1. Slam Dunk
On Thursday, The Coast published Jacob Boon’s excellent investigation into the Halifax Regional Police and the “high rates of missing evidence and numerous security risks inside its drug and money vaults.”
Peggy Cameron writes about Lord Halifax:
…Has anyone checked out who Lord Halifax, the second Earl of Halifax, George Montagu-Dunk, was?
Halifax’s namesake, the aristocratic son of the first Earl of Halifax, so promoted aggressive colonization by Britain that he is known as “the father of the colonies.”…
…Founding Halifax was a direct, unilateral contravention of a 1726 treaty with the Mi’kmaq. The treaty was the first formal acknowledgement of the need for negotiation with the First Nations of the region. This led to a huge regional conflict, especially bad for the Mi’kmaq and French.
But the most shameful thing about Dunk-Halifax is the Dunk warrant and decision. In 1763, the British imposed a new tax on cider. George III defended it in a speech before Parliament. John Wilkes, MP and publisher of a radical newspaper, The North Briton, published an issue, No. 45, attacking the tax and the King’s speech.
As Secretary of State, Dunk-Halifax wrote the warrant for the arrest of anyone associated with this publication. About 40 were arrested and their materials seized.
Wilkes and others sued the officers. Dunk testified he had authorized the officers’ actions. The judges favoured the plaintiffs and determined the warrant was invalid because it left too much discretion to the arresting officers and allowed the seizure of all papers.
This decision was a groundbreaking protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, or protection of privacy as now enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
Lord Halifax: aristocratic, father of the colonies, wealthy, ambitious, appointed, treaty-breaker, bully, censor. Is his name fitting to contemporary circumstances?
The Dunk Warrant is considered perhaps “the single most important warrant in the history of Anglo-American law.”
When he wasn’t authorizing illegal search and seizure and attacking freedom of the press, Dunk was also at least peripherally involved in the “pacification” of the Jacobite Uprising in Scotland in 1745. Lord Halifax raised a regiment to “suppress” the rebellion, and while his unit never saw action, Edward Cornwallis was there massacring his way through history yet again. As Jon Tattrie writes:
Edward Cornwallis joined the military and his first big test came in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden. Remembered in old and new Scotland alike as the massacre of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highland Army. After the victory, Cornwallis was dispatched into Scotland’s mountainous northern regions to carry out the Pacification. Cornwallis’s 320-man unit was famous for its violence as it marched through the rebel homelands chasing off livestock, burning villages and dismantling the clan system by force.
Anyone with a kilt, broadsword, crucifix, or anything vaguely hinting at rebel sympathies, was executed.
When Cornwallis sailed for Nova Scotia in 1749, Lord Halifax was President of the Board of Trade.
This was of course also during the time that Britain was profiting immensely from the slave trade, and Lord Halifax was deeply complicit.
Eve W. Stoddard traces some of the rhetoric about enslavement in England at the time of Lord Halifax’s tenure on the Board of Trade:
The British organization responsible for the outreach of the Anglican church to the colonies was the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG). Although its members included the chief dignitaries of the Church of England, the SPG was a voluntary group, supported by charitable contributions. …George Dunk, later Lord Halifax…was a member of the SPG from 1749 onward…
While “charitable organization” might sound like a benevolent kind of group looking out for the welfare of Africans, the SPG “owned two slave plantations in Barbados until Emancipation.”
The “suppression” of the Jacobite Rebellion led to an “outbreak of anti-Catholic violence in England.” As recounted by W.A. Speck:
…The brave ship carpenters of Whitby… being informed that the papists of Egton in the moors made great rejoycings for the defeat of the king’s forces… took their axes and cleavers… to hack and hew the said papists in pieces, and were with extreme difficulty brought back to Whitby after they had marched two miles towards their enemies.
This anti-Catholic sentiment was also part of the mission of the SPG, as Stoddard describes:
The charter of the SPG is suffused with an ethos of competition between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. The primary goal of the SPG was to provide ministers for the British subjects in the colonies; next was the conversion of the “Indians,” and only lastly, that of the African slaves.
Baptizing slaves and converting Africans provided a moral justification for slavery and its supposed benefit to Africans. While sermons for the SPG occasionally used language about the cruelty of the slave trade,
The SPG, which itself owned in Barbados slave plantations bequeathed to it by Christopher Codrington in 1710, could not and did not take an anti-slavery stance until the 1766 sermon of Bishop Warburton.
The 1740 report on the Codrington estates claims that of its more than two hundred slaves, seventy had become Christians. The society had decided to choose two promising “Negro-Boys” to be educated in England as schoolmasters for the slaves. In both 1741 and 1759, the SPG’s report refers to the purchase of new slaves, suggesting that manumission was not planned, and there was no intent gradually to transform the slaves who worked on the plantations into free labor…Thus as late as 1754, the SPG asserted that according to both common law and Christian scripture slavery was just.
The SPG in the years that Lord Halifax was a member used the rhetoric of Christian conversion of enslaved Africans and the “mission” to enlighten Africans in support of the slave trade. Lord Halifax’s participation in this organization was therefore not a sign of his goodwill towards Africans, but rather a tool for perpetuating enslavement and his profit from it.
This context is important in understanding Montagu-Dunk’s role in the famous history of William Ansah Sessarakoo, the “Royal African.” As Ryan Hanley describes:
[Sessarakoo’s] father was Eno Baisie Kurentsi, known to English merchants as John Currantee—one of the most powerful traders on the West African coast. Kurentsi effectively ran the major costal trading town of Anomabu, which was, according to Randy Sparks, “the most important port on the Gold Coast.” The significance of this region to the Atlantic economy during the period, and to the slave trade in particular, should not be underestimated. Around 12 per cent of all the African slaves transported across the Atlantic between 1470 and 1880 were bought and sold on the Gold Coast.
In the popular telling, Kurentsi sent his son and heir to Britain to be educated. However, Sessarakoo was betrayed by a ship’s captain and sold into slavery in Barbados. After an outcry, the noble African was rescued and brought to England under the sponsorship of Lord Halifax. Sessakaroo became a celebrity in England.
The young man was placed under the protection of the Earl of Halifax (director of the Board of Trade and Plantations), dressed in the finest English clothes, taken to the theatre, and introduced to George II. He was the subject of a biography and two published poems. British commentators’ deployment of cultural markers of nobility — clothing, education and conspicuous association with social elites — helped to invoke the sentimentalised image of the royal slave, popularised by Thomas Southerne’s stage adaptation of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko.
While it might seem from this story that Lord Halifax was against slavery, the theatre of “The Royal African’s” stay in Britain was “in reality an attempt to generate popular support for a moribund Royal African Company and incorporate slave trading into narratives of national identity, based on notions of economic responsibility and honour. Adhering to conventions typified in Thomas Southerne’s stage adaptation of Oroonoko, further popular representations of Sessarakoo emphasised his aristocratic status and putatively inherited ‘noble’ characteristics. In doing so, they emphasised perceived differences between him and the majority of African peoples, who were deemed suitable for enslavement.”
Hanley emphasizes that rather than demonstrating the humanity of Africans and the evil of enslavement, Sessarakoo’s stay in England was intended to demonstrate his exceptionality and difference from other Africans who deserved to be enslaved. It wasn’t that slavery was bad, it was that it was bad only for the “royal” Africans. In fact, the figure of Sessarakoo served to “harden attitudes” towards enslaved Africans who were depicted in the popular narratives about him as cruel and degraded. Rather than creating identification with Africans, the symbolism of the enslaved African prince enforced differences of social class and traditional hierarchies.
The rescue and emancipation of Sessarakoo was in fact a response to the bad publicity generated by the capture of a royal prince into slavery. As Kurentsi refused the British a monopoly over the slave trade until his son was returned, the merchants quickly retrieved Sessarakoo. His rescue from slavery, then, was not about abolition of the trade, but rather a tool to extend it. By patronizing Sessarakoo, Lord Halifax was not advocating against slavery, but against “vulgar” free-marketeering that challenged the monopoly of the Royal African Company.
Halifax was new to his role at the Board of Trade, and he was keen to make a name for himself. As Andrew Beaumont has demonstrated, under his “fresh, dynamic leadership,” the Board went from “professionally isolated” and “politically non- existent” to an effective hub for colonial bureaucracy during 1749. He recognised the potential significance (and usefulness) of Sessarakoo’s visit and intended to make the most of the opportunity.
… The reason Sessarakoo was dressed in “the European manner” rather than in an approximation of his own “native” attire lay in the fact that his visit was intended to “contribute greatly to the credit and trade of the [British] kingdom” in Anomabu. Just as on the Gold Coast, where “the Portuguese calls the Negro Chief, who is his Friend, Don Pedro, or Don Antonio; the English give him the familiar name of Jack or Tom; and the French shew their good breeding by more sounding appellations,” Halifax chose to dress Sessarakoo in British clothing. His English name was William. As The Royal African pointed out, “all mean the same thing at bottom, which is to fix the Negroe absolutely in their particular interest.” Laura Brown has suggested that Sessarakoo and his companion were “stripped of their own clothing and dressed in carefully designed attire” merely to “signify their nobility, both of status and nature.” This is true, but it should also be remembered that the cold logic of slave trade mercantilism lay at the heart of such significations.
Upon his return to the Gold Coast, Kurentsi offered the British traders 20,000 men to help build a fort to secure the British trade and repel the French. Lord Halifax, among others, quickly drew up plans for the fort. However, Kurentsi was also negotiating with the French behind the backs of the British, and in the end it took five Royal Navy ships to finally secure the region and ensure the British profit from enslavement in the region.
After all of this investment in Sessarakoo based on his supposed nobility and the expected profits from an alliance with him, it turned out he was not in fact his father’s heir. When the British discovered this, they ejected him violently from the fort at Anomabu. Sessarakoo himself continued as an independent slave trader, dying in 1770.
So there we have it. Not only was Lord Halifax a colonizer, bully, and censor, he was also deeply invested in the slave trade and involved intimately in its propagation.
2. On Evidence
Speaking of evidence, when Stephen Tynes was arrested in August, I wrote skeptically about the case in the Examiner. The next week I wrote about the case again, particularly about the role of his psychiatrist in reporting him to the police.
Between writing the first article and the follow-up, people were extremely angry with me. When the “evidence” came out of Tynes planning a shooting at Dalhousie, people were outraged that I had called the campus/city ban into question and that I had highlighted the role of race in criminalizing Tynes and seeing him as a threat. I received a lot of abuse about that article, and I remember being extremely anxious writing the second article because of how upset people were with me. Because everyone was telling me how wrong I was, in the second article I had to justify what I had written the week before and “correct” it, but I also continued to contextualize what happened in terms of race.
Well, I wasn’t actually wrong the first time, and I was right to question what we were being told about the case and the so-called evidence. And I was right to point out how Dalhousie’s treatment of Tynes’ case from the beginning has been markedly different from how the Dentistry men were treated, and that difference has to do with race and how Black men are seen as dangerous. Hell, I know for a fact that people involved in the restorative justice process would rather sit in a room with white men who threaten to chloroform and rape women than with a Black woman who writes critically about it. Literally, white potential rapist men are less threatening to people than I am, and seen as more human. They can talk to the white men and “help” them. They won’t talk to me.
When Tynes was first accused of a crime (killing a cat), he was immediately suspended. There was no restorative justice offered for him, just immediate punitive measures. Even once those charges were dropped, he continued to be refused re-admittance. Unlike the Dentistry men, who were not suspended over Christmas vacation for fear they would “harm themselves,” Tynes’ mental health and the effect on him of the suspension wasn’t given any consideration. When Tynes reported his violent thoughts to his therapist as a result of his experiences, he was arrested, characterized across Canada in national news as an imminent shooter barely stopped from massacring the campus, and banned from Halifax. With “evidence” of such serious threats, Tynes was immediately considered guilty by the public and the media, and portrayed as a man stockpiling an arsenal from whom the entire campus was in danger.
Crown prosecutor Eric Taylor said that in reviewing the case and witness accounts, it became clear the evidence to support criminal charges wasn’t as strong as initially thought.
Oh. Too bad about that national coverage of your “massacre” I guess.
I first learned the charges had been dropped when I received an email from the Dean of Medicine:
“This morning, we learned some charges against Stephen Tynes have been dropped by the Crown.
I wanted to let you know that Mr. Tynes remains suspended from Dalhousie University and banned from all university campuses pending the outcome of internal university processes. As is the case each and every day, the safety and security of our students, our faculty and our staff is our priority.”
Some of us might feel that our safety and security is more endangered by not being able to access therapy out of fear that the person we go to for help will report us to the police, or that maybe our security is endangered when Black people are immediately assumed to be guilty and when we can be charged with serious crimes without evidence. Some of us might feel that if we were wrongfully accused of such serious charges, a priority ought to be addressing how someone could be accused so publicly of such serious offences without sufficient evidence, and how the police and university and media collaborated in creating the appearance of guilt.
Some of us might think a priority ought to be acknowledging how race influenced this case from beginning to end and how the university might address its role in continuing to create a hostile campus for Black people. Some of us might think that safety should include actually acknowledging the facts in the case and why the charges were dropped and what turned out to be false. And that our safety is endangered by yet another case where a Black man is presented as dangerous, as criminal, as the worst — and even when there’s no proof, we still need to be protected from him, just because. No apology, no recognition of the stigma Black people face as a direct result of this case, no recognition of the damage done to him and his community and to Black people on campus, no retraction of previous statements or even “hey, about that time we told the whole country you were going to shoot up the school, my bad” — and that’s supposed to make other Black people feel safe and secure?
Of course, Black people don’t count as part of campus, not like Dentistry men. We don’t belong and we’re not imagined to be present, which is why they don’t send out any acknowledgement to the university community when Black neighbourhoods experience shootings, but they do for Orlando. Of course, they can alert us when a Black man is still banned from campus even though the charges are dropped, though. It’s not really imagined that we might be reading the email and might have thoughts — even angry thoughts — about it. But I guess if we express that anger we might be falsely accused and arrested too.
When I wrote about Project Sizzle and the bust of the Heart of a King gang, I critiqued the framing of photos of Black men and the display of “evidence.” This display of guns and cash is supposed to demonstrate the obvious guilt of the people arrested, and “proof” of their criminality. We hear about how many people were arrested and all the charges and how great the police work was.
And then, like all major busts, we don’t really hear anything when charges are dropped, and when suspects are let go. We don’t hear about how people plead guilty to minor charges because having been labelled a “gang” they’re threatened with serious time. We don’t think about how many of these pleas are wrongful convictions, and how the police and Crown use the threat of serious charges even when they know them to be false and not supported by evidence to coerce guilty pleas.
Very few people in these big busts end up convicted of the charges they are arrested for, but it doesn’t matter. Nobody follows up, the media doesn’t report it, and the damage is already done. People remember that a gang of Black Nova Scotians was busted, and that in turn assures the guilt of the next Black Nova Scotians who go into court. It doesn’t matter if it turned out to be real.
Readers of Dead Wrong are following a high profile wrongful conviction. But as Assoun’s lawyer Sean MacDonald argued, most wrongful convictions aren’t big murder cases, it’s people being pressured to plea, and people taking deals, and innocent people pleading guilty to minor charges to avoid jail time. And part of what creates that climate for Black people is the perception that we are criminal that is constantly reinforced by being subjected to arrest and charges and media scrutiny that convince jurors and Crowns and police that we are just guilty.
When the Halifax police were revealed by Jacob Boon to have mountains of missing evidence, defence lawyers were shocked, having assumed that the police actually followed procedure and had the evidence they said they had:
Police rarely testify in court about the integrity of their evidence. It’s presumed. So people will accept plea deals, or cop to the charges to avoid harsher sentences—not knowing there was a very good chance they could have avoided a conviction completely because most of the time the police couldn’t find the bag of white powder they said they arrested you with.
Roger Burrill, counsel with the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission, claims he can count on one hand the number of times over the last 30 years he’s challenged evidence continuity on behalf of a client.
“But that’s because I had no reason to,” he says. “There’s a presumption the police are doing their job properly. If that’s a problem, then I surely would like to know that.”
People continue to assume the police are truthful and that they follow procedure. Or at least, white people often assume that. Black people, who experience the brunt of police misconduct, know that just because the police say something doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because they said you were resisting arrest when they shot you doesn’t mean that actually happened. Just because they said they had a justifiable cause to pull you over for driving while Black doesn’t mean that’s the case. And just because the police allege you were plotting a massacre doesn’t mean it’s true.
“We weren’t able to satisfy the court beyond a reasonable doubt that…the accused had uttered the words to the therapist with the intent that they be taken seriously or used to intimidate or to instill fear in the victim,” Crown Prosecutor Eric Taylor said outside court Monday.
“It was expected the words would be kept private.”
In the end he wasn’t someone planning to shoot up the school, or someone who openly uttered death threats, but rather a man who “felt he was being treated unfairly” and was angry as a result. And because of that anger, he went to get help. And when he was asked about his feelings, instead of lying, he spoke in a “therapeutic setting” about his violent thoughts. And instead of getting help, he was arrested, splashed all over the national news, and labelled as a man planning a massacre.
And now the next time someone has violent thoughts, or is angry, or is feeling “boxed in,” maybe they’ll know better than to share those thoughts with the person who’s supposed to help them deal with it. Maybe they won’t get therapy at all because all that happens is you get your life ruined.
This case hasn’t stopped violence; it’s potentially created more violence by letting people know not to be honest with their therapists when they’re asked about potential harm. And if people can’t admit their thoughts, how can they get help for them? What does it matter when the headlines still identify him as the “man accused of plotting a massacre?” Who really stops to follow up what really happened?
Because of the work I do, I’ve occasionally dealt with serious harassment and death threats. I know how frightening it is. It’s particularly scary for a woman when a man is threatening. It’s not unreasonable at all that the associate dean would be scared for herself and her daughter and that she would want the person uttering threats to be prevented from coming near her. I would want to feel safe. But I also want to be safe from false accusation and from having my privacy violated and from being assumed to be guilty and from charges without evidence. And I want people who have harmful ideation to feel secure in getting help, because that’s how we actually deal with violence before it happens.
Manufacturing charges on Tynes won’t make campus safe for women. Whether Tynes is there or not, the campus still isn’t safe for women, and banning him (from the entire city) as the scapegoat won’t make us forget how negligent the university has been in addressing sexual assault and harassment and protecting women.
Tynes obviously needed help, and he obviously was having disturbing thoughts. Obviously he was having serious problems and obviously his behaviour was alarming. And to his credit, he recognized that and tried to address it. Why not hospitalize him and assess him so he couldn’t hurt others or himself? Are Black people assumed to be less worthy or capable of being helped? Are we just so pathologically violent the only thing for us is prison? Can we not experience pain and suffering too?
Maybe if Tynes were a white dentistry student who got caught, people would have sat in a room with him and worked to “restore” him. Maybe his name would have been kept anonymous. Maybe the women he threatened would help “educate” him and maybe everyone would think the process was great.
And maybe if Tynes couldn’t afford a good lawyer, or his family panicked at the seriousness of the charges and told him to plea, and he was offered a deal: maybe he would have taken it. Maybe he would have been told he could expect years in prison, and maybe he would decide to plead guilty to avoid that. And it wouldn’t matter that there was no evidence and that it turned out the threats were said in private and that he never contacted anyone and that he wasn’t actually fleeing like the police said when he was arrested, because he would have attested to the “facts” in the case and that would be that.
Maybe we should stop believing the police just because they say a Black person’s guilty. Maybe we should wait until they produce the proof, whether it’s evidence of threats or of gang involvement or the drugs they actually lost. And maybe when Black people try to talk about how often we have seen these things happen, how over and over we have been wrongfully arrested, charged, and convicted, and when we express skepticism about the narrative of our guilt as a result, people should stop calling us crazy and uninformed and say we read race into everything. Maybe when Black people speak from our experience of racism people should listen.
Or, you know, maybe we can all just skip Saturdays instead.
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