KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – An ugly racist incident on a Halifax Transit bus that happened well over a year ago finally reached a conclusion of sorts, today at the courthouse on Spring Garden Road in Halifax.
On October 25, 2018, 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.
This is what happened.
When Saney boarded a bus on Spring Garden Road, with his daughter in a stroller, a middle aged white woman and a younger white male started yelling racist and xenophobic insults at Saney. The bus driver eventually kicked the couple off the bus, and reported the incident.
But the ordeal wasn’t over yet. When Saney and his little daughter got off the bus at Scotia Square, the couple was waiting for them, and the shouting and threats continued.
It wasn’t until Saney, and a passenger who joined Saney and his baby daughter out of concern for their safety, both called police, that things calmed down.
Today the woman, who faced charges of criminal harassment, uttering threats and criminal disturbance, was sentenced to a 60 days conditional sentence, 30 days of house arrest, 18 months probation, and 50 hours of community service. Anger management counselling was also included in the sentence.
In his decision the judge considered the tearful apology the woman made today, her lack of a criminal record, but also, as an aggravating factor, the racist nature of the verbal attacks.
The sentence conformed with the joint recommendation of the Crown and the woman’s defense lawyer. Charges against the man were dropped earlier for lack of evidence.
For Saney the ordeal was terrifying and continues to haunt him to this day.
To have seen my four-months old baby involved in this attack was shocking and frightening and has left me filled with anxiety, Saney told the Court in his victim impact statement. I am haunted by recurring dreams where my baby is attacked and I am unable to defend her.
Saney is a fully committed Transit user, but much of the enjoyment he used to feel has disappeared, he said during an impromptu press conference after the sentencing session.
“I love taking the bus, and I believe in public transit. There’s the environmental footprint, but I also love the social atmosphere of buses, and the people interacting with strangers. There is this kind of public transit community that forms. I used to look forward to taking the bus with my baby. And then all of a sudden, that sense of feeling safe has been robbed from me,” Saney said.
Throughout, Saney has emphasized that buses are public spaces, and that many people in Halifax have no choice but to take the bus or the ferry to get from point A to point B.
Racism-free Transit in Halifax was formed shortly after the incident involving Saney to make sure our buses are safe for everybody. There are strong indications that this is not the case now.
“Halifax is becoming an increasingly diverse city in the last maybe 10 years or so. A lot of international students anecdotally and in private have told me what incidents have happened to them. I think that it’s important to understand that this is an attack not just on immigrants, not just on non-white Canadians, it is an attack on all Canadians. The violation of the rights of one Canadian is a violation of the rights of all Canadians,” Saney said.
Nonetheless, what appeared to be a commitment by Halifax Transit to actively engage with the problem seems to have frittered away again.
Racism-free transit in Halifax pressed for the perpetrators to be charged with committing a hate crime. The Crown chose not to pursue that avenue, believing that proving such a case would be too difficult.
“When the bar is set so high, than I think the hate crime legislation needs to be rewritten so that we can actually use it to particularly target these kinds of excessive racist acts against people,” Saney said.
“Because hate crime is such a politicized concept in our society often the okay has to come from the Department of Justice, rather than from the prosecutor. That’s a big issue as well. All this is a question for the legislature,” Saney said.
Note: From now on it is the Nova Scotia Advocate’s policy to not identify people charged or convicted in criminal court, or publish their photos. Doing so serves no purpose whatsoever.
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