Category: That’s life

A nearly perfect campaign ad

Well, perfect as an ad for a right wing Republican senatorial candidate can be. Tomorrow’s mid-term U.S. elections seem all but certain to produce Republican majorities in both houses Congress—even as more citizens vote Democratic than Republican. This ad is funny, pointed without being mean-spirited, and it hits hot-button emotions in a way that is like to connect with Iowa voters.

I grew up in the US, and once spent most of a year travelling in a Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign plane, but the hateful right-wing turn politics has taken in that country often seems bewildering and incomprehensible. Ads like this are part of what makes it happen.

Trick or treat on Duncan St. — the 2014 numbers

West End Halifax Hallowe’en statistician Dan Conlin has updated his 18-year record of ghouls, goblins, and octopi with this year’s totals. The numbers continue to sneak upward from their 2012 trough.


The little sugar fixers began arriving at 5:58 p.m. and peaked around 7:30 p.m., with the tardiest monster straggling in at 9:50 p.m. All these times are later than usual, probably due to the pagan ritual falling on a Friday. There were “no surly, un-constumed teenagers — once a late night constant.”

Conlin’s Best-costume honours went to a Giant Eyeball with its bloody optic nerve dangling. Honourable mentions to a homemade octopus with working arms, a vending machine that dispensed real candy, a well-acted tiger, and a pair of “fetching, homemade Ghostbusters.”

The insect category included a butterfly, a caterpillar, and a ladybug. One of Conlin’s guests, a dementer from the Harry Potter novels, may be a Contrarian relative.

Meanwhile, Hallowe’en totals at Kempt Head remained steady at zero, for the fifth year in a row. Birth control is not a top-of-mind issue in our neighbourhood. More Baby Ruths for Contrarian.

A story you don’t know about Stephen McNeil

In 2007, the L’Arche community in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, known as L’Arche Homefires, embarked on an expensive, long-term project to move its work programs from various ill-suited, inaccessible locations to a single, safe, fully accessible building that would also house its administrative office.

As a first step, Homefires purchased the former Anglican Parish Hall on Main Street in the centre of town. Halifax architect Syd Dumaresq donated the design for the renovation.

The new facility will let wheelchair users with intellectual disabilities take part in L’Arche day programs that are currently inaccessible. It will free up space in two L’Arche houses, so the community can add new Core Members.

As of this September, Homefires had raised about half the money needed for the job. Not one farthing had come from the Department of Community Services.

Christina Tanner

Accessibility rights advocate Christina Tanner

One of the project’s most persistent advocates has been Christina Tanner, a 40-ish Core Member who has lived at L’Arche for two decades. As a wheelchair user, Tanner was unable to take part in some of Homefires’ ill-housed work programs, and she constantly pushed for new day program quarters.

Tanner also dreamed of living on her own, and in September, after seven years on a waiting list, she received approval to get her own apartment.

It will be a big change in her life. In preparation, she enrolled in a program at PeopleWorx in nearby Coldbrook, to learn skills she might need in, say, a customer service position. Her first class was scheduled to begin on a Monday in late September.

It happens that the previous Friday, Premier Stephen McNeil stopped into Homefires for a planned visit.

Now when a politician or an entertainer or a notable person of any sort comes to a L’Arche community, staff always observe how the celebrity interacts with the Core Members. Are they nervous, stiff, or patronizing? Or are they naturally engaging and friendly?

McNeil passed this test with flying colours. The 6-foot-5 premier slumped into a chair so he could engage the Core Members at eye level. Having heard about Tanner’s campaign for the new building, he specifically sought her out. Tanner spoke movingly of how much it will mean to have an accessible building. She described her search for an accessible apartment she could move into, and her excitement about the PeopleWorx course.

“He arrived early, and he stayed late,” said Ingrid Blais, Homefires’ community leader. “He was very, very warm with the Core Members. People were really impressed with his visit.”

The following Monday, Tanner was just settling into her first class at PeopleWorx when a staff member came into the classroom to say she had a phone call. Tanner was too focused on the work ahead to take the call, but she got the message later.

“Premier McNeil called to wish you good luck on the first day of your course, and to say how much he enjoyed speaking with you.”

Two weeks later, on October 16, the Department of Community Services announced a $200,000 contribution to the new building.

Pollution abatement, oyster-style

You may not want to eat them after seeing this, but oysters have a prodigious ability to filter polluted harbour waters. Watch what the laboratory oysters in this time-lapse video accomplish in just 90 minutes:

Federal and state agencies in the US, together with non-profit groups and academic researchers, are enlisting oysters in their efforts to restore the badly degraded waters of Chesapeake Bay, between Virginia and Maryland.

Oysters were once abundant in the bay. As young oysters settled and grew on the shells of old, they formed extensive reefs. In the 19th Century, researchers estimate, oysters could filter the entire volume of the Chesapeake Bay—68,137,412,112 cubic metres, about twice the volume of the Bras d’Or Lake—in as little as five days.

Over-harvesting, disease, falling salinity due to runoff over impervious concrete and asphalt surfaces, and increased sedimentation from runoff have beaten Chesapeake Bay oyster numbers down to less than 1% of their former abundance. It takes the current population a year to filter the same volume of water.

Researchers hope to rebuild the Chesapeake’s oyster population by encouraging the growth of new reefs.

Militarized police watch — feedback

In response to Friday’s post deploring the purchase by HRM Police of military-issue, semi-automatic assault guns, and the department’s ill-advised use of these guns in response to a burglary, a reader who knows his way around HRM politics writes:

A properly functioning Board of Police Commissioners would have asked questions at budget time about what equipment was to be provided through the budget. Or perhaps this was discussed “in camera”  for “reasons of security.”

You won’t find this in the minutes.

A reader in British Columbia writes:

Couldn’t we demilitarize police uniforms? Get rid of the combat boots, bloused trousers, ball caps, and maybe, by the way, ditch the badass shades and the MMA* goatees and tats. I’m not even sure there’s a good argument for armoured vests. Macho cops we don’t need.

My cops should not look like the criminals they are tasked with defeating. If they want us, the 99% of folks around them that they’ll only ever interact with by issuing a traffic summons, to respect and not fear them, let’s ditch the intimidation costume.

These guys aren’t Blackwater.

That’s why I like our RCMP here. They live among us, and don’t dress like sojurs.

These changes happen incrementally until, one day, you wake up and realize the local police force has been dressed up and equipped like an occupying army. At the very least, this style of policing should be debated by the public and the legislature.

* MMA = mixed marshall arts.

Can white people do what?

Earlier today, my friend Audra was looking for information about residency restrictions on Canadian First Nations reserves. As she began typing a search term into, the autocomplete feature, which offers suggestions based on popular search terms, proffered the following:

can white people annotated2

Still think we don’t have a problem with racism in Canada?

Militarized police watch: Halifax edition

Colt Carbine C8-IUR
We awoke this morning to a CBC report that Halifax Regional Police have laid in a additional stock of military-issue, semi-automatic weapons, and they found two opportunities in the last 10 days to draw these weapons on the streets of Halifax.

I am no gun expert, but piecing together police statements, photographs of the two incidents, and a little internet sleuthing, the guns in question appear to be Colt Canada C8-IUR carbines like the one pictured above, outfitted with 10- or 11.6-inch, cold hammer forged barrels for use in what Colt’s promotional material calls “close-quarter battle.”

Close-quarter battle.

HRM Police stocked up on the weapons back in January, along with unspecified “armoured tactical gear.” The heavy guns were needed, according to Deputy Chief Bill Moore, because, “When you’re going to a gun call against a long gun, a handgun is not the preferred weapon.”

That would explain why police brought out wartime armaments when responding to last week’s report of a man with a rifle in downtown Halifax. But why on earth did they think they needed drawn, semi-automatics in response to an eccentric burglar who tried to escape across the Northwest Arm in a canoe Wednesday?

HRM Police explanation: Because they thought the man might have a sword.

Seriously? Holstered handguns are not sufficient for trained police officers to deal with a man with a possible sword in a canoe? They need drawn, semi-automatic assault rifles as well?

“They’re utilizing the weapons that are provided to them,” Moore told the CBC. “We’ve augmented the number of weapons we have so there are a few more in the field. So it’s not about over reacting but making sure that we respond with the appropriate weapons.”

In other words, the use of military weapons was justified because they were available. Put another way, the weapons were deployed, therefore they were justified.

This is entirely predictable. If we give police additional armaments, they will use those armaments. Because they are there. It is only a matter of time before this leads to tragedy.

I, for one, do not want HRM Police (or CBRM Police, or New Glasgow Police, or Northside Southwest Margaree Police) going about our streets and byways with heavy weaponry they feel they must deploy because it is there. I don’t think most Haligonians do either. Moore himself told the CBC there is little public appetite for having these weapons in the hands of local police forces.

The public’s view ought to carry weight. To the best of my knowledge, the Nova Scotia House of Assembly has never debated the rampant militarization of police now underway in our province. I don’t know that HRM Council has either, but even if it has, the issue ought to be beyond the scope of a municipal council.

This tide needs to be stopped—and rolled back.

Lucy’s lesson

Writing in the Metro News, reporter Ruth Davenport seeks to explain why so many women choose not to report episodes of sexual violence and abuse. Like so much of this discussion, it’s a strongly worded piece, and it puts the lie to the notion women who “fail” to go to police “couldn’t possibly have been assaulted.”

Think about being groped, molested and raped, and then think about whether you’d want to give the detailed play-by-play to a whole stable of complete and mostly male strangers…

Women, it seems, must always have an agenda. We don’t actually slap scarlet letters on them anymore, but thanks to the internet, women who accuse a man of any kind of misbehaviour risk having not only their identities exposed and publicized, but also an eternal water-torture drip-drip-drip of daily character assassination.

Refusing to file a formal complaint—the decision made by approximately nine out of every 10 sexual assault victims isn’t a case of modesty or manipulation—it’s simple survival. And modern rape culture is thriving on it.

It’s understandable and praiseworthy that women seek to comfort fellow women who decline to report abuse for all the reasons Davenport suggests. It’s also important to drive this point home to skeptical men.

600full-lucy-decoutereDavenport is also correct when she points out that not reporting sexual abuse is part of what allows it to persist. But I believe she exaggerates, at least for most women, when she says not reporting “is a matter of survival.”

Lucy DeCoutere will no doubt suffer some of the unspeakable crap internet trolls heap on women who report abuse, but she will most certainly survive. Her self-aware account of violent behaviour at Ghomeshi’s hands, so free of artifice, so stark in its contrast to Ghomeshi’s studied attempt at a pre-emptive strike, brought a cascade of praise to her Facebook page. #Ibelievelucy instantly became a popular Twitter hashtag.

We’ve learned something important about Lucy DeCoutere because of her disclosure, and it only makes us love her more. She has grown in stature and public esteem.

Not every woman is Lucy DeCoutere. Some women will choose not to report, and that may be the right choice for them. We must make every effort to improve the way police handle reports of this kind, and we should take care to support those who do report.

But in seeking to comfort those who choose not to report, we should not overstate the perils of reporting. Like many things that take courage, reporting abuse is a good thing, a thing to be encouraged, never discouraged.


On his Facebook page, Contrarian friend and former Daily News colleague David Rodenhiser has linked the two big news stories of the last week in a way that shed much needed light on both.

If the reports are accurate, Jian Ghomeshi has committed criminal acts against far more Canadians than “self-radicalized domestic terrorists.” Yet we don’t see the federal government acting to provide more supports for victims of violence. Where is the campaign to shut down the internet trolls who anonymously attack the women who confront their abusers? Halifax Regional Police are sending armed cops to every cenotaph in the city on Remembrance Day, but Chief Jean-Michel Blais has so far been silent on what he is doing to sensitize his predominantly male officers and make it less intimidating for women to report violence.

All of which is sad, because violence against women is a pervasive problem where genuine efforts could actually do some good. Instead, we’re “defending democracy” with the continued militarization of our police services and by providing government agencies with more power to spy on us – stripping away freedoms in the name of a lie called “security,” a mythical state that can never be achieved.

Turn around Big Ears Teddy. You shouldn’t see this.

Finally, Kate Harding has a great piece on deconstructing Ghomeshi’s Facebook post.

His version of events is that he broke up with a woman with whom he’d had consensual kinky sex, and she was so furious about the rejection, she initiated “a campaign of harassment, vengeance, and demonization” that would come to involve multiple women. Even though Ghomeshi assured us that a major newspaper had looked into the women’s claims and decided they weren’t even worth covering, he apparently still had a strong suspicion that shit was about to go down, and it would look a little like this:

In the coming days you will prospectively hear about how I engage in all kinds of unsavoury aggressive acts in the bedroom. And the implication may be made that this happens non-consensually. And that will be a lie. But it will be salacious gossip in a world driven by a hunger for “scandal”. And there will be those who choose to believe it and to hate me or to laugh at me. And there will be an attempt to pile on. And there will be the claim that there are a few women involved (those who colluded with my ex) in an attempt to show a “pattern of behaviour”. And it will be based in lies but damage will be done.

As the writer Rebecca Makkai said on Facebook, “This is a little like when my 7-year-old runs out of my 4-year-old’s room going ‘I didn’t hit her with a plastic tomato!'”

I’ve spent some time in the risk communications biz, and I know there are times when its useful, but other times it’s a relief to see spin get its brutal comeuppance.

The only thing we have to fear… are the fearmongers

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting in Ottawa, here are four brief readings: two from readers, and two from columnists running counter to the national press hysteria.

Longtime Contrarian reader Tim Segulin writes:

Finally the Harper government has the undeniable pretext it has sought for years to spy on the phone and internet communications of innocent citizens without need of judicial oversight.

After shrill charges that those who didn’t agree ‘stood with child pornographers’ and an attempt to install it by exploiting the Rehteah Parsons and Amanda Todd tragedies was foiled by the Supreme Court, now the Harper government can claim that we are in a war to defend our democracy and that real time, ongoing surveillance it the necessary price we pay to protect ourselves against home grown terrorism. The recording and the Homeland Security industries to our south may have special reason to be pleased with the next omnibus bill, rushed once again through Parliament before its contents can be studied.

On the other hand, a Harper-supporting reader thinks the shootings warrant greater police powers:

Nice, theoretical position you have taken on the zealots like this character in Ottawa. I frankly don’t care if he is mentally ill or not (obviously something was not right with him). My concern is simply that our security forces have to be able to detain these folks BEFORE they do something – not just assess it afterwards. If they have the tools now – use them. If not, get them.

This is a clearly a different type of threat than our current laws and practices were predicated on. So far, I think we have been lucky that these folks have focused on soldiers and politicians and haven’t seemed particularly interested in just killing civilians. What happens when a mass attack is planned or conducted against the mass population? What will the look back look like then? We should have, we could have, we might have won’t mean a hill of beans.

I wonder if the hatred for Harper and fear of his motives is clouding the judgement of normally wise folks.

My sense is that rules will be strengthened now to a minor degree allowing these folks to be stopped. Conversely, much more dramatic changes will come after the next attack with mass effect. You should prefer now to later.

Now two journalists I have criticized in the past, both writing for the website First, Andrew Mitrovica:

One man with one gun.

Apparently, that’s all it took for this country to lose its mind last week, dutifully abetted by much of the nation’s media.

History. Context. Perspective. Understanding. Skepticism. Thoughtfulness. Canada’s so-called media and political “elites” abandoned them all. In their stead, we got a week-long diet of chest-thumping patriotic clichés, cheap, meaningless hyperbole and tropes that, taken together, have already manufactured widespread consent for what will surely be another assault on our rights and freedoms engineered by a cynical Conservative government….

Not to be outdone, the telegenic TV anchors rushed to heal our grievously damaged collective psyche without recognizing just how trite and condescending they were being.

Watch this diabetes-inducing performance by Kevin Newman as he tries valiantly to hold the nation together while anchoring CTV National News last Wednesday.

“We have been through one of those days we will never forget. A moment when history pivots. Delivered to us by a man intent on killing. Who walked into the centre of a building that represents our values and opened fire,” Newman said with all the gravitas he could muster.

Watching his polished solemnity I wondered whether Newman was convinced he was standing at a church alter while delivering his maudlin sermon rather than sitting behind a desk in a television studio in suburban Toronto.

But that’s what happens when media outlets reach for almost grotesque hyperbole to describe last week’s tragic, unsettling events, as ‘Canada’s 9/11.’ This irresponsible distortion prompted TV anchormen and women to turn the sentimental empathy meter up to 11 because that’s the hoary role they’re expected and yearn to play at times like these.

Last, Michael Harris:

If there was no connection to ISIL, did the government really need to give the authorities more powers of arrest? Did the government, which had already given CSIS more tools to fight terrorism in 2012, including the power of preventive arrest, really need to add even more extraordinary power to this already extraordinarily powerful agency? How do you lower the threshold for preventive arrest, which already lowers the threshold of basic civil rights protection? How much lowering is enough?

After all, with the huge resources the Harper government has spent on national security since 2006, including an obscenely expensive billion-dollar new home for CSEC, this crude attack was not stopped. As the Manchester Guardian noted, this was a spectacular failure of Canadian intelligence, despite all the additional powers that community has been given by Stephen Harper.

But the emotional waters had been whipped up to a frothing cauldron by the media. On the day of Cpl. Cirillo’s murder, there were a barrage of unconfirmed reports of multiple shooters and multiple shooting scenes in Ottawa. The effect was to foster public hysteria. The coverage of the event reached an irresponsible crescendo when it was mentioned on the CBC that this could be Canada’s 9/11. It was then gravely reported by the network that everything had now “changed.” The script could have been written by the Harper PMO.

Both of these articles are worth reading in full.



4 quarters equals…



4Quarters copy

Director Ashley McKenzie and actress Carmen Townsend on the set of “4 Quarters Makes A…”, MacKenzie’s latest short movie, in production this week in Sydney. Carmen plays a karaoke singer in the slice-of-Cape-Breton-life drama about a troubled young woman and a young man who provides a safety net of sorts. Tonight’s filming took place at the Black Diamond lounge.

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