1. Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack,  lotsa thief in the Maple Leaf…


The Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo opens next week. This is interesting to me in light of the recent stories about removing the Confederate flag from Nova Scotia. I went with my mother to the Tattoo once.  She grew up in colonial Trinidad, and so when the bands started playing songs like “Rule Britannia,” she knew every single one from years of being forced to march around on Empire day.

My Grandfather was threatened with sedition and imprisonment  for singing a calypso called “Class Legislation” which featured the lyrics:

Class legislation is the order of the land
We are ruled by an iron hand
Britain boasts of democracy
Brotherly love and fraternity
But British colonies have been ruled in perpetual misery
Sans humanite.

In my mother’s lifetime, this Queen ruled over the colonies, and bragged that “the sun never set” on the Empire. Yet the Union Jack continues to be proudly flown at events like the Tattoo despite the countless worldwide genocides committed in the name of the British Empire. Someone once said you could spin a globe and put down a finger and it would be hard not to hit a place where the British had not committed genocide or massacred people, including the oceans. I’m not suggesting we ban the Union Jack in particular, I’m saying it’s very easy for Canadians to point at America and American symbols and agree that “they” have a history of racism, while ignoring the symbols of colonialism, enslavement, racism, and violence that we continue to celebrate in our own society. 


We will agree that it’s outrageous the Confederate flag is flown over the Capitol in South Carolina, but have no problem with the statue of Winston Churchill on Spring Garden road, who said he was “strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes.” Johann Hari writes:

…Of course, it’s easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn’t everybody think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye’s research is that they really didn’t: even at the time, Churchill was seen as at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was warned by Cabinet colleagues not to appoint him because his views were so antedeluvian. Even his startled doctor, Lord Moran, said of other races: “Winston thinks only of the colour of their skin.”

Many of his colleagues thought Churchill was driven by a deep loathing of democracy for anyone other than the British and a tiny clique of supposedly superior races. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Mahatma Gandhi launched his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” As the resistance swelled, he announced: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” This hatred killed. To give just one, major, example, in 1943 a famine broke out in Bengal, caused — as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proved — by the imperial policies of the British. Up to three million people starved to death while British officials begged Churchill to direct food supplies to the region. He bluntly refused. He raged that it was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits.” At other times, he said the plague was “merrily” culling the population.

Skeletal, half-dead people were streaming into the cities and dying on the streets, but Churchill — to the astonishment of his staff — had only jeers for them. This rather undermines the claims that Churchill’s imperialism was motivated only by an altruistic desire to elevate the putatively lower races.

And how can it be that most people have no idea Churchill held these views, so that he can appear as a hero in films like The King’s Speech, as if the histories and suffering of Black and brown people around the world never happened.

Is the statue of Edward Cornwallis somehow less offensive than the Confederate flag? Why is it okay for us to honour the names of those who committed genocide against our Indigenous peoples in Canada — at the same time as we claim to be taking Truth and Reconciliation seriously — in the name of “not revising the past?”

Would those same people who argue we need to preserve the statues of people like Cornwallis argue that Germany can’t remember and honour Holocaust victims without displaying the swastika? In fact, it’s illegal to display the swastika in Germany because it is such an inflammatory symbol, yet the symbols of African and Indigenous holocausts remain part of our every day life.

Why can we see that passing laws from a building flying the flag of the slave states is wrong, but it’s all right to have the portrait of the Queen in our courts even as we preside over the trials of Indigenous people who due to the effects of colonization by those same rulers of Empire are disproportionately convicted sentenced, and suffer from addictions, poverty, mental illness, the legacy of residential schools, cultural genocide, etc. that lead to higher criminalization?

Why can we have a debate about the legacy of slavery in the United States but refuse to acknowledge the history of slavery in Canada and Nova Scotia? In fact, why is it that when a Mi’kmaq woman writes about the history of genocide represented by Canada Day and the Canadian flag, she is attacked in the comments and accused of “living in the past” and “being a victim,” yet everyone is so shocked that the Confederate flag still flies?

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It’s fine to have a conversation and have news about whether stores in Nova Scotia do or should sell the Confederate flag. I’ve seen trucks (it’s always trucks) with Confederate flag stickers, and I hear that at various Country music festivals you see people with Confederate symbols. There’s a conversation to be had about why the Confederate flag is seen to symbolize rural pride and the connection between white poverty and white supremacy. Ta-Nehisi Coates in his article on the meaning of the Confederate flag in The Atlantic quotes Jefferson Davis:

You too know, that among us, white men have an equality resulting from a presence of a lower caste, which cannot exist where white men fill the position here occupied by the servile race. The mechanic who comes among us, employing the less intellectual labor of the African, takes the position which only a master-workman occupies where all the mechanics are white, and therefore it is that our mechanics hold their position of absolute equality among us.

In other words, you may be poor, but at least you can be better than a n—-r.  And certainly, the history of the KKK in Nova Scotia remains buried, as Tim Bousquet observed:

In terms of prohibition, [Clifford] Rose’s diary is an interesting, perhaps even quaint, historical document. But its lasting value may be how it captures truly horrible social relations of the day. Rose repeatedly uses a racial epithet to refer to black people, and casually mentions that there was a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan at the Church at Gairloch in Pictou County. The meeting isn’t mentioned in the history of the church.

Googling around last night, I could find nothing on the internet about the Ku Klux Klan in Nova Scotia in the 1920s. Maybe there’s some scholarly work on the subject I’m unaware of, but it needs to be more widely discussed. After all, 20 years later, Viola Desmond made her historic stand against segregation in a New Glasgow theatre, not far from the church, and of course modern Nova Scotian racists continue to use such KKK conventions as cross burnings.

But it’s funny that the media rushes to do stories on the Confederate flag in Nova Scotia because a shooting happened in America, but racism and racist violence and racist histories right here in this province are silenced, hidden, shouted down when raised, and ignored. It’s easy to support removing the Confederate flag “down there,” but I bet nobody wants to talk about what Lord Dalhousie and his descendents did first in Ireland to the tenant farmers, and then in India. Who wants to reckon with all those names on all those buildings of all those people complicit in genocides, famines, massacres, relocations, theft of land and resources, etc. If we’re going to talk about how awful it is to fly the Confederate flag, we need to come to terms with our own histories of genocide and slavery and exclusion and marginalization and racism and think about how many symbols in our own province and city continue to uphold European settler histories and characterize all who find this problematic as victims, whiners or historical revisionists who need to “get over it.”

I’m not saying the Tattoo should be cancelled or nobody can wear a Union Jack T-shirt or anything that will make people think I just don’t want them to have any fun or just want people to “feel guilty.” I’m saying we can have the Tattoo and also stop whitewashing the atrocities of the British Empire. We can BBQ and have fireworks and not also silence those who speak about the Indigenous genocide. We can acknowledge Mi’kmaq women and children victimized by Cornwallis’ scalping proclamation and Halifax won’t fall into the ocean. We can acknowledge that a symbol can mean one thing to one group of people, and something else to others, and that isn’t about guilt or whining, but perspective and experience. We shouldn’t be afraid of history, of thinking and rethinking its complexities, and refusing to believe in a static history with only room for one people’s stories or one way of remembering or honouring the past.

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2. William Hall answered the call…


Speaking of coming to terms with colonial histories, the new naval ship will be named after William Hall, the first Black man and first Nova Scotian to receive the Victoria Cross.

On the one hand , I understand why this is a significant moment when we fight to have our histories heard and recognized. Given that Black veterans today are suffering from PTSD due to their experiences with racism, acknowledging Hall is important. In 2013, the Canadian Forces admitted that their targets to recruit visible minorities and women were unattainable. Marginalized groups have historically sought to prove their worth by fighting for the countries that denied them humanity and citizenship. The promise of education, respectability, and inclusion have drawn Black and Indigenous soldiers to serve their country even as they were and are victimized by their governments.

William Hall’s parents were enslaved — that he would grow up to be recognized as a hero by the same Empire that only abolished slavery in 1807 speaks not just to the presence and histories of Black people in Canada, but to the fact that denied everything, Black people managed the greatest feats. William Hall’s recognition went beyond the individual — at a time when Haliburton described Black people as “improvident and indolent,” Hall’s acts provided a strong counter-argument. It seems his actions were largely forgotten in his own lifetime, until he showed up marching in a parade wearing his medal. Hall is important to African Nova Scotians because he shows that we did more than survive.  In impossible conditions, given nothing, we showed world-class bravery.

However, Hall also won his Cross at the Siege of Lucknow, during what used to be called the “Indian Mutiny” and is now known as the “Indian Rebellion.” Indian troops rose against the British officers. So essentially here we have the liberated descendent of enslaved Africans being rewarded by the British Empire for his role in suppressing the uprising of Indian people against the colonizers.

To acknowledge this doesn’t lessen the bravery or meaning of Hall’s acts, but we shouldn’t celebrate them uncritically without thinking about how the British frequently used “divide and rule” tactics to pit their subjects against each other, and how in seeking citizenship on the terms of the oppressor the oppressed ended up participating in oppression against each other — another example is the Buffalo soldiers who were also collaborating in the genocide of Indigenous people.

It is important to understand both Hall’s bravery, and the fact that he was fighting in a colonial war against a people rising up for independence. Understanding this doesn’t diminish him, it helps us see clearly exactly what the terms for survival were, and how our ancestors negotiated them.  It reminds us of what liberation means, and how fighting for it whether by joining the British military forces as so many of our ancestors did to bargain their way out of slavery, or by fighting for it by rising against those same forces of colonization, were choices they made at the cost of their lives.  It should give us perspective on the role of the Canadian military today and the impact of our interventions.  In fact, without understanding the terms on which Black people were forced to assert our humanity, we learn little about the contradictions of Black life in the Canadian state today.

That we continue to seek out validation, respect, and humanity on the terms of the state, and that we are embarrassed when so often those who work for the state fail the cause of our greater liberation, speaks to our ongoing struggle with reconciling our experiences of oppression with our desire to be accepted and respected.

Understanding our history fully, in all its challenges, is not about raining on anyone’s parade, but about giving us the knowledge to understand the conditions of our communities and how to move forward.

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3. Needs Moar Moose!

It’s really just the picture accompanying this article on beautifying downtown that cracks me up. Like we just need more giant fake moose heads (and fewer visible rat-filled hell mouths) and then we’ll be competing with Banff.

The real moose are getting it on.  Someone in Nova Scotia should.

4. Police say the death’s not suspicious for Clayton Cromwell, just another inmate found dead in his cell…

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I’m trying to put these two stories together.Nova Scotia judges rule that Burnside jail violated Kesha Melissa Casey’s rights in denying her psychiatric medication. At the same time, the province is defending the jail staff’s management of methadone after the lawsuit filed by Clayton Cromwell’s mother.

I don’t even like writing about Burnside news. It just makes me so sad. Every word of Elizabeth Cromwell’s lawsuit is what I have heard from inmates at Burnside over and over again. If anything, the conditions are worse than what is contained in the lawsuit. I just don’t know what would be tragic enough, violent enough, inhumane enough, for people to realize that inmates are human and that the conditions they are living in are far beyond crisis point. Even death doesn’t seem to be enough.


1. The Proletariat Chariot…

Every ten minutes for the 1?  C’mon son!
Rush hour on Bayer’s, better say your prayers.
Try to take the 9, but it never runs on time.
I wait at Scotia Square, the buses are never there.
I can take the 10, but nothing comes back down Gottingen.
Try to make a connection, might as well wait on the resurrection.
Get on the 61, takes all day to North Preston.
Don’t really have the opportunity, still no stops in Black communities
You can take the 17 okay, just not weekends, nights, or holidays.
You can get downtown all right, you just can’t get back at night
And now they shut the Macdonald down, gotta travel across the town
They say Transit’s the way to go — when the stops aren’t blocked with ice and snow
And you can bring your child, if they can walk at least a mile
Buses running only twice an hour, standing there in blizzards and rain showers
Still don’t have a working app, and the scheduling is crap
No coverage of rural routes, hurts elderly, disabled and the youths
Nevermind trying to get out of the city
Why is Metro Transit so shitty?

The comments on this article about declining bus ridership are hilarious, just like I knew they would be.

Sickofthis writes:

Yes OF COURSE It’s slipping. You’re probably getting down to the vicinity of ‘Peeps who can’t afford a car’.

Now mind you, with the level of poverty in this city (because there are no jobs and everything costs an outrageous fortune for the wages we get), that should be enough to keep the wheels rolling for a while I would think!

Nobody who has the option to take their car and has a few bucks in their pocket is going to choose the bus. It just doesn’t make any practical sense…ESPECIALLY people who have to be home at a certain time to tend to their children. And let’s face it…there are a lot of working parents with children.

Because….it takes FOR EVER to get from point A to point B unless you happen to live ON a rush-hour or speedy bus route. I know transit management just doesn’t get that…but regardless, people don’t have an hour or sometimes 2 to just toss into the abyss in the run of a day.

Sparrowhawk1 goes in on strollers:

“Maybe if the buses ran on time, if you didn’t have run a gauntlet of strollers, which are blocking the aisles, and the drivers were courteous, ridership would improve! Where I live, if the bus is only 10 minutes late — its a bonus. The drivers don’t insist that seats be put up and strollers be moved out of the aisles — some day someone’s going to be hurt and sue the city — and perhaps hurt someone’s kid. Some drivers are just plain nasty — not all — there are some drivers that almost make it a pleasure to ride with them! Don’t you think it would be a good idea to run a bus to Pier 21 in tourist season? Who was the Einstein who cancelled that route??? How about running buses later in the evening — and all routes at least every 1/2 hour on weekends? Most cities promote ridership — Halifax just complains about it!

“Oh god the stroller thing, hear hear,” concurs JJ.

In case you didn’t think hating on babies was cold enough, hav2b ups the ante with:

Of course the ‘buddy ambassador’ program is going to reduce costs tremendously, volunteers don’t cost anything. The trouble would be in finding volunteers willing to spend the day tagging around with wheelchair-bound disabled people.

Damn, Halifax.

2. Jannasch 1, Harper 0.

Emanuel Jannasch elegantly fucks Stephen Harper’s shit right up:

An anti-fascist monument

The proposed Mother Canada statue is reaching out to her many sisters, the maternally-themed mega-statues of communist Europe.

The largest of these, roughly translated, include Mother of the Motherland, now in Ukraine (1981), Mother Armenia (1950), and Mother Albania (1971). The biggest sister, and the most poignant, is The Motherland Calls (1967), in Volgograd.

Critics may argue that the general idea is a little dated, and conservatives in particular may not like the association with falling regimes. But we should remember that the European sisters are memorials to the sacrifices made by communist soldiers and civilians in defeating the right-wing dictatorships of the Axis during the Second World War.

In this light, Mother Canada becomes a monument to the Victims of the right, a cosmopolitan counterpoint to the simpler-minded victims of communism memorial in Ottawa.

Emanuel Jannasch, Dalhousie School of Architecture


In my anti-Empire googling I found this article by Benjamin Zephaniah again. So worth reading.

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. Thanks, El. And for your part in the really good feature on Atlantic Voice this morning.

    Not either/or, but both/and.

  2. It’s interesting that El Jones catalogues the outrages of Nova Scotia’s past with no mention of the Acadian deportation, which had the effect of genocide. I know El was focusing his thoughts elsewhere, but the deportation is the first act in an ongoing play and begins the pattern.

    This particular event is memorialized on the Halifax waterfront in the form of a historic marker called “The Grand Derangement”. It says, in part, “Nearly 10,000 men, women, and children were piled into ships and deported to Anglo-American colonies, to England and to France. Others escaped the deportation, seeking refuge in French territory and forming a resistance. Over the next ten years, almost half of the Acadian nation was lost at sea or died from disease and famine. By 1765, a mere 1,600 survivors remained in Nova Scotia, their fertile land now occupied by settles from other areas.”

    I think “Grand Derangement” is a term accepted even by descendants of Acadians. Great Upheaval. Sounds a bit vague. When I was growing up it was “the Acadian expulsion”, which at least implies that there was an expeller and an expellee. It’s sort of not my business, but Grand Derangement sounds more like a medical problem than the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. The definition of Genocide.

    In the US, northerners laugh that the Civil War is called “The War of Northern Aggression” in the south. But this deliberate renaming of things has the very real effect of changing the subject. The Civil War was about slavery, not state’s rights. The Acadian expulsion, the Residential Schools, Africville, and Cornwallis’ scalp proclamation are all manifestations of genocide, ethnic cleansing or whatever term you care to use for the convenient disappearance of people you don’t like.

    “Grand Derangement” flunks the truth part of truth and reconciliation, and leave me to wonder how we get to learn from our mistakes.

  3. RE: Bus ridership

    The prevailing views on bus ridership and the importance of transit in a city, that likes to consider itself civilized (among the views held on many many other things, some of which you touched on in this article…) shows what a backwards backwoods shit hole this city really is. This city, this province, seems forever doomed to lowest common denominator thinking on virtually every subject.

  4. I chose where to live based on the bus service….I currently live by a bus route that goes right to my workplace in all of 12 minutes…almost the time it takes to drive it. I wanted to be responsible….and I do take the bus instead of driving, particularly in poor weather.

    Someone at Metro Transit obviously found out about this overly efficient use of their bus route, because the newly revised/proposed bus routes means it will take me about 40 minutes to get to work by bus. Of course. That means I’ll probably drive all of the time….as will everyone else in my neighbourhood that uses that route to get anywhere. Good plan….that’ll help the ol’ ridership numbers.

    1. Same here – I choose where to live based on transit, and that’s how it’s done in any city worth it’s weight.
      People in New York City don’t drive (more than 50% of them don’t own a car) and it’s not because they can’t afford to, it’s because it’s impractical, the city’s transit offerings are superior to sitting around in traffic and finding (and paying!) for parking.
      Thoughtful citizens here try their best to be green, to prioritize their life and lifestyle based on what is important to them. To put up with the surly ex-cons driving busses for this city, the indignity of beinmg called out on their lower class status evident by their choice of locomotion, and this city, this province, does nothing to ensure a level of service, does its best to obfuscate those thoughtful citizens at every turn.
      Metro Transit has no citizen involvement in it’s board, no straphangers campaign in this city to force their hand, there is no mechanism to make Metro Transit accountable to their customers. The province doesn’t care, Councillors don’t care (none of them take transit anyway, didn’t you know the bus is only for “the blacks” and “the poor”?).
      Instead of moving to a new part of the city this time, I’m working on getting out of this province… I’ve had it.

  5. Awesome perspective on empire. People rightly condemn the shootings in Charlotte, and want to see the Confederate flag removed, but to me this seems like nothing but a token gesture. I see very little difference between how America treats the unpeople of the world (suppressing democracy, extra judicial killings, suppressing the population through force) and how it treats its African American citizens. As you point out, we aren’t much better in Canada, if at all.

    Re: Edward Cornwallis, why do you only mention women and children whey you say “We can acknowledge Mi’kmaq women and children victimized by Cornwallis’ scalping proclamation”? What am I not getting?

  6. Love it!

    I am really glad I was born a Canadian citizen as I don’t think I could pledge allegiance to the Queen of England.

    When will we shed the relics of colonialism? Perhaps if we do learn about it’s outrageous history we will want to renounce it.

    Can anyone say Truth and Reconciliation Commission or have we forgotten about that so quickly?