Upset with the a CBC “explainer” about the community of North Preston, eight protestors descended upon CBC’s Halifax offices and demanded a retraction.
Last week, after the bodies of five-year-old Taliyah Marsman and her mother, Sara Baillie, were found in two locations near Calgary, former Nova Scotia resident Edward Downey was charged with two counts of first degree murder.
Last Friday, CBC reported that “Downey, 46, lived for a time in Nova Scotia. CBC News has learned that Calgary police believe Downey is connected to the North Preston’s Finest gang.”
Wednesday, CBC Calgary’s radio morning show, Calgary Eyeopener, interviewed CBC Halifax reporter Angela MacIvor about North Preston’s Finest (audio archived here). That interview was subsequently repackaged as an “explainer” on the internet (original archived here), and that webpage was discovered by North Preston residents this morning.
The protestors were angered at what they say is a mischaracterization of North Preston. In the interview, MacIvor said that:
North Preston is a very close-knit community, families have been there for generations. And there are basically two streets with around 2,000 people. There are no businesses there, which really means no opportunities. What ends up happening is many people in the community, sadly, end up getting involved in gangs.
Perhaps most infuriating for the group, however, was McIvor’s insinuation that young people are almost automatically drawn to gangs:
When these young boys see their brothers or cousins rolling into the community … from Toronto or Calgary or wherever they happen to be living, and they come into North Preston with their luxury cars, the big chains around their neck worth $100,000, it’s tempting.
On the audio of the interview, McIvor continued:
Anyone can go on YouTube and type in North Preston and you’ll see rap videos that are shot in the community of North Preston, and they’re all there with the luxury cars and all of this jewelry and there are literally eight-year-old boys standing there next to these young men, and there’s just the biggest smiles on their faces. So the sad part is that that’s how they’re lured into this lifestyle, right? They’re given this, “oh, you can make all this money if you get into this lifestyle and it’s all good.”
“North Preston’s Finest”
The protestors — which included Examiner contributor El Jones — met in the parking lot outside CBC and considered their options. A CBC employee came out and asked them what they were up to, and they said they wanted to meet with the reporter. They came into the CBC lobby, but agreed to not try to pass the security desk. An almost festive atmosphere ensued, as the protestors made signs and the two security personnel watched on nervously.
After about 15 minutes, CBC Halifax Executive Director Ken McIntosh came to the lobby to hear the protestors out.
McIntosh agreed that the article was “factually flawed” — “the two streets and no businesses is just wrong,” he said.
McIntosh said he was new to the job, and one of his priorities is to improve the station’s coverage of the Black community. To that end, he is working with Lynn Jones to bring CBC reporters to meet Black organizers and attend workshops to better understand issues facing the Black community. “It’s so unfortunate that this story come out today,” he said.
But while McIntosh said the “two streets” and “no businesses” part of the article would be corrected with an editor’s note, he was not prepared to walk back the parts of McIvor’s interview about North Preston’s Finest — as he sees it, the information the CBC has collected comes from police sources and court documents.
The protestors, however, say that the gang “North Preston’s Finest” is a complete police fabrication. After the protest, I interviewed protestor Lameia Reddick at length about this claim. Reddick told me that the term “North Preston’s Finest” has long been used in the community as a sort of aspirational, community-building slogan. “When I was young, I used it in my email address,” she said.
“Of course there’s criminal activity in the community,” she continued. “There’s criminal activity in every community. But everyone in all of North Preston said ‘North Preston’s Finest.’ It was only when police couldn’t figure out who were committing crimes that they started saying ‘North Preston’s Finest’ is a gang. So what they’re saying is the entire community is a gang.
Reddick’s understanding of the evolution of the term “North Preston’s Finest” for people outside the community is supported by “Pimping and Prostitution in Halifax in the early 1990s: the evolution of a moral panic,” a 2000 thesis written by Tanya Dawne Smith, a Masters student at Dalhousie. Smith noted that the heightened police response to prostitution, in the form of a prostitution task force, came just a week after six Black men from North Preston were arrested in Toronto. She wrote:
One of the main reasons a moral panic was instigated may have been the overt participation of blacks in the pimping business. With the identification of a negatively stereotyped group (i.e. black males) operating prostitution rings, it became likely that those individuals would be identified as the manipulators of young girls and the evil doers. In a city where race relations have been tenuous at best, using local blacks as scapegoats for rampant prostitution would be an easy mark. That is not to say that the issue of prostitution in Halifax was mainly a racial one, but that the role played by the racial differences between pimps and prostitutes, those who controlled and those who were controlled, respectively, must not be overlooked. Race was an issue at the height of the moral panic and therefore must be a consideration in the study of that period.
Through my own research for the DEAD WRONG series, I know that it is undeniable that men from North Preston have been involved in pimping, and still are. But the extent of the North Preston connection is very much over-stated. (Part 5 of the series will get into this in some detail.)
At times, the police seem to have gone to extra lengths to make a connection to North Preston that simply wasn’t there.
For example, when police investigator Dave MacDonald was assigned to re-investigate the disappearance of Kimberly McAndrew, the first thing he did was call a psychic (I published audio recordings of MacDonald’s sessions with the psychic in Part 4 of DEAD WRONG, “Channelling Kimberly McAndrew“). Predictably, that psychic produced nothing of any value, but MacDonald tried to parse the psychic’s babble into a description of McAndrew being kidnapped and taken to North Preston. There was absolutely no evidence that anyone from North Preston had anything at all to do with McAndrews’ disappearance, and the suspects that had previously turned up were all white men, but MacDonald wanted a North Preston connection all the same.
Reddick, the protestor I spoke with after today’s CBC protest, is well aware of these nuances: She works with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre.
“We have people in the community who are sexually assaulting people,” she says. “But the police can’t identify those people so they label it all ‘North Preston’s Finest.’ It makes it mysterious. It actually inhibits finding the criminals.”
Reddick and other community members have recently started reclaiming the NPF label as “North Preston’s Future.”
“It’s our finest, and it’s our future,” she said.
As for the protest, McIntosh, the CBC executive director, committed to sending a reporter to North Preston to do a story on the community’s reaction to the explainer, and to report on the “North Preston’s Finest” controversy. He also committed to meeting with community members in the future.