Save Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes

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Canoeists on Susies Lake, one of several Birch Cove Lakes put in danger by facilitator’s report. Photo by Irwin Barrett. Used with permission.

Here is my open letter to Mayor Mike Savage and Halifax councillors.

Dear Mayor Savage and Councillors,

From the moment I took my first hike in the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area, I was amazed by the beauty of the landscape. With all the lakes, trees, streams, and rock outcroppings providing stunning views, it was pure Canadiana in all its splendour.

I fear with the recent facilitator’s report that some councillors will forget about the promise that was made by council to create an urban wilderness park in conjunction with the province. I also fear that Council is not fully aware of the tremendous opportunity that will be lost. The Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park is an opportunity to create a mini-Kejimkujik within our city limits.

It would be a tremendous recreational destination that would be accessible to all in Halifax because one could get to it on a city bus. Once there, one could enjoy a quick paddle or rent a canoe. There is a portage route around the lakes that provides the quintessential Canadian experience right in our backyard. We need to preserve this and promote it, not allow more urban sprawl.

No decision to set land aside for parkland is ever regretted. Point Pleasant Park, Shubie Park, Hemlock Ravine, and Fleming Park are just a few of the cherished parks we have in our city.

The recent facilitator’s report failed to achieve its stated objective or even meet the stated terms of reference. Please reject it and do not enter into any secondary planning with the landowners. Instead, I urge Council to purchase these lands and make this park a reality. If you do, it will be your finest accomplishment and a legacy for which future generations will thank you.

Sincerely,

Ryan Van Horne

NOTE: If you would like to learn more about this issue, please go to this link on the city’s webpage and read the facilitator’s report. If you would like to make your own comment, you can e-mail directly to clerks@halifax.ca or use this link provided by CPAWS, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

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Guilty plea in Rehtaeh Parsons case

rehtaeh parsons

Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide in April 2013. Her death helped spark a new police investigation.

A young man who took the picture used to shame and bully Rehtaeh Parsons has pleaded guilty to production of child pornography.

He admitted to taking the picture of another boy, a co-accused in the case, who was in the picture with Rehtaeh in November 2011 when he was 17 and Rehtaeh was 15. Neither of the accused, who were both under 18 at the time, can be named. Their identities are protected by the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Crown Attorney Alex Smith read an agreed statement of facts to Halifax Provincial Court Judge Greg Lenehan.

Smith describes the image which shows one boy, naked from the waist down, behind Rehtaeh and pressing his genital region up against her while giving a thumbs-up sign. Rehtaeh Parsons is naked from the waist down.

“At the time the photograph was taken, (one of the accused) was having sex with Rehtaeh Parsons as she was vomiting out the window,” Smith told the court.

The youth in court today faced charges of production and distribution of child pornography. The Crown dropped the charge of distribution.

Another boy, the one in the picture who is charged only with distribution of child pornography, is scheduled to go on trial in November.

There is also a publication ban on the identity of the victim, Rehtaeh Parsons, despite the opposition of the Crown Attorney and her parents. Four Nova Scotia media outlets fought the ban in May, but Judge Jamie Campbell said it was a statutory ban that he had to impose – even though it didn’t make sense because her name was already so well known. In reporting this story today, media outlets continue to observe the ban.

It is the law of the country and judges must do their duty and enforce the law passed by Parliament. That is why the judge cannot be faulted in this case.

This post respectfully disregards the publication ban because a greater public good is served by doing so.

There is a higher goal than upholding the law and that is justice; something that judges, especially those that practice judicial restraint, sometimes do not consider.

There is an oft-told story of a conversation between two great American jurists, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Learned Hand, who met for lunch one day.

As Holmes began to drive away, Hand implored him to “Do justice, sir, do justice!”

Holmes stopped and admonished his fellow judge with this retort: “That is not my job. It is my job to apply the law.”

In the absence of an activist judge, or an Attorney General or Director of Public Prosecutions willing to make a public pronouncement that no charges will be laid in this case, it is left to the media to wonder about the safety of violating the ban.

Henry David Thoreau, in his essay Civil Disobedience, encouraged people to disobey what he called “unjust laws.”

Thoreau wrote: “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”

Let me be clear. It’s not that this law is unjust. It is that it is unjust in this case and should be ignored.

Clearly, this is an exception that Parliament did not think of when they passed the law and they need to amend it.

Lastly, there is a clause in the Youth Criminal Justice Act that allows for the parents of a victim to waive the privacy rights of their children. Glen Canning and Leah Parsons have done so in this case, but Judge Campbell chose not to accept that argument, saying that the Criminal Code provision wins the day – even though it doesn’t really make any sense in this case. See decision here.

Rehtaeh Parsons’ name brings power to any discussion about sexual consent, cyber-bullying, and suicide prevention. Her case prompted important legal reforms in Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada. The federal government, which is working on passing Bill C-13 to counter cyber-bullying, is doing so partly because of what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons.

Most importantly, this change of plea needs to be connected to the case at a time when publication of her name was permitted.

Why?

Because of the way the police and the Public Prosecution Service handled the case. Initially, the police focussed their investigation — such as it was — on sexual assault after an incident in November 2011. They spent most of their early efforts investigating Rehtaeh and took a long time – several months – before interviewing the four teenage boys alleged to have raped her when she was extremely intoxicated.

The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service reviewed the case, but didn’t lay charges because there wasn’t a strong enough likelihood of a conviction. It was dubbed a “he said, she said” case amid claims that Rehtaeh had made advances, or at least appeared willing earlier in the evening.

By the time the picture was taken, as the agreed statement of facts read into court today would indicate, Rehtaeh was not in any state to be consenting to sex.

Amazingly, the existence of a photograph of a minor engaged in a sexual act did not spark law enforcement professionals involved in the investigation to consider laying a charge of production and distribution of child pornography. Canning said police and school officials knew of the photo’s existence within a week of it being taken.

“They allowed this image to spread even knowing that this was child pornography. They knew who had it and who was doing it and there was nothing done to stop it,” he said. “Every time it was shared, it victimized Rehtaeh.”

The photo spread like wildfire through her community in a suburb of Halifax. Fellow students called Rehtaeh Parsons a slut and some total strangers texted her and asked her if she wanted to have sex with them. The bullying became too much so she switched schools and sought counselling. She claimed she was raped, but no charges were laid and this added to the grief. She struggled for months, but in April 2013, she committed suicide by hanging herself in the bathroom with a belt.

Her case attracted worldwide attention and even prompted the intervention of Anonymous, who started #OpJustice4Rehtaeh to get the police to reopen the case. The police reopened the case and, amid the furor, some people defended the four boys saying that the sex was consensual.

Within a few months, the police laid charges of production and distribution of child pornography against two of the four boys, but some claimed it was just a way to put an end to mounting public pressure.

Today’s guilty plea should put an end to those claims.

When Judge Greg Lenehan told the young man to meet with a probation officer and cooperate with them in the preparation of a pre-sentence report, he responded in a subdued voice. “Yes, sir.”

He is scheduled to return to court for sentencing on Nov. 13.

For Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, nothing will ever bring her daughter back. But keeping her memory alive and using it to make some important changes, means a great deal to her.

“None of it is enough, but the fact that he’s pleading guilty is some consolation,” she said. “I do feel some solace in that she just wanted to be validated and she wanted people to know that this actually happened to her.”

Packed house on opening day

Photo by Devaan Ingraham / www.devaaningraham.com

Temptress! Sophia Smart (Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons) turns on the charm and Richard Clod (Rob McIntyre) is sure it is against regulations in this scene from Department of Common Sense. Photo by Devaan Ingraham

As a playwright, your job is done before rehearsals begin and long before the curtain rises on a play. When it’s your first play, though, the work is never done. The cast of Department of Common Sense have put so much sweat and toil into this play that they deserve an audience to give them a little extra energy. That’s where my new role of producer comes into play because one of my responsibilities in that role is publicity.

We had great media coverage leading up to our first performance as part of the 23rd Atlantic Fringe Festival in Halifax, and I was delighted to see a packed house for the cast. It was a bit of a steam bath at DANSpace — one audience member quipped it would be great for hot yoga — but the cast persevered and delivered a great show that people enjoyed. It was hot, not as hot as the picture of Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons (above), but still hot. Kudos to my friend Devaan Ingraham for this great production still.

We learned after the show that Stephen Cooke of The Chronicle Herald attended the play. I waited anxiously for the review — the first time a newspaper had reviewed my play — and I celebrated with a beer after I read this.

I think the cast, and our director Nick Jupp, should take another bow.

Is racism to blame in Alehouse complaint?

I was at the Alehouse last week for a pint. There was a bouncer working at the door who was of African heritage and had the same colour of skin that Peter Gilpin has.

Peter Gilpin is a man who filed a human rights complaint against the Alehouse, saying that they refused to let him into the downtown bar because he was black. See story here.

When I was younger, I was refused service at bars and in liquor stores. The most noticeable difference is that I am caucasian and so the reason for me being denied service was for failing to provide valid identification. Another big difference was my age; I was younger than Mr. Gilpin, who was 33 at the time of the incident. Nova Scotia has very strict liquor laws and there is intense scrutiny on bars to make sure they uphold them. If they don’t, they face costly penalties.

I’m not denying that racism has existed in Nova Scotia and that it continues to exist. In fact, I find this line in the CBC story to be somewhat comical: “The hearing has accepted a ground-breaking report that indicates Nova Scotia has a racism problem.”

What? Really? Who funded that report, the No Shit, Sherlock Institute?

I supposed I shouldn’t be so glib about that. There are actually people who deny that racism exists. The first step in solving a problem is getting people to realize that it exists. Getting a sense of the scope of the problem is also helpful.

Whenever an employee feels pressure to follow rules, it can sometimes seem unkind or unfair to the person that is affected.

About a year ago, I was walking up Quinpool Road toward a bus stop that was not the one at which I regularly boarded the bus. When the bus drove past me, I wondered what was going on. I looked up at the sign and realized that recent changes to the route had eliminated this stop. Even though the bus driver was mired in rush-hour traffic, he drove past me and stopped about 20 feet up the road.

When I walked up to the stopped bus and knocked on the door to see if the bus driver would let me in, he would not. The bus driver, who was an African Nova Scotian, just shook his head and drove off when traffic started to move.

Traffic was so heavy that I was able to walk a few blocks up the road to the next stop and board the bus. When I asked the driver why he didn’t let me on earlier, he told me that he is not allowed to stop the bus and let passengers board at unmarked stops.

He was just following the rules and I did not think that he was treating me any differently because I was white.

With a history of racism against black people, it is easy to understand how Mr. Gilpin can make the assumption that his race was the reason he wasn’t allowed in to the Alehouse.

Racism exists, it is ugly, and I hate it. I hate it for the injustices that it has caused and continues to cause.

Even though I have never been a victim of racism, it does affect me directly. It has led to distrust and resentment that prevents racial harmony.

Was Mr. Gilpin a victim of racism or a victim of strict liquor laws and their draconian enforcement?

Given the facts and circumstances, I would say the latter, but it’s easy to see how even a youthful-looking 33-year-old man could think otherwise.

If I were the owner of the bar, I would have a special African Heritage night with live music and invite Mr. Gilpin and his friends to come down for a meal and a pint on the house.

This, more than any ruling from a human rights commission, would work to improve racial harmony in Nova Scotia.

New Waterford jobs not exactly as advertised

On Monday, the NDP government announced it was moving jobs from the city to rural areas to fulfill the commitment that they had made in this spring’s Throne Speech.

In three separate announcements, they announced that 93 jobs involving three departments would be moving. Two of those were straightforward. Agriculture jobs were moving from Halifax to Truro while Fisheries and Aquaculture was moving some jobs from Halifax to Digby-Clementsport and some to Shelburne County.

Here is what the news release from the Department of Justice said about the transfer of its maintenance enforcement jobs to New Waterford.

Service is currently delivered online, via telephone and in five locations around the province.”

It boasted that 25 jobs would be moving to Cape Breton. When combined with the 11 already in Sydney, it would amount to 36 jobs for New Waterford. Left unsaid in the release is the names of the communities where those maintenance enforcement staff are employed and their current staffing levels — with the exception of the 11 staff in Sydney.

Here are the rest of the numbers:

  • Dartmouth, 11
  • Halifax, 8
  • Kentville, 8
  • Amherst, 6
  • New Glasgow, 3

The eight staff at the Department of Justice offices on Terminal Road in Halifax will not be moving as they need to remain in Halifax to be close to Finance staff.

The 17 staff in the rural communities of Kentville, Amherst and New Glasgow were part of a planned consolidation with the 11 staff in urban Dartmouth. Premier Darrell Dexter said consolidations such as this have — in the past — normally involved staff moving into the city.

So, of the 47 maintenance enforcement jobs in the province, 36 will be in New Waterford. Of those 36, only 11 are currently in the provincial capital.

That the NDP chose to make a planned consolidation take place in New Waterford instead of the Halifax Regional Municipality is fine. The only people who object to this appear to be the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, but the government should have been more forthcoming with the details.

Sometimes, PR people are reluctant to “get down in the weeds” by providing too many details. In this case, because the consolidation of the maintenance enforcement jobs had not been previously revealed, these details were relevant and should have been part of Monday’s announcement.