Note: As I am sitting here writing the Examiner, news is breaking about the attacks in Paris. It is impossible to sit and think up jokes about paper bags in Halifax and not acknowledge and grieve the deaths in Paris. It is awful also to think immediately of everyone I know in Paris and to fervently hope they are not among the dead, and to know that other people’s loved ones certainly are.
One of the stories I was commenting on as this news was breaking was about airports. I wrote about racial profiling and Islamophobia in airports, which has of course intensified since 9/11. With this attack there will of course be mourning for the lives lost and the terrible tragedy, and also much rhetoric about Muslims and Islam which also impacts Islamic communities around the world, the vast, vast, majority of whom oppose and condemn this violence. I think this tweet by Dan Holloway is also an important reminder:
To people blaming refugees for attacks in Paris tonight. Do you not realise these are the people the refugees are trying to run away from..?
— Dan Holloway (@RFCdan) November 13, 2015
My thoughts are with the victims and their families and loved ones in Paris. It is horrifying to think of these attacks targeting people simply out having fun on a Friday night. My hope is also that in the coming days, the many innocent Muslims, including Muslims in our own community, are not held responsible for attacks they have nothing to do with, and are not themselves victimized or endangered by anti-Islamic feeling. Let us mourn and condemn and be angry without holding all Muslims responsible.
Also, as one of Canada’s most militarized cities, we are not only bystanders in the “global war on terror.” Ships from our ports, perhaps built in our shipyards, with military personnel housed and trained in Halifax, are deployed in conflicts which in turn destabilize countries, radicalize populations, lead to more attacks, which leads to more military intervention, which leads to more civilian deaths, which leads to more conflict, and so on and so on. In light of Remembrance Day and how we think about war, and in the context of events like the Halifax International Security Forum, I think it’s important for us to understand that these events do not only belong to “over there” away from us, but also involve us. And how governments respond to these attacks will inevitably affect our city as well. We too are connected to and impacted by this conflict.
1. On Inquiries
Tony Smith’s discrimination case against the Capital District Health Authority has been dismissed by the human rights board of inquiry.
This connects to what I was writing about last week about restorative justice, race, and the African Nova Scotian community. Tony Smith has of course been instrumental in advocating for the survivors of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children and in pursuing justice from the courts and government. Last week, I was thinking about how the government promotes restorative models and narratives of healing for African communities in response to historical injustices (and demands for reparation,) but that this discourse takes place in the absence of any wider acknowledgement of systemic injustice towards Black people in the court system or serious commitment to radical change around issues like mass incarceration, disproportionate sentencing, over-policing of communities, lack of access to parole, etc.
I questioned the language in the term of reference for the restorative inquiry around “ending racism” and what meaning that rhetoric can truly have without a mandate — and actual material plans — to redress historical inequality at all levels of society, from employment, to education, to housing, to economic marginalization, to the loss of land and ownership in Black communities,etc.
What I note about the denial of Tony Smith’s case is that with one hand the government is publicizing the restorative inquiry for the Home as a tool to address and redress racism, but with the other hand the same survivor whom this process “empowers” is being denied recognition or compensation for his account of workplace discrimination based on race and his mental health struggles by another institution in the province. Even as the restorative inquiry is claiming an awareness of racism and a commitment “to ensure that such harms never happen again by seeking an end to systemic and institutionalized racism,” the human rights board is denying the existence of that same systemic racism.
At the same time as African Nova Scotians are being encouraged to participate in the restorative inquiry “to achieve justice in and through the relationships, systems and institutions that affect the well-being of African Nova Scotian families and communities, in order to improve relationships and understanding throughout Nova Scotia,” the human rights board has decided that Tony Smith’s experience of racism does not exist. So much for “social change!”
Particularly tragic is that, due to depression, Smith had to take a 30-month leave from work. As the Racism, Violence and Health project documented, experiencing racism has serious effects on mental health. Coupled with the trauma of the abuse in the Colored Home, it is impossible to separate Smith’s struggle with mental illness from his experiences of racism in the province. The province claims to be working towards “ending” racism at the same time as continuing to employ legal structures and systems that continue to lack understanding of or context for how racism actually impacts the lives of African Nova Scotians, what its effects are, and how it is experienced.
At the same time as the inquiry uses language about “affirm[ing] and strengthen[ing] the cultural knowledge, leadership and health of the African Nova Scotian people and communities as one of Nova Scotia’s founding cultures,” in other venues African Nova Scotians are still forced to have their experiences of racism validated or invalidated by white arbitrators. At the same time as the “history and legacy” of the Home is repeatedly cited in this document, the legacy and effect of this racism on a survivor and how it may have impacted his experiences of racism in the workplace is denied and discounted.
Tony Smith noted that the chair of the human rights inquiry, Donald Murray, excluded or overlooked evidence and correspondence that provided context to the case. Calling him “incompetent,” he argued:
“It questions his competency as to should he have been overseeing this case in the first place because I don’t think he has any experience in dealing with issues around systemic discrimination and institutionalised racism.”
Rather than a broad commitment to understanding and dismantling institutionalized racism, this case coupled with the restorative inquiry suggests that the interest is in minimizing the consequences and limiting the damage when caught. Forced to acknowledge the existence of racism around the Coloured Home, rhetoric is mobilized about “healing” and “educating” and “collaborating,” yet none of that awareness of education is expected to extend to any other institution, or any other venue where African Nova Scotians experience racism.
Rather than actually acknowledging not only the ways racism is embedded in the province, but also the ways that white society has consistently turned a blind eye, denied, blamed African Nova Scotians, and “gaslighted” complainers, African Nova Scotians are forced to constantly justify and argue every new incident, while white people act as the judges of whether racism “really” exists, or whether African Nova Scotians’ ability to identify their own experiences of racism is “just affected by the passage of time.”
After fighting for decades to get justice for the victims of the Home, there is still no permanent understanding or willingness to recognize that African Nova Scotians are experts in their own experiences of racism, that we are not mistaken or “pulling the race card,” or just crazy, that we do not make up these experiences, that bringing these experiences forward is incredibly damaging and injurious, that these experiences are silenced, ignored, covered up and denied over and over again, that positioning white people to validate or accept whether something is racist is itself the result of racism, and that racism is not just cross burnings, or people using racial slurs, but is pervasive in workplaces, in the courts, and in the response of officials and governments and systems.
For years people were “unable to find” any evidence of abuse at the Coloured Home, and “unable to find” any evidence that the decades-long atrocities were allowed to persist because of racism. Should it surprise us that Murray is “unable to find” any systemic racism now?
Denying Tony Smith’s evidence of racism at Capital Health while claiming to be engaged in a “restorative inquiry” about racism in the province seems to demonstrate the hollowness of this rhetoric around healing. As I asked last week, what is being restored when Tony Smith is left to say:
“I’ve been in contact with everybody letting them know what’s going on and it’s always fallen on deaf ears.”
As long as Black people’s understanding and knowledge of their own lives and experiences continue to be questioned, doubted, and arbitrated by people who do not experience racism yet are placed as experts who decide whether our realities are valid or not, then there can be no serious conversations about racism, let alone attempts to seek healing or rebuild relationships between African Nova Scotians and other communities. Black lives have to matter first. There can be no inquiry without witness, and as long as the accounts by African Nova Scotians of how and where we experience racism “fall on deaf ears,” our communities will never be empowered, and there can never be justice.
2. Student Dies at Dalhousie
A 19-year-old student died at a Dalhousie residence on Friday morning.
While noting that they have no information about her death, the article in the Metro makes sure to heavily imply her death was alcohol related:
“In one of four bags of evidence taken out of the building by police Friday morning, photos show a piece of paper with the words “NSLC receipt” written on it, alcohol bottles, and red plastic cups.”
I mean, we don’t know anything about her death, but who needs the medical examiner when we can snoop all up in her garbage, right? We could actually wait until there’s a statement about her cause of death, but it’s better just to speculate that she was drinking, and then if that wasn’t the cause, oh well! Sorry family and friends!
I feel like this story could use some more “evidence” from her Twitter with lyrics from songs about partying, or pictures of her with her friends at the bar on Halloween or something to really make the point!
Look, I think any time a university student dies in a residence the first thing people are going to think is alcohol. And if that turns out to be the case, then there will be lots of time and space for soul searching about campus drinking culture like there was at Acadia. But can we maybe wait until there’s actually an autopsy report before drawing conclusions from her garbage and blasting that all over the news?
If I die tomorrow, there’s like 4 bags of Fuzzy Peaches in my garbage. Guess I conclusively died of diabetes!
3. I rain on the cute parade
The therapy dogs are needed because, as Halifax International Airport spokeswoman Ashley Gallant says:
“Airports can be stressful places for some people…”
Yes, some people, who have to, say, show up three or four hours early to flights because they have a Muslim name. Or Black women who are subjected to having their hair groped by agents because apparently we could be hiding weapons/rogue liquids in there. Or women in hijab. Or people of colour generally who are racially profiled and harassed by airport staff. You know, some people.
These dogs are like LOLOLOLOLOL u have to go thru the body scanner!
Hey, maybe if instead of having dogs, some people weren’t subjected to profiling and humiliation when they try to travel, things would be less stressful! Maybe instead of getting dogs, we could just, say, not be racist and Islamophobic.
Bet that would get the stress levels down! Maybe if they weren’t constantly putting in dubious security measures that have little to no evidence of effectiveness, but do a lot to promote fear and anxiety in travellers, then people wouldn’t need dogs to calm them down. Maybe if they stopped putting in policies like charging people to bring any luggage with them, shrinking the size of seats, outrageous change fees, overbooking flights, not even feeding people on planes anymore, and cutting jobs at the airport and at airlines which leads to more lost luggage, cancelled flights, long lines, and inefficient or non-existent service, people would have better experiences in airports.
Kind of weirdly, the article specifies which breeds of dogs will be at the airport:
“Gallant said airport visitors will see all kinds of therapy dogs, while some of the current ones include golden retrievers and mixed-breeds.”
Dog profiling! Oh, well if it’s golden retrievers I’m totally down, but NO BEAGLES. (Beagle owners take this seriously and immediately cancel their subscriptions to the Examiner. Sorry Tim!)
Do you think the bomb sniffing and drug sniffing dogs are pissed? Like, the drug sniffing dog is out there working hard while getting addicted to cocaine or whatever, and some asshole therapy dog is getting hugs from kids.
4. Not a top story in the Herald…
The Chronicle Herald pulled out of negotiations with unionized employees on Friday.
“The company wants to lay us off, cut back severance and contract out work. And the Herald wants to freeze the defined benefit pension plan that covers all 315 workers in the company,” union local president Ingrid Bulmer said in the [press] release.”
Strangely enough, I can’t find anything about this in the Chronicle Herald headlines.
You know the company thinks that they could pretty much just compile Twitter screenshots and that’s the same thing as reporting. (Tim wrote yesterday about the loss of two City Hall reporters from Halifax.)
Stephen Kimber wrote a great piece for The Coast in 2009 about the layoffs at the Herald and the future of the newspaper. He wrote then:
“Bloggers are no substitute for trained, paid journalists. Most don’t report; they comment on what they read elsewhere — and their work is rarely edited or vetted before publication. Bloggers also don’t have the wherewithal to fight the broader battles over issues like access to information: It was the Herald that took the provincial Workers Compensation Board to court to force it to reveal the names of companies with poor safety records, and the Herald that lifted the lid on restaurant health inspection reports.
One of the problems in coming to terms with what the latest cuts at the Herald really mean, however, is that we may not immediately notice what’s being lost. The irony is we won’t know what we don’t know because no one will be covering it.”
5. Plastic or Plastic
Apparently Halifax has run out of paper bags.
Hey, how will the airport know who to send to the body scanner now? (A “paper bag test” joke for those who don’t follow the links and are now confused.)
More topical joke: How will Andrew Younger hide his face now? (Just kidding, he’s all out there secretly recording conversations.)
So now everyone can go grill their neighbours’ clear plastic bags and get all up in their yard waste.
6. I went to a curling match, and a hockey game broke out
This story has it all. Fist fights! Weave all over the place!
Damn, you know if this were a basketball game, there’d be like a dress code installed, articles about “thugs,” lifetime bans, blaming it all on hip hop, “what’s wrong with their culture,” etc.
But it’s curlers, so fist fights are apparently a totally normal and harmless reaction to new broom fabric, not evidence of a cultural pathology at all!
Sounds like they need therapy dogs.