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Walking while Black: Man accuses Halifax Harbour Bridges of racial profiling

MacDonald Bridge. Photo Simon de Vet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Ross Gray, a Black Halifax man has no doubt in his mind that racial profiling was a factor when late last week security personnel falsely and condescendingly accused him of illegally riding his bike on the pedestrian lane of the Angus L MacDonald Bridge connecting Halifax and Dartmouth. 

The father of three is upset and isn’t satisfied with the explanation or the apologies offered by Halifax Harbour Bridges (HHB), a commission of the provincial government.

The MacDonald Bridge has a lane for pedestrians on one side, and a lane for cyclists on the other. It all started when Gray approached the Dartmouth side of the MacDonald bridge, walking on the pedestrian side with his bike in hand. Gray chose not to ride his bike in the bicycle lane because that meant he would have to cross the busy intersection at the terminal later.

“This security person told me that I wasn’t supposed to ride my bike in the walking lane, and I told her that wasn’t me, I walked my bike from start to finish, and then I just kept walking,” Gray says.     

“Next I heard someone running up to me saying ‘excuse me sir’, I looked around and there was the female agent again. She began by telling me that ‘we have you on camera driving your bike’. I said, show me where on the camera you have me driving my bike because I was walking my bike all the way,” he says.

The woman, accompanied by a male colleague, repeated the accusation, again implying that Gray was lying, again without offering any proof. 

As Gray kept walking the woman said ‘Don’t you turn your back on me!’  Gray asked her where she had the right to stop him, but she didn’t reply. “At this point I was angry and also felt threatened,” Gray says.

Then Gray heard someone come over an intercom on the bridge office building say that there’s a cyclist riding his bike on the walking lane. That’s when she said ‘oh it must not have been you’, and she said, ‘I apologize’, Gray says.

The incident left Gray badly shaken, and after a sleepless night he emailed HHB early the next morning asking for an explanation. 

“HHB in its mission statement talks about respect and accountability, but there was no respect for me, and no accountability either when they ignored my questions about the supposed evidence,” says Gray.

HHB took its time responding to Gray’s complaint, but Gray did receive and shared a response he received today from HHB communications manager Alison MacDonald.

HHB wishes to acknowledge and apologize for the confrontation that occurred on Saturday, July 17 at 11:25am between yourself and agents of Halifax Harbour Bridges.  An internal investigation was conducted in the following days and it is clear you did indeed walk your bicycle across the Macdonald Bridge.

The accusations made at that time were incorrect and unjustified, and for that we are truly sorry. The circumstances that contributed to the situation were human error and the appropriate counselling and administrative action has been taken regarding those involved. In addition HHB is developing a Standard Operating Procedure to eliminate this type of situation from reoccurring.

Again, please accept our deepest apologies for any trouble this has caused you.

This is not good enough, Gray tells the Nova Scotia Advocate. He is determined to pursue the issue further.

“It’s always the same story. We’re going to put a policy together, and there will be counselling and all this garbage. And that’s what happens every time,” Gray says, mentioning the recent case of racial profiling when a Black police officer and Liberal candidate were pulled over at gunpoint by RCMP. 

“Too much of this is going on, and nobody ever does anything. They all just talk. Until the next time that it happens, and then it happens again, and then it happens over there. It just keeps going,” Gray says. “This apology is worthless, as far as I’m concerned, because nobody is held accountable, ever.”

Accusations like Gray’s tend to make white people uncomfortable, and many will want to deflect away from the allegations of racism, arguing that what happened has nothing to do with race. I ask Gray what he has to say about that kind of reaction.

“What I say to these people is that you would understand if you were able to walk in a Black person’s shoes and witness the discriminatory stuff that goes on with them. If you ‘re not in their shoes, you shouldn’t be so quick to question what they tell you.”

HHB was unwilling to respond to our follow up questions. “We believe this to be a matter between Mr. Gray and HHB,” Alison MacDonald replied to the Nova Scotia Advocate.

This is not the first time we hear complaints about intimidating behaviour by HHB security staff. Send me a note (rdevet@nsadvocate.org) if something similar happened to you.

See also: Racist police not just an urban phenomenon, Lucasville community meeting tells Dr. Wortley

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