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JOHN DeMONT: Nova Scotia's damaged reputation for tolerance takes another blow

Members of the Little Brook Volunteer Fire Department train water on the charred remains of a boat that was reported to be on fire the morning of Oct. 5. The boat belongs to a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation. The RCMP is investigating the fire. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Members of the Little Brook Volunteer Fire Department spray water on the charred remains of a boat that was reported to be on fire the morning of Oct. 5, 2020. The boat belongs to a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation. The RCMP is investigating the fire. - Tina Comeau / File

Our reputation as a province where the sun shines equally on everyone has been on the skids lately.

You know what I mean: to those who read the national press, or spend time online, this is the kind of place where a Black Dartmouth man has the cops called on him when he shows up at his branch to complain about banking fees, and a squad car rolls by to investigate a Black woman parked along the side of the road taking pictures of deer.

And where, just last week, it was ruled that no excessive force was used when two white policemen concussed and broke the wrist of Santina Rao, a 23-year-old mother, during a violent arrest while shopping at a Halifax Walmart with her baby and toddler.


Santina Rao listens as her lawyer Gordon Allen announces what action they are pursuing against Halifax police, Halifax Regional Municipality and Walmart in connection with Rao's violent arrest at the Walmart store on Mumford Road in January. - Tim Krochak
Santina Rao listens as her lawyer Gordon Allen announces what action they are pursuing against Halifax police, Halifax Regional Municipality and Walmart in connection with Rao's violent arrest at the Walmart store on Mumford Road in January. - Tim Krochak

Google “racism Nova Scotia” and what comes up is the occasion in August when a pair of teens threatened an interracial couple by dangling a noose in front of them while they swam at a public beach in Chester Basin.

You might see the apology Premier Stephen McNeil issued last month for the stain of racial discrimination historically inflicted on African Nova Scotians by police and, also, for a provincial justice system plagued by institutional racism. (The apology, by the way, came 18 months after Scot Wortley's March 2019 report finding Black people in Halifax were six times more likely to be stopped than white people.)

You might read, around the same time, how Hockey Nova Scotia launched an online survey to figure out how it can better address racism and discrimination in the game, a step ordered by a task force formed last year by the sport's governing body in response to racist incidents at hockey games, including one incident involving racial slurs against a Nova Scotian teen from Waycobah First Nation in 2019.


A lamp pole across from Coburg Coffee on Coburg Road spotted with a note that read POSTER TO BE REMOVED on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. Below the note, there appeared to be a poster that blamed China for the global COVID-19 pandemic. - Tim Krochak
A lamp pole across from Coburg Coffee on Coburg Road spotted with a note that read POSTER TO BE REMOVED on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. Below the note, there appeared to be a poster that blamed China for the global COVID-19 pandemic. - Tim Krochak

Earlier this month, you might have read how a sign pointing to Viola Desmond's gravesite was covered with racial slurs on the same weekend that anti-Semitic stickers and a poster blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic appeared in Halifax.

It would not be long before you came to the worst moments in the history of racism in this province: Edward Cornwallis' scalping bounties, the way in which Black slavery carried on here until it was abolished across the British Empire in the early 1800s, the tragedies of Birchtown and Africville, the wrongful conviction of Donald Marshall Jr., along with countless other Black and Indigenous folk.

Incredibly, all of this, for the moment at least, has been overshadowed by the events occurring in southwestern Nova Scotia.

“This is not the true spirit of Nova Scotia,” a person with white skin, and a name that harkens back to England's green and pleasant land, lamented on Twitter on Monday after a weekend in which Mi'kmaq fishers were attacked, their buildings and ships destroyed, and their catches ruined.


The ruins of a lobster pound that was destroyed by fire in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., early Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. - Tim Krochak
The ruins of a lobster pound that was destroyed by fire in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., early Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. - Tim Krochak

Or is it?

Ottawa has had 21 years to respond to a court ruling that the Mi'kmaq have the legal right to fish for a moderate living.

More than two decades later, there is still no regulatory framework governing Indigenous fishers — or even defining what is meant by a moderate livelihood — even though the courts have ruled that is within the federal government's authority.

Angry non-indigenous fishers needed to take that up with Ottawa, not indulge in an escalating one-sided wave of violence under the guise of conservation, after Sipekne'katik First Nation began fishing for lobster last month.

By Monday, politicians of all stripes were calling for an emergency parliamentary debate on the dispute; one was then scheduled for Monday night. Non-indigenous fishers, finding themselves on the wrong side of history, were suddenly synonymous with the kind of intolerance associated with the deep American south.

The PR battle is so lost that even Mark Ruffalo, the Incredible Hulk of the big screen, took time out tweeting about the United States election to pledge his support on Twitter for #Mikmaqrights.



The backlash is spreading. Kourosh Rad, the owner of Halifax's Garden Food Bar awoke on the weekend to the news that a Mi'kmaq lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico had been destroyed by fire, and more violence had occurred.

He had a meeting with staff. “Everyone agreed that some action had to be taken to show solidarity,” Rad, who is originally from Iran, told me. “We had to do our little part to help end the violence.”

As of Monday, lobster was off Garden Food Bar's menu, until staff can source some shellfish caught by Indigenous fishers, which is expected to happen mid-week. Other restaurants are following suit.

As Rad says, it is a small step, but everything, even the rehabilitation of a reputation, must start somewhere.

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