1. Stairway to hell

Ah, summer. Cruise ship season in Halifax. When tourists from around the world can come and take tours of racist Halifax.

You can start at the Edward Cornwallis statue.

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Image from

“It would be better to ‘root’ the Micmac out of the peninsula decisively and forever.”

Or there’s the Winston Churchill statue:

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“I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes…[It] would spread a lively terror.”

Is there anything more racist and violent than the firing of the noon gun everyday from Citadel Hill in a “tribute to Halifax’s history as a British military stronghold?”

#boom #halifax

— Halifax Noon Gun (@HalifaxNoonGun) June 10, 2016

Let’s hear Cecil Rhodes on the glories of the British Empire and its military, shall we?

I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence, look again at the extra employment a new country added to our dominions gives.

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Or you can walk in the public gardens and see the memorial fountain for Canadian soldiers who fought in the Boer War:

Photo: Tim Bousquet
Photo: Tim Bousquet

Or the South African War memorial at Province House:

Image from wikipedia.
Image from wikipedia.

Huh. I don’t see any mention on those memorials of the concentration camps set up by the British that killed 28,000 of the 115,000 interned, 22,000 of them children and representing 10 per cent of the Boer population. 20, 000 Africans interned in other camps also died. Maybe that’s on another side of the monument.

“The theory that, all the weakly children being dead, the rate would fall off is not so far borne out by the facts. The strong ones must be dying now and they will all be dead by the spring of 1903.”
— Lord Milner.

Then there’s the lesser-known tributes, like the ones to mass-murdering colonial “heroes” like William Grant Stairs, commemorated in the name of Stairs Street.

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Ah, it’s like colonial genocide corner. There’s Stanley Street, for Henry “one of the biggest kill rates” Morton Stanley. And of course Dr. Livingstone, and my god, when you have to Google colonial figures the amount of justifying and excusing and denying their racism and cruelty and violence towards Africans is sickening. Statues for everyone!

And there’s William Grant Stairs. In the common narratives, he was a local boy made good, an explorer, adventurer and hero educated at the Royal Military College of Canada who ventured twice into “Darkest Africa” to bring civilization, peace, and order to the “natives.”

Or, in the words of Ian McKay and Jamie Swift:

Those who followed Stairs’s travels and career have been disposed to apply such terms as “adventure” and “exploits” to his time in Africa. But before Stairs becomes a prime subject for a “Heritage Minute”…we should consider a second way of telling his story: Stairs as a mass-murderer, as directly responsible for scores of deaths and indirectly responsible for delivering a large portion of Africa into the hands of a European regime that slaughtered between six and nine million people.

Don’t worry, though. “People” there only means Africans.

Stairs’s two expeditions were funded by King Leopold II to extend his hold over the Congo, annex territory, and protect Belgium claims over the resources of the area. King Leopold’s regime in the Congo resulted in “well-documented claims:”

[T]hat 10 million Congolese were either murdered or worked to death by Leopold’s private army, that women were systematically raped, that people’s hands were cut off and that the local populace endured kidnapping, looting and village burnings…


The first expedition was supposedly undertaken to “rescue” Emin Pasha from “supposedly fanatical Muslims.” As it turned out, he did not want to be relieved. The route taken by Stanley and Stairs was intended to consolidate Belgian territory and expand their control of the region. On the way, though, as McKay and Swift note:

Rather than “adventure” and “exploits,” more accurate terms would be “murder” and “death march.” Of the expedition’s 706 initial members, only 255 returned to the coast. About 44 percent had died, and 137 deserted or were left behind. Of the 314 deaths, according to Stanley, “245 (78 percent) were due to fever, debility, starvation, ulcers, dysentery, or exhaustion…[Stairs] delicately refrained from pointing out the greater number of men who had been worked to death. How many workers Stairs was personally responsible for killing will always be unclear, since he merely annotated in general terms the numbers who died; and although he recorded with some enthusiasm the lashings and torture he applied to upstarts, it is not always clear whether they were beaten or tortured to death.

Along with the “explorers” apportioning whites six times as much food as Africans (expected to carry 100kg of goods and supplies on their heads and travel as much as 30km a day through “dense forests,”) McKay and Swift recount:

Beatings with rawhide whips, up to 100 strokes; chains applied for weeks at a time to the ankles of porters caught in the act of desertion; forcing men to stand with a heavy stone on their heads in one position for hours; the execution of expedition members, including children, for minor thefts: in all of these Stairs was complicit.

McKay and Swift quote Stairs’s diary:

I often wonder what English people would say if they knew of the way in which we “go for” these natives. Friendship we don’t want as then we should get very little meat and probably have to pay for the bananas. Every male captive capable of using the bow is shot, this of course we must do. All the children and women are taken as slaves by our men to do work in the camps. Of course they are well treated and rarely beaten as we whites soon stop that. After 3 or 4 weeks with the men they get to be as happy as clams and gorge themselves with food almost to bursting.

Stairs doesn’t exactly say that the white men are raping the African women, of course.

When he wasn’t shooting the locals simply for existing in their villages when the expedition wanted to pass through, or executing children, or cutting off the hands of the “bushmen” to “demonstrate their kill count for the day” (which, as McKay and Swift note, would become the signature of King Leopold II’s genocidal reign of terror), or enslaving Africans to bring them freedom, Stairs was casually decapitating the corpses of his victims, Joffrey Baratheon style:

This morning I cut off the heads of the two men and placed them on poles one at each exit from the bush into the plantation. This may prevent further [escape] attempts of the sort for some time and so save life.

Actual life for Africans who encountered Stairs.
Actual life for Africans who encountered Stairs.

Even though the expedition was supposedly a campaign against slavery, Stairs took his own slaves, and admired the “wholesome effect” slavery had on Africans.

Even in its own time, the expedition was noted for its cruelty.  Despite the massive bestselling success of Stanley’s book In Darkest Africa, commentators at the time noted the “brutality, violence, and plunder”:

Accusations that Stanley and his officers had resorted to brutality, violence and plunder were widespread in the British and American press. By Stanley’s own admission the expedition was directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of approximately one thousand individuals, mostly African soldiers, porters and sundry “belligerent natives”. Many also questioned Stanley’s wisdom in leaving the ill-tempered and mentally unstable Edward Barttelot in command of a “rear column” at Yambuya on the Aruwimi river…when Stanley finally returned to Yambuya, he found that the strength of the rear column had dwindled from 271 to 132 individuals through death and desertion. The dead included two officers, Barttelot and James Sligo Jameson.

Barttelot had been shot by one of his own subordinates after badly beating the African soldier’s wife in one of his frequent fits of violent rage. Jameson, an heir to the Anglo-Irish Jameson Whiskey fortune, who had paid £1000 for the privilege of joining the expedition, died of an uncontroversial fever. However, other members of the expedition suggested that the young officer had developed an unhealthy obsession with cannibalism; this pathological curiosity led him to purchase a ten-year slave girl whom he reportedly handed over to a group of local cannibals to be stabbed, dismembered, and eaten. A budding ethnographer, Jameson was said to have recorded the grizzly proceedings in a series of calmly-executed watercolours. The controversy reached its peak in December 1890 when a group of London philanthropists and humanitarians – the Aborigines Protection Society – voted to condemn the atrocities perpetrated by Stanley’s “filibustering and quixotic” expedition. The shambolic and shameful history of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition did much to discredit the notion that European explorers were engaged in a noble quest to shed the light of Christianity and civilisation upon the benighted ‘Dark Continent’.


But they were men of their time, cry the apologists! That was how things were back then! Stop revising history, they scream, as they cover up the crimes of the past and forget them.

McKay and Swift observe that Stairs was indeed a man of his time:

In the Halifax of Stairs’s youth, Afro-Nova Scotians were routinely ridiculed in the press and often confined to segregated institutions. In the history books aboriginal people figured as bloodthirsty savages, tamed by the beneficent Anglos who planted Halifax and saved the peninsula for the Empire. Stairs did not arrive in Africa as an innocent unaware of racial hierarchies. The word “nigger” which he used so enthusiastically in his diaries, was a commonplace epithet on the streets of Halifax. Stairs arrived in Africa with an already well-developed vocabulary of race and a firm belief in the social evolutionary patterns that supposedly positioned one race over another. 

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As McKay and Swift conclude:

When he returned as conquering hero to Halifax in 1890, Stairs emphasized “the openings that will be offered to the expansion of English and other trade in supplying new markets for the goods of the world.” Still, one hitch to the full commemoration of Bill Stairs as a hero in Halifax was the small detail that at the time of his death he was acting on behalf of Leopold II, and not the British sovereign. Long before the term “transnational capitalism” was invented, Stairs was acting as its armed emissary. His activities on its behalf had an incontestably powerful effect on the trajectory of sub-Saharan Africa, consolidating the regime that combined absolutism with the purest capitalism. Unsavoury as Leopold II’s reputation deservedly became, he operated in much the same predatory league as other colonial rulers in Africa, both inside or outside the British Empire.

They finish:

Canadians march to relieve General Gordon, to relieve Emin Pasha – and, more recently, to relieve the beleaguered citizens of Afghanistan. We are far from finished with the ideal of a Pax imposed at the end of our bayonets and guns – and far from comfortably distant from the assumptions and practices that shaped the world of William Stairs.

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As with Cornwallis, the “cruelty and brutality” of Stairs’ history is conveniently forgotten as long as possible, and then when raised, defended as “how things were back then.” Despite the evidence of deaths, maimings, enslavement, terror, and rape, any small glimmer of not-completely-massacring racism will be waved around to show his view of Africans was “complex.” Those who think that mowing down Africans simply for being in the path of an expedition might be a bit of a problem will be accused of “simplifying history” or “applying today’s values to the past.” Should we not think it necessary to continue to honour monsters revealed to have whipped and tortured African children to death, we are accused of “being a revisionist” and this history – conveniently erased and never mentioned or taught or thought about – will suddenly become absolutely necessary to the daily life of Halifax, and we couldn’t possibly manage without this street name or statue.

One of the defences of the Cornwallis statue was, “if we get rid of this, what about everyone else?” Well, here’s more of that “everyone else.” And yes, do something about that too. And the next one too. And people who yesterday had no idea what Stairs street was memorializing will today fight tooth and nail for the name to be preserved — not because they suddenly care about history, but because they care about what these names and statues symbolize. They get it, and they know that these names are about maintaining white dominance and ideologies of white supremacy and the dehumanization of non-European people. So as much as people will deny that these commemorations are racist, their insistence on their presence just because it upsets or offends or outrages Black people demonstrates that the racist power these memorials symbolize is intact. If these signs weren’t still meaningful in asserting the power and privilege of white people, white people would not scream so hard when they are challenged.

With thanks to Todd McCallum.

2. Howe nice it must be

On the same day as Muhammad Ali’s funeral, Gordie Howe “Mr Hockey” died.

It’s funny, only one of these athletes is seen as “controversial.” Only one of those athletes is seen as “angry.”

“Sure, I remember the first time I played against Gordie, I got an elbow in the face. He was just a great hockey player, he just wanted to win and that was part of the game. Everybody has his own way to play the game, and he was a little dirty, but just a great hockey player. I hated playing against him because he was too tough.”
—Henri Richard


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“My first year, 1965, I was with the Boston Bruins, and Gilles Marotte was a big, tough guy, who hit Gordie along the boards at the old Olympia. When you came out of the one corner at the Olympia there was a door, and Gordie went right through it. Marotte was a big kid, but he was a rookie. And about three shifts later, Marotte had a broken jaw. Somehow the old man got back at him. Gordie was the best, the king of the hill. What else can you say?”
— Bernie Parent


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“My first game, Gordie wanted to let the young kid know that he was still around. I made a pass and skated around the net and watched my pretty pass and he knocked me down. I can’t say I was surprised. I was just sitting there watching my pass. I had my head down and he drilled me. Surprised? No. I didn’t see him coming and it was a good lesson for me in this league. Later on, I had asked him about the hit, and in typical Gordie-fashion said, ‘It’s better to give than to receive.’ ”
— Bobby Orr


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It’s funny, these casual recountings of Howe’s violence, the nostalgia for those good ol’ boy days. Watching the sports anchors memorialize all those hilarious broken jaws and elbows to the face and dirty hits, just good fun. White male violence, so harmless. So admirable. So we can watch the evening news and hear what a hero Howe was for fucking people up all over the place, the same shows that criminalize Black athletes for dancing and become hysterical about threats of violence if a Black woman even tweets.

This was removed by @yusrakhogali from twitter after I tweeted about it. She is co-founder #blacklivesmatterTO

— Jerry Agar (@jerryagar1010) April 5, 2016

And so Ali is “controversial” for refusing to fight, and Howe is a great Canadian hero for his violent on-ice attacks which can be openly celebrated because when white Canadian boys do it, it’s all good fun even when someone loses their teeth, but when Black people even say words in rap songs or something we are a threat to society. Howe is “competitive” or “gritty” or “gutsy” or at worst “aggressive.” Just like white rapists are only guilty of “20 minutes of action,” and white fraternities are just “hard partying” and not “drug dealers,” and white murderers are “mentally ill” and it’s not the problem of their culture the way it is when Black people are accused.

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Meanwhile, PK Subban is “arrogant,” “doesn’t show respect,” “doesn’t do things the right/white way,” and “needs to settle down.”

You think if Subban casually broke people’s jaws he’d be treated as an “icon?”

Image from sports
Image from sports

Guess he lacks the pigmentation for the celebration.

PS. From the comments on Tim’s Morning File on Monday: “The day the Examiner starts covering sports is the day I end paying for a subscription.”


3. Exposing Airport Security

Over at the Halifax Stanfield International Prison Airport, agents “accidentally strip searched” passenger Jerell Smith.

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Smith describes the aggressive and humiliating search he was forced to undergo:

He went through screening, but was taken aside for secondary screening. Given a choice between a pat-down and a trip through the scan machine, he picked the pat-down.

The CATSA security officer started the physical search.

“That’s when I knew he was upset, because it wasn’t a search. He was patting me hard enough on my back that my body actually moved. I’m a big guy — I’m just over six foot, 270 pounds. To move me takes a little bit of force,” says Smith, who works in law enforcement.

The officer lifted his shirt and the waistband of his jogging pants.

“This is all fine. I felt uncomfortable because of the force, but I let it go,” says Smith.

He says he felt his pants slipping and asked the officer to take care.

“He said, ‘This is our procedure. This is what you wanted, so this is what’s going to happen,’” Smith told CBC News on Friday.

“He kept going, kept clasping, to the point where my pants pulled down — one side of my pants, the right side down to my knee. I did a squat to catch them because my underwear and my penis were exposed.”

When Smith complained, the security camera footage was “watching the wall.”

Smith says the “tone changed” as he raised concerns that CATSA wasn’t properly monitoring the security area.

CATSA controls that area, as well as the cameras in it, a Halifax airport spokeswoman said.

“I’m concerned that I can’t see myself being searched and that basically no one can,” Smith said.

“If someone were sexually assaulted, for instance if a female went through and said, ‘You know what? This person groped me or this person touched me inappropriately,’ they would be in my shoes where it’s not seen.”

There’s a few interesting things here. One is the way that sexual assault is seen as something that women experience. Smith had what seems to my view to have had what is at the least an extremely humiliating experience. Smith describes being aggressively manhandled to the point his body is moving. He repeatedly uses the word “force” to describe the search. He is “clasped” so violently that his pants and underwear fall down.

If this happened to me, and if my genitals were exposed by a search in public, I would feel incredibly violated. Smith has the right to define his experience however he wants, but I think it says something about the way we see masculinity that he has to use the example of a female body to describe what happened to him because of the ways assaults against men are seen as not really happening, or not serious, or not counting.

Smith at once describes the size of his body to explain the amount of force used in the search — “I’m a big guy” — but it also seems like this size makes assault seem impossible, as though big masculine men cannot be violated.

I’m not criticizing Smith; I’m saying that it seems like narratives about assault and manhood are at work here that minimize assault against men and make it hard for men to name and recognize these experiences. A man has every right to feel “groped” or “touched inappropriately” if his penis falls out in public because his pants have been forcibly pulled down.

Another point is that because Smith works in law enforcement, there’s an interesting power interaction here. Smith describes the officials’ “tone changing” once he starts questioning the security arrangements. Out of uniform, Smith is subjected to the same kind of interactions with authority that the public often have with police. There’s a kind of irony that Smith’s complaint was met with the same response that inquiries into police violence and misconduct yield:

“After reviewing the footage and interviewing the screening personnel and also talking to the passenger on the phone, the investigation concluded that the allegations that were made — especially about the physical search — were not substantiated,” [CATSA spokesperson] Mathieu Larocque said Friday.

Finally, judging from what I can see on social media, Jerell Smith seems to be Black. If this is the case, this episode also takes on a huge racial context. A big Black man, wearing sweatpants, is pulled aside for a screening and then forcibly searched and stripped in public. This “security” measure mirrors the ways Black men’s bodies are treated in prison and in police stops and searches. Without a uniform or any signs that he is an officer, Smith’s body is treated the way security staff habitually treat Black bodies, and literally stripped of its power.


If Smith is Black, then this story takes on the dimension of the ways authority is abuse to sexually humiliate and degrade Black people. This experience with airport authority would not be unique to Smith — many Black people have reported harassment at the airport, precisely because the idea of Black people daring to have the money, time, and wealth to go on vacation and enjoy themselves can be infuriating to people who need to keep Black people down. Forcing a Black man to expose himself is exactly the thing that gets some people in authority off.

Editor’s note: the originally published version of this section incorrectly said the word “penis” was bolded in the CBC article. It was not, and we’ve removed that. We apologize for the error.

4. I am 8

beaver got

A beaver kept causing flooding.


Here is a pussy with a beaver to end your morning read.

Editor’s note: El Jones is an important and strong voice in the community, and we at the Examiner are proud to host her work every Saturday. To help us continue to provide Jones’ needed voice, please consider subscribing to the Examiner. Just $5 or $10 a month goes a long way. Or, consider making a one-time contribution via PayPal. Thanks much!


El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. Glorifying racists: I don’t want a single statue, street name or noon cannon to be eliminated. Instead, I want all the unwanted-by-whomever sordid details openly displayed, discussed and officially/unofficially included in school curriculums (calling all educators with figurative balls). Disgust will organically out the disgusting.

    1. I disagree. The signs and monuments should go. It’s like arguing that saying the word “ni***er” all the time eventually steals the power from o. It doesn’t, instead it continues to perpetuate stereotypes, and continues to inflict pain.

      The N word should die, the Cornwallis statue should be torn down, street names changed and the history books should be re-written;

      I was born and educated in Halifax, and sadly had never heard the histories of most of the items El wrote about in “Stairway to hell”. The racism in this city, this province, is entrenched so deeply, I fear it will never be rooted out.

  2. Re Gordie Howe: A Facebook friend who’s a PhD student in history posted this as well:

    “Gordie Howe died today. Pick up a copy of Net Worth and read about how these old hockey legends were bilked out of pensions and healthcare and decent wages by the scum owners and corrupt NHLPA operators.
    Net Worth is pretty good at portraying Howe as being quiet on this front for decades, even in the late 80s and early 90s when the pensions scam finally blew up. I wish I had it in front of me but there is one passage that describes Howe as the owners’ favourite player: great on the ice and totally unable to advocate even for himself or anyone else about anything, such as when Ted Lindsay was signing union cards in the late 50s, and when his wife was on his case for years to do something over his low pay. Tough guy on the ice. A doormat off the ice. Just the way the bosses want you.”

  3. It really is a shame the way Ali was treated, but it was also pretty predictable. The Vietnam war was really the beginning of the end of American empire. All though El is right that appeals to moral relativism aren’t valid defenses of colonialism, I don’t think it’s entirely a good idea to discount how people thought about the world back when these things happened. Can you imagine how “No vietcong ever called me a n-” would have sounded to someone who lost their son to the draft? I’m not just talking about white people, and at risk of ‘whitesplaining’ or whatever the term is today, refusing to participate in war outside of the context of imperial aggression is something that has never been taken lightly. At its most basic level, war is how people everywhere, throughout history have protected the resources they need from other humans. Violence is the ultimate source of power from which everything else flows – whether that’s removing trees and weeds so you can grow food or killing the people who come to take your crops to feed to their children, or doing the same to them in a lean year. For a man (it has always been primarily men who do violence on behalf of the group) to refuse to participate, or if he’s older to prevent his sons from participating in group violence would be an incredibly parasitical thing to do that borders on unthinkable. Someone who refuses to participate in violence on behalf of the group is no longer entitled to the protection the group offers. This is a pattern that has existed everywhere – even chimpanzees do it sometimes.

    Of course, this all gets perverted once groups get large enough to have a professional military and leadership caste. By the time Vietnam rolled around, people were sufficiently detached from the notion of belonging to ‘the USA’ were falling apart, and attempts to make people, mostly men, feel obligated to go “defend” america, despite the manufactured gulf of Tonkin incident were falling apart, and of course Ali was right to point out that he doesn’t feel any particular need to go kill Vietnamese people (neither did a lot of white people). He was made an example of because in addition to being black, which never seems to help anyone’s case, he, like many of the quasi-famous (white, black and hispanic) athletes who fought in World War 1, 2, Korea and Vietnam, he was a powerful symbol of masculinity and was capable of counteracting the attacks on the masculinity of anyone who refuses to participate in group violence/war that always happen – even the deliberately constructed image of the male anti-war demonstrator is some skinny dude with long hair and flowers – quite a bit less masculine than Ali was.

    So, think about that – if you ignore that inconvenient difference war as a means of protecting your group’s (however you define that) basic right to exist and an imperial proxy war with the Soviets, you can see why people were offended by what Ali did. Our leaders understand these things, so of course Ali was a bigger issue for them than 1000 ‘dirty hippies’. If the vietcong represented any kind of actual threat to the security of Americans, then Ali would have been a legitimate enemy of the American people (to the extent that such a group existed then, it certainly doesn’t now). I don’t mean to minimize the racial aspect of the issues with Ali – but there’s also a broader perspective here that adds weight to what he did.

  4. I was flabbergasted by the Stairs story and the colonial “adventures” of Stanley etc. thank you for revealing that history of some of our so called heroes. It seems we (I) just learning the full truth of colonial imperialism especially by the British. I finally realize that we have to purge our city and province of references to those who were extremely cruel, especially regarding genocide. War is one thing, this level of violence and civilian death is beyond time and eras; recent colonial periods is but a minute ago and we should acknowledge such recent history and the hatred and racism it promoted then and now. I’m with you El Jones.

  5. The Stairs story with all his better known and even worse imperialist companions is one which needs to be told in this part of the world again and again and again. I have always wanted to see the story of Cecil Rhodes told each time one of the Rhodes Scholarships, intended to promote racism and financed by theft and murder, is awarded.
    Wayne Hankey

  6. Faced with the choice of the 2 second walk through the magic threat detection scan machine and a longer pat down the vast majority of people choose the magic machine. Why would anyone choose to have another person pat their body ?
    How I long for the days when I flew around the world without a passport and security was determined by the level of sobriety of a passenger.