By Stephen Kimber
February 3, 2008
Can you say committee?
Nova Scotia's top Mountie came with an apology and left with a committee.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Ian Atkins told a full-house public meeting at the Digby Elementary School on Tuesday night that he was “disappointed and embarrassed” by the actions of a former local detachment commander, who was accused in 2005 of racist and sexist behaviour. “I am here to apologize to you the community for that,” Atkins said.
Although the Mounties investigated the complaints against Wylie Grimm under the force’s code-of-conduct regulations and determined they were well founded, Atkins conceded they had been “unable to bring full accountability because of the retirement of the commander,” who apparently left the force with a full pension before the probe was completed.
While residents seemed pleased with the apology, they insisted their frustration with the local RCMP was about far more than Grimm.
“We are not here because of a new phenomenon,” Brenda Clarke of the Black Educator’s Association told Atkins. “As of today, the black youth of Digby are experiencing differential treatment… We need to have these complaints dealt with. And we need to have them addressed quickly because they are happening regularly.”
It was Atkins who then brought up the idea of establishing a local advisory committee. “If we have racist officers in Digby,” he told the crowd, “then Staff Sgt. (Phil) Barrett (the new local commander) and I want to know. The only thing worse than hearing bad news is not hearing it.”
Barrett and resident Darlene Lawrence, who co-chaired the meeting, were soon busy taking names of those willing to sit on a steering committee to help set up the advisory board. That board is now expected to meet for the first time later this month.
After the meeting, Clarke told the Digby Courier: “This was good… They have publicly stated their support for addressing our issues so now we have individuals we can hold accountable. Accountability is what’s been missing all along.”
Hope springs eternal.
Court in session… elsewhere
Residents of Baddeck are worried about the number of provincial services and staff quietly being transferred out of their village. The matter came up at municipal council last month after councilors learned the latest news: the Provincial Court, which traditionally holds sessions in Baddeck every Monday, will now switch locale to Sydney for one session per month.
While accepting the official rationale that there is a backlog of unheard cases in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, the Victoria Standard, the community’s newspaper, fretted that the decision will have a damaging effect on Baddeck’s economy.
“On Mondays,” the paper noted, “there is a pronounced influx of people for court. Lawyers, sheriffs, prothonotary personnel, witnesses and accused make their way to the shire town and partake of the goods and services that are available.”
To make matters worse, the court isn’t the only institution being relocated. Mapping services offered by the Registry of Deeds will now only be available in Sydney, meaning real estate lawyers and realtors will have to drive an hour each way to do their business. The Department of Community Services’ local manager has also been transferred to Sydney
And now residents have another worry. The province’s Utility and Review Board is considering whether the area’s current two regional school board representatives are one too many. The Standard says the county needs both of its representatives in order to continue “championing the students in a municipality that is geographically larger than (the Cape Breton Regional Municipality), which has 10 members.
“In a municipality with a vast geography and dwindling population,” the paper added, “any transfer of persons or services out of the County has a greater impact than in larger population centres.”
Duly noted. And, almost certainly, duly ignored too.
Garfield Moffat of the Folly Lake Wentworth Valley Environmental Preservation Society says his group isn’t against wind power. In fact, “we are big supporters of it, but —”
There’s always a but.
In this case it’s scale and, of course, location.
Confederation Power Inc., an Ontario-based “renewable power developer, owner and operator, with hydro and wind projects located across Canada,” has already erected three test turbines on Higgins Mountain and has eventual plans for a 66-turbine project in the area.
Society member say the cumulative impact of all those turbines in close proximity to residential areas needs way more study. They are calling for a much more detailed environmental assessment of the project than the government has undertaken so far, and they want the province to impose a moratorium on all wind farm projects until those concerns are dealt with.
Moffatt says part of the problem is that there are no provincial standards for wind farms. That’s leaving too much regulatory power in the hands of “revenue-hungry municipalities, who don’t have the depth or access to resources to adequately come up with these reference points and governance.”
The society believes Cumberland County’s recent bylaw requiring that turbines be located at least 500 metres from existing dwellings, for example, isn’t enough. Their testing measured noise pollution from Confederation’s three small turbines as far as 900 metres upwind. “What’s going to happen when you start stacking one on top of the other and get 66, and go downwind?”
That said, Moffatt insists his group isn’t against the project. “We tried to come up with a position (that’s) not overly aggressive, and that the developer can hopefully deal with,” he told the Amherst Citizen. “We realize… that many want to see green power and sustainable, renewable power as quickly as it can get online, at any expense… We want it done right — right enough that it can become a blueprint for future projects.”
For projects not located in my backyard.
Sign of the times
Keata Pharma needed to hire 60 people to work in its soon-to-open contract pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Sydney’s Northside Industrial Park. So last week the company decided to stage a job fair to gage local interest.
Six-hundred-and-twenty-six wannabes — more than 10 times more people than positions — walked through the doors.
“We were very impressed,” Keata Pharma president David Leonard told the Cape Breton Post. “I think we have definitely piqued people’s curiosity.”
Keata, originally an Ontario-based company, received $6.25 million in repayable government loans way back in 2004 to build its Caper Breton plant and is also eligible for up to $3.5 million in payroll rebates, depending on the number of people it hires.
A pound of prevention
Shelburne’s Community Health Board isn’t buying Premier Rodney MacDonald’s promise not to close any of the province’s rural hospital emergency rooms. “Experience has shown that studies/reviews in the past have resulted in losses of services,” the board sagely noted in a letter last week to both the regional health authority and the Department of Health.
The board was responding to a controversial report by Corpus and Sanchez consultants that was unveiled last month. That report claims too many rural emergency departments are currently being used as substitute family doctors. It wants health authorities to rethink the way they staff ERs to determine if the services they offer are sustainable.
Which, to the community health board, sounds like code for closing them down.
Last year, more than 16,000 patients visited Shelburne’s Roseway Hospital Emergency Department, and board member Harold Hart worries there would simply be no hospital left if its ER were forced to close.
If the hospital had to shut its doors, the board points out, residents would have to travel 60-90 minutes just to get to the nearest hospital.
As for the consultants’ suggestion that people with real emergencies should simply call Emergency Health Services (EHS), the board batted down that idea too. “Calling an ambulance… is an expensive solution most people cannot afford,” it explained in its letter.
“Our stance is no [emergency department] closure,” Arthur Blades, Chair of the CHB, told the Shelburne Coastguard. “It’s just not acceptable.”
But what about the premier’s promise not to close any ERs? “We can’t wait until they make a decision to try to change their minds.”
A Halifax-based lobby group set up more than 10 years ago “to stop the privatization of the public health care system, ensure high levels of care and create a forum for people and communities to discuss issues in health care,” is taking advantage of the current controversy over the Corpus Sanchez report to broaden its base.
“There is a perfect storm working in this country to privatize our health care system,” Kyle Buott of the Nova Scotia Citizens' Health Care Network told the Queen’s County Advance. “Local communities need to come together to defend access to local services and stop privatization.”
Which is why Buott has been busily criss-crossing the province organizing local health committees. Last week, he added two more — in Yarmouth and Queens County — to the three his network has already established and says “we will be continuing our drive into the northern parts of the province by mid-February.
“Concerned citizens cannot stand by and watch our system be sold off to the profiteers. It is time to take a stand in defense of local access to services and the public health care system.”
To the ramparts!
Wasn’t that a party?… No
A Prospect area fisherman has been fined $5,000, had his truck seized and lost his lobster fishing privileges for the first lucrative week of next season after pleading guilty in Bridgewater provincial court to catching undersized lobsters.
Fisheries and Oceans officers nabbed him with 156 too-small-to-keep lobsters in crates in his truck last May.
Judge Anne Crawford wasn’t buying his excuse that the crustaceans were for a family party. “Everyone has to make a living,” she told him, “and when you take an advantage by taking undersized lobsters you not only get an immediate advantage over other fishers, but there’s less lobster for everyone else next year and the year after that.”
I guess the party was cancelled.
Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column also appears in Thursday’s Daily News.
SOURCES: Amherst Citizen, Cape Breton Post, Digby Courier, Queens County Advance, Southshorenow.ca, Shelburne Coast Guard, Victoria Standard, Yarmouth Vanguard.