Nova Scotia public schools to get better breakfast programs

Originally published in The Signal on Jan. 22, 2018.

Every public school in Nova Scotia should be able to offer breakfast programs or expand on food programs that are already in place, the province said Monday.

The provincial government announced Monday morning, at Burton Ettinger Elementary in Halifax, it will double funding for the School Healthy Eating Program, from under $1 million to nearly $2 million. 

“(The money will) ensure that all students will have access to a healthy meal in the morning,” said Atlantic MLA Brendan Maguire, who was there on behalf of the health and wellness minister.

For schools like Burton Ettinger that already have breakfast programs, the funding will allow them to start providing fruit and vegetable snacks, healthier lunch programs and after-school snacks. 

Principal Andrea Briand said that the program takes pressure off of kids and their parents to eat breakfast before they rush out the door.

“As an educator, I think it’s important that everybody starts the day with a really good breakfast,” said Briand during the announcement.

Margo Riebe-Butt, executive director of Nourish Nova Scotia, said breakfast programs are important for students who have a long commute time or early morning practice, and for those whose parents start work early.

“Kids may be left to fend for themselves in the morning without the knowledge and skills to actually make those breakfasts,” she said.

Nourish Nova Scotia, a non-profit organization that promotes health and food literacy in schools, has worked closely with the government and schools to create healthy eating programs.

 

Mi'kmaq man guilty of refusing a breathalyzer appeals sentence

Originally published on Jan. 20, 2018 in The Signal

A sentence handed down to a Mi’kmaq man convicted of refusing a breathalyzer didn’t take into account the fact that he’s Indigenous, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal heard Friday.

Leroy David Denny was in the courtroom in Halifax as his lawyer, Stephen Robertson, argued that the sentencing judge “failed to consider relevant factors.”

As a result of this, Robertson asked for Denny’s sentence to be reconsidered, particularly a 30-month driving prohibition. Robertson also pointed out that a significant amount of time has already passed since the crimes occurred, dragging out how long Denny has to wait to complete his sentence.  

In 2015 Denny, from New Glasgow, was pulled over twice by police and refused to take a breathalyzer test both times. He pleaded guilty to two counts of refusing a breathalyzer and was sentenced in Pictou provincial court in April 2016 to pay $10 as a fine for each count, as well as $3 in victim surcharges. Justice Del W. Atwood also sentenced Denny to a one-year ban from driving in relation to each of the charges. 

Atwood noted that Denny is Mi’kmaq and a member of the Pictou Landing First Nation. He referred to the Gladue sentencing principle, which states that Indigenous status should be considered whenever possible when sentencing offenders. This is an attempt to correct the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the Canadian justice system. 

Last year, the Crown appealed this sentence, claiming it was unfit. During that appeal, Justice James L. Chipman handed down a new sentence. He ordered Denny to pay $2,200 in fines, placed him on a 12-month probation period that includes regular counselling and handed him a 30-month driving prohibition. 

In appealing this sentence on Friday, Robertson argued that Chipman did not consider the Gladue principle in his decision. Robertson told the three-member panel, made up of Justices Duncan R. Beveridge, David Farrar, and Edward Scanlan, that his client’s case was affected by “who he was and the community that he came from.” 

Beveridge said Denny was “penalized” when he was sentenced to a 30-month driving suspension. 

“It seems that it should have been treated really as a first offence, even the second. So 12 months would really be the appropriate time for a driving prohibition,” said Beveridge, calling the sentencing “illegal.”

Crown attorney Kenneth Fiske agreed that Denny should be given leave to appeal the 30-month driving prohibition. 

The panel is expected to release a written decision later this year.

Halifax women's march is about 'believing in one another'

Originally published in The Signal on Jan. 19, 2018. 

One year after the first Women’s March in Halifax, event organizers and activists haven’t lost their momentum.

On Saturday at noon, the second annual Women’s March will take place in Grand Parade. The event will include poetry readings, music, dance performances and speeches. 

Rana Zaman, an activist and one of the event organizers, said “belief” is this year’s theme.

“(It’s) believing in one another, believing in what we’re saying, believing we can make a change,” she told The Signal.

 

The 2017 March, which occurred in several cities around the world, immediately followed the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump ran on a platform that aimed to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and tighten women’s reproductive rights. 

In Halifax, hundreds of women and men listened to poetry and spoken word performances and carried signs advocating for women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and racial awareness.

Guest speakers at this year’s event will include Halifax’s Poet Laureate Rebecca Thomas and former firefighter Liane Tessier. Tessier made headlines in December when she received an apology from Ken Stuebing, chief of Halifax Fire and Emergency, for sexual harassment and abuse that she experienced in the workplace. The apology came 12 years after Tessier originally made a complaint.

Zaman wants to start pushing for changes in policy that will help women from all communities and prevent future harassment and abuse. The Women’s March is an opportunity to start this process, she said. 

Zaman said hundreds of people are expected to turn out for Saturday’s event.

Questions about inclusiveness

Last year’s event drew a huge crowd, and a number of people on social media have expressed excitement for Saturday’s March.

However, there are some who have concerns about the safety and purpose of the event.

There were some comments made on the Facebook page that were seen as hateful, trans-exclusionary and racist. The posts, which have since been deleted, caused anger and concern about the safety of the event.

In a Facebook post made in the event group on Jan. 15, event organizer Melissa Bellefeuille said that this year’s March is about asserting “the rights of transgender women, women of colour, indigenous women, LGBTQI2S allies, and to any woman who has been silenced.” 

Zaman said the organizing committee has pushed to be as diverse and inclusive as possible. 

“We have black women represented, we have Indigenous women represented, we have transgender representation and myself as a Pakistani woman,” she said.

For Zaman, Saturday’s event isn’t meant to divide participants; it’s “supposed to be a unifying event to unite us and empower us.” 

Similar marches and gatherings will be taking place around the world on Saturday and Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of people expected to take part.

My Experiences on Exchange

Originally published in The Western Gazette on April 20, 2016. 

It is hard know the significance of a moment as it's happening. Usually we find importance in retrospect. When I stepped off of the plane in Copenhagen, Denmark to begin my six-month university exchange, I knew it was a big moment. This was something that I would remember for the rest of my life.

Big moments don’t always have to be happy ones. For me, this was a terrifying moment. It was a moment in which I felt absolutely alone. I no longer had my friends and family from home to comfort me. I was faced with the surreal challenge of living in a new country, trying to communicate with a language I didn’t speak and having to do it all without anyone familiar to help me.

When I first considered going on exchange in my second year at Western, I did a lot of research. I wanted to go somewhere that would challenge me academically, socially and culturally. When I found the University of Copenhagen, I instantly knew that this was where I was meant to go. It would offer me exposure to a new language, a new education system and the incredible culture of Scandinavia. It seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

The application process for exchange can be quite stressful. You have to get permissions and signatures and transcripts. For anyone interested in going on exchange, I highly recommend not leaving things to the last minute. Coupled with the stress of my class schedule and extracurriculars, trying to finish my application was a large source of stress for me. Then, once I had been accepted, the workload became even more stressful as I had to apply for visas, permits, courses and housing.

The idea of going on exchange can be overwhelming and the process of arranging to live in another country is by no means straightforward or easy. There were moments (especially one in which I was convinced I would not be able to get my Danish residency permit) when I genuinely thought that it might not be worth the struggle.

Fear plays a role in everyone’s life. As a university student, I had often felt afraid of failure — whether that meant failure in a course, failure in a relationship, or failure to adapt to a situation. For a very long time I have been afraid of putting myself in situations that could end badly for me. Exchange has changed that.

After moving to another country and having to completely change my life to adapt to a new culture and school, I do not think that I will be as held back by fear anymore. I can’t imagine anything that could scare me as much as this has. But now I know that I can survive through a truly life-changing experience.

This is not to say that it has all been smooth sailing.

My first week in Denmark was a hard one. I was incredibly homesick and absolutely terrified of not making friends. I spent a lot of time exploring alone and wondering if I would actually be able to survive. I experienced a lot more self-doubt than I am used to. I wondered constantly if I had gotten myself in over my head. Would I disappoint anyone if I decided that I couldn’t do this? And then one morning I woke up and felt a little better. I started to force myself to go out each day and do something new. I went to museums and parks and tourist attractions. I started to make friends. Things fell into place. And now I cannot imagine being anywhere else.

I urge students to take advantage of the exchange program that Western offers. It is an incredible way to see the world and immerse yourself into something completely new. It is a way to make friends and try new things. It is a way to prove to yourself what you are really capable of. And, as I have come to learn, exchange teaches you the importance of home. For me, the most valuable thing that I have learned is that there is no place on earth like home. I have been lucky enough to travel and see incredible parts of the world, but what makes me truly lucky is that I know at the end of all of this I will have a place that is equally as incredible to go home to.