KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A newly formed group wants police and Halifax Transit to take verbal and physical incidents of racist violence on buses and in public spaces everywhere much more seriously.
At a press conference at the Glitter Bean coffee shop in downtown Halifax the group, Racism-free Transit in Halifax, said that such attacks on racialized people are becoming more prevalent, and that HRM institutions must give it the attention that it requires.
The group was formed after Dr. Isaac Saney, a Dalhousie University professor who specializes in Black Nova Scotian history, suffered verbal abuse and was threatened by a racist couple while he was travelling on the bus with his baby daughter.
I was extremely alarmed, worried about the safety of my young child
After Saney boarded a bus on Spring Garden Road, with his daughter in a stroller, a middle aged white woman and a younger large white male started yelling racist insults at Saney.
“They began to make all kinds of racist comments, about people being let into the country, about their manners, about priorities of people in Canada, and I told him that I did not find this acceptable,” Saney said.
“Then the woman shouted at me, you really want me to be f***ing racist? I can be f***ing racist. i was told to shut the f**k up. They pointed at me and at the baby, and said, wait til we get you guys off the bus,” said Saney.
Other people on the bus came to Saney’s defense, and once on Barrington Street the bus driver pulled the bus over and told the racist couple to get off. Then the driver called in a report of the incident to Halifax Transit.
But Saney’s ordeal wasn’t over yet.
“As I was about to get off at Scotia Square, a woman warned me that the couple were laying in wait for me. The woman got off the bus as well, because she was concerned about my security,” Saney said.
“They shouted threats at me from the other side of the street, at this point. I was extremely alarmed, worried about the safety of my young child,” said Saney.
Both the woman who had joined him, and Saney called the police. The police officer on the scene was fairly nonchalant about the entire incident, Saney says, but when Saney later on expressed his dissatisfaction with how police treated the incident, he was assigned a second and more attentive officer. At this time the Crown is considering whether to lay charges.
Saney recognized that in a sense he is privileged.
“I have a public profile, and I have contacts, and that is why I was taken seriously. Think of all the people who suffered such racist incidents and who have remained silent. If you can’t feel safe on public transit, then what kind of society are we living in,” Saney asked.
I am here to ask other white people to confront racism wherever and whenever they witness it
As we saw in the incident affecting Dr. Saney, white fellow passengers such as the woman who joined him when he got off the bus at Scotia Square, have a crucial role to play to stop racists from perpetrating their vile verbal and physical attacks.
Rosa Poirier-McKiggan related how she played that role when she spoke up in another such incident, once again on Spring Garden Road, this time in April 2017.
A white male in his forties or fifties took offence at a woman with a baby stroller of apparently South-East Asian descent, and told her. “You f***ing Phillipino, go home,” Poirier-McKiggan said.
When she interfered and told him that there was zero tolerance for harassment and racism on this bus, the man became threatening and abusive towards her and she feared for her safety.
The woman with the stroller, who was very distressed, got off the bus at the Central Library.
When Poirier-McKiggan contacted police, she was told that since there was no verbal threat of violence there was no ground for charges.
“As a white person I had for too long taken the feeling of safety on public transit for granted. I will never be made to feel unsafe on Halifax Transit because of the colour of my skin.
This is not a privilege all can enjoy. I am here to ask other white people to confront racism wherever and whenever they witness it, in Halifax Transit and in the community at large.
“Racism victimizes People of Colour, but white people must play a central role in dismantling white supremacy, white privilege and racism,” Poirier-McKiggan said.
Working for Halifax Transit while Black
Tonya Paris drove a Metro Transit bus for years. Like so many African Nova Scotian Transit employees she experienced racism from her white colleagues in the garage before and after shifts.
And during her shift she would frequently be subjected to racist slurs from passengers, at least three or four times a week, she said.
“I am putting out a plea to the drivers to make the people on your bus feel safe, I don’t expect anybody to act as a police officer and do things that make them feel unsafe, but there is a phone on the bus, you can call dispatch, and have police officers meet up with you at the next stop,” Paris said.
It’s getting worse
All participants in the press conference felt that in Halifax racist incidents and attacks are on the rise.
There has always been structural racism in Nova Scotia, Saney said, pointing to a United Nations task force report that looked at racism in Nova Scotia and did not like at all what it found.
“But increasingly license has been given, and we are waging battles that we thought we had won,” Saney said,
People now feel more comfortable saying these things,” said Paris, but racism has always been with us.
“We always came forward, but we were never heard,” she said. “I have lived in Mobile (Alabama), I have lived in Mississippi, but I have never experienced more racism than in Nova Scotia.”
What the group is asking for
Spokesperson Connor Smithers-Mapp said the group is asking that the Halifax Auditor General conduct an inquiry into the occurrence of such racist incidents, and that Halifax Transit articulate specific strategies on how to deal with racism.
As well, the group wants the police and Halifax Transit to collect statistics on racist incidents, and make those public. They also want assurances that all such incidents are thoroughly investigated.
Finally, the group wants very much to collect stories of people encountering racism on the bus and in other public spaces, whether they be white or Black, Smithers-Mapp said. “ We want to create a registry of stories.”
Contact Racism-free Transit at firstname.lastname@example.org
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