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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How to solve a murder

Investigators in Halifax's homicide unit describe their work.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 27, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Police officers securing the scene after the November shooting death of 22-year-old Tyler Keizer. - THE COAST
  • Police officers securing the scene after the November shooting death of 22-year-old Tyler Keizer.
  • The Coast

It begins with a call.

“It all starts with patrol,” says Jason Withrow. “They’re the ones who show up [in uniform] when 911 is called. After that, it goes up the chain until we’re alerted.”

His partner, detective Derrick Boyd, points to the cell phone holstered to his hip. The two investigators always have their phones on them. “This never leaves my side.”

Both men are detective-sergeants in the Halifax Regional Police force, working in tandem with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to cover Halifax’s urban and rural communities. Both of them work homicides.

All nine murders in Halifax in 2015 were solved, with charges laid in each case. This year has seen homicides jump to 12, but charges have only been laid in half.

The increase in violence on HRM’s streets this year has placed an added burden on what’s already a high-pressure job inside the police department. As 2016 fades away, there are still six homicides awaiting justice. Here’s how that work gets done.

It’s Thursday, December 8, and Boyd has already ‘touched’ two murder cases before 9am. That’s the term they use—touched—for working a case. Withrow estimates it’ll be five active homicide investigations “touched” before the day’s out.

Boyd is the taller of the two partners, with blue eyes and a firm handshake. Withrow is shorter, soft-spoken and prone to talking with his hands. Together, the two of them have a combined 13 years working homicides.

Detective-sergeants Withrow and Boyd. - CHRISTY SOMOS
  • Detective-sergeants Withrow and Boyd.

They call it a 24-seven, 365 type of job. Partially, that’s because it’s hard to shut their minds off of work when they’re on a case, but also it’s on account of the unpredictable nature of their livelihood. You never know when that next call will come in.

“You can plan your day,” says Boyd, “but it will never happen that way.”

The first few hours of a homicide are the most hectic. Boyd rattles off the list of questions that come first with every call: Where is it? Who’s the victim? Any suspects? Any witnesses? Anyone in custody?

From that phone call a triangular system of delegation begins to form between the lead investigator, their partner who coordinates paperwork and the police sergeant who will allocate resources.

“The sergeants are usually the team commander or team leader [on a case] and the other two parts of the triangle are the lead investigator and a file coordinator,” Boyd explains. “So you figure out who they’re going to be from your homicide unit and go from there.”

The triangle system ensures three sets of eyes know everything about the investigation, and makes it less likely something will go awry for the duration of the case.

Due to the integration of HRP and the RCMP, most murder inquiries in the municipality will have officers from other divisions—like criminal investigation or vice—assisting on the case. Excluded from that list are staff from the sexual assault unit. Following the Rehtaeh Parsons case and the Segal Report of 2015, homicide investigators can no longer pull support from that unit due to its heavy workload, and the complicated, sensitive nature of their cases.

Which brings us to the “taskers.”

“Taskers” are often the officers who do the ground level work in a homicide case—canvassing neighborhoods, chasing leads and corralling witnesses.

“What people don’t necessarily know is that in an initial murder investigation there can be upwards of 50 people involved working on the case,” says Boyd. “I have worked on some that have 70 individuals that all had parts to play.”

It’s not all police solving a homicide case, though. The best help can often come from the public.

“The community and people we serve play a major part as well,” says Withrow. “That’s why we will put out media releases to ask for help. It’s essential that witnesses feel comfortable and safe coming to talk to us. We will drop everything to hear someone out if they have information on a case.”

Sometimes, though, the cases don’t get solved—at least not yet. Boyd and Withrow still have open files from 2009 on their desks. Another two years and those murders will wind up in the cold case unit.

Life will go on, as will the investigators, onto the next call.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Halifax’s housing costs remain (relatively) affordable

Be glad you’re not house shopping in Toronto

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 4:00 AM

The yearly income needed, at minimum, to purchase the average home in 10 HRM districts. The figures assume a 20 percent down payment and a five-year fixed-term mortgage at three percent. - JESSICA HARTJES
  • The yearly income needed, at minimum, to purchase the average home in 10 HRM districts. The figures assume a 20 percent down payment and a five-year fixed-term mortgage at three percent.

In today's age of inflated housing prices and looming bubbles, shadow selling, house flipping and trading, the real estate supply in Canada is beginning to look and act a whole lot more like precious metals than necessary dwellings for you and your family.

“Parts of the HRM are certainly still affordable with an average sold price below $250,000,” says Shannon Gavin, a franchise owner in HRM. “...A couple, both earning full-time minimum wage, with some savings, can afford home ownership. Take the Woodlawn area of Dartmouth for instance.”

According to real estate numbers The Coast crunched from and the Canadian Real Estate Association's average price map, Halifax is looking pretty happy relative to other provincial capitals when it comes to housing costs compared to average income.

Price-to-income ratio—a simplified measure of housing affordability—says that your home should be around three times more than your yearly income. According to Statistics Canada, the average weekly earnings for a Nova Scotian working full-time, across all major industries, was $903 in June. That’s an average salary $43,334.

Although there is no municipal district in or near the Halifax core where average home prices are as low as $130,001 (three times the average Nova Scotian's yearly earnings), HRM is still one of the most affordable capitals in Canada.

To purchase a home in Dartmouth, you’d need to make a minimum $23,634 yearly. At the top-end, Halifax's illustrious south-end homes sell for an average of $503,961. You would need to make $66,870 annually to afford the average south-end home.

In contrast, a home buyer in Vancouver would need to make at least $140,000 per year, along with dropping an over $100,000 down payment on their investment—just 10 percent of the average home price, which was $1,026,207 in July.

The average weekly income across all major industries in British Columbia is just $1,072, which is just $51,474 per year (or $8,140 more annually on average than Nova Scotians make).

Despite the good margins, Gavin doesn’t feel HRM is totally in a buyer’s market just yet.

“Sure, in some areas we are, but certain neighbourhoods have definitely leaned in to a more stable market, where there is less inventory but buyers are waiting for that special home,” she says.

It’s a similar story from RBC’s Canadian Housing Affordability index, which compares median pre-tax household incomes required for mortgage payments, property taxes and utilities for the average single-family detached home/condo across the county. The latest report from June found Vancouver and Toronto continuing their skyrocketing trend away from affordability, while Halifax dropped to its most affordable housing levels since the mid-‘80s. The level of activity in our region remains worryingly soft, though, coming in at 12 percent below the 10-year average according to RBC.

What does the future of HRM’s real estate look like? Gavin isn’t making any dramatic predictions one way or another.

“I think we will see a fairly stable market that continues to have its natural ebbs and flows.”

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

How billionaire John Risley profits off of private student loans

Clearwater owner bought American loan company just in time for his Dal-sponsored MIT trips.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2016 at 4:00 AM

A billionaire seafood magnate may have found the secret to solving Nova Scotia’s economic woes: issue high-interest student loans through a private company and then sue any students who can’t pay you back.

John Risley, president of Clearwater Fine Foods, is one of nine highly successful (re: rich) business figures being sent to attend a swank entrepreneurship program at MIT on Dalhousie’s dime.

The university is spending $300,000 USD on the courses—or about $43,000 per attendee. Dalhousie has promised that the fees will be reimbursed—eventually—through private-sector partners, but the news has been highly criticized by students and faculty.

Less commented upon is the news that Risley recently completed a $65.5-million deal to buy the remaining stock he didn’t already own in Massachusetts-based student loan company First Marblehead Corporation. Risley’s FP Resources USA paid $5.05 (US) a share for the stock—about 40 percent above what the company was trading for.

First Marblehead co-founder and CEO Dan Meyers is yachting buddies with Risley. The two used to co-own a 52-metre Royal Huisman named “Meteor.” He's also an investor in Risley’s billion-dollar Bahamas-based internet and cable company, Columbus Communications.

Meyers' (now Risley's) company offers private student loans to American college students who are unable to get federally-backed loans. Private student loans tend to have higher interest rates (which often collect during university), higher fees and a greater cost if the student defaults on their payments.

According to Bloomberg, National Collegiate—one of over two dozen trusts that First Marblehead created over the years to sell student loan bonds—has filed more than 4,000 lawsuits against borrowers since 2011 in just five US states. Writing about the industry in the Huffington Post, attorney Richard Gaudreau called private student loans “the worst debt in America bar none.”

“Private student loans enjoy the same protection from a discharge in bankruptcy as federal loans but offer none of the benefits. The law requiring federal student loan servicers to offer reasonable repayment plans to borrowers in financial trouble does not apply to private student loans. As a result, private student loan servicers can just refuse to work with people, and there’s no law requiring them to change their attitude.”

A 2008 brief by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities tore into the private student loan industry and the “disproportionate harm” it can cause to lower-income borrowers.

“...these students are more likely to attend proprietary institutions and less likely to have parental financial support. If parents do not sign off on a PLUS Loan, and federal and state aid are exhausted, then the student may be driven to the private market. In the private market, if the student does not have a co-signer or has a poor credit history, the loan interest rates can increase significantly”

First Marblehead’s website proclaims itself as a strong proponent of the “smart borrowing” principle, and encourages students to access government loans before applying for private ones. But that hasn’t stopped the company from spending millions of dollars lobbying Washington to fight against bills that would ensure the availability of federal student loans for students during economic downturns.

Speaking to the New York Times in 2007, Meyers said that “If a student can go out and get a subsidized federal loan and it is lower cost...they should do that.”

Risley told the province’s paper-that-shall-not-be-named last week that he bought out First Marblehead for its industry expertise and database of student borrowers.

The company has issued $25 billion in student loans since the 1990s.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

For-profit plasma clinics exploit blood for profit say NDP

Canadian Plasma Resources eyeing Nova Scotia expansion.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2016 at 2:26 PM

Rich veins. - VIA ISTOCK
  • Rich veins.
  • via iStock

Blood is becoming big business in Canada and Nova Scotian veins could be tapped next.

The privately-owned Canadian Plasma Resources has met with provincial government officials in Nova Scotia about opening pay-for-plasma clinics in this province. Canadian Plasma Resources’ CEO confirmed to the NDP that the Liberal government is supportive of the idea.

Dave Wilson, health critic for the NDP, condemned that idea in a press release sent out Friday. Wilson called on Health minister Leo Glavine to take action and prevent private plasma clinics from opening in Nova Scotia.

“Blood should be considered a public resource, not a private one for exploitation and profit,” writes Wilson.

Plasma, the liquid component of the body’s blood that contains red blood cells, is worth a lot of money. Plasma proteins are used in a number of medicinal products, which is where CPR’s bought-blood would be heading.

Annually Canada collects roughly 190,000 litres of plasma through donations. We only need 50,000 litres of that for transfusions, but manufacturing plasma protein products requires 1.1 million litres a year. To meet those needs, “about 885,000 litres of plasma protein products are bought annually from US or European companies.” 

The Saskatchewan-based Canadian Plasma Resources is aiming to tap into that demand and jumpstart Canada's for-profit plasma industry by opening 10 private collection centres across the country.

The first of those started operations last month in Saskatchewan. Patients who are accepted by CPR can donate plasma at most once a week, and are given a $25 Visa gift card for their contribution. Unsurprisingly, this is an attractive offer for low-income or impoverished individuals.

When a similar for-profit clinic tried to open up in Toronto in 2013, Michael McCarthy (former vice-president of the Canadian Hemophilia Society and lead plaintiff for Canadians Affected by Tainted Blood) explained what was at stake to the Toronto Star:

“The location of this Toronto clinic is being proposed next to a homeless shelter—it will be the homeless, the economically challenged and students who will find the $20 fee an attractive incentive upon which to base the decision on whether or not to donate blood...There is no good reason for this policy other than profit at the expense of the poor.”

The World Health Organization has set a goal to eliminate paid blood and plasma donations worldwide by 2020.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Halifax's crime rate dropped nearly 8 percent last year

But homicide, robberies were way up in year-end statistics.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 4:00 AM

The real crime is how expensive groceries are right now. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • The real crime is how expensive groceries are right now.
  • via Facebook

Overall crime is once again down in Halifax, but 2015 saw a dramatic increase in homicides, robberies and traffic violations.

Year-end statistics released by Halifax Regional Police show a nearly eight percent decrease in total Criminal Code offences in 2015 compared to 2014. That includes double-digit drops in attempted murder (by 35 percent), theft under $5,000 (by 15 percent), possession of stolen goods (22 percent), prostitution (12 percent) and offensive weapons (28 percent).

There was also a 19 percent drop in federal drug cases, with 248 fewer charges than in 2014.

While attempted murder was down, homicides were up considerably. Nine people were murdered last year in HRM—a jump of 50 percent from 2014 and equal to the number of murders committed in 2013. But that’s still lower than the 12 homicides in 2012, and far below the 18 murders committed five years ago in 2011. Fatalities police responded to also jumped by 58 percent, or seven cases.

The number of robberies increased last year by over 25 percent (or 42 incidences). Other increases include break and enters (by 2.4 percent), traffic violations (by 8.36 percent) and auto collisions (by 10 percent).

According to numbers from HRP, violent crime dropped by nearly 14 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Assaults, which accounted for 88 percent of violent crimes in the fourth quarter, decreased by 105 incidences (or about 17 percent).

Canada’s crime rate has been steadily falling for the last decade. Statistics Canada says that serious crime in this country is currently at its lowest level since 1969. Meanwhile Canada’s prison population is at an all-time high.

The number of visible minorities in Canadian prisons has also increased by 75 percent in the last decade, though rarely are those inmates locked up for violent crime. According to a months-long investigation by Maclean’s Nancy MacDonald looking into the indigenous prison population, it’s often the result of failures to comply with curfews, conditions of bail or those shackled with Canada’s new mandatory-minimum sentences.

“But the problem isn’t just new laws. Although police ‘carding’ in Toronto has put street checks, which disproportionately target minority populations, under the microscope, neither is racial profiling alone to blame. At every step, discriminatory practices and a biased system work against an indigenous accused, from the moment a person is first identified by police, to their appearance before a judge, to their hearing before a parole board. The evidence is unambiguous: If you happen to be indigenous, justice in Canada is not blind.”

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Journalism project reveals injustice in African Nova Scotian land titles

Families living on land for 200 years without legal ownership.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2016 at 12:15 PM

click image VIA NSCC

Journalism students at the Nova Scotia Community College have produced a damning and in-depth video investigation into Nova Scotia’s failure to offer land titles to longtime North Preston residents.

Called “Untitled,” the video series blends historical research with present-day interviews to trace how the provincial government has ignored its own promise to help Black Loyalists, Maroons and escaped slaves gain legal title to the lands they settled just outside of Halifax. Two hundred years later, some families living in North Preston still don’t have unequivocal title.

The oversight is staggering. It’s prevented centuries of land profiting and leaves some current North Preston families as vulnerable to eviction as the former residents of Africville.

Nova Scotia’s Land Titles Clarification Act was created in part to help residents of North Preston acquire legal title, but “Untitled” shows it to be a flawed process that can cost more than $10,000 to make a claim. Even the province admits to the journalism students that the current system is “challenging.”

A screenshot from "Untitled."
  • A screenshot from "Untitled."

Last summer, residents of North Preston, Dalhousie law student Angela Simmonds and Emma Halpern of the Nova Scotia Barristers Society came together to address the province about the issue. Their efforts are chronicled in the NSCC research project, which broadcast journalism instructor Erin Moore says some 22 students have been working on—in some form or another—since September.

The videos are below, but definitely visit the Untitled site for more information and to see the province’s response.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Here are some pics of pets in the snow

Kind of a quiet day at the office.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2016 at 11:21 AM

Ramona is a perfect. - VIA INSTAGRAM

Halifax (and Dartmouth) still remain mostly shut down as the city digs itself out from last night's snow pounding. Meanwhile, it's pancake Tuesday. So basically there's no reason to get out of bed unless it involves maple syrup and watching animals frolic in the snow. Below are some of our favourite babies.


Gibbs at the park 🐾❄️☃

A photo posted by Gillian Reid (@reidgill19) on

Cheerful Snow day! #dollyandtiger @dollyandtiger

A video posted by Benny Fong (@bennyfong) on

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Friday, February 5, 2016

14 of the best datasets inside Nova Scotia's new open data portal

Provincial government opens some of its books.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 5, 2016 at 4:23 PM

  • via iStock

The province of Nova Scotia has launched its new open data portal, publishing a catalogue of more than 130 datasets now neatly collected and available to download. 

"Open data is one part of our vision for an open and accountable government,” said premier Stephen McNeil in a release. “By making our data widely available, individuals have easier access to the information they can use to understand their government, support their businesses, gain new insights and make new discoveries."


A lot of this information was already available publicly but not collected all in one place or formatted into easy-to-play-around-with datasets. Some of the information is also, well...calling it data is being generous. The calendar dates for Invest Nova Scotia's three board meetings last year probably didn’t need a spreadsheet. Still, there's lots of interesting info available, provided you do some digging. Here’s a surface-level look at some standouts:


Alcohol, Gaming, Fuel & Tobacco Disciplinary Notices
“A summary of recent disciplinary action and related information regarding non-compliant matters that have been brought before the executive director of Alcohol, Gaming, Fuel and Tobacco Division resulting in issuance of a Notice of Proposed Action.” Good for, among other things finding out that Joey’s Convenience in Beaverbank tops the violation list with its 90-day suspension.

Nova Scotia Abandoned Mines Openings
“This digital product is developed from a database of published abandoned mine openings for the province of Nova Scotia...The database provides approximate coordinate locations for many of the abandoned mine openings, and also provides a source reference on each mine opening.”


Unclaimed Estate Funds Database
When individuals die and the heirs are missing and cannot be located, the unclaimed estate funds are transferred to the minister of Finance and the Treasury Board who holds them in a trust for a legislated time limit of 40 years, or until they can be dispersed. “At the end of 40 years, any unclaimed funds can be transferred to general revenues.” The largest unclaimed estate is the $580,000 that once belonged to George Alexander Getley. The smallest? John Henry Foster’s unclaimed $0.79.

Notifiable Disease Counts and Rates 2005-2014
“Overall counts and rates (per 100,000 population) of notifiable diseases reported in Nova Scotia for 2005-2014.” Useful for finding out how many chlamydia infections are out there. Go get tested, people.

Birth and Death Registrations
Birth and death registrations in Nova Scotia began in 1864 and lasted until 1877 (though even those records are incomplete). The province resumed tracking births and deaths in 1908 without any further interruption.

Crown Lands
A spatial dataset of all Crown lands in Nova Scotia (that is, land under the administration and control of Natural Resources as per the Crown Lands Act).


Federal Provincial Contribution Agreements
A dataset including expired as well as active agreements between provincial departments and the federal government. “It is intended as a working document for department staff. As such we do not warrant the completeness or accuracy of the information provided.” It doesn’t include federal transfer payments, however, or cost-shared agreements.

Lobbyist Register
A directory of active, inactive and terminated lobbyists registered in Nova Scotia. This info, like many other datasets, was already online in a fairly-searchable format. But still nice to have here.

New Arrivals at Adult and Youth Correctional Facilities
New arrivals in adult and youth correctional facilities. Counted as intakes only (from non‐custody status to custody, transfer from another jurisdiction, or conditional sentence to custody). “An individual could have more than one new arrival at a correctional facility during a fiscal year. New arrivals do not include the transfer of individuals between correctional facilities within the province.” Nova Scotia has roughly 4,000 new adult correctional arrivals a year.

Nova Scotia Mineral Rights Database
What is it?
A digital project, maintained by the Department of Natural Resources, containing layers for exploration licenses and leases, hydrocarbon storage-area licenses and leases and non-mineral registrations, among others. For those who crave those minerals.


Awarded Public Tenders
“Contains the awarded vendor and amount for government and public sector tenders by entity, vendor, category, start date, end date and awarded date.”

Nova Scotia Top 20 Baby Names 2014
The 20 most popular baby names for 2014 for both male and female babies in Nova Scotia. Liam and Emma were at the top, followed by Benjamin and Olivia. Jacob, sadly, placed ninth.

Nova Scotia Government Employee Absenteeism
Probably the dataset pundits, online commenters and tabloid owners will want to look at the most. “Absences reported by employees during the 2014-2015 fiscal year, by absence date, absence type category, absence type, absence hours, employee type, gender and age cohort on absence date.”

Nova Scotia Climate Change Data
Climate data for regions of Nova Scotia with a 30-year baseline period (1961–1990) and future projections out to the end of the century (2100).

  • Matt Bustin

Other information includes weather data, traffic volumes, civic addresses, fish stocking records and many more. Go take a look yourself and play around. Most columns can be filtered and there’s some in-page visualization tools as well. If you find or develop anything interesting out of the available data be sure to let us know.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Access to justice is more than a buzzword at IDEALaw

Bienniel conference takes place this weekend at Dalhousie.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 10:49 AM


This weekend sees the return of IDEALaw, the student-run justice conference held every two years at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law. Open to the public (admission is by donation), the event brings together both legal professionals and activists to address social problems in Canada’s justice system. Organizer and spokesperson Vinidhra Vaitheeswaran spoke with The Coast about this year’s theme, “access to justice,” and the effect of a conference like IDEALaw on real-world change.


The Coast: Why is "access to justice" this year's theme?
Vinidhra Vaitheeswaran: "The conference in general is about bringing activists and legal communities together, seeing how we can use the law to affect meaningful social change. And access to justice is just an extremely topical issue and something talked about a lot in legal communities. It's kind of a buzz word. So I think what we wanted to say is, let's talk about it in a meaningful way that actually relates to people's experiences."

What do you mean, that it's topical right now in the legal community?
"It's, locally and nationally, reaching a bit of a breaking point where legal services are so expensive. While there's Legal Aid, there's clearly a huge group of people that don't have access to legal services and that intersects with so many other aspects of people's lives. So, we hear about it a lot in school, from a very narrow viewpoint of access to justice being access to lawyers and being able to access the court system, but not from a broader conception of why is it that these barriers exist. It's not simply a barrier of people not being able to afford a lawyer, but barriers of racism and other kind of intersecting barriers of discrimination."

What is the line, with activism and the legal profession? Do those two sides interact a lot other than this conference?
"That's really what this is about, is bringing those two communities together, because I think people are aware of these problems and aren't necessarily sure how to tackle them or see their role in tackling them. We really need them both to work together to really see some change."

You're a law student, and on the board of East Coast Environmental Law. Just personally, what draws you to justice as a field and these issues of inequality?
"It's why I came to law school; being an advocate for people who don't necessarily have access. Particularly, I played a big part in organizing the socioeconomics barriers to justice panel, because I think that's a very important conversation to be having. These issues absolutely are national and particularly pertinent to Nova Scotia and Halifax."

What are you hoping those who attend the conference take from these sessions?
"I hope people make and develop connections. The reason we designed this conference to be open to the public is there are already all sorts of professional development opportunities for legal professionals to kind of sit and reflect back to each other the issues we need to work out. But unless they're connecting with community members, I think that's where you can see some movement and change. I think that will be the biggest thing, for people to connect and to be able to talk about their specific issues."


IDEALaw itinerary—Friday, February 4
Paul O'Regan Hall, Halifax Central Library

7pmKeynote speech
The Honorable Mr. Justice Thomas Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada and opening reception.

Saturday, February 6
All panels take place in Room 105 of the Weldon Law Building, at Dalhousie University

8:30amOpening remarks

8:40-10amSocioeconomic Barriers to Justice: The Social Determinants of Justice
Speakers: Vince Calderhead (NS Legal Aid), Kasari Govender (executive director West Coast LEAF, UBC Law), Shawna Hoyte, Q.C. (Dalhousie Legal Aid Service) and Kaitlyn Mitchell (Ecojustice)

10:10-11:30amAccess to Justice in the Criminal System: Miscarriages of Justice, Wrongful Convictions and Beyond
Speakers: El Jones (former Halifax Poet Laureate), Sean MacDonald, Chief Paul (PJ) Prosper (Mi’kma’ki All Points Services), Justice David P.S. Farrar (Nova Scotia Court of Appeal)

11:40am-1pmNonhuman Animal Justice: Litigating a Better Future for Access to Justice
Speakers: Lesli Bisgould (University of Toronto Law, Legal Aid Ontario), Chief Justice Catherine A. Fraser (Chief Justice of Alberta), Camille Labchuk (Animal Justice Canada)

2-3:30pmCyber Justice: The Internet as a Tool for Access to Justice
Speakers: Dr. Pam Palmater (chair of Indigenous Governance, Ryerson University), Xavier Beauchamp-Tremblay (Canadian Legal Information Institute), David Fraser (McInnis Cooper), Benjamin Vandorpe (president and founder of Justice Trans)

3:30-4:50pmImmigration and Refugee Law: Breaking Down Barriers for Immigrants and Asylum Seekers
Speakers: Lee Cohen (Halifax Refugee Clinic), Alex Neve (Amnesty International Canada), Francisco Rico-Martinez (Co-Director of the FCJ Refugee Centre), Katie Tinker (Halifax Refugee Clinic)

4:50pmClosing remarks by Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Nova Scotia wants a new seafood brand

Cool logo will offer a “competitive advantage in key global markets.”

Posted By on Mon, Feb 1, 2016 at 7:27 PM

The only DMs I want to slide into are this brand's delicious meats. - VIA NS TOURISM
  • The only DMs I want to slide into are this brand's delicious meats.
  • via NS Tourism

It seems even lobsters need help with their branding.

The province has issued a request for proposals for a new Nova Scotia seafood brand. The department of Fisheries and Aquaculture will use the winning logo in international markets and presumably to generate buzz with millennials.

“Nova Scotia’s seafood sector needs geographical branding that gives our product an assurance of distinctiveness attributable to its origin,” reads the government document. Establishing a new fish and seafood brand will “give us a competitive advantage in key global markets such as Asia, Eastern Europe and the United States.”

To do that, the branding must be clear and “convincingly distinct,” while also conveying our “greatest advantages and selling features.” Those are, according to the RFP document, our global reputation for sustainable products, the geographical advantages that make for “ease of shipping and logistics” and, of course, our “exceptional taste and premium quality.”

“Nova Scotia fish and seafood is naturally delicious for the simple reason—the best seafood comes from the clean and coldest waters.”

It should also have a maple leaf jammed in there someplace—to better account for Canada’s “globally recognized” international reputation for quality.

The tender documents note that fish and seafood make up Nova Scotia’s largest export commodity, accounting for $1.3 billion in 2014. Almost $450 million of that was from live lobsters, which have been the subject of previous brand crises. 

Former fisheries minister Gail Shea was trumpeting a better Canadian seafood branding last spring after attending the international seafood expo. The Maritimes provinces have also debated a new lobster levy to promote, in part, a Canadian lobster brand. 

The global seafood market has been booming in recent years due to increased demand from Asia. Last year, reporter Aaron Beswick quoted Clearwater Seafoods manager Catherine Boyd that the company’s sales were up 19 percent to Asia in the past year, and 15 percent to Europe. Likewise, Selena Ross reported for CBC that cargo flights of as much as 100,000 kilograms in live lobster were leaving weekly from Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

“Live lobster exports to Asia went up 428 percent in the past five years,” Ross writes.

Lobsters are especially popular for the Chinese New Year (coming up on Monday, February 8). The foodies at Business Insider say the preferred way for the Chinese to enjoy lobster “is to cook it in plain water and then dip the pieces in soy sauce and wasabi. Another popular way is to braise it with green bean vermicelli noodles in garlic sauce.”

The current @NSSeafoods brand is a guy named Lenny.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Province looking for public input on this year's budget

Finance minister Randy Delorey is taking your calls.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2016 at 2:17 PM


This should go well.

Starting immediately, the Nova Scotian public can share their thoughts with the Liberal government about this year’s provincial budget and how to shape future budgets, taking part in what will assuredly be a discussion marked by polite decorum.

“I want Nova Scotians to share their ideas on how to restore the province's fiscal health," writes Finance and Treasury Board minister Randy Delorey in a press release. "Getting to more sustainable finances will give us a solid foundation to make investments that mean the most to Nova Scotians in the years to come. I encourage you to take advantage of the various ways you can participate. I hope to hear from you."

Now, it’s unlikely that you, your loved ones, your coworkers, your friends or literally anyone on the street who you’ll pass today has any strong feelings about where the government should put its money. You’re probably too busy working on films in another province, or reenacting Silent Hill at the VG.

But if you do have a few minutes to spare, Delorey will host two interactive video question-and-answer sessions on Monday, February 1 (at 3:45pm) and Wednesday, February 10 (at 7pm) which will be broadcast live. Questions can be submitted over Twitter and Facebook, and the minister promises to answer “as many as possible.”

The sessions can be watched at the province’s Facebook page.

Other ways you can yell at the provincial government include through email (, by phoning 1-844-358-7514 (starting Monday) or tweeting at @NSFinance.

Just like that.

The deadline to provide feedback is February 26. More budget info can be found right here.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Just how busy are the King Street station firefighters?

The fire chief wants volunteers in Dartmouth. Is he wrong?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2016 at 3:17 PM

...Well, it's been so long, and I've been putting out fire with gasoline; putting out the fire with gasoline... - VIA ISTOCK
  • ...Well, it's been so long, and I've been putting out fire with gasoline; putting out the fire with gasoline...
  • via iStock

The proposal from Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency chief Doug Trussler to staff volunteers at the King Street fire station on nights and weekends has not gone without criticism.

Downtown Dartmouth residents (among others in HRM) are strongly opposed to changes that they say will leave the dense urban centre vulnerable. Trussler and HRFE argue the opposite; that this is the best and safest allocation of HRM's limited resources.

It's a complex, emotionally-charged issue. There’s no doubt every second counts when it comes to putting out a fire, but just how needed are the firefighters on King Street?

According to data supplied by the city (which we’ve embedded below), the King Street fire station receives about 330 calls in the course of an average year (in their district). Most of those are accidents, false alarms and investigations. There were only four calls over the last three years involving major structural fires, and 17 calls in the same period for minor structural fires. When all fire calls are grouped together (including appliance, electrical, forest and vandalism), they only account for about 11 percent of what King Street's firefighters roll out on.

That's just in their own district, though. Trussler has told the media that 73 percent of King Street’s calls are to backup firefighters from other stations. According to HRM, in 2015 the station rolled out on 650 calls for service outside their jurisdiction (compared to 324 within).

The nearby Highfield Drive station gets double the calls King Street responds to—717 in 2015 compared to King Street's 324. Lady Hammond Road’s station in Halifax averages about 300 calls a year, while Patton Road in Sackville usually receives under 50.

A quick refresher: Last spring chief Doug Trussler came to council with recommendations to close several urban and rural fire stations that HRFE considered redundant. Public outcry and Matt Whitman’s impassioned pleas eventually caused council to vote down that proposal and ask Trussler for alternative staffing solutions.

The result is this new plan which will staff two urban stations—King Street in Dartmouth and Lady Hammond Road in Halifax—with volunteers on nights and weekends.

Trussler tells CBC Radio that “after extensive analysis and confirmation from three different studies, it was very clear that there was an overlapping coverage in a number of our areas, which isn’t a good use of resources.”

A third station, Patton Road in Lower Sackville, will move to an all-volunteer roster. But really it's King Street everyone’s angry about.

 Last week, nearly 200 people showed up to a fiery community meeting in Dartmouth to criticize Trussler and his plan (the chief wasn’t invited). Hundreds have signed a petition against the changes. Opposing voices include city councillors, retired politicians, the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, fire dispatchers, developers, musicians and the firefighters’ union.

Joel Plaskett, no stranger to petitioning council given the status down at the Khyber, wrote an open letter to the municipality after attending last week’s meeting. He’s not a fan of the proposed changes.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees and fires don’t put themselves out, so meeting somewhere in the middle is the job of bureaucrats and council. Having said that, there is only so far you can carve something up before it ceases to be effective and I believe that in a growing city we need to grow our services, not just shuffle them around from one neighbourhood to the next.”

At issue is whether a rotating volunteer “night crew” can hope to respond as quickly and professionally to calls in a growing area of dense development like downtown Dartmouth. Developer Francis Fares argues Trussler’s changes run counter to the downtown revitalization symbolized in his King’s Wharf investment.

“I understand that Council has no interest in compromising the safety of citizens,” Fares writes in an open email sent to council and shared with the media. “However, I urge that further consideration be given to the changes to the fire service...Private investments such as King’s Wharf should be supported by reliable and sufficient services such as adequate fire and emergency protection.”

Trussler and HRFE say the reallocations would still easily allow firefighters to hit their target of responding to a fire within five minutes, 90 percent of the time. The department commissioned three independent studies which back up this claim.

 The firefighters’ union rebuts those studies with a report of their own, prepared by the International Association of Firefighters in Washington.

Go ahead and read all the info for yourself, but we’re getting down into some pretty technical mapping details and hypotheticals to try and determine the outcome of least damage.

There are a lot of numbers, and a lot of potential scenarios for tragedies that may or may not ever occur. We don't know, as of right now, when fires are most likely to occur, for example (which could strengthen or weaken the case for volunteers on evenings and weekends).

One way or another the decision will rest with Regional Council, who debate the future of HRM’s firefighting service tomorrow at City Hall.

Download info here.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Everything residents are calling 311 to complain about

What we’re mad about in Halifax.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2016 at 6:15 PM

Photos via 2_canadians, Halifax Transit, Lenny Mullins and HRM.


Just how bad was last winter’s snow-clearing? Bad enough that 15 percent of all calls to 311 were requests for plowing, salting and sanding roads. That’s by far the largest segment of the roughly 95,000 calls 311‘s call centre received from HRM residents from January through to August last year. Residents also phoned 311 more than 2,000 times over the first six months of the year to report damage from heavy snowfall. 

People also weren’t too happy about Halifax Transit. Residents of the HRM phoned 3,979 times to complain about the transit authority. That’s including 1,178 calls complaining about driver behaviour. Other issues included buses missing stops (445 calls), being “consistently late” (97 calls), Go Time issues (106 calls) and overloaded vehicles (30 calls). During the same period, there were 413 compliments phoned in about Halifax Transit. 

Another big issue for residents of the municipality was garbage collection. A total of 5,326 organic waste carts were requested in the first half of 2015. Green bins were also reported as not being collected 1,221 times. Residents similarly phoned in complaints about waste haulers missing the collection of blue bag recyclables 1,630 times, regular garbage 1,700 times and entire streets 492 times.

There were 2,055 complaints about unsightly properties in the first half of last year. Calls about litter on city streets, sidewalks, parks and fields were phoned in 1,260 times. Illegally parked and abandoned vehicles were reported to 311 more than 7,500 times in the same period. Nineteen calls were placed to report abandoned shopping carts on HRM or government property.

Some of the most common inquiries made to 311 were about animals. There were 3,059 license renewal and tag payment calls made from January to August of last year. Animal Services was called for on 2,021 separate occasions. Lost animals were reported 684 times; dead animals on HRM right-of-way were phoned in 354 times; and rodents (including rats, beavers, “et cetera”) were complained about in sewers or homes 103 times. Also, the grass length at city parks, playgrounds, fields and open space (something HRM struggled with over the summer) was complained about 1,074 times.

Land-use zoning inquiries were phoned in 3,228 times in the first half of last year. In the same period, pot holes were reported 2,555 times, and 2,791 calls were made about problems with city streetlights (being burnt out, flashing and exposed wires, amongst other problems). Noise complaints were phoned in just 147 times to 311 in the first six months of 2015.


Below you can view the assembled documents, released by HRM to The Coast, including call types and average days of completion. The municipality’s 311 call centre is located in the Eric Spicer building in Dartmouth. Residents anywhere in HRM can call in more than 150 languages to access municipal information, inquire about services or file complaints about HRM operations. The service also accepts emails and web submissions.

It currently employs 36 full-time agents and supervisors. At peak times, there are typically 16 to 18 agents answering calls and assigning one of 305 database codes to the approximately 450,000 annual calls they receive.

This year, to better be ready for what winter has in store, 311’s antiquated phone system has been replaced. Though 311 is looking to replace its antiquated phone system, the new system won’t be in place until 2017. Spokesperson Jennifer Stairs let The Coast know the RFP just closed and HRM is just starting to review proposals. The recommendation will then need to go to Council for approval. The more modern call management system will reduce wait times, increase capacity and ease travel burden on staff by letting them take phone calls from home if the weather’s bad.

with files from Bill McEwen

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Doctor who? Meet the saviour of HRM's clocks

Dartmouth town clock undergoing some overdue upgrades.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 26, 2015 at 4:00 AM

David Francis, AKA Doctor Clock, in his Bilby Street workshop.
  • David Francis, AKA Doctor Clock, in his Bilby Street workshop.

Dartmouth is a timeless land—unfettered by chronological confines, adrift in the void.

That town clock by Alderney Gate is busted.

Spokesperson Jennifer Stairs says HRM was made aware of the temporal malfunction in early October. The drive mechanism inside has failed and needs replacing. As happens whenever a timepiece needs maintenance, the municipality has once again turned to Doctor Clock.

The Alderney Gate public clock.
  • The Alderney Gate public clock.

Doctor Clock, AKA David Francis, is the horologist who services all of the city’s timepieces. Francis and his team will be building a new drive system for the machine over the next few weeks. They hope to have time restored to Dartmouth around mid-December.

“Every one one of these is a unique job,” Francis says. “There are other four-sided street clocks around, maybe, but all of them have their own idiosyncrasies.”

Doctor Clock has serviced the Alderney Gate timepiece since it was first installed in 1988. Twice a year someone from the shop would go out and manually reset the hour for Daylight Savings. Once it’s repaired, the clock’s new multi-drive system will automatically update the time and keep the clock working during power outages.

Francis says no one will notice the difference inside, but the retrofit is long overdue. “We’re not driving crank-up cars anymore,” he says. “We’re just going to bring the thing into the 21st century.”

Over the past two years, HRM has spent $7,100 on maintenance and parts for the Alderney Gate clock. That doesn’t include any costs related to repair work over the next few weeks.

According to Doctor Clock, the size of a clock makes no difference in how it’s repaired.

“She’s either tall or she’s short,” he says, “but all the parts are the same.”

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Halifax Water finally releases map of hydrants and catch basins

Municipality slightly more prepared for another winter from hell.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 11, 2015 at 5:37 PM

Gotta catch 'em all!
  • Gotta catch 'em all!

Good new for those civic-minded folks aching to do a little more shoveling this winter—HRM Halifax Water has provided a way to locate the blocked catch basins and fire hydrants in your neighbourhood.

During last winter's snowpocalypse, helpful citizens wanted to dig out buried hydrants and clear obstructed catch basins in an unprecedented show of civic pride. But Halifax Water refused to make public a map showing hydrant locations because terrorists.

“We’re not going to give people ideas of how you can potentially sabotage the systems,” spokesperson James Campbell told CBC at the time. “We’re not going to identify for anybody where any of our critical infrastructure is.”

Instead, crews worked 24 hours a day for 10 weeks straight in the small window between extreme storms to clear drains and critical hydrants, along with sidewalks and roads. Those noble efforts helped Winter Operations spend more than $10 million over its budget.

With this new map, Halifax Water appears to have changed its mind. Any HRM resident (or terrorist) can now search through street addresses to find nearby catch basins and fire hydrants on the utility’s interactive site.

That’s about all you can do, though. The terms of use forbid anyone from copying, modifying or creating any derivative works from the map. Also, no one can distribute or publicly display any content obtained from this public map of public infrastructure without prior written consent. 

So, posting that image at the top of this article might be illegal. Sorry?

Any damaged, clogged or obstructed hydrants and catch basins can be reported directly to Halifax Water’s customer service line (902-490-4820). Catch basin clogs can be reported to HRM by dialling 311.

Winter will officially begin on December 22, and last until June.

UPDATE: As noted below, HRM is the one responsible for clearing catch basins. Halifax Water is responsible for damaged or tampered-with catch basins, and keeping hydrants clear.

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