An advocate who’s working to support Black HRM municipal workers alleging racism in the workplace says nothing has changed since the group held a rally in December outside City Hall.

Raymond Sheppard, who advocates on behalf of the workers’ group, met with members of HRM upper management before December’s rally to discuss the workers’ concerns.

Sheppard scheduled a second rally that took place Friday outside Halifax City Hall, where he was joined by a small group of some of the workers, their white co-workers, and their supporters.

“There is nothing substantial in any way, shape, or form that has happened since we were here last time that made a difference in the life of workers of African descent,” Sheppard told the Halifax Examiner in an interview on Friday.

“Brothers and sisters that work for HRM have stated that, emphatically, that nothing has changed. And it’s about time that something does change.”

Five workers stand on a cobble stone walkway covered with a light dusting of snow. The photo shows only the legs and feet of the workers to keep their identities anonymous.
Workers at the rally on Friday. Credit: Matthew Byard

Sheppard and an HRM worker took part in a Black History Month panel discussion and town hall at Dalhousie University earlier this month.

“The fact that we have superintendents and supervisors who are willing to punish people of African descent for speaking out against microaggression and profiling, and then build documents on them to get rid of them, it’s not really a nice feeling as a person of African descent,” said one HRM worker during that discussion.

“And when you address these matters with HRM — we met with crisis management, we met with people from head office — one statement that came out of that was, ‘The racism that you’re feeling might be minute. It might not be as big as you think it is.’”

Council not doing enough

At the rally on Friday, Sheppard said their treatment adds to generational trauma created by anti-Black racism in Halifax and North America. He said many of the workers have had to seek out counseling and therapy as a result of the effects of their ongoing mistreatment “at the hands of … at least three supervisors, and at least one superintendent.”

Sheppard took direct aim at Halifax regional council for not doing enough.

“When elections come up, for instance, people that want a seat on council, including the mayor’s seat, they go out to various communities, including African Nova Scotia communities, looking for our vote,” Sheppard said. “But they will not remove people responsible for the continuation of the exploitation of Black people, Black workers, and the pain and suffering that’s caused by these individuals who are supervisors, and/or superintendents.” 

“Mayor Savage, although he’s getting all of the e-mails that I sent on behalf of the group, has not responded directly to the group or to me as an advocate. He has failed to do that. His father, who used to be a doctor, John Savage, was in tune somewhat with the African Nova Scotia community. Unfortunately, sometimes the apple falls far away from the tree.”

‘It’s absolutely true’

One of the supporters in attendance on Friday was Halifax Needham MLA and African Nova Scotian Affairs critic Suzy Hansen.

“We’re in 2023 and the fact that we’re so experienced in these types of inequities is ridiculous,” Hansen told the Examiner.

Hansen said her office receives complaints of anti-Black racism in the workplace from people in various work sectors, including workers with all three levels of government. That includes some of the Black HRM municipal workers.

“I can’t give you specifics but I can tell you that what Mr. Sheppard was speaking about is spot on. It’s absolutely true,” she said.

“And it’s wrong. They shouldn’t be treated any other way than the way that the other workers are treated, which is with respect and with fairness.”

A young Black woman stands outside on a snowy day dressed in a yellow puffy jacket, red toque with a Wonder Woman logo on it, and a grey hood over that.
Suzy Hansen, MLA for Halifax Needham, joined the rally on Friday.

Hansen said she didn’t have any thoughts on the mayor’s role but said it all comes down to policy and legislation. She said though the complaints are aimed towards the municipal government she feels the provincial government has a role to play.

“That’s why we have an office of anti-racism and equity. That’s why we have an African Nova Scotian Affairs office. That’s why we have a number of levels of government that people can reach out to to get support and help. And why are they not doing this work to help these folks that are in these issues have these issues? There should be support behind this and that’s why I’m here, because as a government official, we should be stepping up and doing the work to help those folks that need it the most, even when you’re in a municipal job.”

Scheduling another rally

Black HRM workers alleging racism and their co-workers who were present outside of City Hall Friday said they are contractually obligated to not make negative public statements towards HRM and declined to comment on the record.

Sheppard told the group of about a dozen gathered Friday in the blowing snow and cold winds that an official rally will be rescheduled for a later date.

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Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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