KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The arraignment of Stephanie Rogers, the woman facing charges of criminal harassment, uttering threats and criminal disturbance, was heard in front of a full courtroom this morning at the Halifax Provincial Court.
The charges Rogers face are based on incidents that occurred on Oct. 25, 2018. On that day, Rogers verbally harassed and threatened Dalhousie Law professor Isaac Saney, who had his infant daughter in a stroller with him, once they boarded the bus. The nature of the harassment was clearly racist, Rogers is white and Saney is Black.
Judge Michael Sherar granted Rogers more time to prepare her plea, and the hearing was postponed to Feb. 6, 2018.
It was clear that most people in the courtroom were there to witness Rogers’ arraignment only, as once she swiftly exited the courtroom, a flood of people followed her out. Reportedly Rogers gave another journalist present during the arraignment the finger when he asked her to comment.
According to a press release by the recently formed group Racist-free Transit in Halifax, Rogers and an unidentified male repeatedly directed racist comments at Saney, as well as “demanded that several people of colour wheeling baby strollers make way for them, as white people.”
Saney tried responding to the couple, saying that he did not find that kind of behaviour acceptable; which only made matters worse. When the racist harassment intensified, the bus driver kicked the couple off of the bus and reported the incident to Halifax Transit.
When Saney and his daughter, Ashah, exited the bus at Scotia Square, the couple were there waiting for them, continuing their threats and harassment from across the street. They only stopped when police Saney and a bystander had called arrived on the scene.
According to the press release, Saney is “dismayed at the failure of the Crown to include in the charges aspects of what are sometimes called a ‘hate crime.’”
In the Criminal Code, section 319 defines hate propaganda in two ways:
- “by communicating statements in any public place, (which) incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace;” and
- “by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, (which) wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group.”
If one is found guilty of hate propaganda, one becomes “liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years,” or the charges are seen as “an offence punishable on summary conviction.”
Since the harassment Saney faced was explicitly racially motivated, in a public space with several witnesses, many are left wondering why Rogers’ charges did not include aspects that are consistent with inciting hateful propaganda, also known as committing a hate crime.
Raymond Sheppard, a member of the public who came to the courthouse to see Rogers’ arraignment, is one of those people who are left wondering.
Sheppard says he is happy that Rogers was charged in the first place, as in many cases like this in Nova Scotia, perpetrators like Rogers are not even charged.
However, Sheppard agrees with Saney that due to Rogers’ racially motivated harassment, the Crown should have included aspects of hate crime in the charges facing Rogers. He believes that the failure to do so is indicative of a larger problem, namely, systemic racism that has become normalized in Nova Scotia.
Sheppard points to the staple gun attack by a white fellow employee on Black Pictou County resident Nhlanhla Dlamini after being subjected to racist comments to suggest that prosecution’s reluctance to call the attack on Saney a hate crime is not an isolated case.
“The government is not doing enough to fight hate, intolerance, anti-Black racism and injustice,” Sheppard says. “As long as they are getting paid big taxpayer money, they fail miserably to do anything to curb hate or deter hate.”
“As a society, how are we to discourage racist violence if we cannot name it, shame it and blame it?” Saney is quoted as asking in the press release. “Canadian justice officials need to be much more aggressive in how they tackle these issues,” he says.
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