'Stop playing the racism card,' Shelburne councillor tells black resident

'Stop playing the racism card,' Shelburne councillor tells black resident

A councillor in a Nova Scotia town has stoked controversy after he said it was "time to stop playing the race card" when a black resident raised concerns about environmental racism and the location of the area's landfill.

Shelburne Coun. Rick Davis made the comments in a Facebook post Saturday, but has subsequently apologized for his "ramblings."

He wrote the post a day after Louise Delisle spoke at an event in Halifax about the need for a provincial environmental bill of rights, and how black residents near the longtime Shelburne dump were afraid to speak up about negative health effects. The dump was built in the 1950s and only closed last year. 

"I think it's time to stop trying to find fault, and push blame," Davis wrote on the Shelburne Exchange closed Facebook page. "I think it's time to stop playing the racism card. It's old," he added.

"There appears to be implications that white people were purposely targeting Black people, or somehow forcing them to live by a dump," Davis said, "or that the dump was put there because that's where black people lived." 

He said many black residents relied on the dump for their livelihoods. Davis also questioned the idea that the dump was the cause of so many early deaths and cancer cases in the area.

He took issue with Delisle's comments, made at last week's event, that black families who still live near the dump are seeking some sort of financial compensation.

Black community relying on dump 'not true'

Delisle said she finds Davis's comments disturbing and inaccurate. She said it's not true that black residents relied on the dump for employment.

"People went outside our community to work," she said. "Rick Davis makes it sound like we're sitting on the dump eating off it."

Davis's post led to dozens of responses on the Facebook group. Many were angered by his comments, and some told of their own experiences of living in that part of Shelburne.

Davis declined to speak to CBC News, but he did issue a second statement on the Facebook group page on Sunday. 

"Last night I made some comments here which obviously were misdirected, insensitive and divisive. That was not my intention," he wrote.

"To anyone who took offense at my ramblings I offer my sincerest apology."

Push to reopen dump

In his original post, Davis also wrote that he'd be making a motion to town council to reopen the dump for yard waste.

"Leaves, limbs and sticks are likely the best things you could put in that place to bring it back to a better state." 

Delisle is unhappy with that prospect. 

"I think it would be a huge blow to the black community if that dump was ever opened again," she said.