1. All Histories Matter
Last week, I wrote about the white outcry about the exclusion of Annapolis Royal from CBC’s first episode of The Story of Us. I pointed out that while white Nova Scotians furiously protested their claims to be recognized as the first settlers, they were not so anxious to receive credit, for example, for Annapolis Royal being the site where Black enslavement in English Canada originated. The Premier certainly is not writing any letters to CBC demanding that they accurately depict the history of enslavement in the Maritimes, lest school children grow up believing there was no slavery in Canada.
Similarly, the same people who pushed the celebration of Democracy 250, which credited Nova Scotia with the origins of democracy in Canada while ignoring Indigenous forms of government preceding English settlement, and who are now pushing celebrations of Canada 150, are now conveniently pulling out the Mi’kmaq in their protests of the CBC episode. Of course, Mi’kmaq history doesn’t matter when Mi’kmaq are demanding things like honouring the treaties (or even acknowledging their existence) or when Mi’kmaq people ask for the renaming of statues or streets celebrating genocidal settlers, but when it’s convenient to the propping up of white settler narratives, suddenly the premier is talking about:
“Why are we, as a province or a region, willing to allow CBC to rewrite Canadian history?” McNeil told reporters Thursday.
“Our ancestors were greeted in peace and friendship by the Mi’kmaq people. That should be celebrated.”
Cool. You all going to remember that when you’re protesting Mik’maq hunting rights or arresting land and water defenders or bitching about how Indigenous people don’t pay taxes? Seems to me that when Indigenous people speak out about the inaccuracy of Canadian history, they receive death threats. Just look at the comments on this article on The Coast where an Indigenous woman dared to explain why she doesn’t celebrate Canada Day. But of course, white history being treated inaccurately on CBC is a national crisis.
Remember only months ago when your government lawyers were describing the Sipekne’katik people as “conquered“? As Andrew Younger wrote in Local Xpress about the premier’s “disingenuous” response,
The fact is, the government barely challenged affidavits offering evidence that the promised consultation was not made. Instead, the government focused its arguments on the idea that the Sipekne’katik people submitted to the Crown in 1760, had given up their rights to consultation, and were a conquered and defeated people. So much for the nation-to-nation relationship. It’s like the clock has suddenly been turned back 100 years when it comes to how the provincial government views indigenous people in Nova Scotia.
Funny how when Mi’kmaq people were getting in the way of Alton Gas they’re a conquered people, but now all of a sudden the premier is waxing poetic about the nation to nation relationship between the Mi’kmaq and the settlers – because now white narratives about primacy and claims to the origins of Canada are at stake. The premier is apparently willing to exploit rhetoric about Mi’kmaq people only when convenient to white settler narratives.
If Stephen McNeil takes Mi’kmaq history so seriously, perhaps he should follow Mi’kmaq legal scholar Pam Palmater’s call to cancel the celebrations of Canada 150:
This year, the federal government plans to spend half a billion dollars on events marking Canada’s 150th anniversary. Meanwhile, essential social services for First Nations people to alleviate crisis-level socio-economic conditions go chronically underfunded. Not only is Canada refusing to share the bounty of its own piracy; it’s using that same bounty to celebrate its good fortune. Arguably, every firework, hot dog and piece of birthday cake in Canada’s 150th celebration will be paid for by the genocide of Indigenous peoples and cultures.
After reviewing Canada’s long history of genocidal acts towards Indigenous peoples, Palmater writes:
Canada has no right to ask any one of us to talk about moving forward until the prime minister and all premiers take responsibility for what their institutions have done — and continue to do — to Indigenous peoples. No amount of token showcasing of Indigenous art, songs or dances in Canada’s 150th celebration will stop the intergenerational pain and suffering, suicides, police abuse, sub-standard health care, housing and water, or the extinction of the majority of Indigenous languages.
Perhaps Canada should humble itself, step back, cancel its plans and undertake the hard work necessary to make amends for its legacy. Then we could all celebrate the original treaty vision of mutual respect, prosperity and protection envisioned by our ancestors. Until then, I’ll pass on the cake.
Wonder if McNeil, in the spirit of “peace and friendship” with Mi’kmaq peoples will be writing to Justin Trudeau to demand Canada 150 be “corrected?”
McNeil’s language of “peace and friendship” mirrors the language of the treaties made with Mi’kmaq peoples. Historian Daniel N. Paul has described the treaty of 1725, signed at Annapolis Royal, as “treacherous” and “humiliating.”
Instead of providing an honourable peace for the Eastern Nations, these documents contained all the elements needed to humiliate them further. One does not make a lasting peace by debasing and humiliating one’s former enemies. Doing so only lays a foundation of resentment and hate that will eventually erupt into hostilities.
Another piece of Mi’kmaq history that doesn’t fit with this rosy picture. According to the letter written to CBC:
Port-Royal was a place of first contact, forever marked by the welcoming of these Europeans in peace and friendship by Grand Chief Henri Membertou and the Mi’kmaq people,” the letter reads.
“Episode one of the CBC miniseries effectively erases the collective early history of a whole province and its people — including the Mi’kmaq and the Acadians.”
Sort of like how Canada 150 erases…nah, that’s just silly.
Daniel Paul shares the account of Chief Membertou’s death, where apparently the Jesuits forced the dying man out of their quarters. Great friendship there, settlers. Sounds like maybe we should be celebrating Chief Membertou and condemning you, not, you know, collectively celebrating. Notice how the premier cleverly manages to emphasize the friendship the Mi’kmaq showed the settlers, while cunningly managing not to mention what the settlers did to the Mi’kmaq? The implication is that Annapolis Royal was like the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland or something.
Daniel Paul writes:
I believe that one of the main factors that Membertou may have considered, when choosing to ally with the French, was that they were, although hell-bent and determined to convert the People to the Catholic Religion, not overly interested in wiping out Mi’kmaq culture. On the other hand, from day one the English wanted to eliminate, either though brutal means, or through assimilation, the culture. Interestingly, being the eventual victors, the English carried on this assiduous effort until Canada was confederated in 1867, at which time Canada took up the mantel and continued the effort to assimilate right up to the present time.
What did the Mi’kmaq inherit from Membertou’s conversion? It eventually led to the establishment of Church controlled Indian Residential and Indian Day Schools, whose prime reason for existence was wiping out the remnants of our culture, and, very important, let’s not forget the brutal abuse.
Personally, I think I’ll pass on the celebration. To me Membertou’s conversion to a foreign religion, whatever his reason, was just another nail in the coffin that eventually buried the Mi’kmaq Nation’s independence, liberty, and freedom.
Speaking of white fictions, along with the delusions about friendly white settlers, white people are also mad about Anne of Green Gables this week. Us Weekly said Anne of Green Gables was “sent to a small Nova Scotia town,” unleashing yet more Maritime fury, according to the article on Metro News.
Wow, what a traumatic month for white identities. First Nova Scotia has to deal with not getting settler credit, and now a fictional character is accidentally placed in the wrong province! Man, it’s almost like how when Black people die and the media reports on how we had a criminal record and smoked weed once and how everyone in our hometown is a pimp and a member of a gang.
I attended a talk at Dalhousie once where the lecturer talked about how Anne of Green Gables is treated like she’s a real person. She pointed out articles about the fire in the house L.M. Montgomery used as inspiration for Green Gables with headlines declaring that “Anne’s house” had burned down. Anne isn’t real, and she doesn’t have a house, the lecturer pointed out accurately.
Anne of Green Gables, though, is about more than a fictional character. Like the outrage over the representations of settler history, Anne has come to signify Canadian identity in a particular way. Think about the conservative outrage, for example, when protestors for abortion access in P.E.I. used Anne’s image to demand reproductive rights:
P.E.I. Right to Life questioned the use of the beloved literary character, suggesting Anne was an unwanted orphan who celebrated life in challenging circumstances. The group also questioned the legality of using a registered trademark.
Nicole Dupuis, the group’s executive director, said she couldn’t understand why the abortion rights activists chose to use a figure who found joy in life after rough beginnings.
“I thought it was kind of ironic that they would use an adopted fictional character who’s dear to all Islanders because she’s the epitome of the unexpected blessings of choosing life even in challenging and non-idyllic circumstances,” she said.
Ah, so a fictional girl is more important to “all Islanders” than the actual girls and women who need abortion care and can’t access it, leading to actual damaging outcomes for those actual, not fictional, women and girls. The brilliance of the repurposing of Anne’s image in the access to abortion campaign was precisely that it took an image used to promote nostalgic visions of a innocent pastoral Canada (particularly for tourists) and used it to point out the injustice being done to women who actually live in the modern world, and who are harmed by the promotion of regressive ideals of womanhood.
Like the defence of Anne’s sullied image by pro-life advocates, the response to Anne’s misplacement by an American news outlet is perceived not just as a mistake about a fictional character, but about American conceptions of Canadian identity, and Canadian significance relative to the U.S.
According to the Metro article, for example, “Of course, any Maritimer knows that the red-headed orphan came of age in Prince Edward Island and not Nova Scotia.”
Knowledge of Anne of Green Gables is seen as requisite and necessary to qualify as a Maritimer. A shared culture is imagined, one based on white cultural touchstones, and the idea that one might be a Maritimer and, say, be a recent immigrant who comes from a culture with different children’s stories, isn’t considered. The possibility of Maritimers who don’t know or care about Anne isn’t even admitted by the article.
Clare Bradford argues that Anne “represents nationhood in relation to normative whiteness,” an idea demonstrated by the Metro’s implication that without a knowledge of white children’s literature, or the same imagined shared upbringing, you are not really a Maritimer.
Maritimers are not similarly expected to know about slavery in the Maritimes, or residential schools in the Maritimes, or racism in the Maritimes, and when these issues are raised, when not being met by rage and backlash for “being politically correct” or “pulling the race card,” we will be informed that how can you expect people to know about racism, and that it’s not their fault if they’re not educated about these things. But of course, you should know about where Anne of Green Gables fictionally lived or it’s an outrage! Lack of knowledge about real-life enslaved Black people in the Maritimes is forgiveable, and how can you expect anyone to know that? Lack of knowledge about the details of Anne of Green Gables means you’re not truly from here.
And while white people reacting angrily to CBC’s take on history or to Us Weekly’s knowledge of Maritime geography are treated seriously and sympathetically by journalists, when Black or Indigenous people react to unfair or inaccurate depictions of ourselves in the media, we are treated disdainfully as whiners, dismissed as “social justice warriors” or ridiculed for being “too sensitive.” “It’s just a story!” we are told when we protest representations in fiction about us — yet of course no-one says that to people mad about Anne. We are told to go pay attention to “real” racism when we complain, but of course being upset about Anne’s geographic origins is legitimate.
Black people, for example, have protested CBC’s representations of North Preston, yet the premier has never written to CBC demanding accurate and fair coverage of Black people and communities.
CBC regularly runs inflammatory and racist articles about Black Lives Matter, designed to discredit organizers and which put Black women in real danger (organizers of the parade sit-in were unable to take public transit for months due to being harassed and threatened), but mayors and premiers aren’t writing demanding corrections to these articles, or speaking rapturously about the contributions Black people have made to our “collective history” in Canada.
As Phillip Dwight Morgan points out:
I’ve seen this situation many times before. Whether the issue is the niqab, fat-shaming, or the myriad other issues affecting marginalized groups, the CBC and other news outlets routinely tokenize guests, asking them to speak on behalf of an entire community and make a case for the discrimination they face.
More commonly, marginalized people are absent from the conversation and left to listen to people outside of the community make prescriptions about change and reform…
…Given the abundance of information on oppression, intersectionality, gender non-conformity, Indigenous rights and the Black Lives Matters movement, one must question why marginalized peoples are asked time and time again to defend the existence of their realities. At best, Canadian news media are blissfully unaware that oppression exists. At worst, they are actively trying to erase — not eradicate — oppression from the national narrative. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
In Canada, news coverage and reporting remain overwhelming populated by white people. This reinforces oppression both, passively, through the absence of marginalized peoples and, actively, through the propagation of absurd narratives such as “victim culture” and “victim du jour.”
While Black people demanding accurate representation in the media are treated as unhinged, hysterical ranters imagining oppressions for fun, white people defending Anne’s location are valid, reasonable, and are encouraged.
While white people outraged by leaving out their history from a CBC special are given weeks of attention and national support, when Black or Indigenous people try to explain how erasing our history contributes to things like criminalization, stereotyping, or poor educational outcomes, we are told to “get over it.”
Why is there no white history month? ask the same people who have their history defended at every turn, but deny Black people any representation we manage to demand, characterizing these efforts as “reverse racist” and “discriminating against white people.” Hell, a white man’s licence plate injustice will dominate national and international news for weeks, leading to speeches in his defence in parliament and a legal challenge by “free speech” advocates, but people are so tired of hearing about slavery and residential schools already, and want BLM or Idle No More protestors arrested.
Both the reaction to CBC’s Story of Us and Anne of Green Gables remind us that white people will vigorously police their history and identity. This is similar to the ways white culture will blithely appropriate from Black people, while demanding full credit, copyright, and recognition for their own output. White people will always ensure that white positions are not eroded, while Indigenous, Black, and POC contributions are continually misrepresented, erased, or appropriated.
How many times have I as a Black woman watched my labour, thoughts, creative work and activism be freely stolen by white people with not a word from anyone, yet if I even think about an idea that starts with the same letter as something a white person even briefly contemplated doing 20 years ago, I will receive multiple emails from white people asking me if I know that such and such white person is involved in that, and that I must contact them, and that to make sure I collaborate with them, and to be sure I include them. Of course, those same white people have no problem starting organizations on top of Black organizations that have existed for decades, or jumping in with superior resources to take over work Black women have been doing for years with no recognition or credit.
As always, these are reminders about who matters – and fictional white characters are consistently given more consideration than our living, breathing bodies. These conversations aren’t so much referendums on history or children’s works, they are exercises in asserting white identity and who gets to be seen as truly Canadian.
2. Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility: NOPE
#NOPE — No On Prison Expansion — released a report to the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights about “Carceral Expansion in Canada’s Provinces and Territories.”
The report notes:
While the adult prison population in Canada has not changed dramatically, penal infrastructure projects at various stages of completion (i.e. prison agency planning, government approval, facility design and construction, commissioning) remain a fixture of the carceral landscape. This follows the pattern of carceral expansion from 2008 to 2014 documented by Piché where new penal infrastructure took the form of renovations and the construction of new units on the grounds of existing jails, prisons, and penitentiaries or new stand-alone facilities that expanded provincial-territorial and federal the capacity to confine. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the provincial-territorial component of the carceral expansion occurring between 2008 and 2014 was often driven by a stated desire to (a) reduce facility crowding in the face of the increasing number of individuals awaiting judicial proceedings behind bars, (b) enhance prisoner-prison staff interactions through the creation of more direct supervision units, as well as (c) provide additional and more appropriate programming spaces for the incarcerated, particularly women, Indigenous peoples, and those grappling with their mental health and/or drug use.
The report includes the renovations to the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility:
In a stated effort to enable “staff to more effectively supervise and monitor offenders”, the Province of Nova Scotia is renovating the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, a facility for remanded and sentenced men and women, as well as immigration detainees, to transform the “physical layout… for a direct supervision model.” The $4.3 million project will not add more capacity to the facility, which the province has been renting from Citigroup since 2001 as part of their 25-year P3 agreement that allows the Government of Nova Scotia to extend the agreement or purchase the facility at a later date.
According to prisoners, the “direct supervision model” means that guards are on the ranges all day, as opposed to the current set-up at Burnside (Central Nova) where the guards only do walk-throughs every half hour.
This construction at Central Nova is what has resulted in the transferring of prisoners to North East Nova Scotia and other prisons, as the north ranges are closed during the renovation. These transfers, in turn, have resulted in prisoners from the Halifax/Dartmouth area having to pay long distance phone charges in order to contact their families, leading to costs of $10 for a 20 minute call with service charges and fees factored in. These conditions led to the petition by prisoners to the justice minister asking for an end to exploitive phone costs, a story covered in the Nova Scotia Advocate.
I had heard before from a prisoner that the provincial government doesn’t own the jail. This report confirms that the province is renting the facility from Citigroup — not the major multinational bank, but rather a local commercial leasing company owned by Hawthorne Capital.
According to the Citigroup website:
The Correctional and Forensic Facilities in Burnside, NS, was a $60 million facility leased to the Province of Nova Scotia. This project marked the first time a correctional facility and a forensic hospital were housed under the same roof in Canada. The project presented CitiGroup Properties with the challenge of combining these two units into one design, and with managing the project successfully.
Hawthorne Capital is famous in the pages of the Examiner for their development of Birch Cove Lakes. Hawthorne is also connected to another issue taken up by the Examiner, municipal campaign finance. As Marieke Walsh noted in a story for Global News in July 2016:
Mayor Mike Savage and four sitting councillors accepted donations from a company with direct ties to the potential Birch Cove Lakes developer, documents show.
The $5,500 in donations, made by Hawthorne Capital Inc. in the 2012 election, do not break any campaign donation rules.
Hawthorne Capital is directly connected to the Annapolis Group which is in negotiations with the city to develop land that the city planned to turn into a regional park.
I could note here that, indirectly, municipal policies about housing, poverty, education, and mental health treatment, all impact incarceration. So city officials are taking money from a company that is also profiting from the prison industrial complex.
Perhaps we should call upon our city officials to divest funds from any corporation that profits from incarceration.
Hawthorne Capital also acquired shares in Crown Capital Inc., which recently signed a loan with Touchstone Exploration, an oil and gas company engaged in oil development in Trinidad and Tobago. Touchstone is in turn partnered with Petrotrin, which is responsible for the worst oil spill in Trinidad history in 2013. A series of 11 spills revealed that the pipeline had not been inspected in over 17 years. As noted in a report by the extractive industries about the extractive industries in Trinidad:
Environmental regulations are improving as is degree of compliance. Over 500 CEC applications were submitted by the energy sector and only three were denied. However, both the severity and frequency of oil spills increased. The country witnessed its worst spill in history as a result of faulty infrastructure at Petrotrin, which resulted in them being fined for an environmental violation.
According to the Crown Capital announcement about their deal with Touchstone:
Crown (TSX: CRN) is a specialty finance company focused on providing capital to successful Canadian and select U.S. companies that are unwilling or unable to obtain suitable financing from traditional capital providers such as banks and private equity funds.
That sounds a tad shady. Maybe companies that can’t get capital because of their disastrous oil spills, for example?
Let’s put it this way. The province is leasing a jail from a company that has investments in companies that due to criminal neglect of their infrastructure cause massive environmental damage, but we put poor people in jail for bouncing a welfare check or stealing a pack of cigarettes? Of course, oil executives who don’t inspect their pipelines, leading to catastrophic oil spills, are merely fined, but poor people go to jail for shoplifting from Walmart.
As noted in the #NOPE report’s conclusion:
While jurisdictions engaged in penal infrastructure development try to rationalize carceral expansion, they do so in the face of a lengthy track record of jails, prisons, and penitentiaries failing to meet their own stated objectives, which dates back to their very emergence in western democratic states. As neoliberalism extends and solidifies capitalist social relations through privatization, corporatization, deregulation, individualism, cuts to social welfare programs and the like, dominant power structures that maintain economic, racial, gender, sexual and other forms of inequality proliferate in everyday practices and institutions, including sites of confinement. Expanding our reliance on an expensive, unjust, and ineffective response to social problems that arise and are criminalized in a context of growing gap between those that can versus those that cannot access basic necessities such as shelter and food ought to be considered obsolete.
Inspired by those that have come before us who sought alternatives to criminalization and punishment, #NOPE has gathered and documented carceral expansion in Canada to open-up spaces to debate the consequences of expanding the state’s capacity to confine human beings, which has the potential to shape patterns of marginalization for generations to come. Given the proven failures of imprisonment and the damage caused by incarceration, we are calling upon governments across the country, including the Government of Canada to enact a moratorium on penal infrastructure development until the federal review of ‘criminal justice’ laws, policies and practices is completed.
As part of this process, we also call upon the federal government to thoroughly examine the viability of diminishing the use of incarceration in Canada by enacting prison divestment strategies such as the decriminalization and legalization of criminalized substances, as well as decarceration measures including transitional housing. This exercise should also consider alternatives to criminalization and punishment for persons with mental health issues who are accused or convicted of offences. We also encourage the Government of Canada to study and implement justice reinvestment strategies that would divert funds currently destined for carceral expansion towards addressing social inequalities that foster ‘crime’ as a primary means of prevention.
Just remember, kids. Destroying the environment is fine, but if you have an addiction or mental illness then you’re a threat to society and you need to be locked up in an overcrowded, dirty jail with inadequate or non-existent treatment, programming, or supports. And people make money off that.
Matt Whitman’s Chinese fire drill: brought to you from funding made possible by the prisoners of Central Nova.