory “college of educators” to license and discipline teachers.

“This is a moment where we need to press forward together with a focus on those who need us most—our students,” Churchill stated last month about the report's findings. “We have great people working in the system who are completely committed and dedicated to our kids. It's our system that's fractured.”

Barely a year ago Nova Scotia’s teachers walked out on strike for the first time in union history. It was a largely symbolic protest in response to the government imposing a new contract on the NSTU through the Teachers’ Professional Agreement Act.

Tuesday’s release, just in time for Valentine’s Day, shows there’s no love lost between the teachers and the Liberal government.

“We cannot sit on our hands and let Stephen McNeil do to our schools, what he did to our hospitals,” states Doucet. “We need to be prepared to fight for what is right and just.”

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Monday, February 12, 2018

King’s College to examine school’s connection to slavery

University announces inquiry into a problematic part of its own history.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 4:27 PM

Read the full press release here. - VIA WIKIPEDIA

The University of King’s College is taking a serious look at its own historical connections to the slave trade.

The school announced on Monday it’s creating a scholarly inquiry to examine the direct and indirect benefit King’s has received from slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.

According to an accompanying press release, the inquiry will include original, independent academic research performed by a team of Canadian and American scholars.

“As the oldest university in Nova Scotia and one of the oldest in Canada, we have a responsibility to examine and acknowledge all aspects of our life as an institution devoted to seeking and understanding truth,” writes university president William Lahey.

“Equity and diversity are core principles of today’s King’s College. In the spirit of reconciliation with the African Nova Scotian community, we want to examine our past openly and honestly.”

The original King’s College was founded in Windsor, Nova Scotia in 1789 by Loyalists fleeing New York during the American Revolution. It’s long considered itself a successor to the King’s College in New York City, which was renamed Columbia University after the war.

Last year, Columbia published research tying its early years with the slave trade. In Canada, the re-established King’s College also greatly benefitted from funding made directly off of slaves in Barbados.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), a mission organization for the Church of England, earned considerable income off of its Codrington Plantation in Barbados. As described for the Halifax Examiner by El Jones, the conditions were notoriously brutal:

“Four out of 10 Africans died within three years of their enslavement; a number higher than the average on the rest of the island. Adam Hochschild concludes that the plantation had a deliberate policy of working Africans to death, as it was cheaper to buy slaves in Africa than to bother to keep them alive.”

The SPG supported the fleeing Loyalists from King’s College who wound up in Nova Scotia. Several of the university’s founding members were members of the SPG, and the society’s money covered much of the school’s expenses in those early decades. Here’s Jones, again:

“In 1808. John Inglis, the son of Charles, successfully obtained scholarships from the SPG to support students. This financial support—including $50 towards the president’s salary for chaplaincy duties, endowing faculty, student scholarships and other grants—continued throughout the college’s tenure in Windsor. Faculty at the college were also granted missions for the SPG and drew salaries for those responsibilities while teaching at the college...While the grants from the SPG varied from year to year, [its] contributions far exceeded those given by the provincial government to support the college.”

With its new inquiry, King’s becomes one of a number of universities—including its parent school, Dalhousie—that are re-examining its past to uncover any racist rot underneath.

“King’s cannot hope to be viewed as a welcoming community to people of African descent unless it openly and forthrightly addresses the questions that can legitimately be asked about its history on race, including its history relative to slavery in Nova Scotia,” states Douglas Ruck, a King’s alumnus and member of the inquiry panel, in today's release.

Research to be conducted will examine King’s relationship to its New York progenitor, indirect benefits from an economy and society dependent on slavery, and direct connections to patrons, founders, faculty, staff and students who were involved in or benefitted from slavery.

The work will be conducted by a host of academics, including University of Vermont professor Amani Whitfield (an authority on slavery in Nova Scotia), African North American history professor Carolyn Smardz-Frost at Acadia University, and Saint Mary’s University professor John Reid.

The inquiry work is scheduled to be completed by early 2019.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tories kick off leadership race during “confusing and difficult time”

Progressive Conservative hopefuls gather at this weekend's AGM, looking to move past former leader Jamie Baillie's shadow.

Posted By on Sat, Feb 10, 2018 at 7:55 PM

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer speaks during Saturday's luncheon at the Nova Scotia PC AGM in Halifax. - MAIRIN PRENTISS
  • Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer speaks during Saturday's luncheon at the Nova Scotia PC AGM in Halifax.

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives are attempting to shift from crisis control to re-unifying at the Party’s annual general meeting in Halifax this weekend.

When the ballrooms and hotel blocks were booked, Jamie Baillie was slated to deliver the keynote address—a role traditionally performed by the Party leader.

Instead, Baillie was the subject of the weekend’s opening remarks, following allegations of sexual misconduct and his resultant resignation less than two weeks ago.

“This has been a confusing and difficult time,” said Party president Tara Miller on Friday night. Previewing the tone for the weekend, Miller then redirected.

“Our Party set a precedent by treating these allegations seriously,” she told the room of PC faithful. “In hard times, this proud Tory family pulls together.”

Former premier John Hamm took the acknowledgement one step further.

“Jamie Baillie is a friend of mine…I am heartsick for the victim and Jamie’s family.”

But Hamm urged the Party to be “compassionate” and not to forget Baillie’s accomplishments.

The 700 or so delegates then had a chance to meet the five candidates throwing their hat in the ring to become the Party’s next leader.

Accountant Tim Houston, who was re-elected in May to represent Pictou East, promised to exempt taxes for Nova Scotians under the age of 26 up to $50,000.

Businesswoman and former nurse Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, who was elected last spring in Cumberland North, took aim at the province’s handling of health care.

Julie Chaisson, executive director of the Seaport Farmer’s Market (who ran unsuccessfully in the spring election), announced her bid for the leadership just one day before giving her speech to delegates at the AGM.

Farmer John Lohr, the MLA for Kings North, promised to lift the ban on fracking and improve access and supports around immigration.

Former cabinet minister and current Cape Breton Regional Municipality mayor Cecil Clarke took aim at the government’s failure to retain young people, stating Stephen McNeil’s Liberals have “put the ‘no’ in Nova Scotia.”

Former premier Rodney MacDonald, former MP Peter MacKay, MP Tony Clement and MP Lisa Raitt all made appearances at the AGM this weekend. They were joined by federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who gave a luncheon address on Saturday.

Scheer favoured national talking points; bemoaning the Liberal carbon tax and targeting Trudeau’s leadership. After the speech, he declined to comment on Baillie’s resignation, only pointing to the ubiquity of these types of allegations in Canadian politics at the moment.

The rebuilding PC Party was quick to pat itself on the back for addressing sexual harassment while championing a bright future in its five leadership hopefuls this weekend. But some things, it would appear, don’t change.

When the vocalist singing O Canada before Scheer took the stage used the old lyrics of “in all thy son’s command,” instead of the new gender-neutral phrasing, bursts of cheers broke out in the banquet hall.

The new PC leader will be elected, likely by next October. Meanwhile, it’s up to the premier to call a by-election to replace Jamie Baillie’s now-vacant seat in Cumberland South.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Peter Stoffer apologizes for behaviour, denies any wrongdoing

Former staffers have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against the ex-NDP Member of Parliament.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Stoffer, seen in his former Ottawa office in this 2015 sketch from 22 Minutes. - VIA YOUTUBE
  • Stoffer, seen in his former Ottawa office in this 2015 sketch from 22 Minutes.

Peter Stoffer is the latest name in a growing list of current and former Canadian politicians denying accusations of sexual harassment, while simultaneously apologizing for any wrongdoing.

In an awkward press conference Friday morning in the frigid cold outside Pier 21, Stoffer spoke for about six minutes about his history with the party, his volunteerism and his reputation for being well-liked on the Hill.

“I’ve always been a gregarious, fun-going person,” said the former MP.

Stoffer called the press conference to respond to allegations of inappropriate conduct first published yesterday in the National Post.

In the reported story, Lauren Dobson-Hughes, then a young staffer, describes two incidents of being groped and kissed by Stoffer in front of several other colleagues. She says she reported it to the party at the time, but nothing was ever done. The Post interviewed three other women who worked with Stoffer in Ottawa who also reported incidents of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

Today, Stoffer categorically denied any allegations of harassment.

“I have never ever in my life either sexually assaulted [or physically] abused anybody. Not at all.”

Nevertheless, Stoffer then went on to apologize for his behaviour.

“They’re saying that some of my demeanour, some of my comments were inappropriate. And for that, I humbly apologize without reservation.”

The former politician admitted he has not reached out directly to Dobson-Hughes or any other former colleagues to apologize, but said he regrets putting them in “that type of situation.”

“I humbly ask for their forgiveness in this regard.”

Stoffer served as MP for 18 years before losing his Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook seat in the 2015 election to Liberal challenger Darrell Samson. In his political career, he was regularly voted the “Most Collegial” Parliamentarian by Maclean's and the “Most Fun MP to Work For” by the Hill Times.

He opened his remarks on Friday recalling the “fun” and “open-door” policy in his old office.

“A lot of people can come and have a cold one,” he said. “They could play some darts. They could just come in and release the tension.”

When asked if he had ever been confronted with allegations of sexual harassment before yesterday, Stoffer deflected.

“There were always rumours that you hear,” he said. “Everybody knows that I’m a hugger and a touchy person. Everybody knows that.”

In the last two weeks alone, three Canadian politicians have been publicly accused of sexual assault, harassment or misconduct. Patrick Brown resigned as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party. Liberal MP Kent Hehr resigned from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, pending an investigation. And closer to home, NS PC leader Jamie Baillie resigned following a third-party investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement Thursday that he is “deeply disturbed” by the allegations against Stoffer. Singh promised the NDP would continue efforts to “review, renew and expand” its harassment policies.

Stoffer has informed the NDP he will no longer attend conventions.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Q&A: Sadie Beaton on the Shades of Green environmental podcast

The series discusses the meaning of environmental justice from unceded Mi’kmaq territory.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 2, 2018 at 1:52 PM

Alton Gas protesters outside Province House during 2016’s budget announcement. - CHRISTIAN LAFORCE
  • Alton Gas protesters outside Province House during 2016’s budget announcement.
  • Christian Laforce
Sadie Beaton is exploring the meaning of environmental justice—but she didn’t want to do it through an academic paper. Beaton, who has been part of The Ecology Action Centre team for 14 years, started a broadcast interview series under the title Shades of Green in 2016. Shades of Green launched its second season on February 1, which Beaton says “is pretty different” from the first. This five-part season dives into the roots of the mainstream environmental movement, environmental racism, the treaty-based resistance to the Alton Gas Project as well as other related topics.

The Coast: Where did you get the idea to start Shades of Green?

Sadie Beaton: Shades of Green is a podcast series, but it's part of this larger piece of work that I've been a part of that’s exploring the concept of environmental justice and what it might look like here in Nova Scotia and part of unceded Mi'kma'ki. So, it’s part of a case study that I've been compiling as part of my work at Ecology Action Centre. 

Basically what happened was I came back from maternity leave like three years ago, and while I'd been away EAC had more formally embarked on this  journey to better engage around power and privilege in their environmental work, and then around this cross-cutting theme that they had called environmental justice. So I just came back and I was curious about what environmental justice meant—I sort of only had a vague clue. And then [I was] extra curious about what EAC would mean as an organization, what would it mean to really dig into environmental justice. I was lucky enough to be funded for a project through Community Conservation Research Network to ask questions around how communities interact with the environment, so I was able to turn that question into a case study.

How does the second series differ from the first?
In the summer of 2016 they were just sort of a raw interview format and it was basically just asking people over and over again “What is environmental justice? What does it mean to you?” and getting really different answers. 

This new podcast series still doesn't really answer the question of what environmental justice means here in unceded Mi'kma'ki, but it's kind of an attempt to put together a little bit about what I've been learning from people so far and to invite further exploration of some of the themes and questions that have emerged through all these conversations, and hopefully make folks curious to learn more.

When you say “the mainstream environmental movement,” could you tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that?
I guess I just mean like environmental organizations, basically—so, ENGOs [environmental non-governmental organizations]. Some of the roots of environmentalism here were very colonial and coming from white folks wanting to protect wild spaces for their own use, whether it's recreational or spiritual and it being connected to the sort of ideology of the purity of nature. And so that's us from the past but we can—and we talk about this in the podcast—kind of connect that legacy. How it shapes what is considered an environmental issue today, what sort of spaces are protected, whose voices ideas are represented. Environmental organizations have moved and changed a lot, but they’re still often shaped by those ideas in ways that need to be acknowledged. And related to that, it's no secret that the the mainstream environmental movement is still largely shaped by white people and white people of  some pretty similar backgrounds. That shapes what is seen as an environmental issue how those issues are approached all that kind of stuff. 

Did you get some ideas from others folks as to how we can change those things?
Yeah. Different people have different ideas about that and that's part of what the arc of the series hopes to spur more questions about, but there's kind of a theme around acknowledging that folks in the more mainstream environmental movement are folks who aren't currently fighting for justice on the front lines. Acknowledging and learning about that fight, seeing where they're complicit, being curious to learn more and really listening. I feel like listening is a theme that comes up over and over again. 

One thing I’ve thought about, just being part of the environmental movement for a long time…I've been feeling really lucky to have this chance to really sit with the question. In the environmental movement, we’re often running around putting out fires, chasing deliverables, racing against time to save the whales or whatever. Things can feel really urgent and outward-facing, and so sometimes there’s not a lot of reflection in these movements. I also think sometimes we avoid that reflection. It can be hard to slow down and reflect on the painful realization of being complicit. We all want to be wearing green capes and stopping the bad guys, so it’s hard to sit with that feeling. There’s something in that, that I hope this series brings across around the importance of really just sitting with that discomfort and listening, and then asking questions about how our movements can grow and change to address these issues more meaningfully.

I’m just talking about the reflection part. The changing part is harder—I have less to say about that, you know? A lot of that, I think, has to emerge out of those initial steps of acknowledgement and listening, then being able to build genuine relationships, and the change comes somewhere in there.

Note: Beaton's answers have been lightly edited for length, style and clarity.

Listen to the first episode of Shades of Green’s second season below.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New trial ordered for cab driver Bassam al-Rawi

Judge Lenehan’s controversial decision quashed on appeal.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 1:29 PM

Members of the public gathered to protest judge Lenehan's acquittal of Bassam Al-Rawi last year at Grand Parade. - THE COAST
  • Members of the public gathered to protest judge Lenehan's acquittal of Bassam Al-Rawi last year at Grand Parade.

The Halifax taxi driver acquitted on all charges of sexually assaulting an intoxicated passenger in the back of his cab will face a new trial.

A decision released Wednesday by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal found that Judge Gregory Lenehan “misdirected himself as to the legal meaning of consent” in his ruling last March.

“The trial judge ignored or disregarded a substantial body of circumstantial evidence that would permit an inference to be drawn that either the complainant did not voluntarily agree to engage in sexual activity with the respondent or lacked the capacity to do so,” writes Justice Duncan Beveridge in today’s decision.

Lenehan found cab driver Bassam al-Rawi not guilty on all charges, saying the Crown failed to prove the alleged victim had not consented to sexual activity.

The case made national news and catalysed both criticism from the legal profession and public outcry when Lenehan stated in his ruling the now-notorious phrase that “Clearly, a drunk can consent.

The appeal court agreed with the Crown that Lenehan’s infamous statement was not incorrect from a legal definition, but the judge erred by assuming someone would have to be unconscious to be in an incapacitated state.

“By this logic, the complainant miraculously became unconscious the instant the police showed up, but in the time leading up to their arrival, she somehow had the capacity to appreciate the nature and quality of the sexual activity,” writes Beveridge. “Even if consciousness were the litmus test, there was ample evidence, ignored or disregarded by the trial judge, supporting a reasonable inference she was insensate for some time before police arrival.”

The complainant in the case was found unconscious by a police officer in the back of al-Rawi’s taxi, undressed from the waist down. The officer testified that she observed al-Rawi leaning over between the passenger’s propped-up legs, and noted his pants were partially undone. The cab driver also tried to hide the complainant’s urine-soaked pants as police approached the cab.

Before getting in the taxi, the passenger had been drinking heavily downtown. Upon being roused by police, she didn’t know where she was or what was happening.

Beveridge finds Lenehan entirely discounted this “substantial body of circumstantial evidence” regarding a lack of consent in his ruling.

“On this ground alone, the Crown is entitled to a new trial.”

Despite agreeing to quash Lenehan’s original verdict, appeal court Justice Jamie Saunders took time in Wednesday’s decision to defend the judge’s character.

“Anyone who took the time to read the whole of the judge’s reason in this case would recognize how he agonized over the outcome, and rendered what was obviously a very reluctant acquittal,” Saunders writes.

“One hopes that the outcry which greeted the release of the judge’s decision in this case will not cause him or his judicial colleagues to be cowed in the way they decide the matters that come before them, and that they will continue to judge with the courage, independence and impartiality, their oath and our law demand.”

Lenehan’s ruling is overturned, and another judge will preside over the new trial. But the question of how consent is legally interpreted, in all of its granular, nuanced complexities remains, especially when drinking is involved.

Elaine Craig, an associate professor of law at Dalhousie University who studied the al-Rawi case in her soon to be released book, says the handling of this case has injured public trust.

“The wasted judicial resources and the cost to the public’s faith in the ability of our legal system to respond appropriately to allegations of sexual assault – neither of which should have occurred in this case given the evidence– cannot be recouped.”

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Khyber sale moving forward

Council fast-tracks plans to turn Barrington Street property into arts hub.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 10:05 AM

If not forever, then certainly for a little while longer.
  • If not forever, then certainly for a little while longer.

The 1588 Barrington Street Building Preservation Society is one step closer to taking over the former Khyber building after council’s vote to move the sale along at this Tuesday’s council meeting.

While the original motion on the table asked for more information from the non-profit group before deciding on the sale, deputy mayor Mason instead asked council to defeat the motion in favour of a faster alternative.

“When I look at what the staff is asking, they’re asking an organization to confirm fundraising, to get strong confirmation of federal funding and to have leases on a building they won’t own and I just don’t think that’s going to happen,” Mason said.

Council passed an alternative motion asking staff to write another report detailing the cost and terms of selling the Barrington Street property to the 1588 Society as an arts centre. When that report is complete, council will move ahead with a vote on the sale.

The final cost to the municipality is still unknown, but staff at the meeting noted the bill would be made up of the waived $1.5 million market value of the building, closing costs, appraisal costs and some additional grants.

According to Mason and other councillors, despite some road bumps over the past four years, the sale of the Khyber is a long time coming.

“We do sorely need a place where we can hang our hats, where our community can hang our hats, and I think this is the perfect building to do it,” said councillor Richard Zurawski. “Its time has come and we need to move ahead.”

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Mayor on Cornwallis panel: “I don't really think it's useful to point fingers”

Mike Savage offers no direct comment, but alludes to Chief Wilbert Marshall's nomination for historical panel as one of the "issues” for why it imploded.

Posted By on Sat, Jan 27, 2018 at 4:48 PM

Mayor Mike Savage addresses media back in July during protests about the statue of Edward Cornwallis (draped behind him). - THE COAST
  • Mayor Mike Savage addresses media back in July during protests about the statue of Edward Cornwallis (draped behind him).

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs wants immediate action. Halifax mayor Mike Savage, however, is looking forward to more conversation.

On Friday afternoon the Assembly officially walked away from participating in HRM's historical panel on the legacy of Edward Cornwallis. The Chiefs cited ongoing delays in dealing with city hall and called for the statue of Halifax's controversial founder to be immediately taken down. A rally towards that idea is already scheduled for next weekend. On Saturday the mayor's office released a response, stating HRM “remains committed to continued dialogue on our journey of reconciliation.” But how things move forward from here and what caused the breakdown between HRM and the Assembly of Chiefs is still unknown.

Earlier today mayor Mike Savage spoke over the phone with The Coast about the Assembly's decision and what comes next. His answers have been lightly edited for style and clarity.


Have you spoken to the Assembly about its decision?
No. No, I haven't spoken to, in any official way, to the Assembly about this decision.

What's your response to the release that went out yesterday?
We were a bit surprised, but we recognize the decision that they made. We acknowledge it, and we obviously now have to look at how we respond—not just me personally, but council as well, and that's what we're going to do.

What sort of response do you mean?
Well, we have to figure out what this means. Obviously, we're going to have to adjust—and I don't want to get into arguments about whether this was the right thing or the wrong thing, or whose fault it is. All the way through this I've indicated that reconciliation has to be at the heart of how we deal with that, and I'm going to keep that in my mind and we're going to move forward.

Will the panel still go forward?
Well, it's not going to go forward in the way we constituted it, as the Assembly indicated they don't want to be a part of it. I can't make that decision on my own. I have a few thoughts on it, as to what we might do, and I'll share those with some council colleagues. But I think, I believe, the work of reconciliation has to go forward and I think this has to—in some way the conversation has to be had, and certainly this is not the way we expected it to be. But I'm not going to react until a lot of serious thought has gone into it from me and others.

Why was it taking so long to bring the panel together?
We had identified this process and, you know, there were issues that came up. I don't really think it's useful to point fingers because we are here. It's January the 27, and I honestly believe that what matters the most is what happens from here forward, not from here back. So, we're going to continue the work.

With the public now thinking of this process as overly long and full of delays, without any clear indication of when anything's going to happen, can you offer any more clarity on what some of those issues were, or what particularly caused the Assembly to back out?
No, no, although I suspect you might. But no, I'm not going to comment on any of the reasons. Frankly, it's not helpful, and if we're going to move forward and we're going to try to make a difference in the way that we have a relationship with First Nations—particularly the Mi'kmaq, but First Nations overall—then we have to continue to look forward positively and not look back negatively.

You said I might. Is that in reference to Wilbert Marshall's presence on the panel?
No comment.

The Chiefs have called for the statue to be taken down immediately. Will it be?
Well, we have to give it thought. We had a process in place to deal with that. The process is changing, and we'll adjust to it. I just can't give you definitive answers. That's what you want, but I don't have definitive answers. I'm one person in the discussion. My heart, I can tell you, is open to finding a way to make a good decision on this and I'm going to do everything I possibly can to get there.

Yourself and other councillors have said Truth and Reconciliation take time, and also that the panel was a step towards progress. Do you still feel that way?
Of course. We lost by a vote two years ago and won by every vote except one last year. I think that was the right decision, and whatever happens with the panel, I think we can continue to move forward. I don't think that you let setbacks stop you on the road to progress. I wish I had a simple answer to this. It's a complex issue, and I'm doing the best I can, and I think council is as well.

Do you think council should make a definitive call on this, one way or another, or is more study, more conversation still needed?
At the end of the day, council is always going to have to make a decision on this. I still think it would be helpful to have advice from people who've given it significant and useful thought. I hope that may still be the case, but if it's not we'll have to deal with it in a different way. But at the end of the day, this is going to be a decision of council.

Why would that advice be useful? It feels like council has already had a lot of time to think about and discuss these issues.
Well, because it's not just a vote at council. It's not just whether the vote is 9-8 or 15-2 or 12-5 or anything else that adds up to 17. The TRC had 94 recommendations, but it also had principles, and among the principles was that there had to be education and there has to be understanding. I think this process had the opportunity to add that, which I think will be very helpful. I still believe that. But if that's not going to be the case we'll have to go a different route. But I look forward to having conversations. I do want to have conversations with the Chiefs on this and I'm open to discussing it at any time.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Mi’kmaq Chiefs call for immediate removal of Cornwallis statue

Assembly will no longer participate in Halifax’s panel examining commemoration of the city’s controversial founder.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 26, 2018 at 7:36 PM

This statue of Edward Cornwallis stands in front of the Westin hotel in Halifax's south end. - VIA EDWARDCORNWALLIS_WANTED ON INSTAGRAM
  • This statue of Edward Cornwallis stands in front of the Westin hotel in Halifax's south end.
  • via edwardcornwallis_wanted on Instagram

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs will no longer work with city hall on a solution to how Halifax commemorates its problematic founder, Edward Cornwallis.

According to a press release sent out Friday afternoon, the Chiefs unanimously agree that the process to form the joint historical committee has “taken far too long and have therefore chosen to no longer participate in these panel discussions.”

Instead, the Assembly is calling for the immediate removal of Edward Cornwallis’s statue and other commemorations bearing his name.

“We have been more than patient to see movement on this,” says Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade in the release. “The Mi’kmaq need to see action now, and that is why we voted for the statue to be immediately removed.”

“It’s time that Nova Scotia represents all of our histories,” states Chief Deborah Robinson, the Assembly’s urban Mi’kmaq lead, in the same release. “Continuing to celebrate and commemorate only one part of history, and people like Cornwallis, is what we should all want to move away from.”

Years of public conversation around Edward Cornwallis’ treatment of the area’s Indigenous peoples—and the bounty he placed on Mi’kmaq scalps—have produced little concrete change when it comes to the pieces of civic infrastructure named in his honour. While Cornwallis Junior High changed its name several years ago, Cornwallis Street, Cornwallis Park and the Cornwallis statue remain unaltered.

After considerable debate, council approved its commemoration panel last October to re-examine the issue. Half of its members were to have been appointed by HRM. The other half were supposed to have come from a list of nominees submitted by the Assembly of Chiefs.

It's unclear now whether the panel will continue at all, or how city council will respond to the Assembly's call for the statue's removal.

“This is something we are just learning,” writes mayoral spokesperson Shaune MacKinlay in an email. “Mayor Savage will not be speaking to it this evening but will offer comment once we learn more.”

Friday's statements are a more hard-line position from the Assembly than its stance last summer when the Chiefs cautioned against protesters’ plans to topple the statue.

“We have spoken with mayor Savage and told him that the Cornwallis statue does need come down, but it has to be something the Municipality does—in good faith and out of respect of Mi’kmaq concerns,” Chief Wilbert Marshall said back in July. “When we work together, we can go further.”

Up until two weeks ago there was still no official announcement of who had been selected for the panel or when it would begin its work. Municipal spokesperson Erin DiCarlo told The Coast a final report on those members would come to council “in the coming weeks.”

It was expected that any decisions from the Cornwallis panel would take another six to eight months.

The panel's recommendations would be non-binding. As it has from the start of this process, the decision about what to do with Cornwallis will always reside with Halifax council.

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Khyber Catch-22: HRM wants funding commitments before selling historic arts hub

But the preservation society trying to save the site says it needs to own the building before anyone can ask for other government funding.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 26, 2018 at 6:15 PM

The heritage property at 1588 Barrington still sits empty, awaiting its fate. - VIA FRIENDS OF THE KHYBER
  • The heritage property at 1588 Barrington still sits empty, awaiting its fate.
  • via Friends of the Khyber

The fight for the former Khyber building continues next week at City Hall.

The 1588 Barrington Street Building Preservation Society is urging Halifax Regional Council to push forward with the sale of the former Khyber building, despite a staff recommendation to wait the process out a little longer.

This Tuesday’s Regional Council meeting will consider a motion to hold off on selling the historic Barrington Street property to the 1588 Society—a not-for-profit organization hoping to preserve and restore the building—until HRM receives some assurance that the society’s secured external funding.

According to 1588 Society president Emily Davidson, that puts the organization in a difficult situation: They need to own the building to get government funding, and they need government funding before HRM will sell them the building.

“In one part of the motion, they’re asking us to confirm both federal and provincial funding for the project, however both federal and provincial funding bodies require us to own the building in order to be qualified for funding,” says Davidson. “There’s actually kind of a Catch-22 happening.”

The Society put forward a proposal to purchase the empty building in May 2017, with the aim to preserve as much of the exterior and heritage interior of the building as possible. It’s also hoped the former Khyber can be brought back as a performing arts space and cultural hub for the downtown.

The city’s motion, deferred from back in December, mandates the 1588 Society provide all the necessary funding assurances for its proposal by October 2018, along with updated information on fire escapes, the organization’s operating budgets and public fundraising plans. Only when those materials are submitted will staff then prepare a supplementary report on whether council should move forward with selling the building.

City staff have called 127-year-old heritage building the second-worst condition structure in HRM’s property portfolio. Initial repair estimates to bring the site up to code were priced at $4 million, which is one reason staff tried to sell the property off as surplus back in 2014. Public outcry caused council instead to pledge to work with the “friends of the Khyber” on a financially viable formula to save the decaying structure.

Now, in the interest of time, the society has sent the municipality a letter attempting to answer the questions brought forward in Tuesday’s staff motion. Davidson says the hope is that the sale process can come about a little faster.

“What it seems is that city staff is excited enough about our proposal to want to move forward with our group, but it’s looking for extra assurances,” says Davidson.

“So what we’re hoping is that council can kind of find an alternate way to make sure that those assurances are in place while still moving forward towards an agreement of purchase and sale with our group.”

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Vol 25, No 42
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