Category Archives: Uncategorized

Covid-19 and Mall Madness….

The Halifax Shopping Centre is open for business.  A few years ago I did a study about who works at the mall. It revealed that more than 1400 people worked in the retail stores and the food court. mall1Wages are low, generally within a dollar of minimum wage – which will be $12.55/hr starting April 1.  Today minimum wage is $11.55 per hour.

Despite individual campaigns by Facebook friends who ask that we phone mall management and demand they close in the wake of Covid-19, mall operators Toronto-based Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services Inc. insist the mall must stay open. As a retail worker Andrew Donatelli posted on the mall’s Facebook (FB) page notes: “Majority of the stores are closed which is pushing traffic into our stores that still remain open. You are comprising [compromising] our health and prove to the employees of the mall yet again that you do not care about our health. With the little amount of cases we currently have, we have an enormous privilege right now to contain ourselves and not risk mass spread, but it’s nice to see you’ll sell out people’s lives for some money.”

Of course many stores have closed. But that has the effect of pushing people into the stores that remain open  As Amanda Parris wrote on the mall’s FB site “… but risk– all the workers who have no choice to come to work cuz u guys can’t do the right thing and close– this is ridiculous the mall doesn’t care about ppl . how many times i have risked my life for work is ridiculous.”

The retail sector’s motto may as well be “anything for a buck”.  Check out the advertising flyers in your newspaper on Wednesdays or Thursdays.  Canadian Tire is open, as is Bass Pro Shops, and Staples. It’s not a good news story for the staff which is stuck there, facing the lineups at the cashiers’ check-outs.

I suppose Canadian Tire and Bass Pro Shops are providing a service to women in Halifax.  With the men home 24/7, there has been a rise in violence in the home. Encouraging men in their sweat pants to drive to Canadian Tire, and wander around the aisles for a couple of hours might be a health bonus, even a kind of reprieve in these times.

Though we have no Canadian figures yet, in China there was a dramatic increase in domestic violence as millions in Hubei province – not far from Wuhan —  were under “lockdown” (total isolation) for more than 70 days.

Not just the Halifax Shopping Centre, but also Dartmouth Crossing is open.  While 90% of its retail stores are closed, Home Depot, mall04Dollarama, Kent Building Supplies, Pet Smart and Ren’s Pets remain open.  Of course all of the restaurants and bars respect provincial government orders, and offer take-out meals only. There’s no table service allowed.

On the Mic Mac Mall website there is a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs). This one caught my eye:

“Is it safe to go to the mall? What measures have you implemented at your centre to deal with COVID-19? Answer:  “Over the last few weeks, a series of preventive measures were implemented at the property, including educating tenants and visitors on respiratory and handwashing hygiene. We have also ensured that the hand soap dispensers and the hand sanitizer dispensers were properly filled at designated locations on our property.  We have increased the frequency of housekeeping practices in the common areas of our property and all cleaning products follow the recommendations for cleaning COVID-19 in the workplace.” Despite the mall cleaners’ super-human cleaning efforts, a cheery customer service rep told me today that the only businesses open are two banks, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Showcase “Home of the Hottest Trends”.  Shoppers are only permitted on the mall’s main floor not the other floors.

The workers in the malls and stores are providing a service. But of course most of what’s open is nowhere near essential – Showcase, Home Depot, banks and Canadian Tire are putting their low-wage workers at considerable risk.  But the employees are stuck and need to earn. They are justifiably afraid to lose the jobs they have if they refuse to work in the mall.

However, you retail and bank workers deserve praise and our thanks.  You are risking your own health to provide comfort to the rest of us.

Danger is Everywhere…

 

On one side of the heroes’ ledger are doctors, nurses and other professionalized health care workers like technologists and therapists. They are on the front lines at the hospitals and clinics to fight the Covid-19 virus.  They have to attend to the patients. Somehow they must keep up their own spirits before the onslaught of potentially thousands of patients come thru the doors with high fevers, coughing and difficulty breathing. Doctors are well paid.  And nurses and other professionals – thanks to decades of unionization — are decently paid. They can afford to live on what they earn.mask3

On the other side of the ledger are the other unionized health care workers:  the continuing care assistants, the orderlies, the porters, the ward clerks, the cleaners and the food service staff.  They too have to be at their jobs, often around the clock.

However, in these times of crisis and uncertainty and fear, do the wages of any of the heroes justify the dangers they face?

One could say doctors and nurses have a higher calling.  They are part of professions which for centuries have placed others’ lives before their own – on battlefields, in war zones, in earthquakes, in hurricanes, and in parts of the world where there was little hope.  Today doctors and nurses have died in China and in Italy while treating patients with the Coronavirus. Yes, money means something to doctors and nurses– but it does not mean everything.

But money means an awful lot to many hospital heroes who are earning a handful of  dollars more than minimum wage.   Today, NS’s minimum wage is $11.55. On April 1, minimum wage will rise to a measley $12.55 an hour. Our hospital heroes are pressed by the need to work more hours, or overtime, to earn enough money to live. I know one clinic receptionist who works two jobs – she’s not exceptional. mask

We know about minimum wage, but what about the Living Wage? The Living Wage is what a worker should be paid so that their household can meet basic needs.  It is meant to prevent severe financial stress by lifting families them out of poverty and providing a basic level of economic security.

In Halifax it stands at $19.17 an hour, and that was a couple of years ago. A warning about the Living Wage: it does not take into account the need for savings, putting money aside for children’s higher education or adding to pensions.

Because most of our hospital heroes are unionized, they earn around $19.00 an hour.

But is it fair to ask them to gamble their own health and that of their families, in this time of crisis?  We know the reason Premier McNeil’s comments are turgid and sound frightening. Our health care system would break down if thousands needed hospitalization, needed ventilators, or immediate treatment for Covid-19.  Funding to the system has been shorted for years. Corners have been cut. GPs are in short supply and high demand.  mask2

Everyone has now seen the wonderful chart about “flattening the curve.” The key point is to slow and reduce the increase in cases of Covid-19 so that the influx of patients does not overwhelm the capacity of the hospitals. But one of the elephants in the room is that line representing capacity. Because of all the austerity cuts in recent years, that line is much lower than it should be and much easier to overwhelm. Health care systems NEED EXCESS CAPACITY precisely in order to deal with emergencies like pandemics. We need MORE health care workers, intensive care beds, ventilators, NOT FEWER.

While health care in acute settings is good – what about caring for an ageing and increasingly disabled population? What about quality care in long-term care facilities? Reports reveal most nursing homes are operating at minimal staffing levels. We need all the heroes of health care on duty – but with this Covid-19 crisis many will get sick, or book off because someone is sick in their families.  Who will replace people who deliver food trays to patients, who clean, who bathe and cope with patients and their families?

At the least these health care heroes need higher pay – that’s some assurance of their value to the broader community.

 

 

Covid-19– What about the workers?

My in-box today had several messages of interest that pertain to Covid-19.

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Item 1: Tim Hortons wants us to know the seating areas in all their restaurants are now closed. The coffee shop will be serving drive-thru crowd and the folks who want take-out snacks. Both are a problem for the employees. Timmie’s staff who lean out the window to serve coffee at the drive-through are less than 18 inches from the driver of any vehicle. At the counter, workers are about a foot from anyone they serve at the cash register. In my Timmies, the walk-in customers line up during the morning commute and at mid-morning break time. Most customers stand less than 12 inches from the one ahead of them in line—or behind them.

Item 2:   The CEO of Staples Canada wants us to know that what he calls “The Working and Learning Company” will continue to provide excellent service, and office supplies including wipes, sanitizers and other cleaning products. The Canadian CEO says, “We have reinforced hygiene protocols, restricted business travel for our associates and paused in-store events … We’ve also taken numerous precautions to keep our stores, associates and customers safe, including increased cleaning at every location.”

What about the cleaners, the employees who are usually paid the least, and the clerks or sales “associates” who earn perhaps a dollar or two more than minimum wage. Minimum wage in NS is $11.55 an hour; next month it increases to $12.55 – a far cry from the suggested Living Wage of about $19.00/hour just for Halifax. That is the real cost to live in dignity in Halifax and much of the province. Store hours will remain long. And no amount of cleaning and sanitizing is going to help with the social distancing needed to stop the scary trajectory of Covid-19 virus.

Item 3: The brass at Saint Mary’s University wants us to know that lectures and public events are cancelled for this week, and the next two weeks. International students and those whose homes are elsewhere are encouraged to go home. Of course the Canadian government is all but demanding people do not travel. And foreign students who try to return may not be allowed back in Canada while the virus is raging. Students can still remain in residence rooms, but the cafeteria and other services have been cut back dramatically.

The professors are permitted to stay at home, and teach online. But the staff including the cleaners, the cafeteria staff, the library and the admin staff are at work on the campus. The press release here guarantees that the cleaners are working around the clock to continue to clean and sanitize the buildings, and rooms all over campus.   Cleaners, who are unionized at SMU, earn about $16 an hour.

Today I had to go to a health food store and then to a grocery store. Clerks paid minimum wage are standing and working in close range of customers. This is particularly evident with cashiers. Bus drivers are also at high risk. In a single shift, hundreds if not thousands of passengers have to enter the bus through the front door only to stop within inches of the driver so they can either show a bus pass, or put coins into the fare box.

Who is thinking about these workers’ health?

Employment Insurance (EI) pays only 55% of gross wages. Fewer than 50% of working Canadians qualify for EI. That is because the self-employed or contract workers are excluded as they are considered ‘independent contractors’. Labelling workers as ‘independent contractors’ is a tool used by employers to cut down on their responsibility to cover payroll taxes, such as EI. And with the “gig” economy, many more people work “under the table” or have casual jobs with few or no benefits. Some people work mainly for tips.

Last week, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke to the media about his government’s $1 billion Covid-19 package to help Canadians.

The government is spending $100 million of the $1 billion to prevent a Covid-19 spike in First Nations’ communities. However that is merely a drop in the bucket. As journalists at APTN have explained, many reserves and communities have no indoor toilets, and no clean water – so hand-washing cannot be a first line of defence. Many First Nations’ people have compromised health, one in four has Diabetes. Tuberculosis rates on reserve are 31 times the national average.   On- reserve housing is crowded and of poor quality (thanks to the federal government scrimping and denying proper housing) so there is almost no place to self-isolate.   Some remote reserves and communities have a health centre staffed by a couple of nurses, but no hospitals.

Out of the $1 billion the feds announced $500 million for provinces and territories to fund critical health care needs including more access to testing and equipment. However with 10 provinces and three territories, that works out to $38.4 million to each.

$50 million is to go to Canada’s Public Health Agency for public education and better communications.

$100 million is to go to more testing at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

On the same day as Trudeau made his announcement, the Minister of Finance Bill Morneau and Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz rolled out $10 billion in funds to “lend money to businesses under stress.” To help stimulate the economy, business can take advantage of $10 billion in loans and assistance which will be funnelled through the business Development Bank of Canada.

The ratio between what business got and what we, the people received, is $10 billion to $1 billion – 10 to one.

Who is getting lost in all this? First, workers are suffering. They can’t work if schools and daycares are closed and there is no one to look after their kids. But given their low wages (NS has one of the lowest median household incomes in the country), they have to work as many days and hours as they can before their workplaces shut down indefinitely. And that will be a matter of days. They can’t afford to lose income for two or four weeks while they have to stay home.

The median wage of a single parent (usually a woman) with two kids in NS is just under $40,000 a year or $769 a week. On EI, that working parent would receive only $423 a week – which would barely pay the rent or mortgage, never mind food and other necessities.

Now is the time for our federal government to give every adult enough money so they can stay home, and not risk their health and the community’s health by going out to work and spreading the virus. What if the government paid each working person $2,000 or $2,500 for the month. The government could then tax back that money from higher income people. But what the $2000 does is it allows working people to stay home, to eat, to pay their bills and look after their children.

Now is the time to seriously discuss aGuaranteed Annual Income .*  There are problems with it for sure – we still must preserve medicare, and initiate more services for everyone. But imagine if people weren’t staying at work at a bar, a restaurant or a cleaning job now – desperate to make rent for April 1. But in their desperation to earn a few hundred dollars, they are putting themselves and the community at greater risk.

* Estimated cost of a guaranteed annual income for Canadians from 2018 to 2023 is $79 billion.

 

 

Covid-19 & St Patrick’s Day in Halifax

The other day, organizers cancelled the St Patrick’s Day Parade. The Parade has been a fixture in Halifax for decades. It was supposed to take place Sunday March 15.patricks

Of course the parade is a gathering of hundreds of old and young who march through downtown. It was a good idea to cancel the parade this year because of Covid-19.

But, as I saw on a walk tonight, the festivities are ramping up– especially at downtown pubs. This happens every year, the green beer, the costumes, the singing, and the live entertainment. Tomorrow pubs open early and typically revelers settle in for a day of drinking and fun.patricks2

Owners of The Old Triangle, perhaps Halifax’s best known Irish bar, have promised to restrict entry to 150 people at any one time.   A bartender said that during his break, rather than talking about hockey with other staff, he’s busy sanitizing everything around him.

If only these measures are what is needed.

What is needed is social distancing, not gathering together to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland.patricks3

Though the government is suggesting that people self-isolate on their return from holidays or trips, or if they feel sick with a fever and sore throat, in Canada –at this point– there is no way to force people to stay home.

The only thing that will encourage self-isolation, and also promote social distancing, is closing down services, shops and entertainment across the community. Then there is less reason to go out.   Norway has done just that –schools, daycares, offices, workplace, shops (except for a few grocery stores and pharmacies), cafes, restaurants and museums must remain closed.

We often hear business congratulating itself about its efforts at “corporate social responsibility” — but what is business really doing to rise to the challenge of leveling the curve (see my previous article) of the Covid-19 virus? The answer is not much. For example, few businesses provide sick leave and sick pay for their employees; only in unionionzed workplaces can workers count on a modicum of paid sick leave. Nova Scotia’s Labour Standards Act, which covers most non-unionized workers such as café, restaurant and bar staff, retail sales people, and most in the service industry, does not provide for a single sick day with pay.

 

NS Labour and Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis believes pushing the private sector “would be another pressure on them.” He insisted that government “shouldn’t have to regulate everything for our employers.” He hoped the employers are using common sense. But there is a conflict of interest between corporate profit and doing the right thing.

As long as our governments are too timid to prevail upon business to actually co-operate and fulfil their social responsibility by closing their offices, retail stores and operations, it will be business as usual.

However the municipality must take the lead: HRM could close our beloved Central Library and the other branches; it could close pools and recreation centres; it could close its service centres and community hubs. The provincial government has to step up too .

How we are going to help people financially through this crisis, if they can’t go to work and earn, is something we can sort out. The Italian government has agreed to cover people’s mortgages and rent! But a rush of very sick people on our already stretched hospital and health care system will be far worse.

Coronavirus + Social Distancing

We hear that Parliament is going to make changes to Employment Insurance to pay employees who are affected by the virus Covid-19. In the last few weeks we’ve seen that if someone is diagnosed with it, they must self-isolate at home for 14 days; the Undersecretary of Health in the UK is now in isolation, as are Prime Minister Trudeau and his wife. A daycare centre in Calgary has closed for two weeks because one child tested positive for the virus. The Mayor of Halifax is now in self-isolation; the mayor’s office is closed till further notice. In today’s press conference, Premier McNeil did not close the schools. He said public service workers who go abroad have to self-isolate for 14 days when they return. Within a week, I’ll bet McNeil will be closing the schools before March break ends.

Cruise ships are another matter that affects us in Halifax, Sydney and the rest of the province. At least one cruise ship operator has cancelled all its sailings for the next 60 days.  The rest have brayed that they have Covid-19 under control. Though the ships have redoubled their efforts to improve their hygiene—few holiday makers in their right minds would willingly get on a cruise ship today.   Still the cruise lines continue to sail, even though thousands have cancelled holidays. But should we let them dock in Halifax?   The average ship has 5,000 passengers from the US and around the world.   Even if half-full, 2,500 will disembark, go to bars, restaurants, go to museums, and travel in buses and taxis to Peggy’s Cove.   From May to October, more than 100 cruise ships dock at Halifax. That’s at least a quarter of a million tourists who will land here during the spring and summer season.

This chart (below) surfaced the other day in the New York Times. Some experts are telling us that by simply using good hygiene and hand-washing the number of cases can be kept at bay. While hand-washing is critical, the cases will still skyrocket. The sheer volume of cases could outstrip the capacity of our health care system. In fact, today, without major outbreaks of the Covid-19 virus — we already are over capacity in some emergency rooms, and there are few extra hospital beds due to the needs of acute care and chronic care patients. That has nothing to do with Covid-19.

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In terms of Covid-19, we are already seeing that the 811 help-line in NS is at over-capacity. Doctors won’t want Covid-19 patients coughing and hacking in their waiting rooms. Emergency care at the hospital will have to be triaged, if the number and severity of cases do skyrocket.

Social Distancing

On the other hand experts tell us that using other protective measures could allow Covid-19 to build more slowly, yet stay in our communities for a longer time. We already know about the first line of defence: effective hand-washing and coughing into a tissue or a sleeve. Handshaking is out. But the real key to slowing down and “flattening the curve” (see above), is to keep by people further apart which makes transmission marginally less likely. This is called social distancing.

The notion of social distancing is catching on. We hear that sporting events, some theatres, conferences and large group activities have been cancelled. Even the national Juno Awards are cancelled. But NS’s Minister of Education Zach Churchill insists that all levels of schools remain open to students. Even after March break next week, when thousands of students travel with their families, often by airplane, Churchill insists all public schools, colleges and universities should be open to them when they return. We have 5,000 to 10,000 people on most of Nova Scotia’s university campuses. Every service and gathering place is open, including student bars, cafeterias, gyms and libraries. Halifax Transit continues to run buses all over Halifax – where people in varying degrees of health sit side by side for long or short rides. Riders don’t like the windows opened, since it’s still winter. But that means passengers get no fresh air. The city keeps our public libraries and pools open including cafes and children’s programs. In public spaces it’s almost impossible to keep the virus away.

The UK is not a good model of social distancing. Recently, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “…many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”

Just a few universities are switching to online courses, rather than traditional lectures. However, everything is operating as usual – schools, trains, buses, planes.

The US, likewise, is not a good model for us. Trump actually believes a free enterprise spirit can chase away the virus. In the US there is woefully inadequate testing, and the testing costs the patient money. Schools are open, public spaces filled and it’s business as usual. Until it isn’t. Turns out Disneyland is closed!

Capitalism and Poverty

Capitalism tries to separate us—and does a good job of it. The middle class usually doesn’t see the problems of the poor, and sometimes cares less. We have homelessness across the country at record levels. In Halifax-Dartmouth, nearly 250 https://www.homelesshub.ca/community-profile/halifax

people sleep rough or attempt to access a shelter every night. Across Canada, each month19,000 women and their children victims of male violence are denied accommodation at shelters.

People who have safe housing and jobs often believe they have little in common with the homeless, and the poor.

What will happen to the poor and homeless if they catch the Covid-19 coronavirus? In Martha Paynter’s excellent op-ed here she points out that for many prisoners the disease will be fatal. This is because there are not the facilities, the hospitals on site, or the doctors seriously monitoring the prison population. NS nursing homes have just announced no visitors except for close family who have not travelled in the last two weeks. This is to try to curb the spread. At the start of Covid-19, a Chinese restaurant in Sydney put up a sign that excluded diners who were Chinese. Embarrassed by the media attention, the owners decided to close the restaurant for a month. Now though they have apologized for their racist practice, they still refuse to re-open the restaurant. Our NS Human Rights Commission has not stepped in. After all, no one made a formal complaint. On the streets of Halifax, I’ve heard the virus is caused by foreigners. But Covid-19 is a world wide pandemic. We hear about case after case of people who test positive without any connection to anywhere but here. That is what a pandemic is.

We social activists want to unite people; we want to work with others to change our world for the better. It’s a contradiction I know, but at this time the best thing we can do to prevent ourselves and others from getting sick, and minimize deaths is to practice social distancing.   Cancel those meetings; don’t go dancing (as I did last weekend); don’t enjoy the library; don’t go to movie theatres or to markets. Don’t travel. Remember the diagram of the tall curve versus the flat curve. Remember that European countries including Italy, Ireland, Malta, Norway, and Poland have closed all schools as a precaution. France, Portugal and Spain have closed some but not all schools.

British expert in public health, Prof. John Ashton insists that the community has a huge role in helping others during these times and excoriates Boris Johnson’s homilies as too little and too late.   “What the government should have been doing over these last weeks, which they’ve thrown away, is to encourage neighbourhoods, communities, supported by the local public health directors and a joined-up NHS.

“They should have been encouraging people to have their own family plans about how they will maintain the family show on the road, who will be taking the kids to school, how do you entertain them in the Easter holidays? They should have been much clearer, sooner, about making it clear that people shouldn’t be travelling so they could cancel their holidays and get their money back on the insurance.

“They haven’t done any of that. Who’s going to look after elderly people – stop them having to go out, do their shopping for them? People should have been doing that planning – they should have been pointed in that direction by the government. There’s been no discussion about that at all.”

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What to Read, What to Watch, What to Hear…

 

Two books about rotten, sexist and cruel families in two different genres, and two different countries. I highly recommend The End of Eddy. Eddy was born in 1992, and grew up in a small town in northwest France. It’s an autobiography, but some think it’s a novel. Eddy was born 3rd of five children. Factory work was all his father could do yet by time Eddy was ten years old, his father had become alcoholic and too injured from his job to work anymore.end Eddy realized early that he was gay, but in his village in northern France he quickly knew that he had to be straight to survive. The violence in the book is shocking and much of it is at the hands of the boozed up dad, the angry older brother – and a mother who at once tries to please the dad and at the same time tells  Eddy she is shielding him.   What happened at his school is also more than a textbook case of bullying, ongoing humiliation and teachers who barely look at him twice, let alone help him.

The book is intersectional in that social class and identity politics meet – and create an explosion you won’t easily forget.

The “sister” book, though totally unrelated, is by my new favourite author, Tana French. I’ve reviewed several of her books here and here. What’s great about Faithful Place is that is also about the 3rd child of five, in a very poor working class family in Dublin. Ostensibly the book is a double murder mystery. But what you learn about violence, alcoholism and neglect from the main character’s childhood in the 1980s to conditions and even his family today are shocking. faithfulThe main character also figures in her other books… Frank is a clever 40 year old who manages despite his family’s low-class address (Faithful Place), and  only a high school leaving certificate, to become a Dublin detective.  But he is a twisted and compromised human being. Only by staying far from his family, spurning any  deep relationship, can he function. In his relationship with his upper middle class,  ex-wife (who is a crown prosecutor), and with his 9 year old daughter, Frank veers from threatening, ridiculing and harassing them, to an ultra-protective  smothering.  He also infantilises both of them.   As in all of French’s mysteries,  I don’t recommend you pay much attention to who kills whom. The bullying, the neighbours’ creepiness, the relentless jockeying for position, for respect and for duty is well done. And totally believable.

In this book too, social class, and sexual politics intersect in a way that is intense and fearsome. It is well worth reading.

On a less edgy note, I read Late in the Day, a recent novel by the excellent English novelist Tessa Hadley.   One critic on the book jacket recommends the book because of its tremendous psychological honesty and insight. Late in the Day is about two couples in London who have known each other since university days. One man is an exciting and wealthy art gallery owner. His wife is interested in money, fame and hiding behind him. The other man is a primary school teacher desperate to keep his job; his wife is an artist. lateThe book revolves around a tragic incident that happens right at the start of the book.   I advise:  read the first 50 pages and the last 50 pages.  The middle 200 can be a bit twee, and a bit repetitive.  Still Hadley’s a good writer. I think the book and all the characters (there are children, mothers, a step-son) will stay with me for a few months… If you want to get your feet wet with Hadley’s work, I recommend reading her short stories which are frequently in the New Yorker magazine. Here’s one, and you can listen to her read it –on the same page https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/10/28/the-bunty-club

Lately I’ve been watching the Polish series called 1983 on Netflix. I like it but I’m a sucker for anything from Eastern Europe. If you can forget the anti-Communist theme that erupts from time to time, the series takes place in an alternate period of time, when the Communist Party has been replaced (to a degree) with a much more pro-capitalist one. The show is a thriller, a work of crime fiction about a young and ambitious law student who was orphaned as a young boy.  As far as he knows, his  parents were killed in a terrorist bombing in Warsaw in 1983.   Part of the lure of the series is the role of Vietnamese-Poles who were considered ‘good’ immigrants because just as Poland fought the Russians, the Vietnamese fought the Chinese (something tells me they fought the Americans).   The film has recreated a little-Saigon (years after the fall of the real Saigon to the Ho Chi Minh and the National Liberation Front(NLF) in 1975) in Warsaw.   The acting is good; the script is fast moving. You have to like subtitles. And you have to like the work of the famous female Polish director Agnieszka Holland who also made Europa, Europaeuropa among other excellent films.

In podcasts: Satanic Panic (CBC podcast)satanic

is worth listening to. I was living in Saskatoon in the early 90s when the whole Martensville fiasco and the false memories about satanic abuse at a local daycare erupted. I didn’t especially care for the first three episodes, but the last three were excellent. Really. More about Martensville in an upcoming blog.

coolCool Mules is a new podcast series created by some of the crew at Canadaland.   I also recommend Canadaland podcast; it’s about the politics of the media and more and it’s biweekly! Cool Mules  fascinating and I hear that it’s the number one podcast anywhere this week and last.  A music editor/writer at Vice magazine in Toronto, Slava Pasticoff convinced five other Canadian young people to become drug mules.  He arranged for them to take  suitcases of drugs to Australia for $20,000 a trip. Now he lives in his mother’s suburban Toronto basement; he has been convicted of serious drug crimes and  now faces a very long prison sentence. This is a well made, fast-paced podcast which helps explains why Toronto media writers who were job-insecure and impoverished became drug mules. I highly recommend it.

 

 

Who trusts the police and their union? Their current skirmish with Hfx police chief may be a challenge to his power…

Who says no one pays attention to unions anymore?

Whoever says that hasn’t been paying attention to the local radio news (every half hour on the CBC Radio).  On Monday, the CBC published a major story about a schism between the Halifax cops’ union and the  city’s police chief. The president of the Halifax Police Union accuses Chief Kinsella of taking action that is “inconsistent, rash and unpredictable.”

Like any police chief, Kinsella has to walk a tightrope between maintaining legitimacy and confidence in the eye of the public especially the African Nova Scotian community, and trust and cooperation of his own 530 police officers.hfx-police-logo-852

So far it has not been an easy stroll. In October 2019, barely four months in the role of chief, Kinsella publicly boasted, “The vast majority of the members of the Halifax Regional Police are living the core values, they’re upholding the law, they’re coming to work every day, they’re working hard and going the extra mile.”

However only a month later, after years of pressure from the African Nova Scotian community, Chief Kinsella had to apologizeto them for “all the times you were mistreated, victimized and revictimized” by police with particular regard to racial profiling and street checks.

The apology was the result of several public reports on street checks – each one delivering a more devastating indictment against conduct by the Halifax police than the one before.   rapsheetAbuse of power, racial profiling, ‘interference of liberty,’ terrorizing the black community – these were all noted by those who questioned excessive police authority and brutality.  The numbers were staggering.  Dr Scot Wortley’s report for the NS Human Rights Commission stated that African Nova Scotians were six times more likely to be stopped by police than white Nova Scotians.  Finally, the former Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, Michael MacDonald, wrote an opinion that street checks were illegal, and should stop. 

Still, the troubles with members of the Halifax Regional Police (HRP) have been caused by more than a few “bad apples”.  Over the last 6 years, 17 HRP officers have faced criminal charges which, according to African Nova Scotian community advocate DeRico Symonds, “erode public trust. ”  He explained, “I do have fear and anxiety if I do happen to have a traffic stop by police… I can’t say I totally feel safe in the hands of police officers.”

In fact, the “rap sheet” for Halifax Police officers includes sexual assault, assault, impaired driving and voyeurism.  In just one month in 2019, three Halifax cops were charged with serious offences. The Halifax police’s use of excessive force, abuse of power have recently made the news.

One such case was that of former Halifax police officer Gary Basso.  In June 2019, Basso, who had been a policeman for 15 years, was found guilty of assault causing bodily harmwhen he attacked a 54-year old homeless man, outside a shelter in Halifax.  Basso broke the man’s nose and caused him other injuries.  At the time, Basso’s lawyer James Giacomantonio seemed to feel sorry for his client, “I think it’s been stressful. It’s taken a long time.  It’s been hard on him [Basso]. I think he felt and continues to feel like he was, you know, doing his best and put in a tough situation that night, but we respect the court’s ruling and we’ll appear for the sentencing.”brutality-2

At the trial, Basso denied all charges.  Thank goodness for video evidence, as that is what the judge depended on in convicting and then sentencing Basso to 90 days in jail, to be served on weekends plus one year’s probation. Basso is appealing the verdict and wants it replaced with an acquittal, or a new trial. Six months after he was found guilty, he was fired from his job.

Former Toronto Mayor John Sewell is co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC)which recommends progressive policies to the Toronto police board and the Toronto police force.  In a TV news interview, Sewell said that police who break the law are seldom fired.  It is only if they are convicted of a criminal offence and jailed that they lose their jobs.

In January 2020, the Halifax police“ take down” of single black mother Santina Rao– in front of her two pre-school children – demonstrated excessive force.  While Santina Rao was shopping at Walmart, Rao was tackled to the floor and assaulted by several Halifax police officers who broke her wrist, blackened her eye and gave her a concussion.  On the say-so of Walmart, the police claimed she had stolen $3 worth of produce – a grapefruit, two lemons and a head of lettuce. However there was no evidence that she had stolen anything at all;  she was a victim of racial profiling by the police.  The police then charged her with several charges including the serious charge of resisting arrest.  Her trial will take place in May.rao-2

In mid-February, a 15 year old black high school student was also assaulted by policebecause he dared to tell them he had a right to speak – at Bedford mall. The cops did a “takedown” on him, giving him a concussion and an injured finger. Then they handcuffed – but did not charge him.

The public outcry over this incident on the heels of the Rao case, prompted Halifax police chief Kinsella to place the two cops who assaulted the youth on desk duty.

But the Halifax Regional Police Association president Dean Stienberg has raised hell.  He claims the union was never warned about putting the cops on “desk duty”.   The union president, who has served 30 years with Halifax police, says the chief is spreading unrest among the force by this “knee jerk, irrational” decision.

The Canadian Police Association, to which the Halifax police union belongs, has 60,000 members in more than 160 police departments nation-wide.  Its president Tom Stamatakis  is very active in defending police.

national study showed that between 2000 and 2017, 460 Canadians have died in encounters with the police.  Seventy percent of them had mental health or substance abuse problems – or both.  One third of the victims were Black (though Blacks make up under 4% of Canada’s population).  What’s truly alarming is the rate at which Canadians die in encounters with the police has nearly doubled in the last 20 years.

Police associations or unions are part of the problem. On the one hand, police unions are doing what unions are meant to do – give their members the best defence possible and ensure they keep their jobs. On the other hand, the police unions are very aggressive and, for the most part, insist cops are only doing their jobs, or are misunderstood, or that the police are just trying to preserve law and order. The police unions have lawyers who fight to ensure police seldom face blame, censure or even a trial. Police unions tend to see each case of police wrongdoing as either unavoidable or the price society has to pay for being safe.  The police unions vigorously challenge almost any  criminal charge against their members.  Their collective agreements call for  officers who have been investigated and/or charged to be placed on desk duty, or on leave – with pay — until their trial. And for their parts, the individual police who are found guilty rarely face jail time. For example, US police unions have actively protested dash cams in police cruisers and having to wear body cameras on the job. As one journalist noted, “police unions are fighting to have less and less disclosure.”

The Las Vegas police union tried to get Black Lives Matter buttons banned from spectators’ clothing in courtrooms.

According to Huffington Post Canada, the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association threatened to deny policing to San Francisco 49ers games because Colin Kaepernick“took the knee” during the US national anthem.   Though the police union rescinded that threat, the union did warn that their members would not police the stadium unless Kaepernick was “disciplined”  because he dared to mention police brutality and said that “people of colour have been targeted by police.”

A  fascinating article, To Police Unions: Stop Protecting Rotten Cops in Huff Post Canada HERE, reveals the ugly side of Canada’s largest police union, Toronto Police Association (TPA).   The union represents more than 8,000 police officers in that city.  Since 2009, its president is Mike McCormack,  also a Toronto policeman.  McCormack denies that people of colour are being racially profiled.brutality-1

Photo from Toronto Sun:  Protest against police brutality in Toronto

In 2016, McCormack criticized former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne for saying that systemic racism in the police force exists.  McCormack maintained that saying systemic racism exists in the police “is inaccurate and inflammatory” because the Toronto police don’t keep racial data. That means there is no evidence and no proof systemic racism exists. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/07/20/baseless-accusations-of-police-racism-harm-toronto.html

President Mike McCormack has also reacted to claims that people of colour are being racially profiled and that Toronto’s prohibition on “carding”  (what we call street checks) has increased gun violence.

In 2016 when Toronto Constable James Forcillo was found guilty of the attempted murder of Sammy Yatim (who died because Forcillo shot eight bullets into him—six when he was already lying on the floor of the streetcar), McCormack  told the media, the verdict “sends a chilling message to our members, and that’s going to be a challenge for our frontline members.”

Blogger Joshua Ostroff notes, “McCormack has also dismissed Toronto City Council asking for a review of the Special Investigations Unit, which investigates police violence, as ‘political masturbation’ and blew off Black Lives Matter as a ‘special interest group’ — their special interest being, apparently, not getting shot by police.”

The Toronto Police Association president is not alone in his 100% support of his members – even when they do wrong.  Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof  insisted that any discussion of race was “inappropriate” in the case of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali Canadian, who was beaten to death by an Ottawa policeman in front of his Ottawa apartment building in July 2016.  Skof said he didn’t want US style politics of Black Lives Matter coming up to Canada “That’s unfortunate that we’re seeing the bleeding of that very difficult rhetoric into Canada now.”

Skof had to ask fellow policemen who packed the courtroom in support of the accused policeman, not to wear the affinity bracelets many on the force sported to show admiration for their colleague. 

Getting back to Halifax – the chief has a dilemma.  Walking the tightrope between public accountability and blind support for his own men and women is not working.  A challenge to Kinsella’s leadership may come sooner, not later.