1. Supreme Court decision sets landmark racial precedent in Nova Scotia courts
African Nova Scotian Legal Aid lawyer Brandon Rolle took part in a news conference this past week to talk about a Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision that he describes as a “shift in the landscape” when it comes to sentencing Black offenders in the province.
Rolle testified at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal on behalf of the African Nova Scotia Decade for People of African Descent Coalition (ANSDPADC).
In 2020, a 24-year-old Black man, Rakeem Anderson, was convicted of driving with a loaded handgun in 2018. The Crown wanted a two-to-three-year prison term.
The appeal hinged on the judge’s use of an Impact of Race and Culture Assessment (IRCA) that was requested by the defense. The Crown requested specific guidance on IRCAs from the court in the appeal.
Anderson was a father of four young children when he was sentenced in March 2020. His father died when he was just eight years old.
In 2016 — a year that saw a tragic spike in Black male homicide victims in Halifax — he started carrying a gun out of fear for his safety after the fourth of one of his friends died due to violence. In 2018, police caught him with the gun during a traffic stop.
In the sentencing, Justice Pam Williams said in part:
One might conclude that Mr. Anderson is not interested in improving his life circumstances. But the issue is more complicated than that.
The socio-economic forces at play are so powerful and are firmly entrenched in systemic racism and marginalization.
Do I impose a sentence of incarceration that I know will not help or do I impose a jail term in the community, affording the opportunity to blend principles of deterrence (and) denunciation with restorative options of accountability and reparation?
Mr. Anderson has the opportunity, with the assistance of his community, to be held accountable, to be rehabilitated and to give back. I believe that he is at a place in his life where he is ready to take full advantage of the opportunities that come with serving a substantial jail term in the community under stringent conditions
The Crown initially wanted a two- to-three-year prison term. When they appealed the community-based sentence, Rolle said they “invited guidance from our highest court about how to treat factors about race and culture in a sentencing proceeding.”
In what Rolle said was a rare move for the court of appeal, there were five sitting justices that heard the case. “So we knew from the outset that we had the court’s full attention,” he said.
And we ended up with a unanimous decision. So clear direction to our lower courts — this is now the law in our province.
This is also happening at a time when Nova Scotia is leading the country on issues of race and culture. So it’s fitting that our court of appeal has taken a leadership role, nationally, on these important issues.
The court also said that IRCAs should be available any time an African Nova Scotian is being sentenced, and it may be an error of law to ignore these factors. And that’s an important piece because that was a live question: ‘When do we order these reports? Under what circumstances?’ And the court has endorsed the approach of any time an African Nova Scotian is being sentenced, these reports should be made available. That’s a huge step forward.
Importantly, the court also said that judges must be able to show how they factored in the evidence of race and culture. So, it’s not good enough to say, ‘I’ve considered it.’ It’s not good enough to simply acknowledge this evidence, you have to show how you’ve applied it to your sentencing decision. And if you don’t, that could be grounds for appeal.
So, it’s a message to everyone in the justice system that the application of IRCAs at sentencing is a necessary step to address historical inequities, and the over-incarceration of Black people in this province and in this country.
Watch the full news conference below.
2. New Glasgow mayor charged in assault on African Nova Scotian author at Black Lives Matter event
New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks has been charged with assault on Angela Bowden at a Black Lives Matter Event on September 27, 2020.
Bowden is a poet and author of UnSpoken Truth: unmuted and unfiltered.
In a Facebook post in May of 2021, Bowden said that after first arriving at the event, she and others quickly started to observe “a little bit of miscommunication.”
Bowden said the event was centered around the painting of Black Lives Matter on one of the town’s streets.
She said the miscommunication ensued “because those who showed up, and those who initiated it, believed that it was going to be painted on by the town.”
“The youth, as you can appreciate, were a little bit agitated because things weren’t going the way that they had anticipated,” she said. “And this initiative is very important to these youth. So, they wanted to make sure it was right.”
Bowden said that while she was helping the youth line up and navigate the street painting, things got worse when Dicks tried to intervene.
“Meanwhile our mayor, who’s supposed to be a woman of integrity and leadership, was walking around with her arms folded saying, ‘Well, it looks good enough to me!’”
Bowden said she turned to Dicks and said, “Nancy, this isn’t your sign … This meant something to these youth.”
“This proceeded for several minutes. And the youth were getting more and more agitated,” she said.
Bowden said she then gathered the group and was able to help them problem solve whatever disagreements and miscommunications were taking place. She said that music and laughter then ensued throughout the rest of the event.
“Because that’s what we do as Black folk. That’s what we do as a community when we’re in pain. We rally together and we help each other.”
Bowden said that while sitting with her mother and cousin after the event, Dicks came by and, in a passive-aggressive tone, said, “Bye Angie! And I’m not even gonna say anything…” to which Bowden said she responded with, “You never do.”
At the seven-minute mark of the video post, Bowden said that after expressing concerns to Dicks that the youth felt Dicks wasn’t listening to them, Dicks then “immediately leaned over, grabbed a hold of my leg, and said ‘Now you listen here!’”
Bowden said she reacted by immediately jumping up and said: “This conversation is over!”
She said that as she walked away, Dicks turned and continued to yell at her.
“To which I said back, ‘Nancy my own mother doesn’t … treat me that way, how dare you treat me that way!’”
Bowden said that many witnesses were in shock.
She said that Dicks then “left crying, as if she was the victim, stating: ‘You can only take so much.’”
Bowden said that as word got around about the incident, Dicks denied assaulting Bowden in the first place.
“She flat out denied it. Said it wasn’t true, which hurt because I’m no liar. I’m a woman of integrity, and at the end of the day, all I have is that.”
After many months, Bowden met with Black New Glasgow town councillor Russell Borden, and New Glasgow deputy mayor Fred El-Haddad, and shared her account of the incident.
Shortly afterward, on May 5, 2021, Bowden received a letter from Dicks that read:
I am deeply troubled that our interaction on September 27 has caused you to undergo stress and trauma. I would like to go forward from the events of that day and the ensuing difficulty between us. I hope you would too. For my part in the interaction, I express my sincere regret.
I believe we can move forward from this incident in a productive way to put this behind us for the benefit of all people of New Glasgow. I would like to do so, in particular for the African Nova Scotia community which the Town and the community was trying to celebrate at the event on September 27.
I hope you will see this message as a bridge between us so that we can return to more positive relations that I believe we have had in the past.
Saltwire Media reported on the assault charges after they were laid late last week. They said that Dicks declined to comment when reached, and when they contacted her in May following her letter to Bowden.
In a statement, Deputy Mayor El-Haddad acknowledged the charges and added:
Mayor Dicks has stepped down from her role as the Chairperson and West Side representative of the New Glasgow Regional Police Commission. As the matter is before the court and out of respect for this process, we are not commenting further.
You can watch Bowden’s Facebook video here:
3. Lost Black history of North River, Nova Scotia resurfaces
A February 2021 article written by Ashley Sutherland, an archivist for the Colchester Historteum in Truro, resurfaced online last week in a number of Black/African Nova Scotian Facebook groups.
The article, titled ‘Jollytown: An African Nova Scotia community’, highlights the little-known history of the small Black community of Jollytown located about 10 kilometers north of Truro, Nova Scotia dating as far back as 1871.
In her research, Sutherland discovered that graves of some of the former Black residents of Jollytown were unearthed then relocated due to road construction in 1949.
That lead her to discover maps and census data showing at least four Black families — two Tynes families, a Jones family, and a Taylor family — as well as “two African Nova Scotians listed as ‘servants’ living with other families” in Jollytown.
This is significant given that, historically many African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq people were given licenses of occupation for land rather than complete ownership — this being the result of institutional racism. Also, what exactly happened in 1949 when the graves were unearthed?
Two newspaper clippings from July 1949 provide some insight, but also suggest that politics played a large role. They also appear suspicious, stating that the construction crew had permission from Jeremiah Jones to doze the gravesite. This was never confirmed as Jeremiah Jones disappeared, never to be seen again, not long after the events that occurred in July of ’49.
The Tynes and Jones families eventually moved from Jollytown to the Black neighbourhood known as The Marsh, Truro.
I was personally astonished when I printed the article and saw a photograph that included my great grandfather, John Byard, who grew up in the Black Truro neighbourhood known as The Island, alongside Samuel Jones — the great grandfather of Rocky Jones and Lynn Jones.
Speaking with the Examiner over the weekend, Ashley Sutherland said:
I think the Jollytown story is a good example of systemic racism in cultural institutions. Historically, archives have prioritized saving written documentation/historical records. These records have shaped how we perceive, and construct, narratives of the past. But this also means that marginalized communities that a) did not use written documentation as their primary source of communication and b) did not have equal access to the same levels of “western education” (and therefore literacy) inevitably get left out of the narrative. Racism is embedded simply in the way we record “history.”
That said, just because not everything has been preserved/documented in archives and other cultural institutions does not mean that they cannot be useful for finding bits of “evidence” for re-constructing narratives or integrating the voices of BIOPOC communities into the broader historical narratives. We [people who work in cultural institutions] have the potential to be advocates for social change and changing perspectives of history.
4. Celebrating Sweet Daddy Siki: a Black Canadian wrestling icon
Another piece of Black Canadian history that resurfaced this week was a post highlighting the CBC documentary on retired legendary pro wrestler Sweet Daddy Siki.
Reginald “Sweet Daddy Siki” Siki was born in the US in 1940 and moved to Toronto in 1961.
In addition to wrestling in many of the former American wrestling territories, Siki made a name for himself in former Canadian wrestling territories such as Stampede Wrestling out of Alberta, Maple Leaf Wrestling out of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, and Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling locally here in the Maritimes, where he was a tag team champion alongside the legendary Cuban Assassin.
“Working with Sweet Daddy Siki on his documentary was great, but it was initially quite frustrating because CBC controlled it, and for the longest time, you could only catch it on CBC’s Documentary channel,” he said. “When CBC finally put it on its Gem streaming service and sold rights outside Canada to Amazon Prime, we have found renewed interest in the film years later. Sweet Daddy Siki is an important name in wrestling history and the doc goes a long way to keeping his legacy going.”
In his 2007 book ‘My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling’, Canadian wrestling superstar Bret “Hitman” Hart, whose family ran the Stampede Wrestling territory, and who appears in the CBC doc, had this to say about Siki:
There was a new villain working in the territory, one who would make a lasting impression on me. Sweet Daddy Siki strutted into the ring with snow-white hair and white sunglasses, a Black Adonis in white trunks with red pinstripes and a fancy red-sequined robe. He carried two white hand-mirrors just so he could admire himself. He was too handsome, too smart, too cocky and too cool. He was also an innovator and a great showman. Regi Siki, out of Houston, Texas, was probably a bigger influence on Muhammad Ali than Gorgeous George, whom Ali would later credit as being his greatest inspiration. But Sweet Daddy Siki was also greatly influenced by Gorgeous George, so I guess it all comes to the same thing.
Later, Sweet Daddy would tell me that he was the first Black man to wrestle for the NWA world title, against Nature Boy Buddy Rogers in Greensboro, South Carolina, back in the 1950s. The Ku Klux Klan had ringside seats for the fight. They all stood up in unison, arms crossed, letting Siki know he’d never walk out of the building as world champion. Sweet Daddy feared for his life that night. He was wrestling as a babyface, or good guy, and the ref told him not to even think about closing his hand into a fist. Siki let Rogers call every move and take the whole match too. This wasn’t just wrestling, it was a matter of life or death.
Other Canadian wrestling stars such as Edge and Rocky Johnson also appear in the documentary. You can watch it on the CBC Documentary Channel, CBC Gem and Amazon Prime.
5. Black Truro couple celebrates 65 years of marriage
This past Saturday marked the 65th wedding anniversary of the oldest living Black couple in the Black community of Truro, Nova Scotia.
Charles and Evelyn (Clyke) Borden were 27 and 28 years old when they were married in 1956. The Examiner contacted their daughter, Shelley Borden.
Although our Dad said he first saw our Mom at the Goodman’s dance in New Glasgow, they first met each other in Truro when our Dad came here one day with his friend Lawrence. Our Mom serves them at the Truro Hotel Restaurant that she worked at and gave our Dad extra bacon on his sandwich — after he told her that there wasn’t enough bacon on it (lol). They got married in 1956 and the rest — as the saying goes — is history!
Charles moved to Truro from New Glasgow where he and Evelyn raised nine children (six boys and three girls) and one of their grandchildren in the Black neighbourhood known as The Marsh.
In 2005, one of their children, Shawn, passed away due to cancer at age 47. Shelley Borden said:
Fast forward: our parents have both been retired for over 30 years and are now the proud grandparents of 21 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. Our parents are God-fearing church-going Christians; happy and healthy — with no major ailments. They love all of this family unconditionally. They believe in family over everything!
The couple’s milestone was highlighted on the CTV Atlantic.
Earlier in the day, after seeing the milestone highlighted on social media, I posed the question: “Who is the oldest living Black couple you can think of in Nova Scotia or the Atlantic provinces?”
I received some feedback in the comments and through private messaging.
I invite anyone reading this to also forward me any information you wish to share about any living senior Black couples from Nova Scotia or the Atlantic Provinces. Please consider including both a current photo and a wedding photo of the couple, their blessing to share the information, and any thoughts they, or family members may have to share.
Please send it via e-mail to: Matthew@HalifaxExaminer.ca