1. Angela Simmonds named deputy Speaker
Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds and NDP MLA Lisa Lachance were both named as deputy Speakers in the Nova Scotia Legislature last week. Simmonds is the first person of African descent to hold the position. CBC reported that Simmonds and Lachance will split a salary top up of $24,523.25.
Premier Tim Houston made the appointments after Simmonds and Lachance were nominated by their respective caucuses, despite having the option with a majority government to appoint someone from his own caucus.
“That’s obviously an important milestone, and (Simmonds is) a quality, quality person and will be an excellent MLA, so I’m very, very pleased that she’s advanced as a deputy Speaker,” Houston told reporters.
In her role as critic for Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives, Simmonds wrote a public letter to Houston the previous week, criticizing him for his appointment of white MLA Pat Dunn as Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs.
The letter also made reference to another letter to Houston from the Association of Black Social Workers, African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia, and the Health Association of African Canadians where they also took aim at Dunn’s appointment as well as Houston’s dismissal of Black female civil servants, Dr. Késa Munroe-Anderson and Dr. OmiSoore Dryden.
Simmonds’ letter also expressed disappointment in the recently released mandate by the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs.
In part, Simmonds’ letter to Houston read:
The government commitments for these departments ring hollow. They’re devoid of any detail — of any specific goals or priorities for our province’s Black communities compared to other department mandates. Here was an opportunity for the Premier to get down to brass tacks and develop unambiguous objectives with Minister Dunn that would champion positive change on behalf of Black people in Nova Scotia. But the mandate greatly lacks that and makes it clear that the Houston government is not representing the considerations of Black people in Nova Scotia.
In fact, it seems the direction Premier Houston and the Progressive Conservatives are pursuing is anything but progressive.
Premier Houston, you have to mean what you say. And right now, you are falling short of that.
2. Accusations of RCMP interference
Speaking of Angela Simmonds, Zane Woodford reported last week that the RCMP sent a ‘problematic’ e-mail to members of Halifax city council after Simmonds and her husband, Halifax city police Supt. Dean Simmonds, claims of racial profiling towards Cole Harbour RCMP. The highly-publicized claims in which the couple were stopped by RCMP at gunpoint this past summer.
The letter was written by RCMP Insp. Jeremie Landry in his former capacity as acting chief officer of Halifax-district RCMP.
A copy of the letter was included in a letter to the chair of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners, Lindell Smith (who is also the Black city councillor for District 9). In a copy provided to the Examiner upon request, Insp. Landry’s letter was completely redacted.
The redaction cites sections of the Municipal Government Act that, in part, say the disclosure “could reasonably be expected to “harm law enforcement;” and “harm the effectiveness of investigative techniques or procedures currently used, or likely to be used, in law enforcement.”
The revelations were made by a former commissioner of the Board of Police Commissioners, Coun. Waye Mason. He expressed a few concerns, including that the letter was sent to city councilors rather than the Board of Police Commissioners, which the RCMP is responsible to. Mason also said not sending the letter to all councillors could be potentially divisive.
As Woodford reported last week:
Halifax-district RCMP Chief Superintendent Janis Gray interjected, saying that discussion should happen in camera, without the public watching.
“Should this not be in camera? We’re discussing specific members from different police departments. I’m just asking what the process would be as opposed to publicly discussing this,” Gray said.
Mason, in an interview Thursday, suggested that the chief officer’s insistence that the matter be discussed in camera is an indication that the email to councillors was inappropriate in the first place.
“There’s so much wrong with that,” he said. “There’s an active investigation that’s so sensitive that the RCMP and the clerks have decided that it needs to be entirely redacted, but the acting commander chose to communicate to political elected officials about an active investigation, and to only do so to the people are served by RCMP in Halifax. None of that is right.”
“I think it is safe to say that the RCMP may have felt that their side of the story wasn’t being told, and that is problematic,” Mason said.
A review is currently underway regarding Halifax’s dual policing system with the RCMP.
Earlier this month, the RCMP announced that they will not be apologizing to Halifax’s Black community following statistical data, uncovered in 2017, that showed discrimination towards Black people by police in Halifax.
Following the announcement, I reached out to Halifax city councillors whose districts are either serviced by the RCMP, have a high concentration of Black residents, or both.
Coun. Tony Mancini, who put forth the motion for the city’s review of its policing model since responded said, “I am extremely disappointed to hear the RCMP has decided against apologizing to the African Nova Scotian community. My April 6 motion to Council for a Policing Review is more relevant now than ever.”
3. Kaleb Simmonds and Andru Winter
Hip-Hop/R&B duo, Kaleb Simmonds and Andru Winter spoke to the Examiner in a story last week about their partnership, their music, other various projects, as well as a recent health scare that Simmonds experienced.
Following the release of their latest single “No Control” earlier this month, Simmonds checked himself into the hospital after experiencing two weeks of chest pains.
“I have heart issue problems in the family, so I thought that it made sense for me to look into it,” Simmonds said.
“My father took a heart attack last year and that was scary so man — and he told me, you know, he didn’t realize he was taking a heart attack. He would have never known.”
“When you think something’s going on with your body don’t sit around and wonder for longer than a week. I would just look right into it. You’re better off knowing than not knowing,” Simmonds said when asked what advice he would give other young Black men of his generation.
Simmonds and Winter have known each other since they were kids.
“I met [Simmonds] for the first time when I’m in like Grade 7,” said Winter. “I used to go up to him in the hallways and kick a rap for him because it was known that he was like a musician, and that he was a beatboxer, and a rapper — all these things … I wanted to rap. So I’d just walk up to him… I’d sit around for days trying to write a rap that would impress him.”
Years later, the two of them reconnected while living in Toronto.
“It’s like a camaraderie when you’re in Ontario and you see brothers from down home,” Simmonds said. “So that was automatic. But, you know, we kind of connected through music.”
Since then, the two of them have collaborated on a clothing brand, several music projects including their 2019 EP album Paid, and a performance at the legendary House of Blues in Las Vegas.
“We were in House of Blues performing and people were screaming for us bro because we were from Canada,” said Winter. “Like, we were surprised! Like when they announced ‘We have special guests from Canada,’ the place blew up. And me and Kaleb were looking at each other like ‘What?’”
Winter has family connections to the Black community in Truro, Nova Scotia. Simmonds has family connections to the Black community of North Preston. They both, also, have family connections to the former Black community of Africville.
4. Accusations of racism towards the Halifax Bridge Commission
The Nova Scotia Advocate updated a story last week about Ross Gray, a Black man, who says that he was racially profiled by a worker for the Halifax Harbour Bridges (HHB) this past summer, and condescendingly falsely accused of riding his bicycle in a pedestrian lane over the bridge.
Gray says he “was spoken down to and bluntly told that he was lying when he explained he walked all the way across the bridge, bicycle in hand,” according to the article. Gray says the commissionaire who approached him claimed they had surveillance footage of their claims, only for the Halifax Harbour Bridges to later admit that that wasn’t true and apologized to Gray.
Gray told Robert Devet wrote in the Nova Scotia Advocate:
“Too much of this is going on, and nobody ever does anything. They all just talk. Until the next time that it happens, and then it happens again. It just keeps going.
This apology is worthless, as far as I’m concerned, because nobody is held accountable, ever.
What happened to me is a systemic thing. I’m a 57 year old man, and my accuser is probably in her thirties, but she was talking to me as if I was a child, I felt like a damn dog. You don’t talk to a human being like that.
I can see the change in my son’s face when I’m talking to him about it. I have always taught him to treat people with respect. And now I find myself trying to build a wall around him, and he senses that.
I encounter racism all the time, I see it when I enter a grocery store, just like a white person might feel uncomfortable when walking into an all-Black club. Except that the Black person may get shot, because there is a power imbalance in the mix. Just look at what happened to the young Black mother accused of shoplifting before she even left the Walmart store.
Things need to change in this province. I’d be happy if only one person who reads this story decides to speak up. Others will see that, and it will snowball.
The long and short of it is, if you’re a racist then you should be fired, And anyone who is condoning that atmosphere should be fired as well,” Gray says. “That would cut out all this bullshit talk about sensitivity training, counselling, and all these other stupid phrases that they use to cover up what’s actually going on.
5. East Preston Empowerment Academy
The East Preston Empowerment Academy (EPEA) was founded in 2014 out of the East Preston Baptist Church. The Academy offers various adult learning programs, GED programs, programs, a Red Seal program, and high school and university math and science tutoring.
A new study has shown that the Academy has had a direct impact in contributing just over $1 million dollars to the province’s GDP, from 2016 to 2020.
In a press release, EPEA said, in part:
The study found that EPEA programs have long-term beneficial impacts on the lives of participants. Based on a survey of previous EPEA program participants, 82 per cent of respondents somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that their overall well-being has increased as a result of enrolling at EPEA, and 76 per cent somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that attending EPEA increased their overall happiness in life. About 68 per cent of EPEA program participants surveyed are employed, and 43 per cent work full-time. Of respondents who started a new job after completing an EPEA program, 70 per cent indicated that they experienced an increase in their hourly salary range.
Anita Shinde of Deloitte Canada, which conducted the study, said:
The findings clearly demonstrate that the EPEA’s programs help address regional historical inequities and inequalities from an education and labour market perspective, provide benefits that have the potential to positively shape the community and the economy for the long-term, and ultimately help foster a more just and equitable society.
Speaking with Global Halifax’s Amber Fryday, EPEA president, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard said:
The main goal is in the name. The main goal is empowerment of learners of African descent, and other people who have experienced some form of marginalization from mainstream education.
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Isn’t it about time that public agencies like the bridge commission adopt a zero tolerance policy for racism? If the claims made by that commissionaire were demonstrably false, than she should be fired or at least removed from any position which requires interaction with the public. Plus another major beef I have is that no one has ever proven that riding a bicycle on the pedestrian side of the bridge poses any significant risk to pedestrians. We have multi use lanes on pathways all across the city. Time to stop being “bike nazis” on the bridge.