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Judy Haiven: Ridicule and bullying on a Halifax street

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – It happened on a freezing cold day last week, on a Halifax street. You’ve heard of a ‘ride along’ –when a journalist rides with the police for a shift. This was a ‘walk along’.

While I waited at a bus stop, I saw first responders engage with a tired, scruffy, older man who wanted a lift to the hospital.

There was an ambulance, with three EHS staff. The two women had pony tails. There were also two cops, who had their hands in their pockets because of the cold and  wore bullet-proof vests.

They crowded around a disheveled man who wasn’t much more than 5 feet tall. He was hunched over. He wore loose pants that could have been pyjamas, a raincoat, a scarf and a hat.

I stared at the group. One paramedic asked me,” Can I help you?“ Her tone told me to mind my own business. I pointed to the sign for the bus stop. “Sorry  if we are blocking your bus stop,” she smiled.

The man shouted at the first responders, “I called you ‘cause I need a ride to the hospital.”

One paramedic said, “Well you don’t call an ambulance for that. What’s wrong with you?”

The man started swearing at her. She told him not to address her that way. He got angrier, and so did she. She insisted he address her respectfully.

One cop then told him “I could arrest you.”

The man seemed scared, “For what?” “For wasting our time and resources,” the cop replied. He pointed to the EHS van and the paramedics.

The paramedic asked the man if he had a heart problem. He said yes, he’d had a heart attack. When, she asked. A few years ago, came the answer.

“I wouldn’t have called you except I need to go to the hospital now,” he said anxiously.

The other paramedic said, “this isn’t an emergency. You don’t need an ambulance. To go to the hospital, you should have called a taxi.”

He shook his head and muttered under his breath. Then he started to walk up the street.

“I got to get to the hospital.”

We watched him shuffle away. The paramedics and the cops smirked and laughed a little.

I ran to stop the man and ask if I could help. He told me to get lost.

I turned back to the cops and the ambulance people. Again they laughed, and shrugged their shoulders while they climbed into their respective vehicles.

There are several things that bother me about the interaction with this man.

He could have been ‘crying wolf’ and had – for all I know — frequently called 911 previous to this time. That could account for the hostile attitude the first responders showed him.

Still, the first responders alternated bullying the man with threats.

Common decency and humanity seemed to be in short supply. Yes the man swore and demanded a ride to the hospital — he was not polite. But it dawned on me that he could have had mental health issues, or was very alone, or very scared. Maybe he was homeless; maybe he was drunk. The first responders’ reaction was to ridicule and threaten him with arrest.

I suppose it’s a good thing the police didn’t arrest him and leave him in a cell. As we know from the Corey Rogers case in Halifax and from this case in Airdrie, Alberta – too often police don’t bother to check on prisoners who cause no trouble. If the prisoner is quiet, it’s not usually a good sign.

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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