Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

We’re baaaa…aaaaaaack

cribbage board

My cribbage board is actually shaped like a fish. I do not know why.

How was your summer? Mine was fantastic. It was full of swimming and reading and barbecue and blackberries and crossword puzzles and G&Ts and cribbage and reunions with long-lost friends and rock-skipping sessions with visiting nephews and one glorious, heartfelt, bonfire sing-a-long to Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science” (SCIENCE!) which is not an easy song to sing along to, let me tell you.

But I’m back now and raring to go. In fact, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been back for a couple of weeks already, lured in by John Whalley’s constructive dismissal civil suit against the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

But there are other things I’ve been LONGING to flap my jaws about, so let’s get started:


John Be Gone (Again)

It seems the CBRM’s inaugural 2015 prostitution sting operation (“John Be Gone”) was SO popular and succeeded SO well in ending the sex trade in downtown Sydney that THEY DID IT AGAIN!

This time, the cops charged 18 men, whose names, ages and towns of residence were helpfully published by the Cape Breton Post, which seems to be handling the “naming and shaming” part of the operation while the police do the arresting and fining. (Newspapers working hand-in-hand with law enforcement, the way it’s supposed to be!)

CBRM police Charlotte Street

If the Spectator were more like Frank magazine, this caption would be much funnier.

But neither the cops nor the Post seemed quite so pleased with themselves this time around — the cops didn’t hold a press conference to announce the successful completion of their operation and the Post didn’t give the story nearly as much play. (But you know how hard sequels are, especially if the critics went wild for the original  with reviews like: “John Shaming is Actually Putting Sex Workers at Risk and “Cape Breton prostitution sting raises public shaming concerns.”)

And while Police Chief Peter McIsaac sounded very serious in his press release:

“The object with an operation of this nature is to interrupt the illegal and dangerous activity that continues to disrupt our community,” said Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter McIsaac, in a press release.

“While we have made another significant impact with 18 more arrests, we know our work is far from over. There are more individuals out there exploiting women — and exploiting their vulnerable situations — which is something we take very seriously and absolutely will not tolerate.”

His heart really didn’t seem to be in it this time. If you ask me (and you didn’t, but I’m going to pretend you did, otherwise I’d never get to say anything), I think it’s because what’s really behind these stings is not concern for “exploited” women, but complaints from downtown merchants. The cops actually said so — their initial plan was simply to tell everyone involved in the sex trade on Charlotte Street to move along. Here’s how Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Brian Williston summarized it in dismissing a Charter challenge by one of the accused in 2017:

In the spring of 2014 the Cape Breton Regional Police Service received complaints from the Downtown Business Association that customers and tourists were being approached by sex trade workers and johns who thought they were sex trade workers. The police responded by putting more uniformed officers on those streets along with plain clothes officers to try to move the activity to other locations away from the downtown core.

But the police claimed (and Williston evidently believed, without question) that once they began paying attention to the sex trade in the downtown, they realized how incredibly dangerous some of the johns and pimps were:

The police came to learn that many of the workers were being subjected to violence from some of the johns as well as from boyfriends who were pimping them out.

Sgt Jodie Wilson, who was part of the operation, told the court, “something more had to be done before someone was killed or injured.”

So how do you stop a potential sex worker killer in his tracks? Apparently, you put his name, age and address in the paper and fine him $500.

Once you’ve done that, the problem is solved — except, of course, that a true predator is probably going to be quite pleased that you’ve forced the sex workers into more dangerous areas and, by driving away the clients they trust, made them more likely to pick him up.

But are we really dealing with predators here? Back in 2015, VICE magazine picked up on the Cape Breton prostitution sting and asked a community organizer with the Montreal sex worker support group Stella what she thought of this approach. She said:

Predators are few and far between, but they exist because we provide a legal context of desperation where sex workers will take those people as clients. At the end of day, [sex workers] are taking clients they don’t want to see.

What the police were really attempting to rescue the women from (in as much as these operations were intended to help sex trade workers, not placate downtown merchants) was not violent johns but social evils. According to Williston’s decision:

The officers received training regarding human trafficking as well as methods to help the workers exit from the sex trade. Many of those workers were seen by the police as not being in that line of work by choice but by circumstances such as socioeconomic conditions, childhood abuse and addictions to alcohol and drugs.

To its credit, the Post followed up the John Be Gone story with a number of stories on the plight of the women — mainly Mi’kmaq — at the heart of this issue. The paper noted when the provincial government scraped together $40,000 whole dollars to support the Jane Paul Indigenous Women’s Resource Centre in Sydney (to put that in perspective: the CBRM spent almost that much sending the mayor and three senior CBRM staffers to China last December). And in February 2018, it noted that the Centre was about to run out of money for staff and programming, although the Island’s five First Nations had pitched in to cover the group’s rent for a year.

So I have to wonder…how much did this last, six-week, police sting operation cost? My guess? More than $40,000.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

I’ve heard Chief McIsaac say, on more than one occasion, that police in the CBRM must frequently take on the role of social workers.

In a community with a declining and ageing population and at a time of record low violent crime, doesn’t that suggest we should be taking some of the $25 million we spend each year on police and spending it on actual social workers?

Now THAT’s a sequel I’d like like to see.


It’s now or never!

Writing about the Urgent Agenda — an ’80s movement to try and change the approach to economic development in Cape Breton — as part of my coverage of the Whalley trial put me in mind, of course, of the Ivany Report, a more recent attempt to change the approach to economic development in the province of Nova Scotia as a whole. That got me to thinking about the Ivany Report’s tag line (“Now or never”), which got me to wondering why people in this part of the world seem so unmoved by such calls to action.

And then I remembered this joke:

A linguist is visiting Scotland’s Outer Hebrides (the ancestral home of many Nova Scotians, myself included  — Barra, represent!).

He meets an old man and in the course of their discussion about the local language, asks if Gaelic has an equivalent to a word like mañana  in Spanish.

The old guy asks what mañana  means and the linguist explains:

It means if we don’t get around to it today, we’ll do it tomorrow. Or maybe the day after.

The old man thinks a moment and then says:

No, I can’t say that we have a word to express quite that sense of…urgency.



Point of order

If you watched the General Committee Meeting of Cape Breton Regional Council this week, you would have seen District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin bring forward a motion calling for a full briefing on the port file for all council. You would also have seen District 8 Councilor Amanda McDougall bring forward two motions, one calling for a frank and full discussion of all possible “fall scenarios” i.e. what is going to happen if Mayor Cecil Clarke is successful in his bid for the PC leadership, and one calling for an informational session on the roles and responsibilities of CBRM councilors.

You would also have seen Mayor Clarke a) give up the chair to Deputy Mayor Eldon MacDonald so as to participate in the discussion on these motions and b) second all three motions, every one of which was in some way critical of his tenure as mayor.

If you read the accounts of the meeting in the Cape Breton Post, however, you would have no idea Clarke had done this.

I can’t imagine watching that unfold, as a reporter, and not mentioning it. For one thing, the mayor has a longstanding habit of joining the discussion without giving up the chair, so it was quite striking to see him actually follow the rules — even though his adherence to them stopped there.

He didn’t actually join in the discussion of the motions, waiting, instead, until the votes had all been taken and then raising a Point of Order that was not actually a Point of Order but more a Point of I have Something I Want to Say and I Don’t Want Anybody to Respond to Me (which, for the record, Roberts Rules does not recognize — and in fact, the Deputy Mayor didn’t rule on Clarke’s Point of Order because there was nothing to rule on because it was not a Point of Order).

He announced that there was nothing he knew about the port that staff didn’t know but I can’t see why council would find that comforting — he seems to be suggesting that it’s reasonable for municipal staff to know more about the port file than the municipality’s elected representatives.

The motions all represent perfectly reasonable things for a council to request, and Councilors McDougall and MacMullin presented them in all civility, but the criticism of the mayor is implicit  in the very fact such requests had to be made.

Council has to ask for a full report on the port file because the mayor has kept it in the dark, preferring the assistance of un-elected, unaccountable consultants; political staff; and select municipal staffers.

Council needs a full report on the roles of mayor and council because Clarke has blurred them (by way of background on the issue, McDougall attached a CBC article in which Clarke justifies signing a lease agreement with McKeil marine two months before the deal went before council).

And council needs to discuss “fall scenarios” because the mayor has decided to spend eight months in pursuit of a new job without creating a contingency plan for the CBRM in case that pursuit is successful.

One of McDougall’s possible scenarios involved Clarke winning the leadership but remaining on as mayor which, sadly, the Municipal Government Act (MGA) would not preclude. But Clarke is on record as saying he’d leave the mayor’s seat if he won the PC leadership and should be held to that.

The next question is: will council manage to set a date for these updates and informational sessions before the October 27 Tory leadership convention? It seems to rest on whether the Municipal Clerk’s office can assemble all the necessary information (particularly on the port file, where MacMullin has requested everything including the minutes of the previous council’s myriad in camera meetings) in time. The clerk told council that all the information was available “electronically” so surely it should be possible to gather it before the end of September, which would be the preferred time for these sessions to take place.

Added bonus: since its council asking for the information, the CBRM can’t charge $42,805.50 for it.

(But hey, if much of the information gathered is the same information demanded in that famous FOIPOP, maybe they can cut a deal with the citizen who also wants it?)






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