Black News File

·7 min read

Last week, Premier Tim Houston learned that a staffer in the Department of Justice made comments on the social media about Angela Simmonds, the Liberal MLA for Preston. The staffer, who had recently been in meetings with Simmonds in her role as justice critic, allegedly said that Simmonds didn’t know what she was talking about and was quick to “play the race card.”

Houston met with Simmonds and Liberal leader Iain Rankin to inform them of the comments and that he was considering his options. By the time CBC first reported on the story the next morning, the staffer had been fired.

"There is zero tolerance for any type of inappropriate behaviour," Houston told CBC. "I haven't walked in the shoes. I'm always trying to learn and to listen and to be respectful,” he said.

Simmonds framed the comments to CBC as “racist, inappropriate, (and) derogatory.” Later that day, in a news conference, she told reporters, “This person worked in a department which I am a critic for. I need to be able to do my job and ask questions and not it be about my race, where I come from, or where I sit.”

All members of the Liberal caucus and some NDP MLAs spoke in support of Simmonds in Friday’s session at the Nova Scotia Legislature.

This is the second time in recent months where Simmonds has had her credibility questioned behind the scenes by white provincial government officials. In a July email, Insp. Jeremie Landry of the Halifax-district RCMP revealed alleged details of an ongoing investigation into what Simmonds and her husband, Halifax Regional Police Supt. Dean Simmonds, called a gunpoint traffic stop where they were racially profiled by RCMP. The email was sent to select members of Halifax Regional Council. The traffic stop by the RCMP remains under investigation by the RCMP, while the matter of the appropriateness of Landry’s email remains before the Board of Police Commissioners.

Last month in the legislature, Simmonds introduced a bill aimed at dismantling racism and hatred in government. The bill defines hate as “provocation, hostility or intolerance by means of threats, harassment, abuse, incitement or intimidation motivated by the actual or perceived race, colour, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation of any person.”

"We agree with the spirit of the legislation, we just need to make sure that we do the work to get it right," Premier Tim Houston said last week. On Monday, Houston committed to forming an all-party committee to “produce legislation to address systemic racism in government.”

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Global Halifax’s Amber Fryday reported last month about a community initiative aimed at closing employment and housing gaps, and improving economic and quality of life outcomes for African Nova Scotians. The Road to Economic Prosperity for African Nova Scotian Communities is a five-year plan and was unveiled at a summit attended by advisory board members from many of the province’s Black communities.

“We want the community to trust us in this process. This is going to result in some really good work and some really good advancements in terms of the information we have about us so we can do something about it,” said Carolann Wright, director of strategic initiatives and capacity building for the Halifax Partnership.

“There are some serious gaps in progress and the African Nova Scotian has been held back by these gaps,” said Rosella Fraser, the program manager at the North Preston Community Centre. “This is a way of trying to move things forward and that’s why the work is so important.”

In what is said to be a first, the initiative involves collecting data from the African Nova Scotian community. The summit was the public’s chance to see some of the work that has already been underway.

“A perfect example is thinking of street checks — that’s an issue that, as the Black community, we talked about for years about being over-policed,” said Halifax District 9 Coun. Lindell Smith. “It was really when the report came out that had the data that showed it, that’s when people pay attention. So, it’s kind of the same thing with this scenario here.”

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CTVs Bruce Frisko reported this week about a family of seven who all contracted COVID last month.

Paul Baraka, 42, and his wife Alphonsine Masika, 39, are from the Democratic Republic of Congo and came to Canada as refugees by way of Uganda over four years ago.

Though some members of the family were partially vaccinated, they all contradicted COVID when Baraka and Masika’s youngest child — daughter Ester, who is too young to be vaccinated — first brought it home.

Masika was six months pregnant at the time. She was rushed to hospital when her condition began to rapidly deteriorate.

"And when my wife was affected, I too, got that infection," said Baraka, who added he still doesn’t feel 100%. As of Monday, Masika remained in hospital.

CTV's report stated that “Experts have long said pregnancy increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

"If, for example, my wife, if she didn't get the first dose, I could lose my wife," Baraka said.

The family is grateful for GoFundMe set up by a friend to help with expenses. Everyone in the family is expected to recover. Unborn baby boy Joshua, due to arrive in January, is said to be doing fine.

"The people who are in the hospital, many people who are there with COVID are people who have not got the vaccine," said Masika. She and Baraka and are urging everyone to get fully vaccinated.

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Rachel Cave with CBC New Brunswick reported last week on Normand Hector, a 20-year Xerox employee in Saint John, who quit his job after he says he found out he was being paid $15,000 to $20,000 less a year than his white colleagues. In 2020, he filed a complaint with New Brunswick's Human Rights Commission.

Hector, who is also gay, had initially been promoted temporarily to a management position in 2018 when one of the managers had to take a leave of absence. The position was later made permanent. He says he had long suspected there was a wage gap between him and his white colleagues in other management positions based on conversations where he says many of them would express dismay when they learned how much he was making. He says his suspicions were confirmed when he was accidentally sent an email from the HR department containing actual payroll and salary information from within Xerox.

On August 30, 2019, Hector gave his notice of resignation after he says he tried successfully for months to have the matter resolved. Nearly a year later, in June 2020, Hector filed an official complaint with the Human Rights Commission in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movement.

"The world was talking about systemic racism and then I'm thinking, 'Wow, that's exactly what I went through,'" he told CBC.

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After the federal government announced in March that it would be issuing a formal apology to the former members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, Douglas Ruck, spoke with CTV in a TV interview ahead of this year’s Remembrance Day, to provide an update. Ruck’s late father, Calvin Ruck, is the author of The Black Battalion 1916-1920: Canada's Best Kept Military Secret.

Ruck says there is a tall task in trying to identify, locate, and contact the descendants of the former battalion more than a century after it was first formed. He suspects the numbers of descendants are in the hundreds, and possibly even in the thousands. There is a website dedicated to assisting with those efforts. Click here to find that site.

“So, its going out there and encouraging people to become part of this,” Ruck said. “Not everyone even knew that their ancestors … had been involved in the Battalion. So for many, they’re finding out for the very first time.”

Ruck talked about efforts to reconstruct many of the lost personal stories that help make up much of the unknown history of the Battalion. He says that even he continues to learn new background stories of the Battalion’s former members. He called the Battalion’s work overseas “instrumental” to the war effort in the First World War.

Ruck says that though planning is still underway for what the government's formal apology will look like next year, he says it is expected to coincide with the annual ceremony commemorating the formation of the Battalion, which takes place every July in Pictou, where the battalion was first founded in 1916.

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Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner

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