Morning File will be a bit briefer this morning, as I have to attend a conference early today.

1. Body Cameras

Halifax police chief Jean-Michel Blais has recommended against a pilot program for body cameras.

In the contentious community meeting in March, the chief indicated that he was against a number of initiatives adopted in other places. In my coverage of that meeting, I wrote:

Blais was asked a series of yes or no questions about whether he supported initiatives aimed at reducing racism.

Do you support an advocate who would advocate on behalf of people [subjected to unjust police checks]?

In some jurisdictions, police are required to give a rights card to a person they are having an interaction with…they’re also required to give their business card. Do you support that?

Do you support the changes that are being implemented in Ontario as a result as the kerfuffle over carding?

Do you support body cameras? I think I read in the press that you were pretty cold on them.

Also, I don’t know what kind of racial bias testing you do. I suspect it’s not quite adequate or the frequency of it is not sufficient. Do you support periodic…with a frequency that’s less than 12 months…not diversity training, which I agree…is a waste of time, but tools that ferret out racial bias and apply these tools to police officers.

Lastly, the research supports that in communities that feel they are engaged and trusting with the police, it’s not community policing that is the result of that, it’s a direct function of the power of Police Review Boards, not community policing, which as currently constituted really doesn’t mean anything.

The chief was pretty much no on everything, and wasn’t familiar with the research on police boards. So basically, every recommendation people have found effective in changing the “not perfect” system is rejected by the chief.

It’s not surprising, then, that he has maintained his stance against body cameras. As I noted about his comments to CBC, though, what I did find funny is that Blais isn’t against cameras if they’re catching us doing stuff, he’s just against the ones that might get his officers on film:

Blais said he would rather spend the money on other high-tech equipment, such as cameras on school buses to catch cars that don’t stop when children are getting on and off the bus.

Think of the children! I personally think instead of focusing on racial profiling we should get cameras to film kittens all day! Who could disagree with that!

Do you want to spend your money on THIS or boring old body cams?

Advocates have criticized body cameras, particularly the idea that problems with policing will be solved simply by having the right technology. It has a particularly neoliberal appeal to believe that all issues of social justice can be addressed by investing in technology, as though we can app away racism or ingrained bias.

Without serious changes to the systemic issues with policing culture, and without addressing anti-Black stereotypes and images that underly why policing is used to control and discipline Black people, body cameras cannot single-handedly create substantial change, it’s true.

The problem with body cameras is that, as we have seen in the failure to convict following any of the multiple police shootings caught on video in the U.S., visual evidence is no guarantee of finding police guilty, and, in fact, no guarantee that the image will even be seen as evidence. In the most famous example of police brutality caught on film, the Rodney King beating, white jurors saw King’s twitching body jerking at the blows of the police as evidence that he was resisting arrest. Seen through the lens of white racism, no matter what evidence is provided, it can be read as proof of Black criminality and justified threat.

Judith Butler calls this phenomenon the “racist episteme.” As summarized here, this means:

How did seeing the video lead to these kinds of statements? Her answer is that there is an episteme (a body of ideas that determine the knowledge that is intellectually certain at any particular time).

This white racist episteme includes the following: 1) a white body is helpless in relation to the black body: the black male body is stronger more virile and a constant threat to the white male body; 2) the virgin sanctity of whiteness will be endangered by the proximity to blackness; 3) whiteness (and its connotations of goodness, purity, cleanliness etc.) must be protected.

According to this racist episteme, one white police man could not handle one black man therefore a whole troop of police officers were needed to ward off his continuous threat; every blow that King suffered was justified based on the possible and continuing threat he posed by virtue of being black; and since the public (read: the holders of the white racist episteme) must be protected everyone must be brought into complicity through a radical reevaluation and reconstruction of the events.

Thus every movement that King made was interpreted by the defense lawyers as defiance of the police (read white people) that must be subdued; every blow that was dealt was a justified retaliation for blows King could have made by virtue of his blackness. Therefore every move that King made put him in control of the situation; every move he made brought on to himself more punishment because he is a threat (read: because he is black); King was the active agent; the police were passive responders.

In many cases, how we see and who we are seeing (or not seeing) is more important than what we are seeing. Racism, bias, and long ingrained ideas of Black pathology literally make white jurors unable to see police as guilty, or Black people as victims. Within this context, no matter what interactions are caught on body cameras, they can still be explained away as necessary, as deserved, and even as exculpating to the police.

This essay from the Harvard Law Review provides an in-depth analysis of other aspects of body cameras.

While body cameras, therefore, are not a perfect solution, and are certainly not a solution if not coupled with addressing the roots of racial bias within policing, given that the police chief as recently as September indicated that he still didn’t know what systemic racism was, I feel that it’s not being unfair or churlish to suggest he may not be familiar with the concept of the “racist episteme.”

Blais suggests that:

[I]f you are a member of a marginalized community, how do you feel about coming across a police officer who has a camera on you?”

Probably better than we feel when police approach us with their hands on their guns. I also like the passive language here, as though we just stumble across officers, and not that police are actively profiling and stopping Black people. It’s almost like we approach the officers and not the other way!

Perhaps we might consider…not stopping Black people disproportionately! That doesn’t seem to even be an option, I note. We’ll still be street checked, just with a camera in this imaginary scenario.

One of the arguments against body cameras is also the normalization of surveillance. Just like with data on police stops, there’s concerns about what happens to the images. But given that Blais wants cameras elsewhere, like on school buses, given recent push to put cameras in the Square, and given the privacy violations of street checks in the first place, again, it’s hard to think that’s the root of Blais’ objections.

Blais also suggests body cameras are not cost effective, although apparently semi-automatic assault rifles are.

My reading is, that like he indicated at the community meeting in March, Blais remains reluctant to acknowledge the realities of systemic racism and policing, and his objections to body cameras follow that general unwillingness to address this.

The real question, I guess, is whether the police have a camera on the evidence locker yet. Even a spiral-bound notebook to sign out the exhibits would be good.

2. Catherine Campbell

On the subject of images and how they are seen and interpreted, footage from the trial of Christopher Garnier for the murder of Catherine Campbell has been released to the media.

Image from

It’s hard to imagine that images of a woman daring to be at a bar, drinking, and making out with a man can ever be seen neutrally. Defence questioning has already made sure to emphasize her sexual behaviour:

Halifax RCMP Const. Kyle Doane described to the court what was in the video. At the urging of the defence, Doane described how Campbell had her arms and legs wrapped around Garnier for several minutes as they kissed.

They eventually moved downstairs in the bar. Doorman Bradley Randall testified he had to tell them to “cool it” because their behaviour wasn’t appropriate for a public place.

I’d like to think we live in a world where none of this reflects on the woman, and where it’s obvious that a woman should be able to go out and drink, and make out with a man, and go home with him, and that says nothing about her “character,” whether she brought her murder upon herself, or whether she deserves it.

But when we have judges who still believe “a drunk can consent,” and when, even in this #metoo moment, people question the stories of women and find ways to blame women for their own assaults, for too many people, it’s likely that footage of Campbell will be seen as something wrong with her, as if it was her responsibility not to go out or drink or be with a man, because “common sense” should tell you that you might end up dead.

Catherine Campbell is not the one on trial. Nothing in the footage or in her going out to the bar should be used to suggest that she did anything wrong, or to diminish her murder in any way. But we know that women’s behaviour is always on trial, and if a woman can be painted as anything less than a saint, then it’s fair game to shame and blame her. This is not a story about “bar culture” or “casual sex” or “I’m just saying women should know not to do that” or any other narrative that isn’t about her being brutally murdered and then disposed of like she was garbage.

It shouldn’t have to be said, but Catherine Campbell is not guilty of anything. Least of all her own death.

3. Food Bank

Not since the Apple Blossom Festival parade of 2017 has there been such drama, but the Greystone Food Bank seems to be giving Kentville a run for their money:

Doors at the Greystone Food Bank in Spryfield are locked after squabbling and infighting among organizers came to a head earlier this week.

Apparently there’s a long history of emnity:

Organizers at the Greystone Food Bank haven’t gotten along for years, [Becky Mason, the director of community connections with Feed Nova Scotia] said. Many volunteer groups go through periods of upheaval as old members leave and new ones come on board, she said.

Shit got real:

Two groups at the food bank are fighting for control and that’s led to some of the confusion about who’s in charge.

The Rockingstone Society that ran the food bank was dissolved this week after arguments among its members persisted. A new group, the Alternatives Outreach Society, was formed to run the food bank.

Damn, son:

With so much uncertainty, Feed Nova Scotia decided to stop food deliveries to Greystone.

On Thursday, the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority, which provides space for the food bank, changed the building’s locks, keeping everyone involved with the food bank out. The Department of Community Services funds the housing authority through Housing Nova Scotia.

It’s possible Feed Nova Scotia are being haters:

A department spokesperson said Community Services was providing the space for a food bank and the space is no longer being used for that purpose, so the locks were changed.

“We provided space for the operation of a food bank. We received notification from Feed Nova Scotia that they were suspending the service to this location. We then changed the locks in response. It’s not uncommon for us to do that in situations like this,” said Heather Fairbairn.

Jodi Brown was a member of the old board and is part of the new society as well.

“I understand Feed Nova Scotia got scared,” said Brown. “It was like a knee-jerk reaction. They got scared and they pulled out. I’m really excited to work with Feed Nova Scotia again. Our society is ready to work with them.”

Image from

Look, I understand. My mummy is a dedicated church lady and trust, there’s constant drama with who did the altar display for Easter, and who was supposed to put on the coffee, and who did what on the visit to the hospital and so forth. There’s something about doing good works that brings the conflict out in people.

Less entertaining, though, is the reality that people rely on this food, so hopefully people get this worked out, and everyone can hate each other like good neighbours do while still keeping the food bank open in the community.

I like drama as much as the next person, but with Christmas coming food banks are even more important, so let’s hope this beef is squashed (food bank puns.)

Image from global

4. I’ll just put this here

From CBC‘s “yep, that’s Nova Scotia” files:

A 45-year-old man from Greenwood, N.S., has been arraigned on charges of robbery, assault and impaired driving after police say an ambulance was hijacked by a patient.

Around 1 a.m. Friday, RCMP said a man was being taken to Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville when he had an altercation with one of the paramedics.

Const. Natasha Dantiste said the man managed to get to the front of the ambulance where he took control of the vehicle.

Dantiste said the suspect turned the ambulance around, with the two paramedics still inside, and was driving westbound when a second ambulance which was in the area showed up.

The suspect was eventually stopped in Melvern Square, outside of Kingston, N.S., where he was restrained by paramedics.

RCMP were at the scene and arrested the man. He was taken to hospital to be assessed and held in custody for the rest of the night.

The second ambulance is where it really hits the next level.

Glad everyone is safe though, and hopefully the man gets the help he needs. And on a more serious note, hopefully he’s kept at the hospital an adequate amount of time and not placed in custody while he’s still at risk.

Seriously, though, an ambulance chased down the ambulance?

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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. If you have a good argument in favour of body cameras send it to the Board of Police Commissioners. Unfortunately Councillor Mason failed to perform his statutory responsibility on Monday. As a member of the Board he chose to spend the day at a public discussion regarding housing. I assume he agrees with Chief Blais on the subject of body cameras. Too soon for comments on the alleged murder trial.

      1. Even if there is, it’s a murder trial. Someone is being tried for murder. There is nothing alleged about the trial.

      2. The crown is attempting to prove there was a murder. The man is alleged to have committed a murder. The other charge is ‘interfering with a dead body’