Rehtaeh Parsons: A journalist’s story

Selena Ross worked for the Chronicle Herald to piece together Rehtaeh Parsons’ story over a nine-month period.

When Selena Ross walked into work at the Chronicle Herald for an evening shift last April, she had no idea that she would be assigned the story of a teenage girl torn apart by an alleged sexual assault and a failed legal system. It would result in multiple follow-up stories over the course of a year.

Rehtaeh Parsons had died the day before. When Ross got to work, her editor asked her to look into the Facebook post that Parson’s mother had written following Parson’s death.

“I interviewed her that night. She didn’t want to [come to the phone] at first and then she agreed,” says Ross. The interview was the beginning of an intense week.

Ross, who graduated with a masters in journalism from Columbia University in 2009 and began working for the Chronicle Herald in 2011, had just found herself in the midst of the biggest story of her career.

Ross went out the next day to speak with teens from the Cole Harbour school that Parsons had attended. The group of boys that Parsons had accused of rape also attended the school.

“At one point that week it became clear that that school was a high-pressure situation. All the kids that [Rehtaeh] had accused of [rape] went to that school, all of her old friends were there,” says Ross. “A lot of teenagers across the city were under a lot of pressure.”

While other national papers had to fly in reporters for the day to interview everyone involved, Ross tried not to push people too hard by returning the following week and developing relationships with them over time. She worked on the Parsons stories between other daily assignments at the Chronicle Herald.

Ross says being able to see how the story progressed without rushing interviews and respecting how people felt helped her write the stories.

“People who have been through something traumatic don’t always want to talk about it,” says Ross. “But sometimes they feel like there is a reason for them to talk,” .

Parsons’ parents were upset about how the police and Crown Prosecutors handled the situation. They felt the system had let their daughter down.

The challenges Ross encountered

While Parsons’ parents were co-operative, the police were not.

Selena Ross' final story in December 2013, the first of two parts.
Selena Ross’ final story in December 2013, the first of two parts.

“They shut down access to that file. Even if we were to have someone that would check background info for us, that was impossible with this case,” says Ross.

Ross had to find someone who had seen the file before it was locked down.

“I would have loved to have the police’s response to that story, which they wouldn’t give,” says Ross. “I also would have liked to have heard from the boys that were accused and their families but they would never talk.”

Ross says she found it difficult working on such an emotional story, that she had to open herself up to understanding how people felt about the situation.

“One of the most heartbreaking type of stories to work on are parents who have lost their child. Anytime I’ve interviewed a family whose child killed themselves, it’s hard not to cry.”

AJA nomination

Ross’s hard work on the series of stories on Parsons earned her a nomination for an Atlantic Journalism Awards in the Enterprise Reporting: Print category.

This story was the first that Ross had covered that went viral. One of the main challenges she faced was being able to focus on her own work and not predict which direction the story was headed.

“I’m used to covering stories on Nova Scotia for people in Nova Scotia. With this story, there was so much temptation to see what this means to other people, look up who else was covering it and from what angle. I learned how to balance that without changing how I would work on the story.”

Ross published her final story on Parsons in December, nine months after her death.

“There were a few obvious angles: the allegations against the justice system, against the school system and against the IWK Health Centre. We answered all the questions  that came up last spring,” says Ross.

Although Ross is happy with the stories she wrote, she says she had to think carefully about how she wanted to cover this story, taking into account the alleged sexual violence and death of a young teenage girl.

“It was a  learning process for media everywhere.”

Community Energy Plan encourages Halifax residents to assess energy usage

This year, Earth Hour will be a time for Halifax residents to reflect on the approximately $1.7 billion that is spent each year on energy within the Halifax Regional Municipality.

By Emily Rendell-Watson

Turning off the lights is one way to conserve energy. (Emily Rendell-Watson / Peninsula News)

This year, Earth Hour will be a time for Halifax residents to reflect on the approximately $1.7 billion that is spent each year on energy within the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The municipality has released this number as a part of their review of the Community Energy Plan.  The $1.7 billion is comprised of six energy sources: gasoline, propane, electricity, natural gas, fuel oil and diesel.  Electricity is the primary energy source listed, using 32 per cent of the available energy.

In an effort to lower energy usage, the municipality has decided to revise the original Community Energy Plan that was released in 2007. The plan will determine key community objectives for sustainable energy use and production in the Halifax Regional Municipality. It will also outline the actions necessary to promote energy efficiency for the next five years.

Richard MacLellan, manager of energy and environment for the Halifax Regional Municipality, says that it’s about seeing the opportunities available to save energy.

“It’s all about energy efficiency and the continuous adoption of renewables,” says MacLellan. Most of the energy used comes from foreign oil or coal. Both leave a large impact on the environment.

MacLellan says that it will take many individual actions to achieve the larger goal of sustainable energy usage and conservation.

Sharing resources

This year, Earth Hour will take place on Saturday between 8:30 p.m.- 9:30 p.m. Millions of people across the world will turn off their lights and energy sources to mark a commitment to energy conservation.

As Halifax residents prepare for Earth Hour, they have several suggestions on how the Halifax Regional Municipality can reduce energy usage.

Taylor Quinn says that it is about building up infrastructure and sharing resources.

“I think it’s really important not only to look at reactive solutions to conserve energy, but to be proactive. When it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to building new roads, (the municipality) needs to create space that can be shared by pedestrians, cyclists, cars and buses,” says Quinn.

Quinn says he is looking forward to spending Earth Hour looking at the stars and sharing information on social media.

“Earth Hour in my opinion is not so much about saving energy for an hour, but getting people to think about energy conservation,” says Quinn.

Diana Ginn thinks that energy conservation should be about the municipality reviewing its own use of energy within municipal offices and endeavours as well as offering financial assistance to those hoping to make their homes more energy efficient.

“I live in an old home, and I think there is a lot of energy (wasted). Making plans available for people who want to make their homes more energy efficient, and offering financial assistance for this would help,” says Ginn.

Ginn also suggests that the municipality could offer discounts from services for people reducing energy usage in their homes.

Sharing opinions

Many residents have also shared their ideas online.

The suggestions regarding energy usage have included installing solar panels, converting city vehicles to use renewable energy and implementing alternate transportation projects, such as cycling.

The Halifax Regional Municipality has also planned public engagement sessions as a part of the review. Staff will be at the Alderney Landing farmers’ market on April 12 between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. to collect feedback.

The municipality will continue to seek input online for the review of the energy plan, with the hope that the updated plan will eventually go to Halifax regional council for approval.

Halifax masters skaters speed up

When the Halifax Regional Municipality announced in March 2011 that the Emera Oval would become a permanent fixture in the Halifax commons, coach Sheila McGinn knew that it would attract adults to the sport of speedskating.

By Emily Rendell-Watson

Masters speed skaters compete in the Skate the Commons event February 22-23. (Emily Rendell-Watson/Peninsula News)

When the Halifax Regional Municipality announced in March 2011 that the Emera Oval would become a permanent fixture in the Halifax Common, coach Sheila McGinn knew that it would attract adults to the sport of speedskating.

Although the oval was originally created for the Canada Winter Games in 2011, which is for athletes from ages 14 to 19, many masters skaters have taken up speed skating in the past three years. Masters skaters are 30 years and older.

McGinn says she was the only long-track speed skater in Halifax when the oval opened. This season, roughly 50 masters speedskaters have registered with the Nova Scotia Masters Speed Skating Club. Several more joined after the Skate the Commons event last weekend.

“[They] are mostly people who have gotten into speedskating recently,” says McGinn of the new masters skaters. She added that many people now see speedskating as the winter sport in Halifax.

McGinn started the club last spring as masters skating grew with the new oval. The club ran a “Get Ready for the Oval” program in the fall at the Centennial Arena before the oval opened for the season.

Sheila McGinn, coach of the Nova Scotia Masters Speed Skating Club. (Emily Rendell-Watson/Peninsula News)

 A missing generation

“I think of Nova Scotia as having a missing generation of speed skaters,” says McGinn.

“If you look at the big [skating] centres in Quebec, Ottawa and even Saskatoon, you see a sport organized and run by people who grew up in the sport.”

There are several competitions in Canada for masters speedskating, and an international series of marathon races. Last weekend, Quebec City hosted the Canadian Open Masters Championships for long-track speedskating. McGinn hopes that more masters will be able to compete at these competitions, and make Nova Scotia a stronger player nationally.

“They are really coming out of the woodwork. Every day I come out and coach I have people asking me for a demonstration and they get pretty excited,” says McGinn.

Many of the aspiring skaters are newcomers to Canada without basic skating skills.

Jennifer Watts, councillor for District 8 in the HRM, has also noticed more immigrants interested in speedskating.

“A couple weeks ago I was skating, and as I was taking off my skates I could recognize five different languages. [The oval] is an opportunity for integration across cultures. It’s offered them a consistent place where they can practice on a large piece of ice,” says Watts.

McGinn enjoys watching newcomers to the sport discover speedskating.

“When they get it, they really get it and they get excited and fall in love with it,” she says.

Valley Speed Skating Club

Steve Raftery is one of the skaters who fell in love with the sport.

Raftery, president and assistant coach of the Valley Speed Skating Club, discovered speedskating in January 2012 when there was an opportunity to try it at the oval. Raftery decided to start his own club in the Valley, after not even trying on a pair of speed skates for the first 50 years of his life.

There were seven members at first.  Now, a year later, there are 12.

“The oval was the spark that got our club started.” says Raftery, adding that the club now has members from Annapolis County to Wolfville. The club plans to use the oval for training and skating in the future.

Raferty says, “The oval has done a lot to boost awareness of masters speedskating in the province.”

Tineke van der Baaren is another newcomer to speedskating, though it was an experience earlier on in life that led her to lace up a pair of speed skates when the oval was introduced in Halifax.

Van der Baaren, a 50-year-old Dutch woman, first tried speedskating in 1988 at the Olympic Oval in Calgary. When van der Baaren returned home to Halifax, there was nowhere to practice long-track speedskating so she gave up on the idea.

Van der Baaren found out that there was a marathon happening on the oval, so she phoned a fellow cross-country skier and asked her to enter the marathon. They entered all three events of Skate the Commons in 2011: the five-kilometer, the ten-kilometer and the 25-kilometer.

A group of Masters speed skaters warm up on the Emera Oval prior to their practice. (Emily Rendell-Watson/Peninsula News)

“I just wanted to speedskate because of my [experience] in 1988,” says van der Baaren.

Van der Baaren learned the technique from watching younger skaters and videos on YouTube.

Buying the skates

After her experience racing on speed skates in the marathon, van der Baaren and her friend made a deal. Van der Baaren would buy her own pair of long-track speed skates if the oval became permanent.

When the oval was announced as staying, van der Baaren started travelling from the Valley to Halifax every Saturday morning to practice. Although she has improved her crossovers, she says there is still a lot to learn.

“The technique is really hard. It’s one of those 10,000-hour sports.”

Van der Baaren says she won’t be stopping anytime soon.

“I bought the skates.”