If you happen to be in Cape Breton this weekend – updated

[See update below.] Don’t miss the Cabot Trail Writers’ Festival in Tarbot and St. Anne’s. The creators of this annual event, now in its third year, have put together a fantastic program this year.

On Friday night, last year’s Halifax Poet Laureate, Shauntay Grant, will premiere five spoken word pieces, commissioned for the festival and inspired by five sculptures by North River blacksmith Gordon Kennedy.

Several of the festival participants will present workshops Saturday, and the evening program includes readings by Nova Scotia native and Giller-prize winner Johanna Skibsrud, Inverness-born short story writer Alexander MacLeod, and music by the jazz quartet The Synchronics.

A Sunday panel includes Skibsrud and the Nimbus editor who brought her Giller-winning The Sentimentalists to publication.

Hats off to Gary Walsh and his crew for making the festival a don’t-miss event.


It’s a busy weekend in Cape Breton, to be sure. On Saturday night, there’s the island’s first nighttime arts festival, Lumière 2011:

Then at 3 p.m., Sunday, local song-stars RoSa, Alicia Penney, Flo Sampson, Debbie Mullins, Steve Fifield, Billie Yvette, and Maura Lea Moycott croon country ballads at Harmonies for Horses, a fundraiser for Rocking Horse Ranch, Rear Baddeck. Location: at the ranch.

[Update 2]

From 11 to 2 on Saturday, at 385 Alexandra Street in Sydney, CBC Cape Breton celebrates the broadcaster’s 75th year.

The YHZ-YQY ripoff — it still doesn’t add up

Contrarian’s aviation guru, Adrian Noskwith, thinks the Porter Airlines 50%-off sale may have played a role in the weird pricing I encountered flying from Toronto to Sydney (as Joe MacKay argued), but it’s not the whole story.

Airline pricing is a weird science at the best of times. When Porter is whipping Air Canada’s ass out of Toronto Island, as they are at the moment, this drives airline pricing executives to do even weirder things.

But why is it consistently cheaper to fly from Sydney to St. Johns (via Halifax) than from Sydney to Halifax?

To check this claim, I priced one-way Air Canada tickets for a week from today.

From Sydney to Halifax:

From Sydney to St. John’s via Halifax:

Cheapest Sydney to Halifax fare: $259. Cheapest Sydney to Halifax to St. John’s fare: $149. What a deal: Travel almost four times as far (1180 total km. v. 303 km.) and pay 40 percent less.

Is it too much to ask Air Canada to explain why Canada’s national airline continues to gouge Cape Bretoners flying to Halifax? Just Email an explanation, dear Air Canada brass.

In defence of airbrushed cleavage

Contrarian finds itself in the awkward position of having received 30,000+ hits for  a throwaway post about an MP who airbrushed* a modest trace of cleavage from her official Parliamentary photo. The two complaints I’ve received have  not dissuaded me from my initial judgment the story was both funny and peculiar enough to be worthy of posting. In the interests of equal time, though, here is an alternative view from Edmonton restaurateur and local food activist Jessie Radies:

The only reason you find someone airbrushing their cleavage funny, is because you are not a women with cleavage.

I’ve done exactly the same thing. Go for a photo shoot, get the pictures and then realize, “Oh, I love this picture but it has too much cleavage and it is not appropriate for a business head shot.” And have the photographer retouch the picture.

I bet it had nothing to do with Tamil culture or modesty. It is a professional making a decision about how she wants to be presented and what is appropriate.

(Radies supplied the photo shown here, the airbrushed image she describes in her comment. She no longer has the ‘before’ picture.)

I’m happy to close this thread now.

* MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan isn’t saying, but the evidence seems to be that she or her staff ordered the retouching.

Rare concision in airline safety prose

Air Canada flight attendant to passengers in Row 4 of a flight to Sydney Tuesday afternoon:

“You are in the emergency exit row, so I have to show you how to open the emergency door.”

[Gestures to door handle.]

“Pull it down. It opens in. Throw it out.”


“Any questions?”

Airline safety instructions are so often wordy and prissy. How refreshing to encounter a  no-nonsense pro who understands the value of brisk, imperative prose, and isn’t afraid to use it.

That YHZ-YQY ripoff – a partial explanation

I am posting from the tarmac at Montréal-Trudeau  Airport, part way through the strangely priced Air Canada flight I wrote about here. Contrarian reader Joe MacKay offers a plausible if partial explanation for Air Canada’s charging more for a Halifax-Sydney ticket than the Toronto-Sydney ticket I’m flying on, even though the Halifax-Sydney leg is the same flight on the same plane I’ll be taking.

I think this was a side effect of a Porter sale. Porter ran 50% off flights from the Island briefly a week or so ago. Air Canada responded (as they do) with a predatory sale on all bookings from same. Evidently their 50% discount hit your ticket all the way to Sydney. Since the Halifax-only booking didn’t involve Toronto Island Airport, it would have remained full(ish) fare. Moral: there are two wronged parties here—the people of Cape Breton and the airline that doesn’t hate you.

What real security feels like

During a brief stopover in Ottawa yesterday, a gracious member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery took me for a sail on the Ottawa River, where I snapped this photo:

In case you don’t recognize the building, it’s the posterior of 24 Sussex Drive, home of Canada’s Prime Minister. Even without Bruce Cockburn on board, I was struck by the wondrous want of any obvious standing on guard for Stephen Harper.

Our small party boarded my friend’s sailboat at the Hull marina, just across the street from the Museum of Civilization. No one checked our ID, demanded we sign a register, or x-rayed the modest-sized parcels we carried aboard (contents: six bottles Boréale Blonde, six bottles Pilsner Urquell, and 12 Montreal bagels, fresh from the oven at St-Viateur Bakery four hours earlier).

For two hours we gunk-holed along the shoreline beneath the Parliament of Canada, the Bank of Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Embassy of France, and the residence of Canada’s Prime Minister. Light wind filled our sails; fall sunlight dappled the river;  all seemed peaceful, orderly, and secure in Canada’s capital.

It struck me that this is the antithesis of security theatre: it is what real security feels like. I couldn’t help but contrast it with the recent experiences of Shoshana Hebshi and Vance Gilbert.

Take note, dear American cousins.

Justice for Dave Wilson – lots of feedback

My postings here and on Facebook, voicing mixed feelings about Dave Wilson’s situation, provoked a ton of feedback. Publishing most of it will make for unusually long post, but it also shows public sentiment to be less lopsided than media coverage indicates.

In cases like this, I believe reporters seek out and highlight the most dramatic responses, usually the vengeance-seekers, and this distorts our impression of the public mood. Plenty of people agree with me that Wilson has already suffered mightily.

But not this neighbor:

As soon as he was caught, he went into hiding, now he’s fessing up. A thief is a thief. I’m not kicking him when he’s down. I just want him to pay for his crimes. I had a brother who went to the county for bootlegging when he had no work. He knew the job was dangerous when he took it. He got what he deserved and mama taught him better.

Dave will get his pension and this will blow over. Just don’t trust him with your signature. He is one of many who are the reason people don’t have any faith in governments and other large institutions, like the catholic church!

A Dartmouth resident:

Revoking [his pension] makes no morse sense than any other random, vindictive retribution the mob might conjure. I don’t care what [the neighbor quoted above] says, I think you’re you’re right to feel some pity for an addict. Gambling ruins lives. And the more we destroy the guy, the more we show other gambling addicts to keep their mouth shut and hope you win enough to hide your problem.

A reader:

Beautifully said.

Another reader:

I agree with your sentiments and arguments on this. Two successful and high profile MLAs publicly crumbling, with a gambling addiction the most likely poison, should have us questioning the social costs of that government-promoted world.

A Sydney businessman:

Well said, well done.

A former journalist who has moved on:

I don’t think you’re alone in that view on Dave Wilson. I always liked Dave, right back to the time I worked in the CJCB news room.

From a woman who has occupied high-profile federal and provincial posts in NS:

Thanks, Parker. You have expressed my view in far better, more complete terms than I could.

From a trade union official:

You softy, you.

From a reader

I have to agree with the sentiments expressed here. I also believe the Speaker of the House, Gordie Gosse, should appear in court and make a submission on sentencing. I firmly believe that Gordie should stress the damage caused to the reputations of all politicians and of all stripes. The idea of “tarring them all with the same brush” is not fair to the honest and conscientious politicians, whatever party they belong to. That is why I believe it is important to make a submission on behalf of all MLSs.

From Rick Howe:

Would you be available for a chat on my radio show re your thoughts on David? [And in response to my asking how he felt about it] I’m waffling. I, too, feel bad about David, he’s a friend, but I think a short jail sentence might be necessary to appease public outrage and send a message to other politicians.

A journalist who has moved on:

On the pension issue, point taken. There’s no provision in the Criminal Code for appropriating offenders’ pensions. But the rest — the “fine man who’s suffered enough” argument. Really? Ordinary scam-artists don’t suffer when the law catches up with them?

[And on further reflection] I agree about the disgusting bloodlust. Where does it come from? Is it from 3+ almost unbroken decades of short-sighted governance? Maybe Contrarian readers would like to catalogue the poor decisions for which we’re still paying the consequences: Buchanan’s decision to spend the offshore wealth before it made landfall; the neglect that’s causing Halifax rot from the centre outwards; the indifference behind the decision outsource the immigration file; Sysco; the decision to kneecap John Savage before he could stand for re-election, etc.

Or maybe people just sense that there is a ruling class in NS and it doesn’t care about the suckers who pay the bills. Maybe it’s the Bluenose equivalent of finally coming over the walls, lovingly sharpened sickles in hand and a gleam in the eye.

A reader:

Well said. Damn gambling got him and Zinck and goodness knows how many others have been victims of those damn machines. Just disgusting that all three parties refuse to say they will shut down the machines in bars and and anywhere else.

A Sydney woman:

His misdeeds – petty and poorly-executed, moves me to pity for it’s ineptitude and pathos rather than righteous indignation.

He “reads” to me, though, and again- unfortunately- as an older white man in a suit, seemingly above a little graft, or worse, entitled. Probably he believed in it a bit too much as well. Entitlement.

The real question might be – *ahem* – are you identifying with it a bit too much yourself? We hate to see the white male do such a shabby job of a little sad cheat.

After the jump, some responses from Facebook:
Continue reading Justice for Dave Wilson – lots of feedback

Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat

I don’t know which is more disturbing: The NDP Government’s success in persuading a Supreme Court justice to impose a $5,725 fine on a man found innocent of the crime with which he had been charged; or Finance Minister Graham Steele’s crowing about this ‘victory” in a news release.

”]CBRM’s finest didn’t have the goods on John Joseph Reynolds.They raided his Sydney Mines apartment last February, seized a bit of pot and and some hidden cash, but they couldn’t prove he was selling marijuana, and they knew it. So they withdrew the unsupportable charge against him, and a Provincial Court judge pronounced him not guilty.

In our system, a not-guilty verdict is supposed to be tantamount to a finding of innocence. Instead, taking cues from the Queen of Hearts (“First the verdict; then the trial!”), Nova Scotia now imposes criminal sanctions without regard for criminal trials.

To circumvent the presumption of innocence in Reynolds’s case, the justice system allowed police to launch a second trial, one that masqueraded as a civil proceeding. The pretence liberated cops and prosecutors from the strict standard of presumed innocence. It enabled them to punish Reynolds, effectively finding him guilty, not beyond a reasonable doubt, but despite one.

The courts, to their shame, let them get away with it.

Like Justice Minister Ross Landry, for whom he was acting yesterday, Steele couched his government’s end-run around the presumption of innocence in bland platitudes, describing the abuse as “a tool” that “government and police are collaborative using” to deter crime. You can call horse turds road apples, but it won’t make them smell any sweeter.

The presumption of innocence is a defining characteristic of a free and democratic society. It is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe.

Free societies insist on this principle for the simple reason that most people are not criminals. The Latin maxim quoted in the headline above is sometimes more fully rendered as Ei incumbit probatio, qui dicit, non qui negat; cum per rerum naturam factum negantis probatio nulla sit – “The proof lies upon him who affirms, not upon him who denies; since, by the nature of things, he who denies a fact cannot produce any proof.”

The presumption of innocence means the state bears the entire burden of proof, and the defendant none. An accused person need not testify or call witnesses, and his failure to do so cannot be taken as evidence of guilt. Neither jury nor judge can draw any inference from the fact a defendant has been charged with a crime. The case must be decided solely on evidence presented at trial.

Does all this make it hard for police to put away bad guys? You betcha, and for good reason: you really don’t want to live in a country where police find it easy to throw citizens in prison.

Apologists for the Civil Forfeiture Act try to brush these misgivings aside on the flimsy pretext that it concerns civil not criminal matters. Steele’s news release puts the lie to that fig leaf in the first sentence, which describes the act as, “legislation that helps make sure that crime doesn’t pay” [my emphasis]. To which Steele himself adds, “The success of this case sends a message that crime will not pay in Nova Scotia” [my emphasis]. It’s all about crime, and nothing but crime.

By pretending seizures under Nova Scotia Civil Forfeiture are civil in nature, when everyone can see they are criminal, the government and the court have turned criminal safeguards upside down. They  have enabled cops to punish suspects whose guilt they cannot prove. This is a clear abuse of democratic principles we fought wars over, and it brings the justice system into disrepute. Not to mention Graham Steele, Ross Landry, and the NDP Government.

World’s largest photo library

1000memories.com, a website about organizing and sharing home photography, illustrates Facebook’s dominant role in photographic storage.

Digital cameras are now ubiquitous – it is estimated that 2.5 billion people in the world today have a digital camera. If the average person snaps 150 photos this year that would be a staggering 375 billion photos. That might sound implausible but this year people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook, suggesting around 20% of all photos this year will end up there. Already Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion photos, that’s over 10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress.