Before we get into local news coverage, Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke has kindly made his poems available to the Halifax Examiner, which is the first media outlet to publish them. (See Clarke’s eulogy to Leonard Cohen here.) Translation into French has been graciously provided by Robert Paquin.
An Elegy—Non-Partisan—for Fidel Castro
Fidel, we disagree with dictatorship,
But we agree with Independence,
For we’ve wanted that too:
Culturally, from the U.S. and U.K.;
Economically, from the U.S.;
Politically, from the U.K….
Fidel, we disagree with one-party-rule,
But we agree with the Cuban people,
Who send us rum and cigars,
Who invite us to sun, sea, sand,
When January is coldest,
When February is darkest….
Fidel, we disagree with Adventurism,
But we agreed on ending Apartheid,
For we liberated Holland and Italy,
And we defend free peoples from assault.
Like you, we didn’t invade Iraq:
We think Diplomacy defeats Force.
Fidel, we disagree with revolution.
Yet, Diefenbaker kept ties with Cuba
And sold wheat to “Red China”;
And Pierre Trudeau befriended Cuba
And opened doors to China:
Ah, the luxuries of Sovereignty!
Fidel, we disagreed on much, really,
But you were an icon of these Americas—
A voice that championed Mandela
When others tolerated his jailing—
And you came to Pierre Trudeau’s funeral,
And stood with ex-U.S. Prez Jimmy Carter.
So, as we were right to deplore your wrongs;
So, we are right now to mourn your passing.
You were our cultural ally
Because you symbolized Independence.
You were our psychological alter ego,
For our differences made us, strangely, friends.
Farewell, farewell, “Maximum Leader.”
Hello, hello, free Cuban people:
In friendship, we can disagree;
We’re different; and but we’re American neighbours.
Long may we share a collaboration
In nation-building, elaboration
Of rights and freedoms, and Liberation
Of all peoples from all Tribulation.
Élégie (non partisane) à Fidel Castro
Fidel, nous nous opposons à la dictature,
Soutenant cependant l’idée d’Indépendance,
Ne l’avons-nous pas toujours recherchée aussi :
Des USA, de l’Angleterre et de la France,
Pour la culture; des USA pour le commerce;
De l’Angleterre enfin sur le plan politique…
Fidel, nous nous opposons au monopartisme,
Cependant nous soutenons le peuple cubain,
Qui nous fournit du rhum et de si bons cigares,
Qui nous offre son soleil, sa mer et sa plage
Quand le mois de janvier en est à son plus froid,
Et quand, en février, notre hiver est trop sombre…
Fidel, nous nous opposons à l’Aventurisme,
Soutenant cependant la fin de l’Apartheid,
Nous avons libéré Hollande et Italie,
Et défendons les peuples libres pris d’assaut.
Comme toi, nous n’avons pas envahi l’Iraq :
Nous croyons que Diplomatie vaut mieux que Force.
Fidel, nous nous opposons aux révolutions.
Pourtant Diefenbaker a maintenu des liens
Avec Cuba et vendu du blé à la Chine;
Et Trudeau père était un ami de Cuba
Et se montrait ouvert même à la « Chine rouge » :
Tel est le luxe de la Souveraineté…
Fidel, nous nous opposons sur beaucoup de points,
Mais en véritable icône des Amériques,
Ta voix se fit le défenseur de Mandela
Quand d’autres toléraient de le voir en prison,
Tu étais là aux funérailles de Trudeau,
Aux côtés de l’ex-président Jimmy Carter.
Nous avions donc raison de déplorer tes torts,
Et nous avons raison, là, de pleurer ta mort.
Tu étais notre allié sur le plan culturel
Parce que tu symbolisais l’Indépendance.
Tu étais notre alter ego psychologique,
Nos divergences faisant de nous des amis.
Adieu! adieu à toi, ô « Líder Máximo »!
Hola! hola, ô peuple libre de Cuba :
En amitié, nous pouvons être en désaccord;
Nous sommes différents; tout en étant voisins.
Espérons que nous collaborerons encore
À la création de nations, à l’adoption
De droits et libertés, à la Libération
De tous les peuples de toute Tribulation.
George Elliott Clarke
Poète officiel du Parlement (2016-17)
Traduction : Robert Paquin, Ph. D.
1. The standoff
On Friday, a man barricaded himself into his home after the police came to arrest him on a breach. This turned into a standoff through the day and night, while the man streamed live Facebook video to over 2,500 viewers at various points.
What was interesting is how the events played out over social media. While news media was cleared from the area, people in the neighbourhood live streamed the police presence outside, while the man inside broadcast his own videos. Throughout the standoff, what also became clear was the tension between police attempts to control communications, and the rights exercised by people to film the police.
As the standoff dragged on, the police apparently began demanding that people who were recording the events from inside their apartments stop recording. At least one woman live streaming was under the impression that she could be arrested for obstructing an investigation. Her video ends abruptly with her frightened that the police said her name. Another person filming reported being yelled at to stop. While this was understandably a tense and pressure-filled situation for the police, no doubt not made any easier by people egging the man on (or telling him what the police were up to,) that nonetheless does not give police the right to allegedly intimidate people lawfully filming the police.
According to the Court in R. v. Zarafonitis, 2013 ONCJ 570:
In the absence of an overarching and tangible safety concern, such as telling a photographer at a fire scene to back away if there is a danger that the building will collapse on him, telling people not to record these interactions, whether they be a bystander or the person the police are dealing with, is not a lawful exercise of police power. An officer who conducts himself reasonably has nothing to fear from an audio, video or photographic record of his interaction with the public. The public has a right to use means at their disposal to record their interactions with the police, something that many police services themselves do through in-car cameras and similar technology. The officer’s powers exist to allow him to protect the public and himself and to enforce the law; they do not extend to controlling the public record of what happened. The maintenance of that public record plays a significant role in the maintenance of the rule of law. The existence of this form of objective “oversight” has great potential to minimize abuses of authority and to maintain peaceable interaction between police and the citizenry, all of which is very much in the public interest. Interference by a police officer in the public’s exercise of that right is a significant abuse of authority.
The police often rely upon the fear of arrest and people’s lack of knowledge about their rights. If these reports are true — and apparently the police yelling at a recorder to stop can be heard at the end of one video — then we ought to be disturbed. Control of the press and restrictions on the rights of the public are serious erosions of freedom and democracy. At the same time as the state claims the right to ever-increasingly infringe on our privacy and information in the name of “security,” and as we are subjected to surveillance and monitoring, the rights of the public to hold the state accountable are alarmingly being narrowed. Particularly with Trump’s election, and his open threats against freedom of the press, the rest of us need to be even more vigilant about protecting our rights against abuse of authority.
I posted on Facebook and tagged the police asking them to respond to the allegations that they were preventing people from filming. If they reply, I will update Tim, although I imagine if they do respond, they will be “looking into it.”
Returning to the rest of social media, the police posted about the situation on Facebook in the morning:
While many of the comments on the post simply wish the police well or tell them to be safe, there are a number of comments that advocate violent action by the police in a situation that ultimately ended peacefully with the man giving himself up to police.
“Pull a knife or any weapon on a law officer ?????? deserves to get shot … period.”
“You could taze him?? Its a knife, you all have guns. Old saying is never bring a knife to a gun fight. I guess in this case its the other way around.”
“This guy is live streaming the whole thing and it’s what, 12h later and still nothin is bein done? I’m confused. Tear gas that house while he’s live streaming and get em”
“Been watching this craziness from my apartment window all day and night this is what’s wrong with our Police force if the guy has a knife and you have a gun or even a Taser why can’t you just force your way in and take this guy down. I hope when you guys do decide to go in you give him the bill for your pay checks because this is just dumb why an armed police officer is afraid of a guy with a knife.Know anyone with jujitsu experience they can take a man down without a weapon..Just saying.. Maybe more training is needed in the police force….”
“toss in some tear gas and end it…no one man with a knife should cause this much disruption.”
“He is beyond messed up in the head. Tear gas the place. He’s too messed up to react or respond quickly.”
Maybe it’s the TV shows and movies that condition people to expect “action,” so that even at a time where there has been tremendous coverage of police shootings in the news, the reaction by many is to urge the police to use force wherever possible. Black commentators suggested that if it were a Black man holed up, he would probably be dead – judging from the bloodthirsty comments on a number of threads, there seem to be a lot of people in Halifax who long for more police shootings, and who see “that doesn’t happen here” as a challenge rather than as a virtue.
The rhetoric around the man being “messed up in the head” as a reason for force is particularly potent, given that 40% of shooting deaths of civilians by the police in Canada are people with mental illnesses:
But the numbers are the background noise, the radio static behind the gunshots. While police are kept hopping with calls involving mental illness, the tragedies often have little to do with lack of social support and much more to do with decades of North American police training that taught officers to go in fast and big.
This approach is absolutely counterproductive when dealing with someone in the throes of an emotional crisis, someone who may, for instance, be hearing voices. Couple this traditional command-and-control response with edged weapon training and the result can be lethal. Edged weapon training essentially teaches officers to consider any situation involving a knife or scissors or a bicycle chain as automatically a firearms situation. And as U.K. Assistant Chief Constable Paul Netherton says, “Once you’ve deployed the weapon, actually are you creating a situation where someone being shot is what’s going to happen?”
I always find it interesting how the rhetoric of “taxpayer dollars” is used – in this case in many comment threads, people were outraged that their “taxpayer dollars” were being used in this situation. I wonder if the people who think it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars for the police not to brutalize someone also think all the warships we’re building are a waste of our money – or are we only wasting dollars when we’re not killing people? The sense that we put a value on people’s lives, and that a human being isn’t worth the cost of waiting and negotiating for him to come out peacefully, seems to show how the rhetoric of austerity and neo-liberalism has so thoroughly permeated our thinking. Everyone’s taught to think like slash-and-burn CEO’s these days. Thanks for not using my taxpayer dollars to tase, gas, or shoot someone, HRP!
While some members of the public were urging a violent resolution, as the standoff dragged on, the man was streaming from inside. From his commentary on the videos, it seems like a domestic dispute with his girlfriend was the catalyst for the standoff. He talked about trashing her place, and her allegedly trashing the tattoo shop, and ranted about their relationship. He streamed his interactions with the negotiators. His friends called and he talked to them, until those communications were cut off. He interacted with people in the comments. He asked about his dog, and asked for chocolate milk and a hamburger to be brought to him (they wouldn’t bring the burger into him.) At one point he negotiated time to do a tattoo on himself. And he spoke about jail and the justice system and the time he had served.
Watching these videos obviously can’t tell the whole story or even give a particularly accurate picture of whatever causes led to this standoff. But what we seemed to be witnessing in these videos was the embodiment of the ways our systems fail so badly. Domestic violence – which includes damaging the property of a partner – has to be taken seriously, and listening to him speak about the woman was frequently disturbing. But domestic abuses aren’t addressed by a general lack of support or help for people in unhealthy or dangerous relationships, until the situation gets bad enough to call police. Jail does little to address domestic violence, and in reality, the violent conditions faced in jail usually make people more angry, more traumatized, and more unstable – and often they return to the same dysfunctional relationship when they get out. The police can keep people safe in a crisis situation, but that isn’t a solution for the deeper issues underlying abuse or violence or tension in relationships, and there are few resources to help people until that point.
The man himself talked about prison and his experiences, at times in a resigned way, at times addressing the shortcomings of the justice system. How much of this situation is a result of the trauma of imprisonment? When the police showed up to arrest him for a breach, he responded by refusing to go, and by barricading himself inside. Were we witnessing an attack on police, or the fear of going back? Again, the lack of counselling or supports for people who get out leaves people with untreated PTSD, often severe mental trauma from experiences like being placed in solitary or witnessing or suffering violence, as well as problems in relationships and with families caused by these unaddressed issues.
And so frequently it is those people in relationships with the person who was incarcerated who suffer from these untreated effects, and who can’t seek help because they’re terrified that if they “tell on” their son or partner or loved one, he will be sent back to prison. Many families live with a violent or disturbed member who has been released because the stigma and silence around incarceration makes getting help impossible, especially when mental health or emotional problems can be used to return people to jail.
Forced programming in prison often makes people more reluctant to access therapy and counselling when they get out – even if they can afford it (which is usually unlikely) – because their experience of treatment has been of being coerced and of having their words used in their parole hearings or reports to negative effect. There are likely many complex forces that drove this man into this standoff, but his own words throughout the day addressed the ways prison affected him, and it’s hard not to see some cause of this as due to the terrible experiences people have when they are inside, and our lack of any way to help people cope with those experiences. Of course he didn’t want to go back.
You often hear people say “I hope he gets the help he needs,” in reference to prison, but incarceration doesn’t help people, and any help it does provide (addictions counselling, education, programming, etc. – which are not always accessible or effective) should be provided outside of prison and not only available once people are convicted. And because those supports aren’t available on the outside, even when people build relationships or businesses or manage to use their skills, they are so often tripped up on their release and end up back in prison. If jail were so effective, people wouldn’t keep going in and out. If it helped people with problems, we wouldn’t see people spend years bouncing between the streets and jail.
Many people were entertained by the spectacle of these videos — while about 40 people posted on the HRP police Facebook in support, thousands of people commented to the man, cheered him on, encouraged him, urged him to think about his child, interacted with him, gave him advice, told him to give himself up, laughed at him, etc. But what we seemed to be seeing was the failure of a society that has no real solutions beyond the police, or incarceration. What we witnessed was what looked like severe pain, trauma, anger, and emotional turmoil, and the only solution we could offer was arrest. Ironically, in the standoff, he may have got more counselling through the negotiators than he will while he’s incarcerated. And after jail, then what?
The videos should spur us to have serious conversations about our lack of resources for help — for domestic abuse, for relationships, for people suffering mental health or emotional problems, for people who are incarcerated — but given that so many people don’t even want their tax dollars going to the police, we’re unlikely to advocate as a society for treatment, counselling, and supports for anyone else.
2. #actionskindofmatter, sometimes
Speaking of the Halifax Regional Police’s social media, while I was looking up police statements about the standoff, I came across a campaign being publicized on the HRP Twitter against gender-based violence:
— Halifax_Police (@HfxRegPolice) November 30, 2016
I could go on.
That last headline was the day before the police tweeted about the importance of taking action on abuse.
Jacob Boon wrote an article in The Coast about the “secret epidemic” of police domestic violence. Despite reported high rates of domestic violence (“Research done by American sociologist Leanor Johnson in the late 80s found that 40 percent of male police officers interviewed admitted to violent behaviour against their spouse or children in the previous six months”), only nine officers were disciplined for domestic assault in Halifax between 2010 and 2014:
There’s a huge range of tricks and steps that police officers take to derail these investigations before they ever get to a criminal investigation,” says Roslin. Investigating officers, for example, can intimidate and pressure spouses not to file an official complaint. Even independent investigatory bodies can fall prey to prejudices, Roslin warns. The investigators with Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), he points out, are two retired RCMP officers and two full-time police officers seconded to the unit (one from HRP and one from the RCMP).
“You have four people that either still have links with their existing agency, or worked there their whole life. In that kind of situation, is it going to be much better than police officers investigating each other in the department?”
Maybe the police should be tweeting at each other rather than the public.
From an anecdotal perspective, [Chief Jean-Michel] Blais doesn’t see police domestic violence as a worrisome trend—at least not locally. He says there may be a tendency to overestimate the problem, but admits Canadians know far too little about the subject.
“If we don’t know, how can we ever underestimate it? It’s one of those things that needs to have further research done on it.”
But where Blais sees a constellation of possible reasons for police domestic violence, Roslin only found three; control, derogatory attitudes towards women and the impunity officers have in getting away with crimes. Eliminating those issues, he says, isn’t going to be easy.
“It just starts from the top and we also have to go deeper than even just police departments. What kind of community support is there for dealing with domestic violence? We have to look at problems like social inequality, which help create the conditions in which police domestic violence occurs.”
HRP be all, “look, the tweet said YOUR actions matter, ok? Not ours.”
3. Cole Harbour District High School
Yesterday, Tim wrote about the “race and class dynamics” that “nobody much wants to talk about” in the building of the new high school in Eastern Passage.
As John McCracken also observed on Facebook:
With yesterday’s scathing report from the NS Auditor General questioning the need for a $21M high school in Eastern Passage, why has there been no mention or discussion of the backdrop of longstanding racial tensions in Cole Harbour?
I view this as a classic Nova Scotia response to systemic racism: never mind working to address the issues, let’s just build a new high school!
And this project goes back to the previous NSNDP government. We bear some responsibility for this mess as well.
To review, in 1989:
…[I]n Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, officials closed the racially mixed Cole Harbour District High School for a day last week in an effort to cool tensions after a brawl on school grounds involving an estimated 50 black and white people last week.
Police charged 14 people, not all of them students, with various offenses in connection with the brawl, which was reported to have escalated from a snowball fight. Students and parents said tensions have existed for years between black students from poor families and white students from working- class families that are only slightly better off.
A fight between one Black and one White student at Cole Harbour District High School escalated into a brawl involving 50 youths of both races. The event mobilized provincial Black activists around the issue of unequal educational opportunities.
In 1994, the BLAC report, prompted by the events at Cole Harbour, addressed the structural inequities African Nova Scotians experience in the education system.
In 1997, an external review of Cole Harbour District High school revealed ongoing racial tensions in the school and community:
Cole Harbour District High School is shaped by its history and by the tensions that exist in a rapidly changing society. Issues of cultural and racial diversity, under and unemployment, new technologies, lack of funds, changes in family constellation and the resulting stress on individuals and organizations will not vanish in the next brief while. If Cole Harbour is to meet the challenges of a culturally diverse and pluralistic population in a technological era, it must be innovative, responsive and efficient in its selection and delivery of programs, as well as in the human processes that define and give it shape.
In 2007, Cole Harbour was supposedly a different place, with racial violence well in the past.
In 2008, 26 students were suspended after a “brawl” that sent the school into lockdown.
In 2009, 14 students were arrested after a “melee” with over 100o students watching or participating.
These events are well-documented by Stormfront.
In 2010, the provincial government floats the idea of a school in Eastern Passage. Waye Mason’s argument in support of the school can be found here:
The problem is that Cole Harbour is a seriously over crowded school. Both Cole Harbour and the adjacent Auburn Drive are operating at 115% or more of capacity. Cole Harbour is designed for 900 students and the HRBS website says there are 1048, Auburn was designed for 960 students and has 1109.
So let’s recap, we are busing 600 students to a high school that is overcrowded. Both the schools are overcrowded and have a some history of discipline and race relation issues. This brings us to the third point – we should address the needs of students when we recognize them.
We have the Black [sic] Report, we have the recent riot on the fields of Auburn, we have a history of problems at Cole Harbour. We have the weird gerrymandering of the feeder schools (see the graphic below).
Overcrowding these schools is not going to help anything. Really, these schools should have an enrollment target of 85%, so about 800 students each. This is a small but important part of making things right in this community.
Mason’s well-intentioned argument is that alleviating overcrowding will reduce the racial tensions — but that analysis ignores that it is the white neighbourhood who gets to retreat, and who essentially get rewarded for decades of racism and violence towards Black people. That is not so much reducing racial tensions as demonstrating yet again that white people can be as racist as they want and then walk away clean, leaving Black people with the mess. In the long term, that reinforces racism and division between communities.
In 2016, parent Shannon Parsons predicted the closure of Cole Harbour District High School as a result of the decision:
Parsons predicts both schools will end up as tier two schools with no International Baccalaureate program, no football or hockey team and no interest from sport scouts.
The implication caused by the building of a new school is that the Black students left at Cole Harbour will be further marginalized in their educational opportunities.
As Tim and John point out, the thing nobody is talking about is that there are white parents — many white parents — who don’t want to send their child to school with the Black kids. When school integration was passed in the United States, parents withdrew their children from school rather than attend schools with Black children. Suburbanization, the growth of private schooling and the subsequent disinvestment from public schooling by the state, and the current charter school and privatization movement and school closures are all driven by this historical white flight. As Abby Norman observes in the Huffington Post:
The people who are moving into my neighborhood want their children to have a diverse upbringing, but not too diverse. They still want a white school, just with other non-white children also participating. They want to go to the Christmas pageant and not have their white sensibilities violated because the other parents are too loud and boisterous and it makes them uncomfortable, for really no good reason. They don’t want their kid to notice her whiteness in Pre-k and then find out while addressing that question, that while they already own great books about diversity, the only children’s books specifically about whiteness are published by the KKK. They don’t want their child to ask them why Quintavious’s sister says she doesn’t like white people. They don’t want to have to wonder when the teacher calls, if they are getting extra attention because white parents are often perceived as overbearing. They want diversity, just not too much.
The students who were in high school in the early 90s have children attending high school now. The big white elephant in the room is that the same students who were “brawling” with Black kids back then are raising their children now — what lessons about race and racism are they passing on? Are none of those parents motivated by their experiences to not want their own children going to school with those Black kids from North Preston they fought with in their day? And how many parents are just abandoning ship to let those people work it out – after decades of tension, it’s easy for white people to get the ear of government, to advocate, and to get their needs met and walk away. That’s what white privilege does, it always allows an out, while Black people are stuck in the conditions of Blackness caused by oppression.
4. We Day vs. Walkout Day
While “We Day” serves up charitable-industrial complex type feel good activism promoted by corporations, the student walkout demonstrated grassroots activism by young people.
The rhetoric of “We Day” tries to make youth activism non-threatening, vaguely focused on “change” and centred on amorphous goals like “building awareness” or “empowerment.” Corporations and governments endorse this kind of activism and use it for branding and advertising — in particular in its “white saviour” versions of “doing good in Africa” — because these expressions do nothing to actually challenge power, and frequently reinforce inequality by promoting white privilege, the “goodness” of the upper classes and the abjection of the poor, and by encouraging individual charitable and volunteer labour rather than structural transformation that actually addresses the roots of oppression.
It’s so much easier for governments to tell us to “be the change” rather than actually resourcing communities or creating policy that addresses inequality and injustice!
The walkout, on the other hand, demonstrated student-led activism and resistance. While critics tried to deny that young people were capable of understanding the issues, and suggested that organizers were brainwashed by teachers, currying favour, or simply angling for time off, young people consistently demonstrated their commitment to political organization through their organizing efforts across the province.
And while it’s apparently OK for thousands of screaming kids to get off school to enjoy pep-rally like atmospheres in a hockey rink, I note that suddenly there was “concern for student safety” once they were rallying against government.
We Day might package student activism and make it trendy and attractive, but the walkout showed that young people can’t be co-opted that easily, and that student activism continues to challenge power, as it should.