Halifax resident Jasmine Cromwell said when she saw a social media post about a stuffed toy monkey that had been stapled to a bridge, she immediately recognized it from the historically Black community of Jordantown, N.S.
"I know exactly where it is and immediately realized what the post is about," she said. "So I read comments … and then I just felt a certain way."
Jordantown, located in Digby County just south of the Town of Digby, has seen its share of racial tensions over the years, Cromwell said.
The bridge had long been in disrepair and some of Cromwell's family members who still live in the area have been trying to get it fixed. The stuffed toy appeared on the bridge after recent repairs.
It was attached to the bridge with what looks like a thick, metal staple. There's now a concern the road crew that did the repairs may have had something to do with the toy, Cromwell added.
Public Works spokesperson Jasmine Flemming said in an emailed statement that the department "stands with the residents of Jordantown."
"As a department, we will not tolerate racism and we condemn this act," the statement reads. Flemming wrote that Public Works was notified of the incident on Sept. 13 and has launched an investigation.
"Additionally, debriefs are taking place to help ensure that employees working for the department are aware of this incident, and understand the context and impact of acts such as this and why they are harmful," Flemming wrote.
Ben Cleveland, the mayor of the Town of Digby, said he also heard of the incident through posts on social media. He and the larger community of Digby were "disappointed" to learn of the incident.
"The Town of Digby and the outlying communities like Jordantown over the years have been working together on different initiatives and then for someone to do something like that, it's just, well, it's totally disgusting," he said.
Others in the community are similarly shocked, Cleveland added, as they try to work out what happened.
"Was it meant to be malicious? I don't know, but it certainly has caused some harm," he said.
Incident not considered a crime under Criminal Code
The incident was reported to the RCMP Wednesday morning, according to Cpl. Chris Marshall, but authorities won't be able to investigate further because the display of the stuffed toy isn't be considered a crime under the Criminal Code.
Under the code, hate crimes are defined, in part, as public or wilful incitements of hatred by the communication of statements in a public space against an identifiable group that's likely to lead to "a breach of the peace."
Here, "statements" are defined as including "words spoken or written or recorded electronically or electro-magnetically or otherwise, and gestures, signs or other visible representations."
"Even if we were able to identify who left it ... we don't have a charge we would be able to lay in this circumstance," Marshall said.
"I can certainly understand the optics, the fact that this is a Black community and the connotations that come with a monkey. I certainly empathize with the community and it's disturbing to us," Marshall added. "But ultimately the way the laws are written, it's not something that would rise to the level of hate crime."
Racism in Jordantown
This isn't the first example of racial tension in the area, however. Cleveland said there have been "clashes" between the "different cultures" in town of Digby and Jordantown over the years, disputes the municipality has tried to address.
"Obviously there's a lot more work that needs to be done," Cleveland said. "I've talked to many of my friends in the Jordantown community and they just said, 'Ben, keep moving, keep working with us and we'll just improve.'"
Cromwell said she faced racism growing up in the community where she was one of the few Black students in her graduating class at the local high school.
"The town's been racist for a really long time," she said. "It comes down to ... the Black and the white.
"I've seen fights over racism. I've heard the N-word growing up many times. I am light skinned. You wouldn't be able to tell that I am Black, so that's a huge thing in my life. Growing up, I've heard that from white people there: 'We like you though,'" she added, "'We don't like them.'"
She's disappointed to hear authorities would not be looking further into the incident.
"That makes me so angry because it is a hate crime. It's on a bridge in a Black community for no reason."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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