Mt. A. lays off workers anticipating millions in losses because of COVID-19

Mt. A. President Jean-Boudreau addressing town council

Mount Allison President Jean-Paul Boudreau says the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including an anticipated drop in student enrollment, will result in a substantial shortfall in university revenues.

“It will be in the millions, it will be less than $10 million, but it will be a high number,” Boudreau told an online meeting of Sackville Town Council last week.

“Some difficult decisions will have to be made and some have been made,” he added after noting that wages and salaries account for 75% of the university’s expenses.

Although Boudreau gave no details during the council meeting, the university announced a series of measures last week that it said had affected 52 employees in one of three ways:

  • 16 employees had their hours reduced for the summer, most with a specific date for when they will return to full-time hours
  • 25 employees received temporary layoff notices, but some have since been recalled
  • 11 employees received layoff notices with no recall date

Many of the affected employees are members of CUPE, the union that represents clerical staff as well as custodial, maintenance, trades and groundskeeping workers.

A CUPE news release called the layoffs “unnecessary and unfair” quoting Lori MacKay, the union’s national servicing representative as saying they would generate savings of only 0.006% of last year’s $46 million operating budget.

“Mount A’s administration has not shared with us adequate student enrollment projections for fall 2020,” MacKay says in the release.

During last week’s town council meeting, Boudreau said it’s too early to estimate student enrollment for the coming year, but he did say that enrollment drops at all universities in Atlantic Canada could range from a low of 10% to “upwards of 40%.”

According to the Association of Atlantic Universities, a preliminary survey of full-time enrollment at Mt. A. on October 1 last year came up with the figure 2,180. And, according to Mt. A. budget figures, last year’s enrollment generated revenues from regular tuition and student fees of almost $19.9 million.

But according to Boudreau, this year will be different.

“If you look at the potential deficit impact, it ranges from $100 to $200 million dollars in one year in Atlantic Canada alone,” he warned.

“It’s going to be a bumpy road ahead,” he said. “I’m going to keep my CEO of Optimism hat on and hope that we will weather the storm.”

Posted in COVID-19, Mount Allison University | Tagged | 1 Comment

Backgrounder: Police review may have implications for Sackville

Sign outside RCMP’s Sackville detachment

The federal government has launched a review of the RCMP’s role in regional and municipal policing in light of concerns that the demands of its policing contracts in the provinces and territories may be overstraining the force and reducing its effectiveness.

The review comes as the RCMP faces renewed allegations of racism and the use of excessive force in the shooting death of Rodney Levi in northern New Brunswick and the beating of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

The Mounties have also come under fire for their handling of April’s 13-hour shooting rampage in rural Nova Scotia that left 23 people dead including an RCMP officer.

Last month, Jim Bronskill of the Canadian Press reported on the contents of a government memo warning federal cabinet ministers that the RCMP’s provincial, territorial and municipal contract policing obligations were sapping the force’s effectiveness in fighting organized crime and protecting national security.

Bronskill, who obtained the confidential memo through an Access to Information request, reported that the demand for local contract officers “outstrips the RCMP’s capacity to recruit and train them, causing shortages that have led to officer health and wellness concerns.”

The document also warned about “growing dissatisfaction” over the costs of local policing  as well as officer vacancies raising concerns about community safety.

“Over 60 per cent of RCMP’s multibillion-dollar budget and over 70 per cent of the force’s officers are assigned to contract policing in 153 municipalities, the three territories, and all provinces but Ontario and Quebec,” Bronskill reports.

RCMP in Sackville

When Sackville Town Council voted unanimously to disband its 100-year-old municipal police force in October 2002 and sign a contract with the RCMP, it was a controversial decision.

The Moncton Times & Transcript reported that the vote was taken “before a crowd of hundreds of community residents who booed the eight councillors.”

The newspaper also reported, however, that town councillors felt the RCMP would be best able to improve and maintain higher policing standards.

It quoted Councillor Virgil Hammock who said the town deserved a professional police force with efficient management.

“Everyone can boo and hiss all they want, but I received one phone call in favour of the (local police),” Hammock said.

Then-mayor Jamie Smith, who did not have a vote, stepped away from his position chairing the meeting “to tell residents he believed taxpayers couldn’t bear the burden of higher policing costs of the RCMP.”

At the time, Sackville was the only town in New Brunswick required to pay 100% of RCMP policing costs. However, when the contract was renewed for 20 years in 2012, the federal government agreed to pay 30% of the RCMP costs, with the town covering the rest.

This year, Sackville plans to spend nearly $1.9 million for police services, the largest, single expenditure in its $11.4 million operating budget, but judging by comments they’ve made in the last four years, councillors seem happy with the RCMP service.

To read a CBC report on CUPE’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade town council to reinstate a local police force in 2006, click here.

For a report on why Amherst Town Council decided to stick with its municipal force in 2018, click here.

And for a report from The Argosy, on a eyebrow-raising visit from the RCMP to the Mt. A. campus last year, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Future still uncertain for Sackville Tribune-Post and Amherst News

The Sackville Tribune-Post closed its downtown offices in 2018 to save money in the face of declining ad revenues

The Saltwire Network says it is assessing the future of its weekly newspapers in Atlantic Canada including the Sackville Tribune-Post and the Amherst News after announcing the permanent layoff of 109 employees yesterday.

The company, which also owns daily papers in Halifax, Charlottetown, Sydney and St. John’s, suspended the publication of its weeklies in March because of a collapse in local advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an e-mail today to Warktimes, Ian Scott, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Saltwire Network, said the future of the Sackville and Amherst papers will depend on market conditions.

“We’re continuing to evaluate which publications return and when they will return,” Scott wrote. “In all cases, the decisions are being made with an understanding of market demand (advertising and circulation).”

He added that the company has relaunched the South Shore Breaker in Nova Scotia’s Queens and Lunenburg counties “because market demand has shown the customer base is there to support it.”

He said all other papers are being assessed in the same way.

“I cannot offer more specifics of the market demand for The Sackville Tribune-Post and the Amherst News in particular, but we will be very keen to return as quickly as possible in as many markets as is possible,” Scott wrote.

In announcing the 109 permanent layoffs yesterday, Scott said that after the pandemic began, advertising plummeted as businesses closed and customers stayed home.

“The loss has cost the company millions in revenue to date without expected improvement in the coming months,” he added.

To read my previous story about the papers shutting down temporarily in March, click here.

Posted in Sackville Tribune-Post | Tagged | 2 Comments

Sackville’s finances OK despite COVID-19, but town council reluctant to invest in Economic Recovery Fund

Treasurer Michael Beal at a council meeting before the pandemic

It appears that Sackville is doing better financially during the COVID-19 pandemic than other New Brunswick municipalities.

Sackville Treasurer Michael Beal says that so far, the town is $132,500 under budget with savings outweighing losses in revenue.

“Overall, I see us in a comfortable position, not by any means in a risk position,” Beal told a special, online meeting of Sackville Town Council Monday night.

He explained that while revenues including those from building permits, bylaw enforcement and arena operations have fallen by $117,500, expenses are down by $250,000 because of staff vacancies, the cancellation of events such as the Fall Fair and a reduction in fire calls and training.

Beal said Sackville relies on property taxes collected by the province for more than 90% of its revenues and so far, the province hasn’t made any changes, so town funding is stable whereas larger municipalities also depend on revenues from services such as transit and parking garages that have been severely affected by the pandemic.

He emphasized, however, that things could change in the coming months.

“We’ll continue to monitor our financial position for the remainder of the year and if there are any bumps in the road, we’ll report those,” Beal said.

Economic Recovery Fund

CAO Jamie Burke showed this slide outlining possible uses of an Economic Recovery Fund

Sackville CAO Jamie Burke suggested that some of the town’s $132,500 in savings could be allocated to an Economic Recovery Fund to give small grants to local businesses affected by COVID-19.

He suggested the Fund’s total budget could range from $25,000 to $50,000.

“It would be a very small, modest amount of financial assistance that we would be able to provide,” Burke said.

He added that town staff would need direction before drawing up a plan that could be considered at next month’s town council meeting.

Little support for Fund

It became apparent in the discussion that followed, however, that most councillors were against the idea with only Bill Evans expressing support.

Councillor Bill Evans

“If we’ve got some money that we didn’t anticipate,” Evan said, “then I really like the idea of giving back to people who are hurting, supporting local business.”

However, he cautioned that while “it’s hugely important that the town support business,” it would need to be careful to come up with clear guidelines that would be fair to all businesses.

Councillor Joyce O’Neil said that as a taxpayer, she had doubts about allocating extra money to support businesses now.

“Good Lord only knows what’s going to happen between now and the first of the year, whether we’re going to be in dire straits,” O’Neil said.

Councillor Shawn Mesheau suggested that instead of money, businesses might benefit more from an easing of “red tape” and regulations.

“I think it goes beyond just a money thing and it’s understanding what these businesses are looking to achieve,” Mesheau added, “and what are those barriers they’re facing.”

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said he worried about whether the town would be obligated to continue its support to local businesses if there were a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Secondly, it may sound a little harsh, but businesses go under for all sorts of reasons,” Aiken said, adding that several in town have adapted to the pandemic on their own.

“I would hate to think that we were simply giving money to support what is loosely called ‘bad entrepreneurship,’ people that really don’t do well at running business at the best of times,” he said.

Councillor Allison Butcher

Councillor Allison Butcher warned that it could be a long time before there’s a vaccine for COVID-19 and suggested the town may need money as a kind of rainy-day fund until things return to normal.

“The economic repercussions are not just going to disappear,” she said. “We’re going to be looking at this for a lot longer than the effects on health.”

Speaking from his car in the town parking lot, Councillor Bruce Phinney also expressed opposition to allocating money for an Economic Recovery Fund, especially in the face of so much uncertainty.

“We have to be very cautious about how much money we spend,” Phinney said, adding that the town already helps local businesses through grants from Renaissance Sackville.

“Until we see exactly what’s happening with the borders and with the businesses being open for awhile, I think we better hold back,” he said.

Councillor Michael Tower suggested that the town conduct a survey first to find out what local businesses need.

“I’d like to have some kind of feedback from them before we try to commit any money,” Tower said. “It would be nice to be able to help them out, but we really [need to] know what their needs are before we throw money at the fire.”

CAO Burke agreed that a survey of local businesses would help determine need.

“That is  something that we could do,” Burke said, adding that staff could bring results back to council later for further consideration.

Mayor Higham summed up the discussion by saying that town staff would have to weigh the views of council and perhaps come up with more ideas.

“We’ll see whether you come back with something or whether you say, ‘No, I don’t think council’s ready for this,'” the mayor concluded.

Posted in COVID-19, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Hundreds march to Sackville Town Hall for anti-racism rally

About 250 protesters marched along Sackville’s Main Street on Friday to the town hall where they held an anti-racism rally and knelt in silence for eight minutes in memory of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25.

The march and rally were organized by the Black Students’ Union and the Caribbean Students’ Union at Mount Allison University.

The protesters chanted “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “WHEN BLACK LIVES ARE UNDER ATTACK, STAND UP AND FIGHT BACK.”

They also carried placards asking WHY IS ENDING RACISM A DEBATE? and WHERE DO WE TURN WHEN POLICE MURDER?!

Outside town hall, Mt. A. Black Student Advisor Ivan Okello read a poem called “The Story of Us” that he said explored how he and people who look like him have been feeling over the last couple of weeks. His poem began:

This is the story of us — immigrants
Coming from five different lands
Searching for what we cannot find — home
Living, working, studying
We are welcomed, but not accepted

Ivan Okello addressing town hall rally

Okello thanked people for participating in the march and rally.

“I hope you continue to see injustice within our communities,” he said as he urged people to use their powers to educate and to liberate.

“What can each of us do?” he asked.

He suggested that there are many ways to answer that question depending on individual circumstances, but education is always crucial.

“Ask yourself, what bias do you have against black people,” Okello said.

“If you’ve never heard about racism, ask someone who says they have experienced racism. If they tell you, then you’ll know and they’ll tell you how to help,” he added.

Gloria Farah, who described herself as a person of colour, said there’s a need for everyone to stand against racism.

“It’s true that we are different colours, but if you go deep inside, we have the same blood colour, we have the same heart, everything is the same from the inside.”

Toni-Anne Dixon (R) and Khandra Barrett

Two Mount Allison students from the Caribbean spoke about feeling unwelcome in Sackville when they first arrived.

“When we first came here, we were expecting welcoming arms,” said Toni-Anne Dixon. “But it turned out that some people aren’t [welcoming], so it was kind of a shock to us, so we really appreciate everyone coming here,” she added.

“This means that you understand what’s going on and you see the need to make a change.”

“This is the colour of our skin, we can’t change who we are,” Khandra Barrett told the rally.

“We don’t want to change who we are,” she added. “It’s really hard if you’re trying to be yourself and you’re not accepted or welcomed.”

Barrett also thanked people for their support and for giving black people a voice.

Arianna Woodley, who helped organize the rally and march, said she hadn’t expected such a big crowd on a rainy Friday afternoon, but was glad to see so much support in a town where international students often hear racial slurs or get followed around in stores as suspected thieves.

“I had a friend actually, she applied to a job and they said, ‘We don’t need people like you’ and she was like, ‘What do you mean?'” Woodley said. “And they’re like, ‘Well, it doesn’t really attract the right crowd.'”

Woodley, who came to Canada from Anguilla, has since graduated from Mount Allison with a degree in geography and aviation.

“We need to do more than just say we’re standing in solidarity, it’s time to actually spark action,” she said.

Protesters kneel silently outside town hall in memory of George Floyd

Posted in Mount Allison University, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sackville councillor raises concerns over re-opening playground and beach at Lillas Fawcett Park

The beach and natural playground at Lillas Fawcett Park are now open with lifeguarding to begin on July 1

Sackville Councillor Shawn Mesheau has expressed concern about the town’s re-opening of the natural playground and the beach at Lillas Fawcett Park with plans for student lifeguards to be on duty beginning July 1st.

“On a good day in the summertime, that park is packed full,” Mesheau told his colleagues during Monday’s town council meeting.

“I’m just kind of wondering by offering that type of service this year what type of risk that we might be putting ourselves in as a municipality and to the general public and to our summer students,” he said, adding that the students would have to work within and enforce COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions.

Chief Administrative Officer Jamie Burke replied that the town would do its best to maintain safety, but that residents want it to restore regular services.

He added that student workers would be well prepared for pandemic restrictions and that he had been discussing how to handle things with colleagues in other communities.

“We’re not in the enforcing family business,” Burke said. “We understand there are challenges there, but it’s next to impossible for us to determine who’s related to who and who’s living with who and who’s in whose bubble.”

He said signs would be posted warning people to follow social-distancing rules.

“We’re not looking for our summer students to be enforcement officers,” he said.

“Instead we’re going to ask them to be ambassadors and help spread positive messages amongst the community about the importance to get out, get fresh air [and] the benefits of that for mental health and physical health, and do that as safely as they can.”

Money for hospice

An artist’s rendering of what the Hospice Southeast New Brunswick is expected to look like once construction is complete this fall

The vote was 5-2 Monday night as town council approved contributing $9,700 to help build a hospice in Moncton that will serve about 120 dying patients in southeastern New Brunswick each year.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken along with Councillors Allison Butcher, Andrew Black, Bill Evans and Michael Tower voted in favour while Councillors Joyce O’Neil and Shawn Mesheau voted against. (Councillor Bruce Phinney was absent.)

O’Neil and Mesheau repeated arguments they made at the meeting last week that the money would be better spent to help palliative care patients in Sackville.

Treasurer Michael Beal said the town is hoping to contribute all of the money this year, but the motion council passed gives him discretion to make the donation over three years if the town’s financial picture worsens because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As expected, council also approved spending $16,560 to purchase four shipping containers that will be installed at the new fire department training facility behind the public works building in the Sackville Industrial Park.

Posted in COVID-19, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

High marks to Sackville fire, garbage and parks services in residents’ survey, but lower ones for tourism initiatives, roads and police

The results are in and there is good news and bad for the town of Sackville in its latest annual residents’ survey.

Overall, 81% of the 259 people who responded to the online survey during February and March were satisfied with the “overall quality of life” in the town.

In response to the question “How satisfied are you with the following Town of Sackville services?” a majority of respondents indicated satisfaction with fire services (94%), garbage collection (86%) and town parks and facilities (78%).

However, fewer respondents were satisfied with the town’s marketing and communications (61%), tourism initiatives (55%) and the state of Sackville’s roads and sidewalks (49%).

Economic development got the lowest ratings with only 41% expressing satisfaction.

Results were similar when survey respondents were asked to indicate “the three services listed below that you are most happy with”: 51.7% chose fire services, 50.5% selected town parks and facilities while 40.1% chose garbage collection.

Many fewer respondents indicated they were “most happy” with economic development (1.5%), tourism initiatives (6.9%) and the town’s marketing and communications (8.4%).

And only 16.2% indicated they were “most happy” with police services.

Only about half of survey respondents were satisfied with the town’s “budget process and overall management of tax dollars” (51%); its “governance and leadership” (52%) and their “customer service experience” with the town (56%).

The table below also shows results when respondents were asked to list services the town needs to improve:

The 259 people who responded to this year’s survey was up from the 159 who filled it out last year and the 110 who responded in 2018.

To read my coverage of the 2018 survey results, click here.

Results are not scientific

In 2017, Sackville adopted a strategic plan that called for annual residents’ surveys.

It’s not possible to say, however, whether the three surveys conducted so far accurately reflect public opinion.

That’s partly because residents were not polled randomly and partly because respondents themselves chose whether to participate in the survey. A sample size of 259 is far below the 800 to 1,000 sample that would be needed for a scientifically accurate poll.

For more information on the science of polling, click here.

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Sackville mayor condemns ‘systemic racism’ and pledges ‘solidarity’ in the fight to defeat it

Mayor Higham during Monday’s online council meeting

Mayor John Higham took the unusual step of delivering a brief statement condemning what he termed “systemic racism” at the opening of Monday night’s Sackville Town Council meeting held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a particularly overwhelming week for many people,” Higham began. “The world seems rather relentless and unforgiving in the last little while.”

He added that while people have been facing the pandemic and issues such as climate change, racial matters seem to have become what he called a “defining moment” for the country.

“I can’t say that I understand what it’s like to be subjected to systemic racism,” Higham said. “But I do know that systemic, anti-black as well as anti-indigenous racism, lives in Canada and unfortunately, it’s also present in Sackville.”

The mayor urged everyone to support human rights.

“We unmistakably condemn racism, violence and discrimination of any kind,” he said.

“I want our black and indigenous colleagues, residents in communities across this province and this country, to know that we here stand in solidarity with you in the fight to defeat racism.”

‘White privilege’

Councillor Bill Evans

Councillor Bill Evans echoed the mayor’s comments saying that he was delighted to see hundreds of Sackville residents participate in last Wednesday’s silent vigil outside Sackville’s main post office.

“It was yet another reason why I’m proud of our community,” Evans said, adding that while everyone has seen examples of individual racism, the systemic kind also exists.

“People who would never consider themselves racist can, without knowing it or intending it, be racist and even more likely, be part of and beneficiaries of systemic racism,” he said.

“We need to educate ourselves about this reality and its history, remove the blinkers of our white privilege and commit to doing whatever we can to call out and eliminate this centuries-old scourge wherever it exists,” Evans concluded.

To read a transcript of the two statements, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 7 Comments

Sackville Town Council to vote on $9,700 donation for palliative-care hospice in Moncton

An artist’s rendering of what Hospice Southeast New Brunswick is expected to look like once construction is complete later this year

At its meeting on Monday, Sackville Town Council will be discussing whether to contribute $9,700 to a new $5 million hospice in Moncton that will care for the dying in southeastern New Brunswick.

Construction of the 10-bed hospice, which will serve 120 palliative-care patients per year, is expected to be completed this fall.

Riverview councillor Tammy Rampersaud asked Sackville for a $9,700 contribution in October as part of a fundraising campaign aimed at municipalities in Westmorland, Albert and Kent counties.

“It’s all based on population,” she told council. “If you were so generous and willing to grant that money to the campaign, it could be done in one year, two years, all the way up to five years.”

At their meeting last Monday, councillors were told that Sackville is the only municipality in the three counties that hasn’t made a financial commitment to the hospice.

Mayor Higham explained that council had received a note from the Sackville Memorial Hospital Auxiliary asking the town not to contribute because there were plans to invest in palliative care here.

He added, however, that the auxiliary later decided not to go ahead with its plans, but then failed to let the town know of its decision until recently.

Questions about hospice donation

In response to a question from Councillor Shawn Mesheau, Jamie Burke, the town’s chief administrative officer, said the money for the new hospice would come from funds allocated for community development grants.

Burke added it would be along the same lines as money the town donated to the Tantramar Seniors’ College in the past year.

Councillor Shawn Mesheau

“I understand the benefit of this [hospice] even though it’s not being built in Sackville,” Mesheau said, adding, however, that the town denied a grant to the ATV Club because it was for a project outside Sackville.

“I’m just kind of wondering what the precedents we’re setting here by moving forward. Are we going to consider those type of grants [outside Sackville] in the future?” Mesheau asked.

“That will be council’s decision,” Mayor Higham responded. “You’re correct that we had a similar question from SPCA in Moncton based upon a regional approach and I believe we did not choose to participate in that campaign,” he added.

The mayor pointed out, however, that the local Tantramar Hospice Palliative Care Organization supports the campaign to build a hospice in Moncton.

Chair Stephen Claxton-Oldfield told Warktimes last fall that a $9,700 contribution from Sackville would be a good investment.

“A residential hospice in Moncton would serve the folks in the Tantramar region,” he added. “Our local group is 100 per cent behind Hospice Southeast New Brunswick in terms of getting this residential hospice built.”

Councillor Joyce O’Neil

Councillor Joyce O’Neil wondered whether contributing money to a hospice in Moncton would be a good idea given uncertainty about the future of the hospital in Sackville.

“I know that when I met with the auxiliary, none of the auxiliary members were in favour of that because they couldn’t see putting their loved ones from Sackville in a place up there and wondering how we could travel back and forth,” O’Neil said.

“Anyway, just my food for thought,” she concluded.

Mayor Higham said council would have to debate the issue at its next meeting on June 8th.

To read previous coverage of this issue, click here.

Posted in Health care, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Sackville councillors expected to OK $16K sea containers for fire training

Sea containers at Sackville’s fire training facility will be arranged somewhat like this

Sackville’s 43 firefighters will likely have a new state-of-the-art training facility by the end of the year.

At its next meeting on Monday, Sackville Town Council is expected to approve a $16,560 expenditure to buy four, 40-foot shipping containers that would play an important part in fire department training.

Council gave its overall approval in February to construction of the $30,000 facility behind the public works building on Crescent Street with the understanding that purchases over $6,000 would still need additional approval.

The four shipping or sea containers are to be paid for out of funds raised during the 2018 Fire Department Truck Draw held by the Sackville Volunteer Firefighters Association.

Fire Chief Craig Bowser says that if council approves purchasing the containers from Riverside Warehousing Ltd. in Moncton, fire training in Sackville would be improved significantly.

“The sea containers will allow us to train out there potentially every week if we so choose to do that,” he says.

Deputy Fire Chief Shawn Phinney explains that the containers will be used to mimic actual fire conditions.

“We’ll be building walls inside the containers and making rooms to simulate going into a house with the vertical one having stairs in it to simulate a two-storey house or going into the basement,” he says.

“You can make different scenarios of kitchens and living rooms with being able to move some walls around,” Phinney adds.

“We have an artificial smoke machine that we’ll be able to put in there to fill it with smoke, so I think it’s going to be a huge benefit for our members.”

The deputy chief says the Sackville Public Works Department has already put down shale and gravel for the training facility in a level 70-by-100 foot area behind its building.

Concrete pads

After the containers are installed, two concrete pads will be added where firefighters can practise rescuing people from wrecked cars or improving their techniques for ventilating the roofs of burning buildings.

“We’ll build a small roof structure on one of the pads,” Phinney says, “to simulate cutting holes in the roofs…If you’ve got a home on fire you have to have a way to have the gases and the smoke escape to make it easier inside for members to fight the fire.”

Chief Bowser says fire departments in  surrounding areas such as Dorchester, Memramcook, Port Elgin and Amherst will be invited to use Sackville’s new training facility.

He points out that all of these departments have mutual-aid agreements which are a big help since Sackville’s Fire Department is responsible for a 100-square-kilometre area.

“All those outlying fire departments are great assets to us especially when we’re fighting large fires,” he says.

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Hundreds gather in Sackville for anti-racism vigil

Nearly 300 people gathered outside Sackville’s main post office today as part of a silent vigil to protest against racism.

Participants were responding to an invitation on Facebook yesterday from former Sackville poet laureate Marilyn Lerch who wrote:

“I would like to stand in front of PO at noon Wednesday with a sign about racial injustice. Would anyone join me?”

Today’s vigil was one of a series of protests across Canada and the U.S. sparked by the killing last week of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who had been handcuffed and pinned to the ground by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota for more than eight minutes while they ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe.

Anger and tears

Marilyn Lerch outside the Sackville Post Office

“People here are moved, moved to tears, heavy of heart and angry,” Lerch said to Warktimes during today’s vigil.

She held a sign that declared she was “standing in support of protests in the U.S. against systemic racism: here & there.”

“I wish we could say we were not all part of that, but we have to accept our responsibility,” Lerch said.

“We have to look at Canada, the discrimination for centuries against First Nations people [and their] treaty rights,” she added.

Lerch said the big turnout at today’s vigil shows that people do care about systemic racism.

“Here we are faced with climate change, COVID-19, student debt, trying to take the hospital away, unemployment,” she said, “all of that is down on us and yet people with a few hours notice come here and stand together.”

To respect COVID-19 safety restrictions, most participants at today’s rally wore masks and attempted to distance themselves from one another.

Daily experiences

Mt. A. Black Student Advisor and Diversity Educator Ivan Okello

Ivan Okello, who serves as Black Student Advisor at Mount Allison, said he participated in today’s vigil to show his support for fighting against racism and police brutality.

He held a sign advising white people to check their own bias against associating with people of other races and cultures.

The other side of his sign read: “Racism is killing me softly.”

He explained that as a black person from Uganda he often feels its effects — everything from being followed around in stores to racial slurs and anti-immigrant comments.

“It’s been a range of experiences and the challenge of that is that it dehumanizes your sense of belonging to a specific place because you start to feel that your sense of security is threatened,” Okello said.

Policing black lives

As Okello was speaking to Warktimes, Mt. A. President Jean-Paul Boudreau stopped by briefly to praise his work at the university.

In January 2019, Boudreau himself invited Robyn Maynard to speak at Mt. A. about her book Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present.

Her speech reflected the evidence she presents in the book that racism is structural and embedded in Canadian institutions.

“It’s easy to say ‘I’m not a racist,” Maynard said in her talk at Mount A.

“Instead say, ‘What am I going to do about it?’”

To read a full report on Maynard’s talk, click here.

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