Category Archives: Uncategorized

What to watch, what to read, and what to listen to…

Today is the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. He died in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. The man who killed him used a shotgun, and came from the main mosque in Newark, New Jersey.  But two other men served 20 years in jail for the crime and they were not even near the ballroom. I’m telling you this because Netflix has a wonderful series about Malcolm X’s life and death. x-videoThe series tells us more about theNation of Islam, about the many mosques across the US in the 1960s (and beyond) and the brilliance of Malcolm X,  than anything I’ve ever seen. Of course I’ve read his autobiography. And I’ve seen the X-book1992 film Malcolm X. But nothing compares to this sensitive and lively investigation by a New York Muslim who is the proverbial “gumshoe” in this series.   into who really killed him – and why. Here’s the trailer for Who Killed Malcolm X.   About Martin Luther King Jr’s efforts to fight for blacks’ rights, Malcolm X said, blacks have to “start swinging [and] stop singing.”


Also on Netflix, I watched Retribution. It’s also called One of Us  retribActually the first several episodes are better than the last, which seem to often be the case in these miniseries. The critics say the ending is “bafflingly bad”.  However I never watch anything for the ending!! Two Scottish families have been neighbours for decades in a farming area not too far from Edinburgh. The scenery is wonderful, by the way.   The son in one family marries the daughter in the other, and when they return to Edinburgh from their honeymoon, they become murder victims in a break and enter. The families become more than a little unhinged, which alerts the police to investigate them as well as the double homicide.  The acting’s great; the setting macabre, and it’s good to watch before bed.retribution

I just finished Globe and Mail writer Robyn Doolittle’s excellent new book,

Had it Coming. doolittle1What’s Fair in the Age of #MeToo?. 

Doolittle made waves when she published a series in the Globe called “Unfounded,” in 2017. She  examined more than 200 police departments across Canada and, through Freedom of Information requests and other data, was able to determine that 1 in 5 or 20% of women’s complaints of sexual assault and rape were thrown out by  our police forces as “unfounded.”  doolittle-2

Governor-General Julie Payette, right, presents The 2017 Michener Award to reporter Robyn Doolittle and editor-in-chief David Walmsley during a ceremony at Rideau Hall on June 12, 2018 in Ottawa. (Globe and Mail photo)


Doolittle’s new book is full of interesting interviews, questions and answers. For example, she went to New York City to interview Susan Brownmiller, the woman who wrote the 1975 landmark book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. Doolittle compares her  values and opinions on rape and sexual assault, as a Generation Y’er,  with those of the baby boomer generation.   Doolittle’s writing is clear, unvarnished and sometimes provocative.

She uses a great deal of skill and sensitivity. Yet she also challenges the values and self-awareness of the #MeToo victims, their abusers and the fence-sitters.

Her book is not a legal tome nor does it rely on pop-psychology. She creates a huge energy in her narrative. This is a book for Canadian readers about Canadian upheaval in the relatively new post #MeToo era.

It was a pleasure to read, to highlight and go back and re-read bits. I bought it as an e-book, but it’s in hardcover at the Halifax Library.

About a week ago I read an article about the lives of young women in Saudi Arabia. The review noted a novel, Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea. The Halifax library had a “recorded book” which I listened to.  Girls of Riyadh was written in the early 2000s. Four young women of university age are the day-to-day subjects of a fifth young woman’s emails to herself over a one year period. It’s her way of keeping a diary. The women are upper class, very wealthy by our standards– a boyfriend/suitor brings one woman diamond earrings as a hostess gift. The young women struggle with their adherence to rules set out by a sexist and repressive government, which are compounded by religious conventions and control by  parents and family.


Weddings are just about the only outings the young women are allowed – other than to the mall and to single-sex college classes.   The weddings (though the receptions and parties are rigidly segregated) stoke the women’s fantasy lives  which see romance as a way to fulfillment.

The book is quite fascinating – yet for me, rather frightening. One woman is left divorced with a child – when the husband goes to the US to further his education. She was never even invited along. Another woman  becomes a medical doctor only to turn away from her practice in favour of having babies and running a household.

At first I didn’t like the book. But after a while it began to  haunt me, and I grew more fond of it. I see from Wikipedia, the book was banned in Saudi, and since 2008 has been  available in the English translation– not in Arabic.   Apparently it sells well across Europe.

In the podcast world, a good series is Hoffa, presented by Shattered. You can listen for free to its 5 episodes. The earlier segments are the most interesting as we find out something of Jimmy Hoffa’s early life. Frankly he was a genius. Having left school at age 14, due to the family’s dire poverty, his first job was at Kroger’s the grocery chain in the US. He led a strike there for higher pay and shorter hours. At 18 he was the union’s leader and managed to build solidarity with other workers. He had a great memory for workers’ names and families, which endeared him to many. He built an union empire and the empire (along with mafia interests) built Las Vegas. His testimony before US Senate committees on racketeering is fascinating and bits of it are woven into this podcast.  His legendary fights with Robert F Kennedy who had resolved to break the union, and its ties to the Mafia ended Hoffa with an 8 year prison sentence. The podcast notes his autobiography, hoffaHoffa: the Real Story, which I can recommend. It was cut short by his disappearance, and clearly his murder. You can download the podcast from Apple or where you get your podcasts.

I also listened to Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow. catchIn 2017 he worked as a journalist for NBC News in New York and heard stories about Harvey Weinstein. He began to track down the stories, and obtained eyewitness proof of sexual assault and rape. But his bosses in television – who knew what a big player Weinstein was — refused to allow the stories to go to air. Farrow turned around and peddled his groundbreaking story with names of women, dates and places, plus jabs at the police investigations and run-ins with private security to the New Yorker magazine. Farrow’s book by the same name is clever, quick and exciting.

The podcast is a short cut for reading the book. Well worth listening to – and reading the book tells you even more. My favourite bit is when Farrow meets the guy who was hired to follow him at the behest of of Weinstein. But this private detective, a Russian Jew, becomes Farrow’s friend and confidant.

Ridicule and bullying on a Halifax street

It happened on a freezing cold day last week, on a Halifax street. You’ve heard of a ‘ride along’ –when a journalist rides with the police for a shift. This was a ‘walk along’.

While I waited at a bus stop, I saw first responders engage with a tired, scruffy, older man who wanted a lift to the hospital.

There was an ambulance, with three EHS staff. The two women had pony tails. There were also two cops, who had their hands in their pockets because of the cold and  wore bullet-proof vests.

They crowded around disheveled man who wasn’t much more than 5 feet tall. He was hunched over. He wore loose pants that could have been pyjamas, a raincoat, a scarf and a hat.

I stared at the group. One paramedic asked me,” Can I help you?“ Her tone told me to mind my own business. I pointed to the sign for the bus stop. “Sorry  if we are blocking your bus stop,” she smiled.

The man shouted at the first responders, “I called you ‘cause I need a ride to the hospital.”

EHSOne paramedic said, “Well you don’t call ambulance for that. What’s wrong with you?”

He started swearing at her. She told him not to address her that way. He got angrier, and so did she. She insisted he address her respectfully.

One cop then told him “I could arrest you.”
The man seemed scared, “For what?” The cop said for “wasting our time and resources.” He pointed to the EHS van and the paramedics.

The paramedic asked the man if he had a heart problem. He said yes, he’d had a heart attack. When, she asked. A few years ago, came the answer.

“I wouldn’t have called you except I need to go to the hospital now,” he said anxiously.

The other paramedic said, “this isn’t an emergency. You don’t need an ambulance. To go to the hospital, you should have called a taxi.”

He shook his head and muttered under his breath. Then he started to walk up the street.

“I got to get to the hospital.”

We watched him shuffle away. The paramedics and the cops smirked and laughed a little.

I ran to stop the man and ask if I could help. He told me to get lost.

I turned back to the cops and the ambulance people. Again they laughed, and shrugged their shoulders while they climbed into their respective vehicles.

What bothers me about the interaction with this man are several things:snowy

  1. He could have been ‘crying wolf’ and had – for all I know — frequently called 911 previous to this time. That could account for the hostile attitude the first responders showed him.
  2. Still, the first responders alternated bullying the man with threats.
  3. Common decency and humanity seemed to be in short supply. Yes the man swore and demanded a ride to the hospital — he was not polite. But it dawned on me that he could have had mental health issues, or was very alone, or very scared. Maybe he was homeless; maybe he was drunk. The first responders’ reaction was to ridicule and threaten him with arrest.
  4. I suppose it’s a good thing the police didn’t arrest him and leave him in a cell. As we know from the Corey Rogers case in Halifax and from this case in Airdrie, Alberta – too often police don’t bother to check on prisoners who cause no trouble. If the prisoner is quiet, it’s not usually a good sign.

Gary Aitchison: he’s moving from the hotel to a decent apartment with no bedbugs

What’s wrong with this picture?

Gary Aitchison was lucky and not so lucky. He was lucky that I overheard him talk to the driver on a city bus about the bedbugs in his seniors’ apartment. He was not so lucky to have had to pay rent of $482 a month to live with bedbugs for more than seven years. He was lucky to have had the resolve to refuse to go home one day, and go to a hotel to stay. He was lucky to have found a hotel with a sympathetic manager who allowed him to stay – until he could find a suitable, non-infested apartment. He was not so lucky to have ended up in the hospital’s emergency twice with a panic attack and extreme distress because bedbugs wandered over his body at night time.aitchison

Finally after 3 months of living in a Halifax hotel, Aitchison got word that there was a bachelor apartment available for him at Northwood Towers.   “This is what I wanted all along,” he said.northwood

After Gary Aitchison’s story broke in, it took Metro Regional Housing Authority less than a month to find him a suite. He had complained about the bedbugs for seven years and management at the Gordon B. Isnor manor didn’t take the situation seriously. Sure, they sprayed a couple of times, but the bedbugs returned– not just to Aitchison’s apartment but to the hundreds of other units on 16 floors.

As the person who helped expose the way older adults in Nova Scotia are housed in rent-subsidized manors, I’m grateful for all your interest.   More than 12,000 people read the article. Many of you wrote encouraging emails to Aitchison; some of you offered to send him money so he could pay for his hotel and future apartment; others excoriated the NS government.

While it is a big victory that Gary Aitchison won the right to live in a bedbug-free apartment at Northwood, what about the others who live in Isnor and other manors in Halifax? A victory for one is not a victory. It’s merely the first round.

There may be a tenants’ association for your building. Raise hell. And if there’s no tenants’ association, form one. Ask me how. My email is

Heritage Day – no premium paid to most who work on Mon. Feb. 17

The Nova Scotia “Heritage day” holiday will be on Mon. Feb. 17.  This year, it  commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Africville apology, and honours the National Historic Site of the African Nova Scotian community. heritage5

In NS, it could be a paid day off work.  At least for some of you.

Heritage Day is one of the 6 paid holidays days each year.  In addition there is Remembrance Day, which has its own rather restrictive act.   NS has one of the lowest number of paid holidays, or what some call “statutory holidays”, in Canada. For example, New Brunswick has 8, and PEI has 7 paid holidays.  However Quebec has 8, and Ontario and Saskatchewan boast 10.heritage4

In NS, Heritage Day means most stores and offices must be closed.  To receive pay for the day off, you have to have earned pay at your job for at least 15 of the last 30 days.  You also must have worked your shift right before the holiday, and your shift after the holiday.   By law, most coffee shops confectionary stores, gas stations, hotels, and small drug stores are allowed to remain open.

So when you have a coffee at  Tim’s or  Starbucks on Monday, you should know that the employees who serve you will probably be those who have worked there fewer than 15 of the last 30 days.  That way the employers do not have to give them the day off with pay.  In fact servers on Heritage Day will likely receive their regular pay (no bonus) for working on the holiday.

If you don’t like not being paid, think about organizing a union at your workplace. Then the union can negotiate Heritage Day to be a paid holiday for everyone.

Ask me how.heritage2Painting By Maud Lewis



A Walk down Hollis Street, in the snow

snow1Walking along Hollis St., Halifax, here’s the iron fence in front of the soon to be demolished Commissionaires’ building.

snow-lt-govFancy wrought iron fence  at the rear of the Lieutenant Governor’s House, built in 1804.

Below:  The startling look of trees almost hiding the back of St Matthew’s church. The spire is lovely.



snow-hollisWalking north on Hollis, in front of the former Finnish consulate, now dark and for rent. The snow is dancing.  The next building  is  Keith Hall … after the Alexander Keith’s brewery… belowsnow-keith

A lovely detail of one window at Keith Hall, and the iron fence…

Thanks to my son Omri, who just pointed out that everything I photographed tonite was more than 100 years old…

What to Read and What to Watch…

Did you know that in 1961 there was a beauty contest to promote an upcoming concert of a little known country and western singer namedJohnny Cash?  To a crowd of 1500, Cash sang a song he wrote for  the “Girl in Saskatoon”– the contest winner.  The 21 year old woman who won the contest, Alex Wiwcharuk, received a dozen red roses on stage while she sat near Cash.

The next year she was raped and murdered, in fact she was buried alive, in a pleasant spot by the S. Saskatchewan River– in the north end of Saskatoon.alex

I stumbled upon the book, The Girl in Saskatoon, by one of this country’s most famous writers, Sharon Butala.   In 2008, before true crime podcasts were a “thing”, Butala’s book was little known around here, but made it big in western Canada.  Butala went to high school and was in the school’s drama club with Alex.  Both students came from settler roots (families were ‘homesteaders’)  — Butala from Garrick, north-east of Saskatoon, and Wiwcharuk from a village called Endeavour, 3 plus hours south-east of the city.  Both girls came to Saskatoon for school, and both settled in the sometimes rough but predominantly white working class neighbourhood on the city’s west side called Riversdale.

While Butala went to university, Wiwcharuk attended nursing school alex2and was in her first year as a nurse at Saskatoon City Hospital that she was murdered.  Over more than four decades,  Butala weaves a fascinating story about the growth of Saskatoon, which in 1912 was called the Magic City.   I myself lived there for 12 years and I think I learned more from this book, than I have from reading several histories of the city.  butalaSharon Butala

Butala examines the clash of Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic cultures; she looks at the barriers set for  Indigenous people who dared to move off reserve to the city; she looks at issues of women, careers and work.  And she shows us how staid and unmoving conditions were for women who had to be wives and mothers above anything else.

The book girl-bookis a who dunnit with no known perpetrator– or even a suspect to this day.  The police were bunglers and disinterested at best,  very sexist and misogynist at worst.  At one point when a now middle-aged Butala tries to investigate the crime, she is hounded by the local cops — her phone is tapped, and she’s tailed by them and the RCMP while driving.  I’m reminded that a short 7 years after Wiwcharuk’s murder– a nursing assistant, Gail Miller age 19–  was brutally killed also on Saskatoon’s west side.  Police were quick to charge 17 year old David Milgaard, who was on a cross-country road trip with two friends. milg-1   Not only did he spent 23 years in prison for a crime he did not do, but the real perpetrator, Larry Fisher, was arrested in 1997 — 28 years after the murder.  Fisher who had raped other women, lived in the basement of Miller’s rooming house.  It seems Fisher’s ex-wife had told the cops in 1980 that she knew that Larry had probably killed Miller.  But the cops dropped the case until DNA evidence exonerated Milgaard in ’97.  Many say the only reason he was released milg2

Above, Milgaard at age 17 or 18; here Milgaard in middle age. 

and eventually paid $10 million in compensation  was because his mother, Joyce Milgaard, ran a decades long campaign which promoted his innocence.  joyceThe cops hated her for her persistence and activism. But the University of Winnipeg gave her an honorary doctorate.


The Skin We’re In is an excellent 44 minute  POV (point of view) documentary made by Desmond Cole.  You can watch on Youtube, or on CBC Gem.  Cole’s new book The Skin We’re In cole-1has just been published and he’s done the circuit on The Current, CBC Radio gigs and on TVO (TV Ontario) premier news program, The Agenda.  This week on Thursday Feb. 13 he will be speaking at King’s College in Alumni Hall at 6.30 pm.  It’s necessary for whites to hear what Desmond has to say.

Lampedusa is a novel lampedusaby Canadian Steven Price. This is a brilliant novel and delightful.  I’m not sure how many of you have read the “national” book of Italy called The LeopardThe Leopard was published a few years after its author’s death, and a famous film was made of it in the early 60s (there is a BlueRay copy in the public library.)  Lampedusa is the tale of The Leopard‘s Leopard-1author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.   This nobleman lived pretty much his whole life in Sicily.  His  spellbinding novel looks at the unification of  Italy (called the Risorgimento), which is actually the founding of modern day Italy in 1861, and 80 years of politics, intrigue and culture of southern Italy –through the eyes of a progressive aristocrat.  However, Lampedusa is a novel about Giuseppe Tomasi himself, his life with his wife who was a psycho-analyst, and his desperate need to write about the past and have his book The Leopard published and recognised.  It never happened in his lifetime.  But the book, Lampedusa, weaves a wonderful tale and takes you– the reader– to a Sicily of 60 years ago, a Palermo down at the heel, and a land all but forgotten in post-World War II modernity. You won’t put Lampedusa down.

From Affordable Apartment to Hotel: the truth about Halifax Seniors’ Manors

aitchisonGary Aitchison

Gary Aitchison had to plan ahead whenever he left his Halifax apartment. Most days, either the night before or in the morning before he stepped outside, Aitchison took a big garbage bag with what he wanted to wear that day — his socks, underwear, trousers, shirt, coat and shoes to the laundromat in his building. He took his clothes and shoes out of the bag and popped them into the dryer and set it on high for about 40 minutes.

“I had to make sure the stuff was bug free,” he said. He heated the clothes to kill any bedbugs which could have been hiding in the folds, the pockets or in the hems of his clothing.

If he heated his clothes the night before, he returned the clothes to the bag and tied it up tightly. If he heated the clothes in the morning, he put on them on – still warm. Only then did he feel he could “safely” go out for the day.

Aitchison can barely remember a time he did not have to go through this rigmarole. He said his apartment was littered with at least six big green or blue plastic bags full of his clothes which he tied up tightly so “nothing would get in them. “

Imagine having to dry and store his clothes either the evening prior or in the morning just before going out for the day—whether to the library, to play bridge, to attend a music recital—or even to visit a friend in their home. “Well,” Aitchison laughed, ”I couldn’t even go to my sister’s for Christmas dinner because she was worried about the bedbugs. I haven’t been able to play duplicate bridge because my friend wouldn’t allow me in his apartment or his vehicle unless I got rid of the bedbugs. Another friend who I play bridge with won’t let me play bridge at her home either.”

Aitchison, an active 71 year old, has lived in an apartment in Gordon B. Isnor Manor for more than 15 years. isnorHe has an arts degree from Saint Mary’s University and used to work as permanent then ‘casual’ staff in the federal civil service. Before moving into Gordon B. Isnor, he lived for years in Shelburne County as the caregiver for his mother until her death.

Over the last six or eight years at Gordon B. Isnor, his apartment has been plagued with bedbugs and mice. He says all the residents of the building suffer from the same problem.   “You walk out the back doors of the building and you see the mice running all through the garbage that’s piled up there.”

However today, Aitchison lives in a room in a downtown Halifax hotel. He has been there since November 11, 2019.   This is the story about how he came to live in a hotel.

“On Armistice day, I moved out of my apartment. I was debating that morning whether to kill myself or go to Emergency. A month earlier, I had woken up in the night and seen six bedbugs crawling on me. I called Emergency and they wouldn’t help me. They said ‘we’re not here for bedbugs’.” On Nov. 11, Aitchison went to the Remembrance Day service at Camp Hill and stayed for the reception. He noted that despite some veterans having a form of dementia, they were all well-treated and living in a good environment. This underscored how abysmal his own living situation was.

He decided not to return to his apartment at the Manor—not to live there, not to visit there, and not even to pick up some treasured possessions there. He needed a place to stay that was free of bed bugs.

The constant anxiety, the loneliness and the fear of having friends reject him reject him because of the bedbugs, drove Aitchison to check in to the hotel. “They asked for my credit card, not really anything else. I booked in for a week and each Monday I have to renew that. At first, I didn’t tell the people at the hotel why, I just said I needed a room. I was afraid they wouldn’t let me stay. I was embarrassed and so I didn’t tell them why –at first,” admitted Aitchison.

Staff at the hotel gave him a warm welcome. His first night turned into more than 75 nights. At Christmas, the staff presented him with a coupon for a free Christmas dinner in the hotel dining room and several smaller gifts. “You don’t realize what it means to get into a clean bed, and not be worried about insects crawling all over you. That is amazing to me.”

He recalled, “I came with nothing, just what I had on and a few dried clothes in a plastic bag. The hotel gave me a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and even an umbrella.”

The next day, Aitchison went to a discount store to buy a few pairs of underwear, socks, mittens and a cap. He remembered, “I had to put the new clothes thru the drier because I was still paranoid about bedbugs.”

So far, even though the hotel is giving him a lower room rate, he has paid more than $2,300, which he took from his savings. As of mid-January, his tab was well over $5,000.   His room costs $492.66 a week. He has no idea how he will pay, or why he should pay. After all, he had been paying $482 a month for years to live in the Gordon B. Isnor apartment– though it was almost uninhabitable. “I haven’t paid the last two months’ rent and I haven’t heard from them,” he said.

The Gordon B. Isnor Manor, like other seniors’ manors, is operated by Metro Regional Housing Authority.   What was their response to Aitchison’s complaint about bedbugs? Aitchison explained, “First they came with a dog, then they used spray, then heat treatment –nothing was working: they replaced my bed, my chair and the bedbugs were still there.”

About a week into his stay at the hotel, he had a panic attack at the breakfast table. “They called an ambulance, and when I was being released they [hotel staff] came to pick me up, in a car. They sent a taxi! The idea that one day I’d have to return to my apartment was terrible.” Aitchison went back to the hotel. “They are nice to me there. But I can’t live there forever.”

This wasn’t the first time Aitchison had had a panic attack due to the bedbug infestation. Several years ago he said he wasI was ashamed to tell too many about the bedbugs. I was constantly feeling anxiety and on the edge.” He said, “I did bring a bedbug to emergency. They sent me home with my clothes in a plastic bag; I had hospital boots on. The doctor said they had to quarantine the room when they saw a bedbug crawling along.”

His recent panic attack signaled to some of the hospital staff, that he could not move back into his apartment. Aitchison wanted to live at Northwood, “I’m at the bottom of the list—I have to wait a year or so. But I can’t go back to my apartment. I was just so fed up. I’m almost homeless.” Six years ago, when he was 65, Aitchison applied to live at Northwood, but because he had an apartment at Gordon B. Isnor he was not allowed to get a place on the wait list.

Lately, from time to time Aitchison has returned to Gordon B. Isnor Manor to pick up his mail. He said that when Metro Regional Housing found out where he was living, they phoned him at the hotel and asked to meet him in the boardroom at Sunrise Manor. Two staff confronted Aitchison and urged him not to complain publicly about the bedbug infestation, because it could make it hard for him to find another apartment.bedbug

When this writer tried to contact a community relations worker at Metro Regional Housing, I was directed to email a provincial communications advisor who sent this boilerplate response:

“Every Nova Scotian deserves a safe and affordable place to live. We take all complaints and concerns raised by tenants seriously and work with them towards a resolution. However, due to privacy reasons, we can not speak about specific cases. “

No one knows where Aitchison will live or who will foot the bill for his hotel stay. What is known as that the government seems to have a blindspot when it comes to making life better for less wealthy Nova Scotians. Halifax is spending $20 million for a CFL stadium which a tiny fraction of the affluent (male) population will visit but there is no money to eradicate vermin from the city’s seniors’ manors.   As we know a society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members. Surely the elderly, and others whose only option is to live in subsidized housing should be treated better.