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Wayne Desmond: Justice rather than just-us in the Nhlanla Dlamini case

Nhlanhla Dlamini speaks at a rally on his behalf in Halifax while his father looks on. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK )Halifax) – What is our vision as a Black Community?

To live within a society that appreciates, values and honors the past, present and future contributions of people of African ancestry. To live in a society that does not see us as different and inferior.

Almost three years ago, in September of 2018, Nhlanhla Dlamini, a young man of African ancestry was shot in the back with a high velocity nail gun by Shawn Wade Hynes, while both were employed by PQ Properties Ltd.  

Nhlanhla and his family and friends believe that the attack was racially motivated, as it occurred after weeks of frequent race-based harassment on the work site by Hynes. 

Nhlanhla suffered from a collapsed lung that required immediate surgery and 4 days in hospital. Nhlanhla will never regain full function of the injured lung.

Hynes was initially charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and a second charge of assault with a weapon was added later. On September 26, 2019, a guilty verdict was rendered on both counts.

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

Sentencing was to be delivered on November 15th, 2019 but was delayed so Judge Atwood could study the decisions in another case where community members submitted victim impact statements. Sentencing was rescheduled for February of 2020 and was delayed again until March of 2020. 

One and a half years have passed since the defendant was found guilty, and sentencing has been postponed several times. Meanwhile, the defendant’s life has not changed in any regard. He remains employed with PQ Properties Ltd. and is able to continue his life as a “not guilty” individual. 

As a community, we are upset and discouraged, but not defeated by the justice system. When justice is continuously delayed, it presents as injustice, especially when it affects a vulnerable community that has been let down time and time again by the justice system. 

It makes us think back to 2012, when Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, was killed in Florida by Hispanic American George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted on the claim of self-defense. This is what we mean when we talk about just-us rather than justice.

When will Black and Brown bodies be valued in the eyes of the justice system? Must we continue to fight for rights that as Canadian citizens we are entitled to? Would it have made a difference if the roles were reversed, where Nhlanhla was the defendant and Hynes the plaintiff. Would justice be served then?  

Growing up in a Black body, being a member of a marginalized community and looking at the mechanics of the case through a critical race lens, these are the questions that constantly circulate through my mind. 

Recently Hynes’ lawyer spoke about the defendant’s moral character, saying that the defendant is known to be a good person. “He lives a pro-social, quiet life”. As well, “he is held in high regard by his employer, friends and family”, his lawyer told the CBC earlier this month. 

This begs the question, does breaking the law, infringing on other people’s right to life and security align with living a “pro-social” life? It’s fairly clear that it does not. 

To explore this a bit further, we must consider two things. The first is that we can only judge people by how they personally treat us, and second, that good people at times do bad things. The defendant may be viewed as a good person by certain individuals within his circle, but we cannot forget the fact that he committed a crime that resulted in life threatening conditions to the plaintiff. 

Hynes’ lawyer also argued that if the defendant is incarcerated, it will violate his rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, since the Safe Streets and Communities Act is a violation of that section, as it imposes mandatory minimum sentences. 

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom is a bill of rights which is entrenched in Canadian constitution. The rights and freedoms it defines are believed to be necessary in a free and democratic society. This is the supreme law of Canada, that applies to government action, whether it be at the federal, provincial or municipal level. Section 7 states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. 

It is up to the judiciary to determine if a limit to a Charter right or freedom is reasonable and justified.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with mandatory minimum sentences, especially when they are associated with criminal offences that are dangerous and have been executed with intent. Offences like criminal negligence causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon should not be taken lightly and should not be punishable with a mere conditional sentence. 

We cannot allow for Charter rights to be violated, but we must ensure that justice is served. A punishment must always fit the crime and be given within a timely manner. 

I am hopeful that the justice system will respect the victim(s) and consider all factors of the case upon sentencing. The justice system was created to protect members of society, and we look to the judiciary to correct the public wrongs as they happen. 

Let’s not allow history to repeat itself, let’s have justice, rather than just-us. 

See also: Seeking justice for Nhlanhla Dlamini

Note: On March 16, 2021 QP properties informed the Nova Scotia Advocate that it no longer employs Wayne Hynes.

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you Wayne for sharing your powerful voice and critical insights into these important issues. Your wisdom and critical analysis is not only on point but it is necessary to hear from all of the perspectives you bring as a Brilliant man living in a Black body engaging in academy scholarship on the road to becoming a lawyer. Keep sharing your personal and lived experiences while interrogating and critiquing these issues! Bravo! Excellent read! You too are the hope and the dream!

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  2. Yes beautiful written with heart, Wayne you have a way with words ( God’s gift I’m sure) keep speaking for our people ,you are heard and one day will see the seeds you plant grow,,,yes everything comes full circle and back again but with you it stops here 💣

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