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.

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.

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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

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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.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Where's the weed at? Over at the NSLC

Starting next summer the Nova Scotia Crown corporation will sell cannabis online and through stores to anyone 19 and over.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 12:12 PM

VIA TWEED CANADIAN CANNABIS
  • VIA TWEED CANADIAN CANNABIS

Starting next year anyone 19 or over will be able to use, purchase and possess cannabis products in Nova Scotia, which will be legally sold online and through existing NSLC stores.

The much-anticipated details were released Thursday by the province. According to the government, the number of liquor stores that will stock pot is yet to be determined.

In a press release, Justice minister Mark Furey said the top priority for Nova Scotia remains the health and safety of children. According to the minister, NSLC has “the experience and expertise” to sell restricted products in a socially responsible way.

“We believe the NSLC is best positioned to sell cannabis, keeping it out of the hands of young people and making it legally available in a safe, regulated way,” writes Furey.

An online survey from the province—which was completed 31,000 times over the past several weeks—strongly implied Nova Scotia was looking at selling pot through its existing NSLC stores. But the idea has been met with a mixed response.

Over half of respondents supported the recreational drug being available in new standalone stores, rather than next to alcohol products. Only 49 percent either somewhat or completely agreed with the provincial Crown corporation taking over sales of cannabis. 

The idea of handing NSLC a cannabis monopoly has also been criticized by former NDP minister Graham Steele, who tells Andrea Gunn at the Chronicle Herald it would be a mistake.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to take an organization that does what it does, and does in my opinion really well, and just say, ‘Here, and here’s a brand new thing with which you have no previous experience, now you go ahead and do it.’”

No word yet where this leaves the private dispensaries who've been operating with the hopes their businesses would become legitimate (and avoid further police raids).

Federal legislation to legalize recreational cannabis will take effect July 2018.


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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

HRM council salaries jump 2.3 percent to $87,409

New pay formula tying increases to average earnings of Nova Scotians results in smaller bump this year for elected officials.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 1:52 PM

Council chambers, pictured during one of its brief quiet moments. - VIA HRM
  • Council chambers, pictured during one of its brief quiet moments.
  • via HRM

Happy holidays to HRM councillors, who are taking home a 2.3 percent pay bump.

It's a slightly smaller raise than last year when salaries jumped by 3.4 percent.

Back in May council approved a motion to tie its annual raises to average weekly earnings in Nova Scotia, as reported by Statistics Canada.

Under the new formula, the salary for an HRM councillor this year increased from $85,444 to $87,409.

Mayor Mike Savage will now make $180,083, while deputy mayor Waye Mason will take home $96,150.

Previously, council’s pay was determined each year through a complicated formula using the weighted averages of comparable Canadian cities, plus 50 percent of the difference in average and highest pay levels.

Last year, for instance, average weekly incomes in Nova Scotia only increased by 1.6 percent compared to the 3.4 given to council.

The average weekly earnings for a Nova Scotian worker are $871. The weekly earnings for an HRM councillor are $1,681.

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Halifax to wait-and-see on this whole basic income thing

"Caution is a defensible approach," encourages timid staff report.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 1:25 PM

Basic Grinches. - DANIELLE CAMERON
  • Basic Grinches.
  • DANIELLE CAMERON

A staff report on poverty reduction recommends Halifax hold off on endorsing a basic income pilot project from the province.

The municipality’s Community Planning and Economic Standing Committee asked for the report back in July after a presentation from Basic Income Nova Scotia.

At the time, the group had suggested some minor steps HRM could take towards supporting a basic income project in the province; including declaring public support for the idea, encouraging other municipalities to do the same and offering to co-fund a feasibility study with the Nova Scotian government.

All of those measures, BINS said, would be “consistent with [HRM’s] recently announced poverty strategy.”

But Monday’s staff report by senior advisor Chris Bryant wasn't so encouraging.

“From HRM’s perspective…it seems premature to support basic income or encourage other municipalities to do so,” it reads.

Instead, Bryant recommends HRM holds off for now—monitoring and reporting back periodically on federal poverty reduction strategies and the basic income pilot projects underway in Ontario and Finland.

It's a safer choice, but unlikely to prove popular.

“Choosing not to respond more actively on this file will not be well received by proponents of basic income,” Bryant writes, “but given the challenges of funding, designing and managing a basic income program, caution is a defensible approach.”

A financial supplement provided by the government to meet a person’s basic needs, the idea for basic income has been around for centuries. The topic has had renewed interest in recent years to address growing financial inequality and as a potential one-stop replacement for the web of social security services currently offered by federal and provincial governments.

Bryant’s staff report notes a basic income program from the province would come with significant unknown costs, and so it's better for Halifax to see how pilot programs elsewhere go before weighing in to endorse the idea ourselves.

That's some circular logic, according to deputy mayor Waye Mason.

“If we think—like other cities and towns have—that this is a solution that we want to advocate for, we should advocate for [it],” Mason said during the meeting.

The deputy mayor attempted to salvage something from the report by forwarding it to the poverty solutions committee HRM is working on with the United Way.

“They won’t even know this was here unless we send it to them for their consideration.”

A separate report on the similar-but-different idea of requiring a living wage for contracted employees of the municipality is due back next year.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Irving Shipyard workers vote for strike mandate

Billions of dollars in government funding, forgivable loans and special tax breaks later, the Irving Shipyard is arguing over a 10-minute paid break.

Posted By on Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 11:46 AM

If only the Irvings had some money.
  • If only the Irvings had some money.

Unionized employees of the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard voted 99 percent in favour of a strike mandate this past weekend.

More than 700 members of Unifor’s Marine Workers Local 1 showed up to a meeting Sunday for an update on their current collective agreement, which expires December 31.

The news wasn’t good.

“After a healthy discussion, a strike vote was held, which resulted in a decisively strong mandate for the [bargaining] committee at more than 99 percent,” reads a statement from Unifor on its website.

The union is claiming Irving requested provincial conciliation after just four days at the bargaining table and then issued “misleading and concerning statements” in media interviews.

The company’s opening offer to the unionized technicians included “33 pages of major concessions” from the union, says Unifor, including the elimination of seniority, break periods and numerous safety measures.

“Their proposals do not reflect improved or modernized working conditions, as the removal of breaks and safety provisions are not improvements.”

According to CBC, the company wants to eliminate the workers' morning break and instead pay them for an extra 10 minutes at lunch.

Members of Marine Workers Local 1 include metal fabricators, electricians and other labourers working on the multi-billion federal contract for new offshore patrol vessels and warships.

Along with that federal money, the Irvings received $304 million in provincial funding (including a $260-million forgivable “loan”) to modernize its operations and a special tax break from HRM city council because of all the high-paying jobs it was expected to create.

Aside from issues with its collective agreement, the union has also criticized Irving’s continual practice of hiring overseas workers for its Halifax shipyard.

Pending any delays, the Shipyard expects to finish its first ship sometime next year.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Who had December 15 for the convention centre opening?

Downtown mega-project will open its doors soon (for real this time).

Posted By on Tue, Nov 28, 2017 at 12:59 PM

The Nova Centre in downtown Halifax. - VIA HRM
  • The Nova Centre in downtown Halifax.
  • via HRM

Good news if you haven’t booked your office’s holiday party yet.

The final, absolute, this-time-no-lie opening date for the Halifax Convention Centre will take place December 15, after nearly two years of delays.

The province sent out a news release Tuesday announcing the opening ceremony. A welcome weekend for the public, featuring a series of community events and tours of the new building, will take place later in January.

“Opening our doors marks a significant milestone as we get ready to welcome thousands of new visitors and new opportunities to our city and province,” said Carrie Cussons, president and CEO of the Halifax Convention Centre in today's release.

The convention centre is part of the mega-million Nova Centre project and is being cost-shared by three levels of government. The construction albatross in HRM’s downtown was originally supposed to open in January 2016. That ambitious deadline was pushed back to September 2016, and then again delayed to spring 2017 before being extended once more to December.

“Shaped by the community input and world-class design, I’m very proud of what this facility represents,” reads a statement from Argyle Developments president Joe Ramia that borders on trolling. “I look forward to showcasing the space to our community and the thousands of new visitors that will come through the doors.”

Trade Centre Limited projections from 2010 estimated the new convention centre would house 6,800 events in its first 10 years.

According to Tuesday's press release, there are 90 conventions and events booked for the centre’s first year of operations. The first of those, the Canadian Junior Weightlifting Championships, commences January 20.

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Halifax man fined for driving fake taxi

Licensing body issues $1,272 ticket for using a phony roof light to pick up unsuspecting fares.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 28, 2017 at 10:08 AM

The driver's license card—featuring a photo, name and expiration date—is usually displayed on the back of the front seats.
  • The driver's license card—featuring a photo, name and expiration date—is usually displayed on the back of the front seats.

An unlicensed driver in Halifax has been posing as a legitimate taxi cab and picking up unsuspecting fares.

On Monday, a social media account posted a warning about a driver using a fake roof light after hearing complaints from two Casino Taxi drivers.

Brian Herman, president and operations manager for Casino, says he’s aware of the problem.

“Yeah, I haven’t seen them myself, but I’ve heard a handful of drivers have either reported it or have witnessed it,” he says.

It’s an issue that crops up periodically in his business.

There’s always somebody out there looking to make a quick buck, and this may be the case,” says Herman. “Though, I don’t know the specifics.”


Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Dianne Penfound confirms a 64-year-old man was pulled over by officers on October 30 after trying to pick up fares in the 1000 block of Marginal Road.

The illegal taxi had a light-up roof number that was a duplicate of another licensed cab. Police took the driver’s information, but let him keep the fraudulent roof light.

A month later on November 22, HRP issued the driver a $1,272 summary ticket for operating a vehicle as a taxi without a valid license.

The news comes as HRM’s licensing body and the taxi industry are still dealing with the fallout from a string of sexual assaults last year in taxi cabs. Several new safety initiatives have been proposed for passengers, including window stickers displaying car numbers and the hiring of an outside consultant for a full safety review of the industry.


Editor: The story originally said HRM's taxi licensing office issued the ticket. In fact, it was issued by Halifax police. The licensing office is still investigating the matter. The story has been updated to reflect this.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

NDP executives resign in protest over party leader Gary Burrill

Former vice-president accuses Halifax Chebucto MLA of inhabiting a “Trump-like world of alternate facts.”

Posted By on Mon, Nov 27, 2017 at 9:14 PM

“Certainly I regret to think that anyone in our party would hold that view of me,” says Gary Burrill about comments on his character. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • “Certainly I regret to think that anyone in our party would hold that view of me,” says Gary Burrill about comments on his character.
  • VIA FACEBOOK

Call it a war of the oranges.

Nova Scotia NDP president Bill Matheson and vice-president Judy Swift have both stepped down from their positions with the Party’s executive.

The resignations happened at a meeting this past Saturday. In an email subsequently sent to the NDP’s provincial council, Swift blames her departure on the actions and attitude of leader Gary Burrill.

A copy of the email shared with The Coast criticizes Burrill’s “judgment, his fiscal prudence, his understanding of and respect for the Party’s processes and his over-reliance on the opinions of a small group of loyalists.”

Although she strongly believes in the party’s direction, its caucus and “an exceptional group of MLAs,” Swift writes that she no longer has confidence in their leader.

“His focus on what he believes to be a ‘mission’—which might otherwise be a good characteristic—has become a liability which blinds him to his own shortcomings and hypocrisy,” she writes. “It has led him to inhabit a Trump-like world of alternate facts.”

Swift was unable to be reached for comment. Matheson declined to provide any additional comment other than confirming he had resigned.

In a phone interview Monday evening, Burrill tells The Coast that “serious disagreement and debate” are a vital part of how the NDP operates.

He only has kind words for the former executives, even if he does disagree with some of the criticisms of his character.

“It is a very serious impugning of character and motivation, in her view of me,” he says of Swift’s Donald Trump comparison. “It is not a view I share of her. I think she dedicates a great deal of herself to our party and I’m one of many people who appreciate it.”

A former MLA for the riding of Colchester–Musquodoboit Valley, Burrill ran a successful campaign for the Party leadership in February 2016. He was without a seat at Province House until this past May’s election, when he unseated Joachim Stroink for Halifax Chebucto.

In her email, Swift writes that she and Matheson spent the past 18 months effectively working as unpaid office staff while money needed for party support went to Burrill’s operations. The former vice-president states that she spent “countless stress-filled hours” on tasks she never thought she would have to deal with, and “many sleepless nights” worrying about the physical and mental health of her colleagues.

During the weeks leading up to this month’s annual general meeting, Swift says she and other executives spent unpaid time away from their families in order to be physically present in the Party office.

“These are burdens volunteers should not be asked to bear. But we have been operating in what amounts to crisis mode, as the result of one person’s decisions,” Swift writes. “I would also like to add that we have received neither acknowledgement nor thanks from the leader for these sacrifices.”

David Wallbridge, the co-chair of the NDP’s fundraising committee, was at the executive meeting when Matheson and Swift resigned and defends Burrill’s leadership. He says he’s surprised at the language in the vice-president’s email.

“I guess, for me personally, it [was] the exact opposite of what my experience has been,” says Wallbridge. “The comparison to our friends south-of-the-border and their president right now were totally over-the-top and as far as I can tell really uncalled for. It’s unfortunate.”

The executive and its various standing committees govern the Party in between quarterly meetings of the larger provincial council. Wallbridge is himself a past president from before Burrill’s reign. He downplays the conflict allegations made by Swift and says any problems with the Party’s leadership are isolated to the two resigning members

“I would say that since Gary got elected, people in the party are feeling a lot more positive.”

But Swift and Matheson aren’t the only high-level members of the NDP executive to leave in recent weeks. Secretary Mike Poworoznyk resigned earlier this month after nearly four years in the role. He was unable to be reached for comment.

Another member of the executive is also backing-up Swift’s accusation that Burrill rewards personal loyalty over competence. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they say that the NDP leader has little regard for anyone except a small choir of devoted followers.



“Gary may act like he is a man of the people, but he has a very different side of him that only a few are allowed to see,” the executive says over email. “In the end, everything he does is about him and his agenda.”

Burrill says it’s a hard assessment for him to stomach.


“Anybody offering leadership of any kind would feel great regret to hear such an opinion expressed of them by anyone in their party,” he says. “Certainly I regret to think that anyone in our party would hold that view of me.”

The NDP’s provincial council will elect an interim president and vice-president at its next meeting in January.

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Friday, November 24, 2017

800 Sobeys employees laid off just in time for the holidays

That warm Sobeys festive touch.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 24, 2017 at 7:26 PM

VIA YOUTUBE
  • VIA YOUTUBE

As reported by everyone today, some 800 workers for the Sobeys grocery chain are losing their jobs thanks to corporate restructuring.

According to the Chronicle Herald, 150 of those job losses are office workers in Nova Scotia.

The company’s Stellarton headquarters will be hit particularly hard. The corporate head office will lose 100 employees.

The job losses are part of an effort to reorganize and recover from several poor financial years blamed on increasing competition and a western Canada expansion via the grocer’s $5.8-billion acquisition of Safeway back in 2013.

Last month the company terminated dozens of executive positions across the country as part of its “Project Sunrise” cost-cutting efforts. The goal is to save $500 million in annual costs by 2020.

Empire has promised job cuts from “Project Sunrise” won’t affect frontline grocery or warehouse employees.

This week’s layoffs account for 20 percent of Sobeys’ office workforce.


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Updated: Cannabis dispensaries raided by Halifax police

Search warrants conducted at Coastal Cannapy on Agricola Street and Green Light on Barrington result in multiple charges.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 24, 2017 at 6:42 PM

VIA FACEBOOK
  • VIA FACEBOOK

Update: Coastal Cannapy was raided a second time on Saturday, November 25. Police say three men were arrested at the scene without incident. They’re facing one count each of possession for the purpose of trafficking marijuana and hash.

Members of the Special Enforcement Section of the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division raided two different Halifax cannabis dispensaries on Friday morning.

In the first series of raids, officers with the SES along with RCMP and Halifax Regional Police executed four separate search warrants related to the Green Light dispensary on Barrington Street.

Cannabis products, plants and resin were seized from the business’ storefront, and a 22-year-old woman was arrested at the scene without incident. Cash and documents were also seized at an apartment on Fenwick Street, where 35-year-old Jesse Gerald Carroll was arrested without incident.

Carroll is listed by the Registry of Joint Stocks as Green Light’s director and president.

Police also seized documents from an apartment at King’s Wharf in Dartmouth, and a quantity of cocaine, MDMA, LSD and cannabis products from a residence on Rockcliffe Drive in Lakeside.

Carroll’s civic address is listed at King’s Wharf. He’s facing one count each of possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine, MDMA and LSD, and multiple counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking cannabis products. The 22-year-old Halifax woman is facing two charges of possession for the purpose of trafficking.

Meanwhile, Coastal Cannapy on Agricola Street was also targeted this morning. In response to public complaints and following an investigation, HRP officers raided the business and seized “a quantity” of marijuana, edible cannabis products, hash and money.

Two men were arrested at the scene without incident. The 39-year-old and 35-year-old are facing one count each of possession for the purpose of trafficking marijuana and hash.

On its Instagram this evening, Coastal Cannapy announced it was already open again for business and asked its customers to contact their MLAs and police to complain about the “terrible use of resources.”

“They are wasting their time and money raiding us,” reads the post. “We’ve done no harm to anyone, and we’ve helped so many! Legalization is just around the corner, but they still want to criminalize us for doing what they will be doing them selves [sic] in a matter of months. This is uncalled for and cannot be accepted!”

While the prohibition on cannabis will end next year, it’s still illegal to sell the controlled substance without a medical license. Halifax police officials have previously said dispensaries remain a low-priority for the department, and will only conduct a raid if a complaint is made first.

Just last week, federal Crown prosecutors dropped all charges against cannabis centre owner Christopher Enns stemming from three police raids on his operation that happened between 2013 and 2015.

Despite being charged with several counts of possessing a controlled substance for the purposes of trafficking, prosecutors chose not to pursue the matter in court.

“This is a clear indication from the Crown that they believe there is merit to what we are doing, and there is a lack of merit to the charges before the court,” Enns said at the time.

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City councillors square-off over Segways on the ferry

Matt Whitman and Richard Zurawski have different opinions about letting the motorized scooters take up space on Halifax Transit vessels.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 24, 2017 at 12:26 PM

VIA IBIKEHFX ON TWITTER

Limiting the number of cyclists allowed on Halifax Transit ferries isn’t nearly as much of a concern for one city councillor as whether or not Segways will still be allowed aboard.

Matt Whitman—who is not part of the Transportation Standing Committee—sat in on Thursday’s meeting and repeatedly went to bat for letting users of the self-balancing scooters roll onto harbour ferries.

“I love them. They’re a joy to be on in a parade setting,” said Whitman. “I think it’s shortsighted to rule them out. We’re talking about people getting around.”

The agenda item in question was largely about getting more bicycles safely onto Halifax Transit ferries.

Currently, all the ferries have a single bike rack that can secure between four and six bicycles (depending on tire width). But there’s no limit to the number of bikes allowed on a trip, causing safety issues with bikes and strollers blocking emergency exits.

So city staff proposed removing two rows of seats on each vessel to install an additional bike rack. With two, each ferry could safely hold a maximum of 12 bicycles. Any cyclists that arrive after those racks are already filled would have to wait for the next boat.

As part of the approved motion, staff also recommended Segways be prohibited from boarding to free up space.

“The current configuration of the seating on the ferries precludes the safe and efficient use of Segways,” reads the report.

Unlike bicycles and strollers, which residents rely on as a primary mode of transportation, the Segways that staff observed being using on the ferries were all seemingly part of a commercial tour company’s operations.

Councillor Richard Zurawski wrote the devices off as little more than a “novelty.”

“As councillor Whitman says, he has a nice time on them. I think that’s wonderful,” said Zurawski. “[But] the number of people who would use Segways on a day-to-day basis for transportation would be tiny, and to sacrifice the limited space we have for bicycles and strollers...I don’t want to do that.”

Whitman shot back at those remarks. The councillor repeatedly stressed how small Segways are in comparison to baby strollers. He also took a swing at Zurawski’s habit of bringing up driverless cars when discussing roadway and transit planning.

“I can confirm there are more Segways on the streets of Halifax than driverless cars or autonomous vehicles,” said Whitman.

The Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor is an avid Segway rider who even decorated one of the gyroscopic vehicles to use in his re-election campaign.

At the start of Thursday afternoon’s meeting, he told the standing committee he does not own one of the vehicles himself.

A My Halifax Experience profile of Whitman written last year describes the councillor as owning a Segway and being an avid player of “Segway polo.”

Whitman, Zurawski, et al. will get another chance to debate the issue when the standing committee’s recommendation for more bike racks arrives at Regional Council for final approval.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Updated: PC leadership candidate downplays Paradise Papers connection

Pictou East MLA Tim Houston, who lived in Bermuda for 12 years, shows up several times in leaked offshore documents.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 23, 2017 at 6:32 PM

Tim Houston, pictured with a nice tan. - PETER MACISAAC, VIA FACEBOOK
  • Tim Houston, pictured with a nice tan.
  • Peter MacIsaac, VIA Facebook

Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston is facing some ethical questions—and firing back at his political opponents—after having his name discovered in a leaked database of offshore business dealings.

The news was announced by Nova Scotia’s NDP in a press release Thursday afternoon. Meredith O’Hara, NDP spokesperson, says the party’s researchers are confident the Timothy Jerome Houston listed in the Paradise Papers is the same Tim Houston who’s now MLA for Pictou East.

Houston spent 12 years living in Bermuda before returning to Nova Scotia in 2007. The chartered accountant was first elected as MLA for Pictou East in 2013. He won his re-election race this past spring. Last weekend he became the first Tory to announce a bid for party leadership following the withdrawal of Jamie Baillie.

The Paradise Papers were revealed earlier this month as part of a partnership between CBC, the Toronto Star, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and dozens of other reporters around the globe. The leaks contain some 13 million documents involving offshore holdings, with five times more Canadian companies and individuals listed than in last year’s Panama Papers.

Former prime ministers, the Queen of England and Trudeau-government donors have all shown up in the leaked data, which shines a light on how wealthy Canadians are able to pay little or no taxes at home by putting their money into offshore trusts and corporations.

“The question needs to be asked, does Tim Houston think it’s appropriate that the wealthiest citizens avoid paying their taxes while low-income and middle-income individuals pay their fair share to support health care and other public institutions?” asks NDP leader Gary Burrill in Thursday’s press release.

In a statement to The Coast, Houston says his time in Bermuda—during which he worked to “help a variety of companies reach their full potential”—is common knowledge. The MLA accuses the NDP of “sloppy” research that “shows a willingness to make knee-jerk decisions without the facts,” and downplays any insinuation of evading taxes.

“This issue has nothing to do with Canadian taxes and certainly doesn’t have anything to do with personal taxes,” Houston writes. “Taxes are a fundamental part of how our society functions and helps us provide quality infrastructure and services to our communities that lead to better lives for everyone. Companies and business owners need to play by the rules and pay their taxes like everyone else.”

VIA ICIJ
  • VIA ICIJ

Houston is named in the documents as director and vice-president for Inter-Ocean Holdings—and several other related Inter-Ocean sister companies—from 2006 to April 30, 2007. His name also appears as the director of a number of other Bermuda-based holding companies, including Oceania, Bantry and Blackrock.

Bloomberg describes Inter-Ocean as offering “reinsurance services in Bermuda and Ireland.” The company was founded in 1990, and purchased in 2007 by the Enstar Group. A Securities and Exchange Commission filing by Enstar from 2007 lists Houston as the manager of financial projects with holding firm Castlewood Ltd., and a former employee of Deloitte Bermuda.

Mr. Houston is responsible for overall run-off coordination, including day-to-day operations, litigation and arbitration support and commutation negotiations,” reads the document.

There are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts, and someone appearing in the CJIJ’s database doesn’t mean or even imply that they’ve broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.

Offshore investments are not illegal in Canada, provided the revenues are declared to the Canada Revenue Agency. The CRA has said it's currently reviewing Canadian persons and entities listed in the leaks.

Houston will be visiting his childhood neighbourhood of Fairview this weekend for his first ever Halifax publicity event as a PC leadership candidate.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Body cameras out of the picture for Halifax police

Report to board of commissioners says “evidence to date does not justify” the $7.5-million cost for officer-worn accountability tools.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 6:15 PM

A body camera worn by a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina. - SCREENCAP FROM WIKICOMMONS, VIA RYAN JOHNSON
  • A body camera worn by a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina.
  • SCREENCAP FROM WIKICOMMONS, VIA RYAN JOHNSON

An information item headed to next week’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting says body-worn cameras (BWV) aren’t a cost-effective way to improve police practices and shouldn’t be used by Halifax Regional Police.

“While the technology may have some value, the evidence to date does not justify the expenditure—by our estimates, over $1.4 million per year in direct and labour costs, for a five-year pilot involving 50 cameras,” the report reads.

Body-worn cameras offer an independent—though not unbiased—way to record interactions between police and the public. Their use has dramatically increased due to recent high-profile cases of police violence in the United States and Canada.

Although the devices seemingly increase police accountability, a review of case studies and academic literature by HRP officials found no convincing evidence they would improve public confidence or officer behaviour.

“In some cases BWV may have negative impacts on policing,” the report finds.

The staff report notes studies in other jurisdictions have been frustratingly unpredictable—showing evidence both for and against the cameras’ effectiveness. In some cases, BWV systems have reduced complaints about police by 90 percent. In other cases, it’s only 10 percent. One study found a 50 percent reduction in the use of force during arrests. Another found a 71 percent increase.

The most rigorous empirical study of body cameras was recently undertaken in Washington DC, where over a thousand police officers were randomly assigned cameras to wear over a seven-month period. The results were less than stellar. Says the New York Times:

“Researchers tracked use-of-force incidents, civilian complaints, charging decisions and other outcomes to see if the cameras changed behaviour. But on every metric, the effects were too small to be statistically significant. Officers with cameras used force and faced civilian complaints at about the same rates as officers without cameras.”

The direct cost for 50 cameras, chargers and data storage would total $2.19 million over five years if done in-house. With indirect costs such as labour, training and the processing of evidence, the total five-year cost for a pilot program tops out at $7.52 million.

The Board of Police Commissioners meets Monday at City Hall.

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Vol 25, No 29
December 14, 2017

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