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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Halifax scrubs rubber ferry tub toy tender

Nobody bothered to bid on pilot project for tiny Halifax Transit playthings.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 5:24 PM

You know, for kids. - THE COAST
  • You know, for kids.

Hope you didn’t have ‘rubber ferry tub toy’ on your wish list this year. Plans for bathtub toys shaped like Halifax Transit ferries are dead in the water.

The transit authority was toying with the idea of selling the keepsakes to residents and tourists for five or six bucks a pop, and issued a tender back in April for 1,000 of the playthings to test out as a pilot project.

That request for proposals came up dry. Municipal spokesperson Tiffany Chase confirms there were no bidders. Halifax’s procurement team did phone up a promotional company looking for a price quote, says Chase, which came in at $16 per unit with a minimum order of 5,000 (or $80,000 total).

“We were hoping to sell them just to break even, so we didn’t move forward on ordering them as we felt the price point was too high for such an item,” writes Chase in an email.

“It’s possible we may revisit the design in future to see if the cost per unit could be reduced to provide a more acceptable price for consumers.”

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Doula service resumes at women’s prison

Nova Institution for Women welcomes back volunteer health workers who Correctional Service Canada says were never locked out to begin with.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 16, 2016 at 7:58 PM

The Nova Institution for Women, pictured in 1997 because that's the most recent photo CSC had on its website. - VIA CSC
  • The Nova Institution for Women, pictured in 1997 because that's the most recent photo CSC had on its website.
  • via CSC

Inmates at the women’s prison in Truro once again have access to doulas after inexplicably being denied the volunteer support service for the past several months.

“Thanks to extensive media coverage, Women's Wellness Within [WWW] has been contacted by management at Nova Institution for Women and we hope to resume working with women who require our services immediately,” reads a press release sent out late Wednesday.

A different release, sent out earlier this week by WWW, said volunteer doulas haven’t been inside the Nova Institution since May.

Correctional Service Canada spokesperson Shelley Lawrence disputes those claims. In an emailed statement, Lawrence writes that the doula services were not cancelled or discontinued at Nova.

“If an inmate requests to meet with a doula, Nova staff will make the necessary arrangements,” Lawrence writes. “Nova Institution is very supportive of having this voluntary service available to the women.”

Martha Paynter, with WWW, says that’s at odds with the experiences of her volunteers. She says last year every pregnant inmate was referred to the doula service, with one prisoner being seen every day for two months. The Elizabeth Fry Society, she adds, even learned of one inmate whose due date was this week and “had never been informed about the doula program.”

“I guess one of the questions is have these pregnant women been informed of the doula services?” says Paynter on Tuesday. “Silence is a response, in and of itself.”

Of course, that was then and this is now Follow-up questions sent on Tuesday to CSC regarding the discrepancies between Paynter’s and Correctional Service’s accounts about what’s been happening the last several months were not answered by Lawrence before publication.

“I am still waiting for some information,” the spokesperson writes Wednesday evening over email. “I will let you know as soon as I have a response.”

Women's Wellness Within is composed of midwives and volunteer doulas from the IWK and partners with the Elizabeth Fry Society (amongst other organizations) to provide pre- and post-natal support for female inmates at the Nova Institution and the Central Nova Correctional Facility in Burnside.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Dal's sexual assault helpline received 17 “legitimate” calls last year

University-funded service isn't a numbers game, says student union VP: “It's about knowing someone is there to listen.”

Posted By on Thu, Nov 3, 2016 at 4:00 AM


An internal review by the Dalhousie Student Union of its Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line project found a total of 57 calls made in the 2015-16 academic school year—17 of which were recorded as “legitimate.”

The report, released under a Freedom of Information request, says there were two repeat callers in that 17. The remaining tally was composed of 13 wrong numbers, seven missed calls, 17 hang-ups and 14 referrals to other services. The report also notes there was a two-week period in March where the service was unknowingly inoperable.

“The phone line was never about the number of calls we received,” says DSU vice-president (internal) Rhiannon Makohoniuk. “It’s about knowing someone is there to listen.”

The DSU says the phone line has trained over 100 people in responding to sexualized violence, and received over 200 letters of support, forwarded to Dalhousie president Richard Florizone. Usage statistics weren’t previously disclosed because Makohoniuk says “the DSU did not want the conversation about the phone line to be about the numbers, but a conversation about systemic and ongoing issues of sexual assault on campus.”

It’s unclear how many sexual assaults happen on Halifax campuses, and thus hard to judge how effective the phone line was from its call volume alone. A CBC story in 2015 found 38 reported sexual assaults at Dalhousie University over a four-year period. Canadian universities don’t have to track or publish stats on sexual assaults.

“We know that one-fifth of women are sexually assaulted during their time at university; we know the highest number of assaults happen within the first eight weeks of school; and we also know that racialized, Indigenous, trans and queer students—among others—experience assault at even higher rates,” says Makohoniuk. “Women are harassed every day, and our call volume does not reflect any of that.”

Students at Dalhousie started the 24-hour phone line for survivors of sexual assault last September. The university offered $30,000 in funding for the pilot project, or about half its estimated operating costs. Actual operating costs only came out to $45,000, causing Dal to drop its funding for this school year to $22,500 instead of the full $60,000 requested by DSU.

The student union turned that money down, claiming that accepting it would mean “we wouldn’t be able to hold [Dal] to account.” A condensed phone service, operating daily from noon until midnight for the first eight weeks of school, shut down on November 3.

A spokesperson for Dalhousie says the school remains strongly committed to combatting sexual violence on campus, and that the phone line was one of many support services available to students.

Ed: An earlier version of this story stated Dalhousie declined to provide its data for CBC's 2015 investigation. That's been corrected above.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Good Robot and Islamic centre talk it out

Both parties plan to have regular meetings in the future.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2016 at 11:29 AM

The formal complaint against Good Robot Brewing has been withdrawn, much to the relief of co-owner Josh Counsil.

“We’re optimistic moving forward,” says Counsil, following a teleconference with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

The Centre for Islamic Development filed a complaint against the bar in September, and media coverage was followed by a nasty trial in the court of public opinion. However, both parties met in person on Sunday to discuss the problems.

On Thursday, Good Robot posted a statement on its Facebook and Twitter about the aftermath.

“We never sought the public attention and tone that emerged in a matter that should have been a private and respectful discussion between neighbours,” reads the statement, a joint effort between Good Robot and the centre.

“We were able to collectively develop a list of steps that will be taken to improve the relationship and plan to reconvene regularly to ensure our mutual goals are being met,” it continues. “We look forward to strengthening our future as good neighbours.”

Counsil isn’t comfortable going into the specifics, but he’s willing to talk about one of the 12 steps.

“When the beer garden re-opens in the spring, we are going to employ a door-person to work at the front of the garden,” he says. The hope is that the person will make sure no one causes problems for Good Robot patrons or the surrounding businesses.

Counsil says many of the issues were due to communication breakdown—someone from the centre would talk to a staff member in person, for example, but that message wouldn’t get passed on to any of the owners.

“Any of the individual complaints weren’t being heard,” explains Counsil. “So, it was a big clarification session essentially, followed by a ‘get to know your neighbour’ meeting.”

For Zia Khan, the director of the Islamic centre, having a bar beside a place of worship will “never ever be a good fit.”

“Definitely, for the future, we would want them to find different location,” says Khan, but it’s never been their goal to get Good Robot evicted.

“Personally, there’s nothing acrimonious between us.”

One thing is clear: the two establishments will remain side by side for the time being.

“If we want to meditate, you should also allow us to meditate,” says Khan. “If you want to drink, you should also be allowed to drink.”

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Fliss Cramman's shackles removed

“We have a voice, and when we use the media and we use our voices, we can achieve justice,” said El Jones at rally for the hospitalized mother of four.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 12:31 PM

Jones (centre) leads protesters at the rally outside the Dartmouth General on Thursday evening. - KIERAN LEAVITT
  • Jones (centre) leads protesters at the rally outside the Dartmouth General on Thursday evening.

The mood was somber and supportive, but the tone indignant, as poet El Jones led a rally for the rights of Fliss Cramman, who was shackled to her hospital bed while recovering from surgery.

Jones posted a call to arms on Facebook earlier this week in order to rally people to the Dartmouth General hospital on Thursday evening. A group of about 30 people came together in support of Cramman, a permanent resident of Canada who came over from England when she was eight years old and now faces deportation.

“We have a voice, and when we use the media and we use our voices, we can achieve justice,” said Jones, about Crammon’s shackles finally being removed on order of Justice minister Diana Whalen.

The public outpouring of support did its job but more still needs to be done, said Jones.

“It’s not just one woman’s case, obviously the shackling was horrific, but there are so many other injustices that are happening,” she said.

Supporters at the rally wanted the public to know that Cramman was a victim of systemic injustice that plagues women all over Canada.

“She had a conviction. She served her time fully. She is one of us,” said Martha Paynter, chair of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund in Halifax.

Jones, Paynter, and those gathered at the rally stressed that even though Cramman has been unshackled, there remains a need to come together about how people in detention are being treated.

Jones calls it “disturbing” that someone simply detained by police can be shackled. She wants the laws changed to avoid any future recovering hospital patients being handcuffed to their beds.

“We need changes to the law so that no child, ever, comes to Canada and is at risk of being deported. When you come to Canada you are our child now. We take care of you,” said Paynter.

The deportation of Cramman could still be on the table for the Immigration and Refugee Board. Cramman is still too sick to leave the care of her physicians, who have said that she needs at least 18 months of recovery time.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

5,500 Video Difference movies purchased by Dalhousie and Halifax Libraries

The ‘hard-to-find’ titles will soon be available for anyone in Nova Scotia to borrow.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 10:21 AM


In a post-credits stinger worthy of any superhero blockbuster, Halifax Public Libraries and Dalhousie University have swooped in to purchase 5,500 hard-to-find films from Video Difference’s collection.

The news comes just a day after the Quinpool Road and Bedford Highway landmark stopped renting movies after 34 years of business.

“We’ve seen great enthusiasm across Dal in pulling this innovative initiative together,” said university librarian Donna Bourne-Tyson in a press release. “It’s clear this collection holds great meaning not just to our students and faculty, but to film lovers in Halifax and beyond.”

The libraries’ collection experts selected Video Difference’s American Film Institute and British Film Institute collections for purchase, along with numerous documentaries and a substantial amount of British and international television box sets.

“We really looked for what were those really interesting, unique items that we wanted to allow the community to have access to,” says Halifax Public Libraries CEO Åsa Kachan, herself a regular Video Difference customer.

“I originally come from Sweden, and what I loved being able to do at Video Difference was hear about a new [TV] series that was acclaimed and being able to get it.”

Dalhousie, meanwhile, is buying 1,000 movies in subject areas supporting its classes. According to the university, that includes silent films, along with French and Spanish cinema, and films from Ireland, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand.

Halifax Public Libraries is spending $100,000 to purchase its 4,500 titles. Dalhousie has raised an additional $25,000 for the remainder, and is crowdfunding for more support.

While Video Difference already had a pretty intricate drop-off system through HRM, the collection’s new public owners means the 5,500 titles will be available to anyone in Nova Scotia.

“Basically what will happen is the collection is shared,” says Kasia Morrison, spokesperson for HPL. “So even people outside of Halifax can access the title to borrow.”

The packing and moving of the films is already underway. Plans for when and where the titles will be available to the public (presumably along with a list of titles being saved) are still in development.

The bulk purchase still only accounts for less than 14 percent of Video Difference’s 40,000 titles. Starting on Saturday, the remaining inventory inside the stores will be liquidated to the public.


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Thursday, July 28, 2016

No cooling-off period in new CAO’s contract

Jacques Dubé has a verbal agreement with the mayor to not go work for developers.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2016 at 1:03 PM

Chief administrative officer and sharply dressed man, Jacques Dubé - VIA FACEBOOK
  • Chief administrative officer and sharply dressed man, Jacques Dubé
  • via Facebook

Halifax is hoping that Jacques Dubé is a man of his word.

The municipality’s new chief administrative officer doesn’t have a cooling-off period written into his employment agreement. 
Instead, Dubé has a verbal agreement with HRM promising not to work in the development industry after he’s done at city hall.

“We’re told legally that’s a very difficult thing because of the broad range of services a city’s involved in,” says mayor Mike Savage, “but he’s committed to me he won’t go work in the development industry in Halifax when he leaves his job.”

The former Moncton city manager was announced as Halifax’s newest CAO on Wednesday. He’ll replace former CAO Richard Butts, who infamously left city hall at the end of last year to become president of Clayton Developments.

Butts’ career change from top municipal bureaucrat to head of one of HRM’s largest development firms was met with sharp criticism from city councillors and members of the public.

At the time, Savage told reporters that a ‘cooling-off’ or buffer period would be looked at as part of the next CAO’s employment agreement to prevent a similar exit in the future.

That option was considered, confirms Savage, but ultimately dropped.

“It would be very difficult to say ‘You can’t go to any place the city does business with,’” says the mayor. “There virtually is nothing in the city that the city doesn’t have business with. I’ve asked for more information from legal on it, but in the meantime I’ve raised it with him verbally and he’s assured me he won’t go to the development industry when he finishes.”

HRM’s legal department is still looking into writing the non-compete clause into Dubé’s contract, says Savage, but the municipality wanted to “get the offer out the door.”

Dubé’s employment agreement does come with updated confidentiality clauses, prohibiting him from using any confidential information acquired during his time with HRM even after he leaves the job.

“The CAO cannot use that information (regardless of whether it is the municipality’s information or information belonging to a third party) for personal benefit or to the benefit of any other party,” explains manager of public affairs Breton Murphy via email. “Likewise any information acquired during the CAO’s tenure cannot be used to the detriment of any party.”

Murphy says previous CAOs also had a confidentiality clause in their employment agreements, but it’s been strengthened in the wake of Butts’ departure.

“It’s been made more robust, to just ensure that confidentiality is clear.”

Dubé starts his new job on September 12. Municipal solicitor John Traves will continue filling in as acting CAO until that time.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Council couldn’t have stopped Honda expansion says information report

“Homes Not Hondas” seemingly over before it began.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 3:49 PM

Hondas beat homes. - THE COAST
  • Hondas beat homes.

It’s largely too little, too late now, but an information item before city council says HRM wouldn’t have been able to stop Rob Steele’s parking lot proliferation even if it tried.

The report originates from a petition signed by more than 1,000 community members that was brought to council back on May 10. It was a civic attempt to stop Colonial Honda owner Rob Steele from demolishing 17 residential properties on Fern Lane, McCully Street and May Street to make way for an expanded dealership.

Signees of the petition had asked HRM to explore options preventing that destruction in order to maintain the neighbourhood’s residential character. Council didn't take any of those actions, but it did ask for a staff report addressing some of the community's concerns on how this happened and what could have been done to stop it. Turns out, not all that much.

“Prohibiting the demolition of privately owned buildings and the expansion of the existing car dealership is not possible given the existing authority held by Regional Council,” says the document, prepared by planning applications manager Carl Purvis.

All of the property around the Honda dealership is zoned for commercial use, and Steele, as-of-right, is free to turn a two-storey home into extra asphalt showroom space. If the city had intervened, Purvis suggests Steele would have grounds to take legal action.

“Canadian case law (Boyd Builders case [1965] S.C.R. 408) provides that the owner of the existing auto dealership enjoys certain prima facie rights to utilize their recently acquired lands in a manner consistent with the rules under which permits were originally issued,” reads the info item. “As such, the existing development rights afforded to the property owner cannot be removed in this manner.”

The municipality was also in no position of authority to do anything about Steele’s demolition permits. The Charter allows council to intervene in the demolition of heritage properties only. The municipality doesn’t “and cannot” address issues like the fabric of the community, architectural merit or future proposed developments on non-heritage sites scheduled for demolition.

Oddly, even when HRM can prohibit the demolition of a registered heritage property, Nova Scotia’s Heritage Property Act says the owner only has to wait three years and then they're free to tear the structure down.

“Where the municipality does not approve the application, the property owner may, notwithstanding Section 17, make the alteration or carry out the demolition at any time after three years from the date of the application but not more than four years after the date of the application.”

Purvis concludes that the Centre Plan—HRM’s new development bible that’s expected to be brought to council by end of 2016—will provide solutions for altering existing out-of-date bylaws and making sure future residential neighbourhoods don’t suddenly find themselves in the middle of a car lot.

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Economy Shoe Shop joins legal action against the Nova Centre

Victor Syperek would also like some compensation from the city, thank you very much.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 4, 2016 at 1:08 PM

The Economy Shoe Shop sign on Argyle Street. - THE COAST
  • The Economy Shoe Shop sign on Argyle Street.
  • The Coast

It’s now five downtown businesses that are taking legal action against the government over lost revenues from the Nova Centre’s construction.

Wagners law firm announced on Monday that the Economy Shoe Shop on Argyle Street will join the Carleton, Wooden Monkey, Attica and Biscuit General Store in seeking compensation for losses suffered due to the prolonged construction of the $500-million development.

The municipal, provincial and federal governments (who are jointly-funding the Nova Centre’s build) have all received notice from Wagners, along with Argyle Developments Inc., parent company Rank Inc. and the Halifax Convention Centre Corporation. Wagners writes in a press release that if those parties are unwilling to negotiate a compensation figure, the firm will seek a ruling of “injurious affection” from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, under the province’s Expropriation Act.

Injurious affection claims can apply both when a landowner’s property is expropriated, and when the land isn’t taken but there are still personal or business damages resulting from construction.

The municipality is fighting Wagners' interpretation, though. Spokesperson Tiffany Chase told the media last week that the Act only applies “if the government is undertaking the construction activity” and so HRM’s legal team believes the downtown business owners' claims have no legal basis.

There’s no exact monetary figure the group is looking for, but Wagners representative Erin Gillis previously told The Coast it’s likely to be in the range of “hundreds of thousands of dollars per business.”

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Police board orders a decade of audits released to the public

Commissioners annoyed to have to read about problems in The Coast.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 7:00 PM

  • The Coast

Halifax’s Board of Police Commissioners wants 10 years worth of internal audits from the police department released to the public, mostly so they don’t have to read any more embarrassing reports about themselves in the press.

At a special meeting held Thursday afternoon, the board listened to HRP chief Jean-Michel Blais, deputy chief Bill Moore and Criminal Investigation Division superintendent Jim Perrin try to explain away the results of a damning internal audit that found reams of lost drugs, cash and other evidence missing from inside police headquarters.

The department maintain the exhibits are actually misplaced—a result of clerical errors when officers input paperwork. But some board members were more concerned about how the audit came to light through a Freedom of Information request, and not from the chief of police.

“I’m not sure I should be finding these things out because of a FOIPOP request,” commissioner Jeff Mitchell said to Blais. “I wonder if there needs to be a process that includes more than just your internal discussions.”

The municipality’s Board of Police Commissioners held the hastily assembled meeting in response to last week’s cover story investigation by The Coast.

Virtually all of the information received by this paper and published on June 23 was assembled last fall, but chief Blais told the board that the audit wasn’t completely finalized until June 21.

That allowed time for a secondary search of evidence vaults which dropped the original percentages of missing items down from nearly 90 percent for drugs exhibits in CID and 55 percent for seized cash to just over half of the drugs and about a third of the money still unaccounted for. The cops have a four-person team conducting another search of their vaults to try and bring the missing exhibits in the audit sample down to zero.

Deputy chief Bill Moore originally told this paper last fall the audit would not likely ever be released to the public unless specifically asked for, nor presented to the board unless the results showed something important. In his interview with me last week, superintendent Perrin clarified what separated a “finalized” report from a “draft” copy.

“I guess it’s a draft until the chief says he’s happy with the product and calls it a final report,” said Perrin.

Despite there being a Board of Police Commissioners meeting last Monday, the department only informed board chair, Russell Walker about the audit’s findings on Wednesday of last week. It was released publicly hours after The Coast’s story was published on Thursday. That didn’t sit well with some of the commissioners.

“I think we’ve got a long way to go to get a very good sense of how we do our job,” said councillor Steve Craig. “The media’s another oversight body, and they’re here in spades today, however we’re the formal oversight body.”

But it’s not clear what, if anything, telling the board earlier would have accomplished.

“Nothing,” said Walker after the meeting. “But we'd have been at least informed there was an audit going and been in the loop...It's the perception of oversight and direction.”

Blais told reporters that “in the future,” the board of police commissioners will “get more information in a more timely manner.”

Before adjourning, the board passed a motion for all reports and audits from HRP over the last 10 years to be presented at future meetings. Provided there are no legal issues—and Walker doesn’t think there will be—those audits will be published as information items on HRM's website for the public to read.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Board of Police Commissioners calls special meeting about drug exhibit audit

“No,” the board wasn’t aware of the report, says chair Russell Walker. “Yes,” they should have been.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 4:00 AM

click image Who watches the watchmen? HRM's Board of Police Commissioners...presumably. - THE COAST
  • Who watches the watchmen? HRM's Board of Police Commissioners...presumably.
  • The Coast

A special meeting of HRM’s Board of Police Commissioners has been called for this week after an internal police audit found over half of the Criminal Investigation Division’s drug exhibits might be missing.

Completed last summer, and revised with a further investigation this past spring, the audit was released to The Coast two weeks ago through a Freedom of Information request. Halifax Regional Police made the report public at a press conference held just hours after we published our investigation last Thursday.

The audit also determined the cops have a 90 percent failure rate for evidence continuity, and highlighted a host of other security concerns in how drugs and seized cash are being stored at police headquarters.

All of that appears to have been new information for the police department’s civilian oversight board.

“No,” says board chair and HRM councillor Russell Walker, when asked if he knew about the audit before last week.

“Yes,” says Walker, when asked if the board should have been made aware of it earlier.

On Thursday, June 30, the board will meet at City Hall to discuss the audit’s findings—both in camera and out. A “personnel matter” involving police investigative techniques (as detailed in the audit) will be privately discussed before a public presentation about what the report uncovered.

Walker wouldn’t comment about the audit other than to say it’s “an ongoing investigation.” He added that the board is reviewing its governance structure under Nova Scotia’s Police Act to make sure it’s not kept in the dark again.

“We’re reviewing the Act and seeing what our authority actually is,” says the Halifax-Bedford Basin West councillor. “Just so that things come to the Commission, so the Commission’s in the loop of knowing what’s going on, when.”

In camera updates on any personnel or legal matters will also now be standard practice at Board of Police Commissioners meetings, says Walker, so that the municipality is “brought up on things that are ongoing, from here on in.”

Deputy police chief Bill Moore explained to The Coast last year that internal audits aren’t normally presented to the board unless “there's something major or over the top.”

Halifax police claim the high rate of missing exhibits found by the audit is a result of poor file management and probably not theft (though they can’t say for sure).

Criminal Investigation Division superintendent Jim Perrin said last week the department is “not aware” of missing exhibits or poor continuity having any impact on court cases.

“I would agree with you that there is an ethical obligation, as part of full and frank disclosure, if there's an issue around a file,” Perrin said. “The fact that a keystroke wasn't done on the electronic file doesn't mean there wasn't good continuity on the exhibit from start to finish.”

Defence lawyers in Halifax told The Coast that the department’s failure to disclose the audit’s findings over the last several months has likely violated disclosure obligations under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That may lead to overturned convictions, and put the police department, and the municipality, at risk of legal action.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Halifax police release statement about drug exhibit audit

Report from September, viewed by management in February, released to public in June.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 11:22 AM

CID superintendent Jim Perrin. - THE COAST
  • CID superintendent Jim Perrin.
  • The Coast

In response to The Coast’s cover story this week, Halifax Regional Police and the Halifax district RCMP just released a public statement on the drug exhibit audit that took place last year. It’s printed below in its entirety.

The police have also provided a “final” version of the audit as a PDF.

click image absence_of_evidence_coast_continuity_errors_ongoing.jpg
Attached at the end is an appendix explaining that the Internal Oversight Service was tasked on May 9, 2016, with a follow-up spot audit of the police department’s vaults “to ensure all exhibits presently in the three main vaults are properly accounted for.”

That would have been three months after CID superintendent Jim Perrin told The Coast he first saw a copy of the audit.

We contacted HRP on February 28 looking for a copy, and were told it first had to be “presented internally” in March. By April 2, we were told it was bring “vetted” by a FOIPOP coordinator to make sure it could be released without a Freedom of Information request.

It cleared that privacy barrier, but still we weren’t able to view a copy because—according to HRP public relations manager Theresa Rath in an April 21 email—the audit “has raised questions for the officer-in-charge of the Criminal Investigation Division.” Rath clarified that CID boss Perrin “simply has some questions about the audit so he can fully understand the findings and recommendations as well as follow-up required, and provide full context to you when he does an interview.” It didn’t mean, as I asked, that any form of internal investigation was being conducted about the audit’s findings.

“There’s no further investigation underway or planned.”

On May 9, Rath stated the police department would need even more time to release the public report that had already been vetted by a FOIPOP coordinator. Chief Jean-Michel Blais and RCMP chief superintendent Lee Bergerman had just received the audit the week prior, according to Rath, and they too had questions. The Coast was told the police would not be in a position to release the audit until a final presentation had been made and it was signed off on by Blais and Bergerman. Rath said that would take two months.

Around the same time, we learned HRP had already released the audit through a Freedom of Information request to an undisclosed third party. In a May 11 email, Rath stated that FOIPOP was “released in error as the document wasn’t signed off by the Chief of Police.”

It’s worth noting that the police department’s FOIPOP administrator is deputy chief Bill Moore, who presumably signed off on all the documents released “in error.” 

In any case, we requested a copy of the FOIPOP that had already been released in May and finally received it last week. There’s a couple of minor distinctions between it and the new version released today by HRP. Ours was dated September 30, 2015 while this is June, 2016. A page of recommendations is also neatly inserted at the front.

Our copy also put the dates for on-site reviews of the audit system between June 18 and November 1 of last year. This copy says reviews continued until May 18 of this year. 

During his interview yesterday with The Coast, Perrin stated the finalized report would probably be ready in “the next week or so,” but that he didn’t expect many changes between it and the draft version completed all the way back in September. That bears out in today’s release. So what makes a final report final?

“I guess it’s a draft until the chief says he’s happy with the product and calls it a final report,” Perrin said.

Public Statement from HRP and Halifax District RCMP on the Drug Exhibit Audit

Earlier this year, police announced that a drug exhibit audit would be conducted after the Serious Incident Response Team charged a Halifax Regional Police officer with theft, breach of trust and obstruction of justice, a matter that remains within the purview of the courts. At the same time this matter was originally referred to SiRT in 2015, the leaders of the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division (comprised of investigators with both Halifax Regional Police and Halifax District RCMP) also acted quickly to initiate a drug exhibit audit to examine drug exhibits with respect to policy, procedure, infrastructure and personnel.

HRP’s Oversight and Risk Management Unit conducted the drug exhibit audit between mid-June and November 2015. The audit was reviewed by management in May 2016, which resulted in a request for further direction, follow-up and clarification with respect to some of the findings.  We’re now in a position to share the findings of the Drug Exhibit Audit with media and our community.

The key observations are:
Continuity: Evidence Continuity Reports are often missing important details and are rarely accurate.
—Inaccurate recording of exhibit location – the audit strived to determine if an exhibit was in the location where it was supposed to be based on Versadex, our records management system. Following are the results:
-Drug Vault 1: 90 percent of the exhibits in the sample (66 of 73) weren’t located where they were supposed to be during the initial audit in 2015; after a further review in May 2016, additional exhibits were located. However, 52 percent of the original sample (38 of 73) couldn’t be located.
-Drug Vault 2: 24 percent of the exhibits in the sample (18 of 75) weren’t located where they were supposed to be during the initial audit in 2015; after a further review in May 2016, additional exhibits were located. However, 12 percent of the original sample (9 of 75) couldn’t be located.
-Money Vault: 55 percent of the exhibits in the sample (34 of 62 exhibits) weren’t located where they were supposed to be during the initial audit in 2015; after a further review in May 2016, additional exhibits were located. However, 32 percent of the original sample (20 of 62) couldn’t be located.
—Currency: Currency, for the most part, is recorded inaccurately/inconsistently in Versadex Evidence Continuity.
—Policies: Policy is not being followed and needs to be reviewed and updated as necessary.
—Training: Training for Drug Unit members needs to be standardized.
—Supervision: It’s the opinion of sergeants in the Drug Unit that they don’t have adequate time to devote to exhibits.
—Infrastructure:  Drug vaults need to be modernized to address health and safety concerns.

  Senior officers of both HRP and RCMP have reviewed the recommendations of the audit. We’re prioritizing the 34 recommendations and are developing a road map which will be a multi-year endeavour. Our priorities include finding the missing and/or incorrectly logged exhibits, updating policy and creating/delivering training related to drug exhibits to protect both our officers and our organization. It’s important to note that we haven’t had a court case affected due to exhibits that couldn’t be located.

Further, our investigators in the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division are highly competent at investigating and solving crimes, including drug files. We also trust our officers to do the job they are assigned to do and maintain the values and integrity of the oath they swore to uphold.

We’re committed to becoming better and stronger as a result of this auditing process and the corresponding road map.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Backyard burning ban voted down by regional council

Still no government solution for people being assholes, though.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 11:50 PM

This might be legal, but it's not very neighbourly. - VIA ISTOCK
  • This might be legal, but it's not very neighbourly.
  • via iStock

Halifax regional council has extinguished any plans to prohibit open-air, wood burning fires in urban areas of HRM.

The idea was proposed by Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency as a way to end the hundreds of nuisance 911 calls firefighters respond to every year.

A staff report before council recommended bylaw amendments that would have banned all fires on properties without a septic tank, increased the minimum distance between a fire and any neighbouring structure from 15 to 50 feet, and prohibited any homemade wood burning devices or food smokers.

Angry emails, messages and phone calls caused council to reject those ideas and leave the municipality's complicated burning regulations virtually unchanged.

The bylaw, as it stands, isn't well-enforced or apparently understood, but the fire department’s approach to solving that problem was like “killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer,” according to councillor Barry Dalrymple.

Some councillors warned that the underlying problem—residents affected by smoke from neighbouring fires—will still need to be addressed, though.

“This is not an issue that’s going to go away,” said Jennifer Watts.

Comments from HRM residents that council was acting like a “nanny state” were inappropriate, Watts said. She mentioned a senior in District 8 who’s lived in her home for decades but is virtually unable to go outside on summer evenings because of the smoke from neighbouring backyard fires.

Several councillors said the solution to the problem was that residents needed to be more neighbourly—settling disputes amongst themselves so as not to ruin everyone else's fun.

“Let’s not punish those that are following the rules,” said Tony Mancini. “Being a good Maritimer, we like to enjoy our backyard patios and campfires.”

Deputy fire chief Roy Hollett told council it was being optimistic about Haligonian diplomacy, however. Several firefighters responding to open air burning calls have found themselves threatened by residents, Hollett said, including one who had a crossbow pointed at him.

“If the neighbours liked each other, we wouldn’t be here.”

Two requests from Watts—for a staff report on better enforcement options of the current bylaw and an education campaign about what open air burning is allowed—passed unanimously.

Council also approved a recommendation from HRFE to limit industrial burning permits to areas larger than one acre.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Homes Not Hondas back up for discussion at council

Jennifer Watts submitting a trio of items related to controversial north end development.

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 4:00 AM

The colonizing Honda dealership in question. - THE COAST
  • The colonizing Honda dealership in question.
  • The Coast

At Tuesday’s meeting of Halifax Regional Council, Jennifer Watts will be putting forward three motions relating to Colonial Honda’s plans to tear down close to two dozen north end houses for an expanded parking lot.

Watts is asking council to request the province amend its Charter so that HRM can implement interim development controls in certain areas—granting council the power to suspend or limit certain developments in an identified area (and stopping any permits or approvals being issued in that area that are contrary to the resolution).

It’s a stop-gap measure while the lengthy Centre Plan process continues, making sure no new surprises or sneaky car lots pop up.

An IDC would have potentially stopped car czar Rob Steele, who quietly purchased dozens of properties over the last few months surrounding his new Colonial Honda dealership and is now set to demolish those houses. The Steele Auto Group is within its legal rights to tear down the homes and build a parking lot for more cars, but the plan has been met with outrage from neighbouring property owners.

In the Homes Not Hondas Facebook group, Watts clarifies that this motion won’t have an impact on Steele’s current parking lot plans. Those permits have already been issued, and would be grandfathered into any new legislation (which would have to be passed at Rankin-level speeds to be in effect before the houses on Fern, McCully and May came down, anyhow).

To provide a more attractive alternative for dealerships like Honda, Watts is also asking council to request a staff report identifying zones outside the Centre Plan area that currently allow for and could be amended to allow for large-scale automotive dealerships—an attempt to keep Centre Plan lands on target for increased density and build up a “gasoline alley” for auto dealerships outside the core.

Finally, Watts is asking for a staff report addressing the requests identified in the Homes Not Hondas petition submitted at council’s May 10 meeting.

The petition of over 1,000 signatures was met with some criticism when it was first presented to council two weeks ago. Dartmouth Centre councillor Gloria McCluskey called it a “waste of time” and said it was a “political move” put together by District 8 candidate Brenden Sommerhalder in anticipation of October’s election.

Council meets at 1pm today, Tuesday, May 24 at City Hall.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Housing Nova Scotia gives up on Bloomfield

Province pulls out of stagnant north end redevelopment after three years and $750,000.

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2016 at 4:28 PM

Turns out Nova Scotia's government was more dreamers than doers when it came to imagining a future for Bloomfield.
  • Turns out Nova Scotia's government was more dreamers than doers when it came to imagining a future for Bloomfield.

The provincial government will no longer play a part in developing the Bloomfield property in Halifax’s north end.

After years without progress and months of speculation about the site’s future, Housing Nova Scotia made the announcement on Thursday that it won’t be moving forward with the project.

No official reason was given for the decision, but Community Services minister Joanne Bernard writes in a press release that the call was made after listening to feedback from community stakeholders. Housing NS remains hopeful that other developers will succeed where the provincial government failed.

“Given the housing market and the city’s eagerness to move forward quickly, we are confident that a private developer will be able to bring Bloomfield to life,” Bernard writes.

Housing Nova Scotia bid $15 million for the site in 2012—a substantially higher offer than the other bids from Dexel Developments and a joint submission from Urban Capital Group and Killam Properties—and won the right to redevelop the 1.5 hectare piece of land, which is owned by the Halifax Regional Municipality.

That $100-million redevelopment was to have included a mix of market-rate residential units and affordable housing. But despite community consultation and planning, no finalized development agreement was submitted.

The site’s sat largely vacant ever since, at a cost of about $100,000 a year to the municipality in upkeep.

The Imagine Bloomfield community group cut ties with Housing Nova Scotia back in January over delays in getting the site developed. At the time, CBC reported that Housing NS was still committed to its plans for the site.

Presumably, this resets the Bloomfield project and HRM will once again open up bidding for the property. Housing NS says it will share information from its design, planning stages and public consultation with HRM and any future developers to turn Bloomfield into an affordable housing option.

Meanwhile, HRM gets to keep the province’s $750,000 deposit.

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