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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Council trades Willow Tree height for (some) affordable housing

Quinpool and Robie tower moves forward at 25 storeys, while HRM passes up millions of dollars worth of public benefits.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 10:19 PM

A rendering of the proposed development. - VIA HRM
  • A rendering of the proposed development.

Halifax council has decided 10 affordable housing units are worth more than 36.

On Tuesday, councillors approved a motion moving forward with a 25-storey height for the proposed Willow Tree tower at the corner of Quinpool Road and Robie Street in exchange for some below-market rents and other public benefits.

Previously on Willow Tree, a raucous public hearing back in January ended with council deferring its final decision on the development in favour of a supplementary report looking at exchanging height for affordable housing.

Planning staff came back this week with a formula found in the draft Centre Plan that takes into consideration the ground floor area ratio of the building to calculate how much public value HRM should get for allowing an increased density.

Under that formula, Willow Tree equals out to $3.27 million in public benefit or 36 affordable housing units for 15 years.

Ignoring that, Halifax West Armdale councillor Cleary instead “reverse engineered” his own formula that calculates a public benefit of $900,000, to be spent on 10 affordable units.

It’s the same proposal Armco brought to January’s public hearing, in the hopes HRM would allow the additional five storeys the company says it needs to make the project financially viable.

Cleary’s motion includes the $900,000 value in affordable housing, as well as a requirement for an additional two metres of sidewalk setback and the burial of overhead electrical and utility wires. The councillor says that works out to close to $2 million in public benefits.

During Tuesday's debate, Cleary told his colleagues they could approve 25 storeys today and get 10 affordable units, or approve 20 and get zero.

But if the goal was to create affordable housing, councillor Tim Outhit asked why not reject the proposal outright and make the developer come back with a new design under HRM’s long-awaited Centre Plan.

Density bonusing for a 20-storey building in that scenario works out to between 21 and 29 affordable units, making the whole affordable housing argument “pretty sketchy,” according to Outhit.

“I’m really struggling with going against staff, going against the city Centre Plan and potentially reducing or eliminating any affordable housing when the argument being used is to get affordable housing,” said the councillor. “If we vote no to this, we will get a better building built down the road with more affordable housing.”

Those units would entirely be dependent on Armco returning with a new proposal at 20 storeys, however. There’s no outright guarantee that would occur, though the developer has been trying to build something on the site since 2014.

Originally, APL proposed two towers of 22 and 11 storeys on a shared podium. Planning staff rejected that design due to its height, mass and density. The developer then returned with an increased height of 28 and 12 storeys, before eventually settling on a single 29-storey tower.

The previous city council approved that design—against the recommendations of staff—but it was pruned back to 20 storeys after 2016’s election to better fit planning principals set out in the draft Centre Plan.

“I supported taking a look at this because if we’re going to allow a building here we need to make it worth our while,” said Dartmouth Centre councillor Sam Austin, “and it comes back and, geez, it’s messy, folks.”

Cleary’s motion was ultimately approved 14-2. Austin and Lorelei Nicoll were the only votes against.

The motion now triggers a new bylaw amendment process, meaning Willow Tree will once again come back to City Hall for another public hearing.

Halifax council voted nearly two years ago on a target of 5,000 new affordable housing units by 2021. So far that number sits at zero.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Field Guide employee leaves over sexual assault accusation

Restaurant owners respond to allegations circling on social media that were first brought to their attention in December.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 11:43 PM

The local restaurant industry continues to reckon with the sexual misconduct of its employees.

Field Guide on Gottingen Street has parted ways with an employee over an allegation of sexual assault that was originally brought to the attention of the restaurant’s owners back in December.

Co-owners Ceilidh Sutherland and Dan Vorstermans posted a public statement Monday evening on the company’s Facebook addressing rumours that have circulated over the last week on social media.

“To our customers, friends and colleagues in the food service industry,” it reads. “We would like to take time to address allegations that have come forward regarding a Field Guide employee's behaviour outside of the workplace. Because of how these allegations were brought to our attention, the staff member has decided to step down. 

“We recognize that this is a very difficult time for all involved, our staff and the industry as a whole. We recognize the importance of believing those who bravely come forward. We stand with our community and colleagues as we navigate these difficult but extremely important issues together, understanding that this type of behaviour has no place in our society.”

Field Guide was first made aware of allegations in early December of last year when the owners received an anonymous email from a woman who says she was assaulted by the former worker.

The woman is not a Field Guide employee, and the alleged incident happened outside of the workplace at the man’s apartment. The Coast is choosing not to name the woman or man in question, at her request.

In the December email, the woman recounts meeting up with the man late one night for pizza a year prior, after first messaging on Tinder. They returned to his apartment and made out for a period of time on his bed, which she says was consensual. After laying next to each other on the bed, half asleep, she says he began pressuring her to continue by touching her, reaching into her clothes and grabbing her body. She says she repeatedly moved his hand away, saying she was too tired and eventually pretended to be asleep in hopes it would stop.

In the email, she states the man then called her a “tease” and asked her to jerk him off, before putting her hand on his exposed penis. Once again, she repeatedly moved her hand away, saying she was too tired. The man then began to masturbate, asking if he could ejaculate on her exposed back. The woman says she gave an extremely cold and monotone ‘sure’ while laying next to him stiff and unmoving.

“It was clear I did not want it,” she writes.

It took her six months to admit to anyone she was assaulted. She writes that she still feels a need to “prove” it since she didn’t leave when she should have and “sort of allowed things to happen in an effort to get them to stop.”

Wanting to ensure the man wasn’t harming any women at his workplace, she says she decided to contact Field Guide.

“I hoped I would get an email response, but all I was really hoping for was, ‘Thank you so much for telling us this,’” she says. “I didn’t need a concrete action. I really just wanted recognition from them that they read my email.”

Field Guide didn’t reply, causing the woman to feel the restaurant was protecting its employee with its “non-response.”

Sutherland acknowledges not responding right away but tells The Coast she was going through a difficult period in her life and didn’t have the strength to reply at that time.

“It really made me absolutely question who I was as a feminist and a woman because I didn't have the ability to help this woman,” she says. “Unfortunately, I just waited too long.”

The business owners both say they believe the woman’s story, and stress that actions were taken internally.

“I assure you, we spent many, many hours talking about it,” says Vorstermans.

There have been no other complaints or issues with the employee in question, Vorstermans says. All Field Guide staff were asked if they had ever felt unsafe or uncomfortable and “unequivocally” the response was “absolutely not.”

But after a negative Yelp review referenced the allegations, the owners say they met with the staffer and it was mutually agreed that if anything else happened he would willingly stop working for Field Guide.

“They felt it was unfair that our business was being pulled into this situation because it was a personal issue of theirs, that they felt like was their responsibility to deal with,” Vorstermans says.

The allegation resurfaced again last week after The Coast published its cover story on multiple sexual misconduct claims against Two If By Sea co-founder Zane Kelsall. Local social media accounts began sharing the story, tagging Field Guide and calling out the restaurant for “protecting” its employee.

Vorstermans says the “self-imposed consequence” of the employee leaving was a direct result of those calling out Field Guide on social media.

“Basically, we felt like our hands were tied,” he says. “There was an expectation for us to make a very quick, very rash decision.”

“People were tagging us and two minutes later sending us DMs saying ‘What, you don’t have any response to this?’” adds Sutherland.

But the victim says she never asked for the staffer to lose his job back when she first emailed Field Guide. She originally reached out just to let the restaurant know it was employing someone who assaulted her.

Sutherland says she assumed the woman wanted the employee fired because her email asked for “serious professional repercussions.”

During a phone conversation last week—a recording of which was given to The Coast—the woman explicitly tells Sutherland she didn’t ask for the employee to lose his job.

“When she said that, I just immediately was filled with a sense of dread because I’ve just made a huge, huge mistake,” says Sutherland. “I didn't know what a serious professional repercussion was that didn't involve firing or having that person leave.”

The Field Guide owner says she’s now “back to square one of having no idea where to go from here” when it comes to supporting victims, women and her staff.

“How do you help the victim to feel heard and safe and listened to?” she asks. “I just want everybody to be OK, but it's so unrealistic and it's what makes owning a business fucking impossible.”

Contacted Monday evening, the woman says she has no opinion on Field Guide’s public statement. While she’s glad her concerns have finally been acknowledged, she only wishes it had been handled differently from the start.

“I don’t feel satisfied with the execution of the outcome,” she says. “The way it played out was not ideal, and I wish that this could have been handled quietly when I first sent the email in December.”

with files from Melissa Buote

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Councillor tries again for code of conduct review

Tony Mancini says he and his elected colleagues should annually sign “statements of commitment” to ethical behaviour.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 5:13 PM

Morality captain of the no-fun brigade Tony Mancini over here. - RILEY SMITH
  • Morality captain of the no-fun brigade Tony Mancini over here.

After censuring one of its members for retweeting a white supremacist group and leaking confidential information, Tony Mancini is politely suggesting Halifax council take another look at this whole code of conduct thing.

The Harbourview–Burnside–Dartmouth East councillor is asking for a staff report at council's meeting next week looking for recommendations on improving his colleagues' understanding of and familiarity with the municipality's code of conduct for elected officials.

As part of that ask, Mancini wants councillors to review the document and sign a “statement of commitment” to its values every year in hopes of improving trust in local government.

“Regional council has recently debated a few high-profile incidents involving the conduct of elected officials,” Mancini writes. “It may now be time to implement a process for an annual review/reminder of the code of conduct for all members.”

The councillor suggests the annual review could help “build a spirit of cooperation and confidence in council's integrity” by demonstrating a commitment to ethical workplace culture and help increase public trust in city hall.

It's the second time Mancini has brought forward the idea, and comes after a record-breaking number of public complaints about councillor behaviour that's already resulted in council ordering itself into sensitivity training, a smorgasbord of public apologies and councillor Matt Whitman being removed from board and committee work.

Last fall, Mancini floated an annual code of conduct review along with a proposal to hire an integrity commissioner and plans to strengthen administrative penalties for those found in violation of HRM's ethics.

The idea was not well received.

“I personally find it insulting,” said Dartmouth South–Eastern Passage councillor Bill Karsten at the time. “It’s my good name and my reputation I will stand on—not signing a piece of paper once a year.”

Ultimately, Mancini's motion was split into separate parts. Council approved a regular four-year review of the code of conduct, but the annual sign-off and integrity commissioner ideas were both defeated.

Which takes us to last month, when council spent nearly three hours in-camera debating Whitman’s endorsement of a white supremacist group's pro-European message along with other complaints against councillors Waye Mason and Shawn Cleary.

Afterwards, mayor Mike Savage told reporters he was “prepared to revisit” the idea of an integrity commissioner.

“There is frustration that we end up back here too often,” Savage said, about the in-camera complaint process.

Halifax’s code of conduct for municipal officials—otherwise known as Administrative Order 52—expects “the highest standards of professional conduct from members elected to local government.”

Councillors are expected, at all times, to enhance “the credibility and integrity of council in the broader community” and treat everyone “with dignity, understanding and respect.”

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Drinks reportedly spiked at three different north end bars

Women suspect they were drugged after recent experiences with blackouts and memory loss.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2018 at 3:25 PM


Three different women have now come forward suspecting someone put rape drugs in their drinks while at popular north end bars.

All three incidents occurred in the past two months. The Coast has agreed not to use the women’s real names for their privacy.

On Sunday, January 14, 25-year-old Michelle and her friends and coworkers were eating at a busy Chain Yard Cidery on Agricola Street. Michelle only had half a glass of cider when she got up to use the washroom. She returned, ate and finished her one drink.

Standing up to leave a couple hours later, she says she felt “pretty drunk” for just one glass of cider. She doesn’t remember her boyfriend driving her home; just waking up imagining she’d slept for hours when it had really only been 45 minutes. She became violently ill before stumbling back to bed and sleeping “like a rock.” She woke the next morning in a haze, remembering almost nothing. She was groggy at work, thirsty all day and had a pounding headache. All from one drink, surrounded by a substantial meal.

A colleague—a former paramedic—recognized the symptoms as sounding like the date-rape drug GHB.

A few weeks later, on February 10, Sara went dancing with friends at the Seahorse Tavern on Gottingen Street for retro night. She blacked out while on the dancefloor, waking up the next morning shocked to find herself in her own bed. She couldn’t remember paying or how she got home. Sara’s friends didn’t remember anything amiss about her behaviour the prior night.

“That’s terrifying to me,” she says. “If I hadn’t been with a really good group of friends...I could’ve ended up in a very different place at the end of the night.”

Sara, 42 and herself a bar employee, knows what a hangover feels like. But this was different. She could barely lift her head. She had to call someone to cover for her at work. She was wrecked for three days. Eventually, she told a few friends she suspected she was drugged.

Three weeks ago, on February 28, Jessica was attending a show at Gus’ Pub surrounded by people she knew and recognized from the neighbourhood. The 31-year-old says she wasn’t drinking heavily. But suddenly she went from being a bit tipsy to “hammered” within minutes.

The last thing Jessica remembers is losing motor function. She couldn’t even use her phone. She stumbled a ragged path to her boyfriend’s place, not far away. When she arrived, she was unable to even put her key in the door. Her boyfriend buzzed her in, later finding her “walking up against the wall” on the stairs, moving in slow motion.

The next morning, she found her clothing in a pile in the bathroom. She was shocked to find she had defecated and urinated on the floor and her clothes. Hours into the morning, she was still confused and foggy.

Jessica contacted Gus’ manager, Simon Fraser, who reviewed video footage of the night and invited her to see it for herself. The video didn’t show anyone going near her drinks, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, says Fraser.

The bar manager has informed all staff and security guards to be on the lookout for men who may be dangerous, and for women who might be in trouble.

Mike Lim, operations manager at Chain Yard Cidery, first heard the details of Michelle's story this week. He says the company has contacted the police, but video footage from that night was unfortunately already written-over several weeks ago. The business tends to wipe their camera footage at the end of every month for space. Lim says he is now working on reaching out to the people who were there that night in January, and that staff at Chain Yard are also going through additional training to recognize signs of drugging and intoxication.

Sam Campbell, chief of the QEII hospital’s emergency department, says he’s not aware of a spike in tampered drinks over the past two months in Halifax. More troubling, perhaps, is how common those cases are. Once or twice a month, he estimates.

“Which means it probably happens 20 times,” for every case brought into the hospital. And he’s only one of 30 physicians seeing patients.

“It’s horrendous.”

Last week, Campbell saw a patient he suspects was drugged on a night out drinking moderately with friends. The last thing the woman remembered was being at a bar. She woke up in a community 35 minutes outside the city she has no connection to, alone, with no memory of why or how she’d gotten there.

“The drugs that are commonly used, usually have properties that make you forget,” Campbell explains.

In each of the stories reported above, partners and friends of the women affected say they didn’t notice anything ‘off.’ This isn’t uncommon.

“During that period they might’ve been quite functional,” confirms Campbell.

Surprisingly, the ER doesn’t test for chemicals associated with suspected drug-facilitated sexual assaults (DFSA): including Rohypnol, GHB and ketamine.

“It’s actually really difficult,” Campbell says. The time limit on detecting “date-rape” substances is short. The tests also aren’t reliable and react with other commonly used drugs.

Halifax Regional Police say they haven’t received any recent complaints “of this nature,” but warnings have been circulating all week on Twitter, right before one of the busiest days for bar business in the entire calendar—St. Patrick’s Day.

Police spokesperson Carol McIsaac still encourages women to report their stories to authorities, even without positive lab results or other evidence.

“Even one report such as this is disconcerting to us,” she explains. “We just want to know these things are happening so crime analysts can spot any trends.”

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Ancestral Roots Awards offers overdue recognition to young Black leaders

Young adults making a positive impact in African Nova Scotian communities don't get the accolades they deserve, say organizers.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2018 at 4:01 AM

Event host Kyah Sparks. - VIA INSTAGRAM
  • Event host Kyah Sparks.

An upcoming awards ceremony is currently accepting nominations for African Nova Scotians overcoming challenges and making a positive impact in their communities.

Kyah Sparks is gearing up to host the African Nova Scotian Communities Ancestral Roots Awards: Recognizing Young Adult Leaders, scheduled to take place on June 9.

“I feel like not a lot of African Nova Scotians in these categories of work get the recognition that I feel they really deserve,” says Sparks, who is a TV host for Eastlink. She also knows from experience how difficult it is to be the only Black person in a class.

“When I was in school and college, there was no one I could relate to. There was a huge cultural difference between me and my other classmates.”

Chanae Parsons of the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute first approached Sparks with plans for the Ancestral Roots Awards. The idea is to formally recognize Black community members between the ages of 19 and 30 who have to break down barriers in their career path. There are awards in 12 categories, including education, justice and health.

“Why not celebrate and recognize a young African Nova Scotian that may be a makeup artist, or may be a nurse, or may be going to school to be a lawyer? These are really important career paths, and for people from the Black community to be pursuing these careers is huge,” says Sparks. “But you don’t see their names in the papers, you don’t hear about them on the radio.”

She’s hoping Ancestral Roots will change that.

“Some people don’t come from situations where it is easy. They’re not given things on a silver platter, so they definitely have to work a lot harder.”

Nominations for potential honourees are being accepted until Friday, April 13. The application form can be found here.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Province dreams up virtual reality hub

Nova Scotia is looking to create a new innovation clubhouse for the augmented, mixed and virtual reality industries.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2018 at 4:54 PM

click image Ready taxpayer one. - VIA ISTOCK
  • Ready taxpayer one.

What with actual reality being incomprehensibly horrific, the province would like to give this virtual reality thing a try.

Nova Scotia Business Inc. issued a request for proposals this week looking to create a new incubator for the “virtual, augmented and mixed reality” tech scene.

The RFP isn’t for the creation of a facility itself, but to assess the potential financial costs and generate “high-value, pre-qualified leads” for sponsorship packages.

“The facility being proposed aims to be a place for companies and the tech community to congregate around state of the art technology and expertise related to VR/AR/MR,” it reads.

The virtual, augmented and mixed reality tech sector is often collectively referred to as extended reality (or XR). Though related, the three applications differ in user experience.

Virtual reality immerses users in a digital environment, often via headsets. Augmented reality overlays virtual objects in a real-world environment. Mixed reality goes one step further, overlaying and anchoring virtual objects onto the real world.

It's a growing industry, with hardware and software applications in entertainment, healthcare and telecommunications. Investment in immersive technology grew 40 percent last year, while BusinessWire has reported the global market for augmented and mixed reality services could reach $65.8 billion by 2023.

Nova Scotia is hoping for a slice of that virtual cake by creating its new “centre for excellence,” which the RFP promises will become a “national beacon for research.”

The facility will “develop and grow the VR/AR/MR community and ecosystem” across the Atlantic region, says the document, through partnerships with universities, tech hubs and other incubators.

The winning bidder is expected to include at least one partnership with a Nova Scotian industry association who wants to serve as the facility's primary backer in the final feasibility assessment. The document should also outline the potential for public funding available, along with private financing models.

The RFP, which was only issued Tuesday, closes Friday, March 9. The finished assessment is due by end of month.

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Funeral director loses license after cremating wrong body

“This was a tragic situation, one that no family should ever have to experience,” says Service Nova Scotia minister.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2018 at 3:05 PM

The Berwick Funeral Chapel operated by Serenity Funeral Home in Berwick. - VIA GOOGLE MAPS
  • The Berwick Funeral Chapel operated by Serenity Funeral Home in Berwick.
  • VIA Google Maps

Update: In a bit of art imitating life, we confused two people in this article. Serenity's owner is Anthony Facey and its director is David Farmer. Farmer had his license revoked, but Facey was not disciplined in the board's decision. The cope below has been changed to reflect this.

The <strike>owner</strike> director of a Berwick funeral home has had his license revoked after a body mixup that caused the wrong woman to be cremated.

The Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors issued a decision Friday in the case of Serenity Funeral Home and how director <strike>Anthony Facey</strike> David Farmer handled the remains of Sandra Bennett

Relatives of the 65-year-old previously told the media they arrived at the funeral home for a visitation in December only to find the body of another woman, dressed in Bennett's clothes, at rest in the casket.

After complaining, Serenity presented the family with another body, which was also not their 65-year-old relative. Eventually, the family was informed Bennett had been mistakenly cremated.

“This was a tragic situation, one that no family should ever have to experience,” says Service Nova Scotia minister Geoff MacLellan, in a press release. “What transpired has highlighted the need for more stringent regulations. I have directed work begin immediately, to ensure this never happens again.”

Relatives of Bennett have been critical of the board of registration's handling of the situation and refused to participate in its closed-door inquiry last month. The family's lawyer, Paul Walter, previously told the Canadian Press that the board is “essentially run by people in the funeral industry.”

In its decision, the board recommends several legislative changes to increase fines and improve the transparency of the industry's complaint process. It also recommends requiring funeral homes and crematorium to label human remains as soon as they are taken into custody.

“These recommendations give us the opportunity to improve the province's funeral industry, including processes, and to increase protection to consumers,” writes MacLellan. “Every step is being taken to help ensure no family experiences such a devastating situation again.”

Along with <strike>Facey</strike> Farmer's license being pulled, Service Nova Scotia’s Registrar of Funeral Services also suspended the company’s ability to perform cremations for a 30-day period.

The funeral home will continue to operate during the cremation suspension so any families who've arranged funerals aren't put out.

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Federal Court to decide on Abdoul Abdi’s future

Immigration and Refugee Review Board pauses its own hearing on refugee's fate in response.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 5:21 PM

A poster used for rallies across Canada earlier this week in support of Abdi's release. - BY AMBER WILLIAMS-KING, VIA FACEBOOK
  • A poster used for rallies across Canada earlier this week in support of Abdi's release.
  • BY Amber Williams-King, VIA FACEBOOK

Canada's Federal Court will hear the case of a former ward of the province facing deportation to Somalia.

Abdoul Abdi's fate was to be decided on Wednesday by the Immigration and Refugee Review Board. But news of the federal hearing later this May caused the IRB to put a pause on its own proceedings.

The 24-year-old Abdi arrived in Nova Scotia at the age of six with his family, but was taken from his mother and put into provincial care soon after.

Through the course of the next 12 years, the department of Community Services failed to apply for his citizenship.

Abdi, who has a criminal record, is now facing deportation back to an unfamiliar country with no family and a language he doesn't speak. Family members have called it tantamount to a death sentence.

On Tuesday, supporters across the country gathered in several planned protests—including at Nova Scotia's Legislature—calling for the federal government to intervene and allow Abdi to remain in Canada.

The IRB will meet back on March 21 to decide whether it will wait for a verdict from the Federal Court, or make a ruling of its own.

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Electrical fault to blame for fatal fire

Fire chief urges public to check smoke alarms after the deaths of a 58-year-old man and his 11-year-old granddaughter this past weekend.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 5, 2018 at 5:54 PM

Carys Hart, 11, died in the fire early Saturday morning. - VIA GOFUNDME
  • Carys Hart, 11, died in the fire early Saturday morning.

An electrical fault is to blame for the tragic fire that claimed the lives of a 58-year-old Lower Sackville man and his 11-year-old granddaughter.

Halifax Fire and Emergency chief Ken Steubing told reporters at a news briefing Monday afternoon the fire started early Saturday morning in the duplex’s basement.

Although authorities have not released the names of the deceased, family members have identified them as Marven Hart, 58, and his granddaughter Carys Barnes, 11, who was visiting for a sleepover.

Carys’ sister, Alexandra Barnes, has created a GoFundMe page to help raise money for funeral costs. As of this publication, close to $5,000 has been donated in a single day.

On the page, Barnes writes that losing her sister has shattered hearts and ruined her families’ lives.

“She was so full of life and caring and sweet and funny,” says Barnes. “She was the light of our lives. Any donations at all will help us as we go through such sorrow and pain. We are devastated.”

The home’s other two occupants—Hart’s wife Pat and their 18-year-old son Trent—were still being treated at the hospital as of Sunday night.

Marven is the brother of Wray Hart, the much-beloved Halifax man who himself was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver last month in the city’s south end.

Unlike that incident, for which 23-year-old Dennis Patterson is still awaiting his day in court, Saturday's house fire is not regarded as suspicious and neither the police nor the fire department will be laying charges.

The fire chief did caution, however, that the past weekend's deaths may have been prevented if there was a working smoke alarm on each floor of Hart's Leaside Drive home.

“There was one working smoke alarm in this home, but it’s our belief if there had been more than one working smoke alarm, the outcome might have been different.”

Steubing offered his heartfelt condolences Monday to the family on their losses, as well as to first responders impacted by the tragedy.

“The families and community suffered a huge loss this weekend and I know some of our firefighters are suffering right now too,” he said. “They signed up for this job to save lives. And on this occasion, we weren’t able to save everyone.”

The fire chief’s full statement can be read below:

“Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us here this afternoon. I apologize for the short notice in inviting you here but I wanted to ensure you were kept up to speed on the work we’ve been doing into the fatal house fire over the weekend in Lower Sackville.

“I first want to extend my heartfelt condolences—and those of our firefighters—to the families and local community affected by the tragic circumstances from this weekend’s fires. These past few days have been difficult for everyone.

“With regard to the house fire in Lower Sackville, I can confirm that neither police nor the fire department will be laying charges. The investigation is ongoing, but we have determined the fire was not suspicious and originated in the basement of the duplex.

“Our fire investigators have concluded their work and the evidence points to an electrical fault as the cause.

“At this time, I want to urge those listening or watching at home to make sure you have working smoke alarms on every floor of your homes. There was one working smoke alarm in this home, but it’s our belief if there had been more than one working smoke alarm, the outcome might have been different.

“It’s at a time like this that we should all step back…and take a look around our homes to ensure they are safe. Do you have a smoke alarm on every floor? Are they within five metres of sleeping quarters? Do you have a carbon monoxide detector?
And do you have two clear exits from every room in your house? These are the questions that when you answer ‘yes’…you can save a life.

“What happened this weekend is an absolute tragedy but it could have been worse. I want to send out my deepest gratitude to our first-responder partners, who stepped in to assist on the weekend, ensuring a devastating situation wasn’t even worse. I want to personally recognize the RCMP officers who acted quickly to effect a rescue as well as our EMS partners who worked tirelessly to mitigate the loss of the fire. Our firefighters worked to exhaustion to affect the searches and extricate the occupants. Thank you all.

“The families and community suffered a huge loss this weekend and I know some of our firefighters are suffering right now too. They signed up for this job to save lives. And on this occasion, we weren’t able to save everyone. Support is being provided and we will continue to support our team. I would urge our members from the community who are suffering to seek assistance as well.

“The first two lines of defence for fire departments is public education and fire prevention, and HRFE has done some tremendous work in these areas over the last few years, but today I will reaffirm our commitment to ensure we see as few tragedies as possible in our municipality.

“We also want to ensure people are aware of our smoke and carbon monoxide alarm program to ensure no home is left unprotected. For more information please contact 311.

“Thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak on both of these aspects on this very tough day.”

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Province finally signs lease for new convention centre

Nova Scotia and HRM to pay $10.76 million annually, at 4.25 percent interest, for the next 25 years.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 5, 2018 at 5:00 PM

For our children, and our children's children. - VIA TWITTER
  • For our children, and our children's children.

The ink is finally dry on the Halifax Convention Centre’s lease, nearly three months after its doors first opened.

Substantial completion has been reached on the $169-million downtown project and the keys have officially been turned over to the province.

“Reaching substantial completion with this massive project is a milestone,” writes Transportation and Infrastructure minister Lloyd Hines in a press release. “We have a beautiful, modern facility to help grow our tourism sector and showcase our province to the world.”

The centre opened—unfinished and after several lengthy delays—and began hosting events late last December. But there were still several contractual issues to finalize before the province would sign off on the property as substantially complete.

Chief among them was setting the annual payment and interest amounts the province and HRM would be paying to Joe Ramia’s Argyle Developments.

The federal government has paid its third of the cost-shared convention centre bill with a $51.4-million lump sum payment. The remaining $117.8 million is split between the HRM and the province, to be paid out in monthly instalments over the centre’s 25-year lease.

According to that document, the total annual payment to Argyle’s holding company works out to $10,760,570 (plus HST), with an interest rate of 4.25 percent. You can read the full Halifax Convention Centre lease here.

The municipality will pay its half of that cost through a reserve fund of property taxes from the surrounding Nova Centre property. That entire site was assessed earlier this year at a value of just over $200 million. But according to HRM’s budget documents, the assessment is being appealed.

Regardless of the Nova Centre's current valuation, it's not expected those incoming tax funds will cover the municipality's payments for several more years. The province has agreed to defer Halifax’s share of the lease payments for the next 10 years, if needed, as a way to mitigate that financial risk.

Meanwhile, the province is still looking for an extra $301,500 in transition costs—as reported by The Coast earlier this year—that it believes were the city’s responsibility to cover.

In the same budget presentation going before council later this week, HRM staff warn those “transition issues” for the Nova Centre site remain under review.

According to the province, over 100 events are booked for the HCC’s first year of operations, with 44 of those being national or international conventions.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Teachers union backs down from strike

The NSTU suspends its job action threat in the wake of education reforms proposed by Liberal government.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 5:04 PM

Protesters outside Province House on Tuesday. - MEGHAN TANSEY WHITTON
  • Protesters outside Province House on Tuesday.
  • Meghan Tansey Whitton

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union is backing down from its threat to strike, following the introduction Thursday of the province's new Education Reform Act.

The legislation will dissolve Nova Scotia's seven English-language school boards, and remove principals and vice-principals from the NSTU.

But those administrators will be allowed to join a new association still affiliated with the NSTU, with seniority and pay scales protected.

The province is also no longer planning to create a new college of educators to license and discipline teachers.

Those compromises appear to be enough for the NSTU to stand down—for now.

“We are well aware of the short-term impact a strike would have on families, and while the government has done enough to avert job action, they still have much more to do to improve our public education system,” NSTU president Liette Doucet writes in a press release. “We will hold them accountable.”

The detente follows several weeks of outcry, ever since consultant Avis Glaze released her scathing report on the province's education administration last month.

Minister Zach Churchill had promised to implement all 22 of Glaze’s recommendations, but after an emergency strike vote by the NSTU and intense public blowback, the Liberals appear to have walked back on some of those plans.

Doucet says the NSTU is still opposed to the Education Reform Act, “which could do more harm than good.” The union is also “genuinely fearful of the chaos” to come from eliminating school boards.

Those democratically elected bodies will be replaced on March 31 with a new provincial advisory council of education. Local school board offices and staff will remain, renamed as Regional Education Centres.

The province says eliminating the boards will save $2.3 million annually. That'll come after a one-time payout of $2.4 million, to be made to Nova Scotia's elected board members to cover the stipends they would have earned over their current term.

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Province promises no change in fees from Registry of Joint Stocks overhaul

Irish subsidiary of Saskatchewan company awarded $7.1-million contract to "modernize" corporate registry.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 4:16 PM

The current Web 1.0 look of the Registry of Joint Stocks. - VIA NOVA SCOTIA
  • The current Web 1.0 look of the Registry of Joint Stocks.

It'll look different, but the cost should stay the same. 

Service Nova Scotia announced Thursday that Enterprise Registry Solutions has been awarded the 10-year, $7.1-million contract to modernize the Registry of Joint Stocks.

The Dublin, Ireland-based Enterprise is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Saskatchewan's Information Services Corporation, which has an exclusive agreement to administer that province's corporate and land registries.

Unlike in Nova Scotia—where joint stocks information can be freely accessed by anyone—in Saskatchewan ISC charges between $6 and $15 to find out public information on private companies.

It's an extra $10 to have that info mailed out to you and an extra $5 if you want a copy emailed.

Canadian Bible Society is a very Saskatchewan company. - SCREENSHOT
  • Canadian Bible Society is a very Saskatchewan company.

Provincial spokesperson Marla MacInnis says, for now, there are no plans to implement a similar fee structure with Nova Scotia's registry.

“At this time, no fee changes for searching and obtaining copies of documents are anticipated,” writes MacInnis in an email to The Coast.

All businesses in Nova Scotia are required to register with joint stocks. It's where journalists, researchers, lawyers, business folk and any curious member of the public can find out the names of those running every local, extra-provincial and numbered company at work in the province.

The current computer system for the registry is more than 20 years old, and in desperate need of an overhaul according to the province. Expected changes Enterprise will implement include 24/7 online transactions, smart-form technology and the ability for registered users to track the progress of their submissions.

“A new, modern system will better meet the needs of Nova Scotia's business community and reduce red tape allowing businesses to dedicate their time and finances on what's most important, which is growing their businesses, creating opportunities for Nova Scotians and serving their customers,” writes Service Nova Scotia minister Geoff MacLellan in a press release announcing the contract.

The provincial government previously flirted with the idea of outright privatizing its joint stocks, land, vital statistics and motor vehicle registries back in 2015. After a 17-month long review—itself costing $825,000—Nova Scotia announced it would keep the services public and modernize their systems instead.

The “new and improved” Registry of Joint Stock Companies will be in place by fall 2019.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Mayor “prepared to revisit” integrity commissioner after Whitman debate

“There is frustration that we end up back here too often,” Mike Savage says after council votes to sanction their colleague.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 1:10 AM

Happier times. - VIA FACEBOOK

After yet another in-camera debate about Matt Whitman's conduct, mayor Mike Savage is eager to explore hiring an integrity commissioner at city hall

“I’m prepared to revisit that,” Savage told reporters after Tuesday’s council meeting. “I think it may be something we need to do so that we can get an impartial person to give us advice.”

An integrity commissioner would conduct investigations every time a breach is reported in the municipality's code of conduct. Similar positions already exist in Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton.

The idea was previously floated back in November by Harbourview–Burnside–Dartmouth East representative Tony Mancini. But the councillor's request for a staff report—which would've included multiple ways to bolster HRM's code of conduct—was ripped apart by his colleagues who called it personally insulting.

It was during that same November meeting that council last met in-camera to discuss public complaints made against Matt Whitman. The councillor had earned scorn weeks earlier after telling TV news cameras it was only possible to be racist to caucasians and “negroes,” but not Mexicans.

This week's in-camera debate about Whitman originated with the councillor retweeting a known ethno-nationalist group who was upset about HRM's decision to temporarily remove the statue of Edward Cornwallis.

Whitman subsequently deleted the tweet and blocked the account, but has since told reporters he stands by the group's message that “European history and peoples are being dismantled.”

The Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor refused to participate in Tuesday's in-camera debate dealing with complaints against himself, Waye Mason and Shawn Cleary because it could not be held in public.

Offered the chance to bring the agenda item solely about himself into public discussion, the councillor declined.

His colleagues ultimately voted 12-3 to censure Whitman; removing him from his committee, agency and board work for a period of three months.
 It’s the first time this council has taken such disciplinary action against one of its members.

“Now, let’s be honest, it doesn’t cost him any money,” cautions Savage. “We don’t get paid to be on committees here on council. So the length is almost immaterial.”

Savage tells reporters there was “a lot of goodwill” expressed towards councillor Whitman during the two-and-a-half hour in-camera discussion, “but there is frustration that we end up back here too often.”

“Nobody wants to muzzle councillor Whitman,” says Savage. “He’s a person with his own views. But there was a feeling that there needed to be some kind of a sanction because we’ve done this before.”

The current code of conduct for municipal officials says the public expects “the highest standards of professional conduct from members elected to local government,” and that those political figures are to treat everyone “with dignity, understanding and respect” and “observe a high standard of professionalism.”

The document was created in 2013, in part due to an incident two year prior when former councillor Reg Rankin made inappropriate remarks to a woman at a Halifax Regional Police function. Since then, it has predominantly been used to address Whitman's behaviour.

If someone is found in breach of the code, council can censure the accused by ordering an apology, for them to attend counselling or withdrawing the councillor in question from any committee appointments. And that's it.

Speaking last November about Mancini's motion, councillor Steve Craig warned his colleagues that under the current code “there are no meaningful consequences if somebody doesn’t want to accept other people’s views of their behaviour, pure and simple.”

Whitman told reporters earlier in the day he would stand by what council decided. He then immediately contradicted himself by saying he would not issue another public apology if ordered to do so, and in fact, regretted previous public apologies he's had to make in his short political career.

“I really want to work with councillor Whitman, as I want to work with all my councillors, to have a process where we work together,” says Savage. “We have to disagree—that’s the whole point of democracy, is that you disagree on things. You have to find a way to disagree in a way that isn’t disagreeable. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

With that in mind, should any councillor wish to refloat the idea of an integrity commissioner, the mayor says this time he'll vote for it.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

RIP Betty Peterson, iconic peace activist and voice for change

Legendary advocate for environmental, feminist and Civil Rights causes passes away in Halifax at age 100.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 10:58 PM

Peterson, pictured here shortly before her 100th birthday. - DYLAN CHEW
  • Peterson, pictured here shortly before her 100th birthday.

An inspirational figure who spent several decades fighting for peace around the world has passed away.

Betty Peterson has died at the age of 100. The American-born activist, who served as a role model to a generation of women in Nova Scotia, leaves behind a lifetime of work battling inequality.

“She’s been a familiar sight at marches, sit-ins, anti-poverty protests, Indigenous rights activities and other events staged to shine a light on injustice,” writes The Coast reporter Michael Lightstone in a profile of Peterson published shortly before her last birthday.

“Those who know her are presented with a diminutive, straight-shooting woman who wears her heart on her sleeve.”

Born in Pennsylvania in during the First World War, Peterson and her late husband Gunnar spent their marriage marching in protests for peace and advocating for Civil Rights and environmental issues.

The couple moved to Cape Breton in the '70s after becoming disenchanted with American politics during Watergate and the Vietnam crisis. Gunnar worked as the provincial co-ordinator for outdoor recreation, where he helped lay the groundwork for Nova Scotia’s nature trails. Betty relocated to Halifax following his death in 1976.

Peterson was close friends with fellow renowned activist Muriel Duckworth. The two lived together at one point, renting rooms in their “Peace house” out to students. Their first tenant was future Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

In 1988, Peterson was arrested and temporarily jailed after travelling to Alberta in support of an Indigenous nation’s land claim battle. She was also a longstanding critic of the annual Halifax International Security Forum, where warmongers from across the globe gather in hotel suites to discuss their trade. In her 80s, she joined with other elderly war protesters to form the Raging Grannies.

“We try to make our words really meaningful and biting,” Peterson told one journalist at the time. “So you get up there and give people a poke in the ribs, a kick in the pants and get the message across.”

Peterson, attending the June 12 1982 Peace March in New York City. - CANADIAN MUSEUM OF IMMIGRATION AT PIER 21
  • Peterson, attending the June 12 1982 Peace March in New York City.

Peterson was awarded an honorary doctorate from Mount Saint Vincent University in 2000. Ten years later, she received the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth’s Peace Medallion. In 2012, she was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her decades of activism.

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 paid tribute to Peterson in 2014 with a display containing the button-covered shirt she wore to countless protests across North America. The button collection has a permanent home at MSVU.

In 2016, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace presented Peterson with the Muriel Duckworth Award for Peace Activism.

“For many years, you have dedicated tireless hours to many of civil society’s peace and social justice communities,” reads the award's dedication. “As an unstoppable advocate through non-violence trainings, campaigns, workshops, lobbying, especially for disarmament and First Nations peoples’ concerns, your leadership speaks of the resourcefulness and strength you have dedicated to positive change.”

When asked by The Coast in 2014 if she had any advice for the next generation of strong activist women, Peterson was characteristically straightforward.

“Keep on keeping on,” she said. “It's worth it. Keep on keeping on. It helps you to keep your sanity, and it gives other people hope and calls them into action. I think there's a great deal of discouragement, and we have to let them know it's worth it to get out there and keep things alive.”

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Council finds Whitman breached code of conduct, released confidential information

The councillor refused to participate in debate on the record number of public complaints filed against him.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 12:11 PM

Councillor Matt Whitman at City Hall. - RILEY SMITH
  • Councillor Matt Whitman at City Hall.

Matt Whitman walked away from an in-camera discussion on public complaints held Tuesday, refusing to take part in a debate on councillor conduct largely centred on his own words and actions.

It didn't go his way.

After a two-and-a-half hour discussion behind closed doors, council voted 12-3 that Whitman was guilty of breaching the municipal code of conduct and of releasing confidential information to the public.

Whitman was censured and ordered removed from all HRM boards, agencies and committees for the next three months, save Committee of the Whole and budget committee.

It was one of three separate in-camera items on public complaints held during Tuesday's council meeting. Whitman began the day motioning for all those discussions—which also involved complaints against fellow councillors Shawn Cleary and Waye Mason—to be handled in public.

All three councillors needed to consent to the idea, but Cleary objected and Whitman's motion was ruled out of order.

The councillor refused a subsequent motion by his colleague Tim Outhit to just deal with Whitman's complaints in public.

“I don't want to go in-camera or in private and do any of this,” said Whitman. “And I won't participate at any level in-camera....I'll sit that out.”

A record-setting 66 official complaints have been lodged so far this year about HRM councillors. Whitman has repeatedly told the media that most of those complaints are about him.

The Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor has been in hot water ever since retweeting a message earlier this month from a known white supremacist group complaining about council’s decision to temporarily remove the statue of Edward Cornwallis.

Although he deleted the tweet and blocked the group, Whitman has told reporters he stands by the group's letter, which states “European history and peoples are being dismantled.”

The confidential information Whitman released is presumably his repeated references in the media to in-camera discussions regarding the criminal history of Chief Wilbert Marshall.

The Coast first reported on the proposed nominee to HRM's panel on Edward Cornwallis, and his prior sexual assault conviction, a day before council held an emergency in-camera discussion on the matter.

Whitman visited The Coast offices on Monday afternoon to retrieve a print copy of that article. He told the editorial department he planned to hold it up during the debate Tuesday.

Mayor Mike Savage wouldn't comment on the information Whitman released, other than to say politicians can't do indirectly what they can't do directly.

“In other words, you can’t sort of say, ‘This was somewhere else so it’s out in the public,’” said Savage, echoing remarks Whitman made about The Coast's reporting.

“Our job is to deal with information that’s in private, in private, until it’s disclosed and identified that it can be made public.”

The three votes in Whitman's favour Tuesday afternoon came from Stephen Adams, David Hendsbee and Russell Walker— historically, the three councillors besides Whitman who've been the strongest voices against the removal of the Cornwallis statue.

Council also voted to dismiss the public complaints made against Cleary and accepted apologies submitted by Mason.

In one of those apologies, since posted online, Mason writes that he let strong feelings towards defying racism “in all of its forms” influence the way he expressed his disagreement to Whitman’s retweet.

Whitman’s name is redacted in Mason’s second apology, which is standard procedure to protect the identity of whoever filed the original complaint.

“My intention was not to attack [REDACTED] but to appeal to [REDACTED]’s clear convictions in challenging him to stop insulting people,” Mason writes.

Reached via Twitter, Whitman denied making the complaint.

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Vol 25, No 43
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