featured Racism

Judy Haiven: On blackface and hate crimes

Relief after the guilty verdict in the Shawn Wade Hynes case. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Just over a week ago, Trudeau made a whistle stop in Truro, Nova Scotia. It was a few hours before at least three photos surfaced from earlier days that showed him in brown/face, and in black/face. In two photos he dressed as Aladdin—the hero from “Arabia” who wears a turban in a Disney cartoon movie. Trudeau had dyed his face and hands, and donned a turban, for a costume gala at the private school where he once taught. Another photo shows Trudeau in black face, his neck, arms and legs also blackened, to look like African-American actor/singer Harry Belafonte. 

Truro is barely a 40 minute drive from Pictou Provincial Court. In the courtroom, the day of Trudeau’s election stop, a white middle-aged construction worker stood accused of deliberately firing a nail from a air-powered nail-gun into the back of Nhlanhla Dlamini, a young black man who worked on the same worksite. 

I wonder how the photos of the Prime Minister sat with Dlamini. The the 22-year-old African immigrant gave evidence against co-worker Shawn Wade Hynes, 44. Dlamini said that had been subject to racist language at work for the three previous weeks. He suffered threats, racial jokes and was singled out for bad treatment.  For example, Hynes addressed him as “whatever the F they call you at home.” The co-worker also threw nails at him, hammered his booted foot and stapled his jacket to a staircase. Hynes also told him every one should own a black person. 

Dlamini, the only Black person working at the site, tried to avoid Hynes. 

That is, until one day he didn’t. Evidence was that Hynes made eye contact and smiled at Dlamini. Then Hynes took an air-powered high velocity nail- gun, aimed and shot Dlamini who tried to run away. A 9-cm framing nail entered his back and collapsed his lung.  Hynes went over to him and the victim, barely able to breathe, asked him to pull the nail out. No one – including the business owner who was onsite at the time, called 911, or sought medical help. 

Later in the day, Dlamini did go to the hospital where he required an emergency operation and a hospital stay. The injury left him with 3% less lung function. Hynes was eventually charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon. Hynes and PQ Properties Ltd owner Paul Quinn, claimed it was an accident, and purely unintentional. 

At the trial, the crown never raised the issue of race because the prosecutor believed there was no “proof.” This despite the three weeks of taunting, racial slurs and harassment of a Black man by more than one white co-worker which lead up to the attack; this despite the fact Paul Quinn did not bother to report the injury to the Dept of Labour as he is required to do—nor did he dial 911. 

This week, Judge Del Atwood convicted Hynes of criminal negligence and assault with a weapon. The judge criticized himself for not issuing a bench warrant for Hynes’ arrest when he did not show up in court earlier this year.  Judge Atwood said, “I could have done more…. but I failed to do so.”  

See also: Assailant of Nhlanhla Dlamini found guilty of criminal negligence and assault with a weapon 

Dlamini’s supporters say that Hynes should have been charged with hate crimes. As community activist and writer Angee Bowden said at a rally, “This is going to be precedent-setting in this province as to how we deal with hate crimes. The message we’re sending individuals who are comfortable in engaging in this behaviour, is that we really don’t care about Black lives.”

In Nova Scotia there are two precedents for the charge of hate crimes. In 2011, two brothers, Justin and Nathan Rehberg were convicted of inciting racial hatred and criminal harassment.  They had burned a 2 metre tall wooden cross in the front yard of a bi-racial couple in Poplar Grove. As the cross burned, one yelled, “Die, n….r, die.” 

Trudeau’s indiscretions took place 18 years ago.  Some claim his dressing up in brown face or black face is just a costume, and not racist. Despite setting a tone – that dressing up was fun and frivolous, there is a hard-edge too. It goes to the heart of injustice and racism. 

I wonder what Dlamini thinks of Trudeau’s “pranks”.   

Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, an organization that fights discrimination, bullying and racism in the workplace.  Contact her at equitywatchns@gmail.com

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One Comment

  1. Thank you Judy for covering this story and please keep up the good work. I think this matter should be reported and a complaint made with the NS Human Rights Commission. The Foreman & Business Owner need to be made accountable for their terrible behavior and failure to call the police to report the incident and take the man to the nearest hospital just in case. Common sense indicated that the wound could have become infected at the very least. – Cynthia Marshall

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