KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – City bureaucrats have no idea how many Halifax Transit users are subjected to racist attacks, or whether these incidents are on the increase. The city doesn’t track those statistics.
People who call 311 to report a racist incident may well end up dealing with an argumentative operator who raises doubts about the veracity of the caller.
These are just two things that came to light during a panel discussion on the increase of racist attacks on Halifax Transit users.
The panel, held last Monday at the Central Library, featured members of the group Racism-free Transit in Halifax.
The group was formed after Dr. Isaac Saney, a Black Dalhousie University professor, suffered verbal abuse and was threatened by a racist couple while he was travelling on the bus with his four-months old baby daughter.
Saney’s case is now before the courts. Stephanie Rogers faces charges of criminal harassment, uttering threats and criminal disturbance. Dr Saney and Racism-free Halifax Transit want the charges to include aspects of what are sometimes called a ‘hate crime’.
Incidents are on the rise
“Immigrants and racialized groups use Halifax Transit more than most. It’s a strategic public space and an essential service that many people have to take simply to get from point A to point B, be it for a healthcare appointment or for their jobs,” said Saney at the panel.
Racist incidents at bus stops and on the bus are on the rise, Saney said. “It’s a sign of the times.People feel that they have been given license to engage in this vile racist behaviour.”
The group met with representatives of Halifax Transit and the city, reported Connor Smithers-Mapp, a lawyer and member of Racism-free Transit in Halifax.
There are a lot of gaps that needs to be addressed, not just at Transit but at other city departments as well, he said.
“We noticed very quickly that there was very little explicit policy around incidents of racism and hate, or harassment, bullying and sexism,” said Smithers-Mapp. “That’s a gap, that’s a deficit.”
“There is also no specific protocol that Halifax Transit can deploy when a racist or sexist incident happens. Drivers are left to their own devices, and as in Isaac’s case, that may be okay, but not every driver will act with that kind of concern. That’s another gap,” he said.
311 staff will argue when people try to report an incident
“Also, the only vehicle to report an incident is by calling 311. When people call, often the person on the line will argue with the caller, suggesting that they are mistaken, that they must have misinterpreted the incident,” said Smithers-Mapp.
“Not only that, people aren’t getting responses to their complaints. We don’t think 311 is the best vehicle, but if that’s the way, than call centre staff ought to be trained on how to deal with these incidents,” he said.
Not keeping stats suggests that the City doesn’t really care that citizens who use public spaces are being subjected to sexism, racism and bullying, said Smithers-Mapp.
Recognizing that the issues cross departmental boundaries, the group wants the city’s Auditor General to look into the matter.
The city’s Auditor General has both the necessary independence, as well as the broad mandate that would allow her to tackle the issues and make recommendations.
“It is a very willy nilly, fly bet the seats of your pants approach by the city”
But it may be difficult to get the city to take the issue seriously, Smithers-Mapp suggests.
“Anything that a government does that is deems important, they will take a project management approach to. They’ll benchmark, talk to stakeholders and academics, do metrics, plan, and so on,” said Smithers-Mapp.
“Yet for some reason, when it comes to issues like racism, sexism, and harassment, it is a very willy nilly, fly bet the seats of your pants approach by the city.
“To me that is a tell, as poker players say. It tells me that all your rhetoric and strategic words about commitments are just a bunch of bs, it doesn’t mean anything,” he said.
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