Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Armored Car

Reading about the acting chief of the Cape Breton Regional Police Services (CBRPS), Robert Walsh, ordering up a new, armored, emergency response SUV sparked so many questions for me, beginning with: where is the actual chief of police?

The radio silence surrounding the status of Chief Peter McIsaac, a man who heads a 200-person department with a $25.7 million budget, continues to baffle this reporter. He’s been MIA since July 2019 and neither the department nor the municipality has seen fit to tell the public when — or if — we can expect him back. I think it’s considered bad manners to ask.

As for the vehicle in question, it’s a “full-sized, seven-passenger Chevrolet Suburban is to be equipped with a 6.2-litre V8 engine, an armoured passenger compartment, bullet-resistant glass, an explosion-proof floor and run-flat tires,” and is intended to replace an older armored vehicle that, CBRPS spokesperson Desiree Magnus told the Cape Breton Post, has been “cycled out of service due to its age.” (The idea of an armored SUV made me picture particularly aggro soccer moms, but apparently a modified Chevy Suburban — one built to withstand grenade attacks — is the vehicle of choice for US presidents.)

Trunk view, armored Chevy Suburban

Trunk view, armored Chevy Suburban. (Source: The Armored Group)

Here’s the question I’d like to ask: how often was that older armored vehicle used? To my mind, that would be very helpful information in evaluating the need for a replacement.

But my guess is the CBRPS wouldn’t be able to tell you, based on the answer I got when I asked about the use of another expensive piece of rolling stock, the $230,000 mobile command center. Three years after the police took possession of this purpose-built affair, I submitted a FOIPOP asking how much action it had seen and was told:

[T]he Cape Breton Regional Police does not have any tracking or recording system on how many times the Mobile Command Center has been used.

In the absence of actual facts about the need for the armored SUV, Mayor Amanda McDougall is forced to invoke biker gangs and the Portapique shootings while District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald has to reach even further:

The United States is showing us proof that society can change on a dime and that you need to be prepared for that.

Is MacDonald really afraid protesters may mob the Civic Centre in 2024, trying to overturn the results of the municipal elections? That an armored Chevy Suburban may be all that stands between us and mob rule?

Mind you, equipment represents a very small sliver of the CBRPS budget, 90% of which goes to wages, salaries and benefits, so focusing on one armored Chevy is not really getting to the heart of the problems with a police force that, on any given day, counts 30 to 40 officers out on leave — including its chief. And, in fact, as we speak, the municipality is undertaking an in-depth review of police staffing, as recommended by the famous Grant Thornton Viability Study.

This is timely, because the whole world is having a conversation right now about diverting funds from police budgets to address pressing social needs. Some jurisdictions have even progressed from talk to action, like the city of Austin, Texas, which is buying a hotel to turn into “transitional housing” for the homeless with monies taken from the police budget.

I really hope this review of police services opens the door to a more sensible conversation about the CBRM’s 21st century policing needs.


High life

When electrical problems left tenants of the Cabot House in Sydney without power and hot water for weeks last summer, I felt nothing but sympathy. (Full disclosure: that is the sum total of the local angle in this item, I’m going to New York for the rest of it, I think it’s a response to COVID travel restrictions.)

When I read in the New York Times that people in one of New York’s tallest residential buildings were suffering similar problems…I found it funny. I know that does not reflect well on me, but in my defense, the article I read was obviously not intended to present these people in a sympathetic light. For one thing, they all seem to have other homes (sample tenants: the Abramoviches, who bought a “3,500-square-foot apartment at the tower for nearly $17 million in 2016, to have a secondary home near their adult children”). For another, they are all good for the price of a hotel room (or a hotel) for a few nights.

According to the NYT, the basic problem with the building, 432 Park Avenue, which rises 1,400 feet and features “an array of penthouses for the ultra-rich,” is that it’s too damn tall:

The claims include millions of dollars of water damage from plumbing and mechanical issues; frequent elevator malfunctions; and walls that creak like the galley of a ship — all of which may be connected to the building’s main selling point: its immense height, according to homeowners, engineers and documents obtained by The New York Times

A bunch of such buildings — known as “Billionaire’s Row” — has cropped up around Central Park in the past five years, thanks to a loophole in the city’s building code that says floors reserved for structural and mechanical equipment “do not count against a building’s maximum size under the laws, so developers explicitly use them to make buildings far higher than would otherwise be permitted.” But living 1,400-feet in the air is apparently not all it’s cracked up to be. First, the buildings move:

All buildings sway in the wind, but at exceptional heights, those forces are stronger. A management email explained that “a high-wind condition” stopped an elevator and caused a resident to be “entrapped” on the evening of Oct. 31, 2019, for an hour and 25 minutes. Wind sway can cause the cables in the elevator shaft to slap around and lead to slowdowns or shutdowns, according to an engineer who asked not to be named, because he has worked on other towers in New York with similar issues.

432 Park Avenue, New York.

432 Park Avenue, NYC. (Photo by Epistola8, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

And then there’s the noise:

Residents at 432 Park complained of creaking, banging and clicking noises in their apartments, and a trash chute “that sounds like a bomb” when garbage is tossed, according to notes from a 2019 owners’ meeting.

(How deep do you suppose that trash shoot is? I’m assuming it can’t be the full height of the building, although a 96-floor garbage chute would certainly keep any children in the building happily occupied for long stretches of time.)

On top of all the swaying and creaking and banging and clicking and exploding garbage there is also the problem of rising costs associated with living at 432 Park — where residents were once required to pay $1,200 a year for the building’s private restaurant, “overseen by the Michelin-star chef Shaun Hergatt,” they now must pay $15,000 and, even at that price, “breakfast is no longer free.”

The final word on this despearate situation is given to Sarina Abramovich, she of the $17 million apartment, who says she understands the plight of billionaires is not likely to garner much sympathy from the public but that she’s speaking out “on principle.”

“I was convinced it would be the best building in New York,” she told the Times, “They’re still billing it as God’s gift to the world, and it’s not.”

I like to imagine God, wanting to give the world something special, mulling over all the possibilities — end hunger, end disease, end poverty, all of the above — before hitting on the perfect gift idea: a 1,400-foot luxury apartment building on Central Park.

Personally, I would have preferred socks.


Frankly, my dear

I’m dipping into the FOIPOP findings again this week for another nugget I might otherwise find difficult to work into an article. This is a mini-feature on Barry Sheehy’s relationship with the press.

As I noted last week, Sheehy began fantasizing about writing an article called “Turning Cape Breton Around” for “the National Post or Maclean’s” almost from the moment he took up our port as a cause. He clearly sees the press as a megaphone for his own message and, in his defense, he hasn’t been entirely wrong — the press has generally been pretty accommodating to him and his partner, Albert Barbusci, treating them as serious forces in the world of international shipping. The Cape Breton Post went so far as to refer to Barbusci, as recently as September 2020, as a “powerbroker.”

But it hasn’t all been sweetness and light. Sometimes the press just won’t cooperate — like when the Chronicle Herald failed to give one of Sheehy’s screeds sufficient prominence in its online edition. (The op-ed in question was a response to an op-ed by port consultant Neil MacNeil, who had dismissed the container port plan as a pipe dream.) An outraged Sheehy emailed Clarke’s spokesperson Christina Lamey (now, in case you missed it, communications person for the entire CBRM):

Herald buried my rebutal [sic] op ed on their web page–what game are they up to?

Sheehy’s real ire, though, was reserved for Frank Magazine, which mocked the port promoters openly in June 2015, prompting him to dash off an email to the port team:


Of course, the Halifax version of Frank is owned by Parker Rudderham, a Cape Bretoner, which I presume Sheehy’s “inquiries” eventually revealed to him. (As for the allegation that Frank is “funded by the Canadian taxpayer,” I can’t say that’s an allegation I’ve ever heard before.)

And in case you’re curious as to what Frank had to say: