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Journalism

For Labrador Land Protectors ‘fear is gone’

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Time is running out for the Labrador Land Protectors. As spring thaws the frozen ground, anxieties are escalating for those who live downstream from the widely-contested Muskrat Falls hydroelectric mega-project: without an independent review of the stability of the North Spur and with a final decision yet to be made made on the methylmercury mitigation recommendations put forward by the Independent Expert Advisory Committee, residents say that they are desperate for answers and solutions. Last Monday, over 100 people gathered in Ottawa to send a message to the federal government, who have provided billions in loan guarantees to make the project happen: We’re still here, and we need support. Members and allies of the Labrador Land Protectors marched from the Human Rights Monument to Parliament Hill, where they intended to leave coloured pictures of Labradorians who currently live in fear of flooding and being poisoned on the desks of all…

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St. John’s Gay Men’s Chorus is going places

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Its first season opened barely a year ago, and already the St. John’s Gay Men’s Chorus is putting this province on the map. The Gay Men’s Chorus is a community chorus for LGBTQ men and allies, explains Yohei Sakai, the group’s founder and director. “We don’t do auditions – everyone is welcome,” he emphasizes. Sakai is a graduate student in music at Memorial University, and is originally from Japan. He had been part of gay men’s choruses in his native Japan as well as in Mexico when he moved to this province to continue his studies. “When I came here, Spectrum [Queer Choir] was already here but I noticed that not many gay men were singing, and for me gay men should sing. So I [knew] I had to do something.” After putting out a call on social media, the chorus launched its first season in April 2017, and it…

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“There’s no worse feeling in the world than feeling all alone in a city of seven and a half million people.”

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Seamus Heffernan is not the first Newfoundlander whose background in journalism led him eventually to fiction. But finding his home in crime writing has been the culmination of a long-held dream. “Some kids dream of wanting to be an astronaut, some kids dream of scoring a Stanley Cup overtime winning goal, but for me, I always wanted to be a writer,” he recalled, the day after the launch of his debut novel Napalm Hearts. “So I guess last night was my overtime winning moment.” Throughout years of working for newspapers, magazines, and policy think-tanks, Heffernan yearned to write a serious piece of fiction. “I knew if I did that it was going to be in the crime genre, it was always the one I was drawn to. That was the format I was most comfortable with and I thought you can have fun with it while also saying an awful…

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‘Things are not all right in Labrador’: Cole

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You probably know there were rallies and protests across the country in support of the Labrador Land Protectors yesterday, but it’s a good bet you don’t know exactly what they are asking for. There are two things Denise Cole said they’d like the province to push for right away in order to reduce the risks identified by scientists: 1. remove the soil to reduce the risk of methyl mercury poisoning, and 2. cap the wetlands to prevent the spread of contaminants.  Sure, they’d like to shut down Muskrat Falls, but, barring that, they’d really like the expert recommendations to be implemented. You know, the ones in the reports outlined in this linked story by Ashley Fitzpatrick. There’s not much time to get this done as another summer is coming, said Cole, the communications coordinator with the group.  Government stalled on remediation efforts: Cole “We have governments in the province that…

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Taxes and fairness, Part 2: Anti-social transfers

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Tax cuts are not the primary means chosen by governments in Canada to ensure that our tax regimes systemically favour the wealthy. A myriad of methods undermine tax fairness. The combined effect in 2015 of these anti-social transfers reduced by at least $633 million the taxes paid by those earning more than $100,000 a year in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). Social transfers are government programmes designed to reduce inequality by helping the vulnerable in society. They can be funded directly out of general revenues, or by contributions from the people and firms who are likely to benefit from the programme. Our income tax system itself can also be thought of as a form of social transfer, inasmuch as it taxes wealthier people at higher rates. A progressive income-tax system is fundamental to reducing inequality in Canada. By contrast, anti-social transfers are government actions that increase inequality. These can take many…

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Does your voice chafe? A book launch, a crowd of people, and two dentist appointments

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I went to the book launch to see what Helen Fogwill Porter had to do with the the world I lived in. It was one of those things. I’d clicked ‘going’ on a facebook invite without actually knowing if I’d be able to attend. Like a lot of people, I have a lot on the go and I never know how my day will shape up until it arrives. But when my husband stepped up to take our daughters to their dentist appointments, that Thursday afternoon became unexpectedly clear. So I went.  I googled her name on my phone in the cab on the way there. She was born on the Southside  of St. John’s (and wrote a memoir about it). She’s been writing since the 1960s, novels, stories, and poetry. She’s a feminist. She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2016. The year before that,…

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Taxes and fairness, Part 1: Danny’s other legacy

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We hear a lot about Muskrat Falls as Danny Williams’ legacy, but it is hardly the only problem he left us to sort out. He rejigged provincial income tax rates between 2007 and 2010 so as to primarily benefit our wealthiest citizens. The result is that people earning in excess of $100,000 a year have since received – in the form of reduced taxes – more money than the province normally raises through income tax in an entire year. Income distribution changing Income figures for 2015, recently released by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), reveal our province to be profoundly divided. Our income distribution now exhibits a strangely inverted symmetry: more than half the people earn only a fifth of the income, while a fifth of the people earn more than half. This pattern is new and results from changes in provincial government policy that favour high-income earners. This policy…

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The buggy, from a car window

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There is a man pushing a shopping cart along Elizabeth Avenue. The cart frame is studded with salt and rust. It’s thronging with beer bottles, wine bottles and cans, most of them tied into transparent plastic recycling bags. “Have you talked to him?” my husband asks. The man is a binner: he works scavenging through garbage bins to find reusable and recyclable items that can be exchanged for cash. We’re in a car. In the backseat our four-year-old is covering her nose against the new-car smell. She’s near rebellion. My bag is in my lap and I’m searching for a stale chocolate chip cookie, a broken granola bar, anything that will distract her. The man and the buggy are on the road to the right, just ahead. Is he the one they call “The Governor,” I wonder? I can’t see his face, yet. He leans over the handle as he…

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What’s a budget for, anyway?

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Finance Minister Tom Osborne used the words “methodical, fair and responsible” to describe the recent budget, but representatives of civil society and community organizations said that Budget 2018 failed to provide a vision for a sustainable future for Newfoundland and Labrador. Debbie Forward, head of the Nurses’ Union, referred to it as “a flat budget.” She said while there’s not a lot to be upset about, there’s not much to be excited about either. Mary Shortall, President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour said she was looking for a jobs strategy from the budget, but couldn’t find one. “There’s nothing in this that indicates there’s any plan ahead for that. I didn’t see a vision in this budget for what’s going to happen for our population going forward,” she said. The March 27 budget “doesn’t inspire confidence with respect to what we have been able to observe today,”…

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The stories maps tell: A librarian and his travels through space and time

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I didn’t always think of maps as a way to tell stories. To me, maps were tools that documented spatial relationships. And yet it’s been a while since I thought of maps that way. Over the next few months in this column, I want to take you on a journey through the kinds of stories that maps can tell. Over the years I have been asked “what do you do as a map librarian”? When I take a few minutes to explain the work I do, I often see that I haven’t found the right words. My listener’s eyes might glaze over or they might respond with a polite “oh, interesting.” After one of my spiels, my aunt once said: “I’ll just keep telling people you work in a library.” What I need when I tell people what I do is a map. I need a map I can roll…

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IndyShorts

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In 2009 the New York Times did something quite remarkable – they created a near-perfect web storytelling form, combining photographs and sound in a slideshow. It helped that one of their very best, photographer Todd Heisler, was on the job. The collection One in 8 million that Todd and the team produced over that year is a visual and audio feast. You owe it to yourself to check it out: in September 2010 they won an Emmy for it. Since then, video has taken over the web and journalists somehow forgot the power of a few still photographs and a story well told. In Newfoundland and Labrador, we’re lucky that we live in a place of storytellers. We may not win an Emmy, but will take the wisdom of Paul Murray, our very first storyteller to heart – with our deepest respect for Todd and the NYT team, we will strive to…

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In the public interest?

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Free press advocates argue there is no public interest in pursuing the civil and criminal charges against Canadian journalist Justin Brake. “Quite the contrary, there are clear harms to public interest in pursuing this case against Mr. Brake,” said Duncan Pike, co-director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Protecting private property rights Two questions drive the controversy over the charges that national and international advocates say are ‘deeply troubling’ and ‘contributing to the decline’ of Canada’s ranking in the press freedom index. First, is it in the public interest for the crown attorney’s office to pursue criminal charges against a journalist covering an event of national importance? Free press organizations say that the journalist’s role in providing information is in the public interest, while Newfoundland and Labrador crown prosecutor for the case Jennifer Standen says that the protection of private property rights and the enforcement of court orders are in…

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As ArtsNL funding crisis deepens, province’s arts organizations fear for their future

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Several of the province’s arts organizations are in a bind after ArtsNL—the body which adjudicates grants and disburses provincial arts funding—has cut their funding over what the arts organizations say are very minor errors in online reporting forms. Last week the Folk Arts Council—which puts off the annual Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, one of the province’s premiere music and culture festivals—learned that the second and third years of a pre-approved three-year funding grant had been cancelled due to reporting errors. They have since announced they’re suing ArtsNL over the decision, since funding was supposed to be guaranteed for three years and they say minimal effort was made to alert them to the reporting discrepancies. Wreckhouse Jazz and Blues Festival and Gros Morne Summer Music have also had their funding cancelled, and on Tuesday the provincial arts and culture magazine Riddle Fence made a public statement announcing their funding was…

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What could happen if the province increased funding to libraries?

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An event featuring three of the city’s top poets last week doubled as an occasion for library supporters to raise their voices in demanding an improved public library system for the capital city—and the province. The second event in The Once and Future Library series—organized by the St. John’s Public Library Board—took place on March 14 in the AC Hunter Public Library, and proved to be as lively as it was literary. All three poets, and the writers and librarians who introduced them, read from their works but also reflected on the value of libraries to themselves personally, as well as the role libraries play in the broader community. George Murray is a well-established poet. Author of eight books of poetry, as well as a published author of fiction and children’s literature, Murray has served as poetry editor for the Literary Review of Canada and contributing editor with Maisonneuve. In…

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‘I don’t consider myself an activist… I feel responsible’: Beatrice Hunter

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Beatrice Hunter is one of about fifty Labradorians who occupied Muskrat Falls in 2016. The Inuk grandmother continues to fight the resulting civil and criminal charges that were laid against her (and other land protectors) in court. In light of the recent provincial court ruling that allowed criminal charges to go ahead against Justin Brake, the former editor of The Independent who entered the Muskrat Falls site to report about the actions of the land protectors, I asked Hunter if she would talk with me. I asked her about the status of the charges she is facing, her thoughts on the charges against Justin Brake, and what the future of Labrador might look like for herself and for her children. Hunter says that “the more the people know about the situation here in Labrador, the better.” She believes that Justin Brake’s coverage of the events changed the way the rest of the…

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‘Wounds don’t need to be closed’

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Mi’kmaq poet and writer Shannon Webb-Campbell was living in Halifax in 2014, the February that Loretta Saunders, a 26-year-old Inuk woman from Labrador, was murdered. “I felt devastated and I wondered how I could help in any way. And so I started thinking maybe I could write a poetry book about this,” Webb-Campbell said. Who Took My Sister? explores the different kinds of trauma Indigenous women live through, with, and alongside. I invited Webb-Campbell to join myself and two other women as we talked about her new book (to be released March 20). So, in the middle of February, at an office in the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre, three women met to talk with Webb-Campbell by phone about trauma, murdered and missing Indigenous women, and love. Métis cultural support worker with the Friendship Centre, Amelia Reimer, musician and community arts organizer Kate Lahey, and myself, a Métis writer and…

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‘What we can learn for the future’: David Vardy on the Muskrat Falls inquiry

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The name David Vardy has been linked with criticism of the Muskrat Falls project since its earliest days, when he had already retired from public service. Vardy, a former Clerk of the Executive Council and Secretary to Cabinet and chairman of the Public Utilities Board, says the questions we really need to answer are about democracy and how we as a society are going to respond to Muskrat Falls. I sat down for an interview with him before he left for the Muskrat Falls symposium in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Q: What makes you happy about what’s going on with the Muskrat Falls issue right now? Anything? So what makes me happy is that we finally have a public inquiry. And this is not the public inquiry that I asked for: what I wanted was a panel of people that were very knowledgeable about construction projects. And what do we end up…

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‘The courage to come forward’: Amelia Reimer talks about the upcoming MMIWG hearings

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The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry will be in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in the first week of March, reported APTN Wednesday afternoon. Amelia Reimer has been sitting on a provincial planning committee for the hearings. We asked her what to expect. Q: Who are the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls In Newfoundland and Labrador? A: It’s all walks of life. There’s some people on the list that we don’t know their names because that was always hidden from the media. Their names were always withheld, so some of those I can’t really speak to. But for the ones whose families have decided to let the names be public it’s–I guess the stereotype with this type of violence across the country is that it’s sex workers, not that that should make any difference whatsoever. But here, it’s mostly domestic violence. The unsolved cases clearly we don’t know…

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The last season of the cofferdam?

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There are other sunken ships in Canadian waters that are labelled risks—ships besides the Manolis L., the one at the centre of this story. There are hundreds of other ships left at the bottom of Canadian waters, with names like Scout, Genie G., Arrel, M.F. Therese, the Northern Osprey, Dorothy B., and Mink. Sea Alert, Danny Boy, and Atlantic Charger, too. Many of them pose the same kind of environmental risks as the Manolis L. If you asked biologist and Memorial University professor Dr. Ian Jones, he’d say that’s what this article is really about. He’d say that what I should write about here isn’t just the Manolis L., with its fuel tanks deteriorating at the bottom of the Notre Dame Bay, off Fogo Island and Change Islands. He’d tell you that this story is about what biologists say is an ever-increasing risk of oil spills in the Canadian waters,…

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Telling the story of harassment in the RCMP

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On February 1, former RCMP Constable Janet Merlo spoke to a packed gathering hosted by the Department of Gender Studies at Memorial University about her experience of sexual harassment in the force. The harassment she along with thousands of other women in the RCMP experienced became the subject of a class action suit that was settled out of court last year. Her story, which is outlined in detail in her own book No One To Tell: Breaking My Silence on Life in the RCMP, is a powerful one that tackles a misogyny still deeply rooted in many workplaces, and one we thought we should share. Merlo looks out across campus, reminiscing about her days as a student and how much the university landscape has changed. An alumni of Squires House, she fondly recalls some of the antics of residence life. Joining the RCMP was not a career move she’d planned…

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