ALL ABOUT RIGHTS BACK AT YOU
The struggle for human rights shapes news around the globe. Join Amnesty International, one of Canada’s largest human rights organizations, and untangle the chaos of your newsfeed. Want to hear compelling stories from people who fight back? Learn more about the systems that define our world? Or hang out with people who believe a better world is possible for everyone? Rights Back at You features stories from frontline activists that cut right to the heart of human rights—being human.
Read full episode transcript
Ep.4-Walking While Black
Daniella: Just a content note. This episode is about racial profiling.
Gyasi: If police were to stop people on Gottingen Street for jaywalking, they would have nothing else to do. They would have to do it all day long.
Daniella: Meet Gyasi Symonds.
Gyasi: My name is Gyasi Symonds. I’m Black man from Nova Scotia.
Daniella: Like many of us, his mornings start off with a caffeine kick.
Gyasi: I usually just get a regular black coffee. I don’t get anything fancy or anything like that.
Daniella: It was his usual order at the cafe by his office on Gottingen Street, a busy thoroughfare lined with restaurants and coffee shops in Halifax.
Gyasi: It was a typical morning. It happened exactly on January 24th, 2017. Since that incident, I can honestly say that I make my coffees from home now.
Daniella: A simple coffee run resulted in Gyasi sitting across from the Halifax police at a human rights inquiry. Something really mundane turned out to be pretty high stakes. I’m Daniella Barreto and you’re listening to Rights Back At You, a human rights podcast from Amnesty International Canada.
Back to Gyasi.
Gyasi: You know, there is crosswalks in the area, but most people don’t use them. The area of Gottingen Street and Cornwallis is an extremely high traffic area for foot traffic. And that is because there’s a lot of community services for some of the most vulnerable people in Halifax.
Daniella: Gyasi told me about a stat from a scholar named Scot Wortley.
Gyasi: Black people in the North End on the Gottingen Street area are more than six times more likely to be street checked by police.
Daniella: In 2019, Wortley conducted an inquiry for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Black Nova Scotians are tired of experiencing the same thing time and again. Racism reports. Promises to do better. More racism. More reports. More promises to do better.
One participant said, “I am tired of telling our stories and nothing being done. I’m resentful that you, as a white man from Toronto, need to come here to validate our stories. The black Nova Scotia community has poured their hearts out time and time again. Not a whole lot is ever done about it.”
Gyasi: We’ve been fighting the struggle against discrimination since we arrived here.
Daniella: Gyasi’s family has been in Nova Scotia for a long time.
Gyasi: I’m the product of two legendary parents as well. My father’s name is Terry Simons and he’s a pioneer and a legend in Nova Scotia and Halifax in particular as a community person and as a person in the sports world, and my mother was a legend and a woman ahead of her time.
Daniella: He traces his lineage back to the Black Loyalists, a group of African descendants in the United States who fought with the British in the hopes that they’d gain freedom.
Gyasi: And we have a lineage of over 400 years from the historical Black families. And we came here as part of the three migrations with the Black loyalists. So it’s really important to include that.
Daniella: That winter day in 2017. Gyasi and his colleagues left the building to get their coffee.
Gyasi: So, you know, this was just another typical morning and me and four other staff mates went over to the coffee shop.
Daniella: And a key piece to this story:
Gyasi: They happen to be white.
Daniella: Gyasi noticed two police officers walking down the street. They stopped him before he could get into the coffee shop.
Gyasi: They questioned me around jaywalking. You know, I listen to them. You know, they continued to just let me know that they were telling me for my own safety.
Daniella: Even though his white colleagues were also jaywalking. Gyasi was the only one stopped by the cops.
Gyasi: The interaction wasn’t very long. There was a few words exchanged. I listened. I didn’t have very much to say in return. I believe that that was a street check.
Daniella: He asked if there was anything else and continued into the cafe after he got his coffee.
Gyasi: I walked down to the intersection. There’s an intersection at the corner of Gottingen and Cornwallis, and I crossed the street within the crosswalk. I had a steaming coffee with a lid on it. I crossed within the lines, went back up to my office, my cubicle and continued on with my daily duties.
Daniella: He brushed it off as yet another unnecessary interaction with the police and went about his day. That is, until he got a message from the lobby telling him to come downstairs because there were two police officers wanting to speak with him. Gyasi was…
Gyasi: Terrified. I felt like that day that I was going to be arrested. And at the time I still wasn’t sure why. I got to be honest. I was sweating a little bit. Nonetheless, I went down there.
Daniella: There was a woman in the lobby who witnessed the whole interaction go down and actually later testified at Gyasi’s human rights hearing. He describes her as…
Gyasi: As a woman of honor and respect. Very, very, very well respected. Black female elder from our community. She said that she was scared. The way that they asked her was intimidating and disrespectful and aggressive. She described them as they were looking for a fugitive. That’s the way that they came in looking for me. And the way that they describe me was a Black guy in a toque. So even though I wasn’t wearing a jacket that day, I must have had my hat on. I’m one of the only Black men that work in my building, even though it is a diverse area at that time, I probably would have been the only one of the only brown-skinned people in the area. So I would have been easily spotted, easily picked out.
Daniella: When it’s easy to pick someone out, it’s easy to surveil them.
Gyasi: When I went down there, they demanded my ID, I didn’t have my ID on me, so I had to run back upstairs again because, you know, I don’t typically walk around the office with my wallet in my back pocket or my, you know, my official government ID and even when I handed him my ID, he grabbed it aggressively, like snatched it out of my hand. So they put my name into their system, I guess, to see if you have warrants or I guess pending charges of your, you know, see if you have a criminal record and things like that. And that’s the way I was treated in the lobby of my place of work.
Daniella: And it wasn’t only Gyasi and the woman in the lobby. There were loads of other people milling about.
Gyasi: Clients that I work with, patrons going in and out of the drugstore, people going up and down the escalator for doctor’s appointments and other various services that the building offers. A management person, like a senior management person, actually witnessed this happen to me, right? So it was humiliating on so many levels. I’m talking about two white males here. One of their names is Constable Pierre Paul Cadeaux, and the other one is Constable Steve Logan. I think it’s important to say their names because everybody knows my name. They seemed to be drunk off authority and they were exercising it on me. They took what seemed like forever to look my name up within the system. The whole interaction probably felt like longer than it was. It had to be a good 20 minutes. And you know, you can say that you weren’t beaten up or anything like that, but, you know, if I hadn’t of maintained my cool, that situation could have easily escalated. And they wanted me to give them a reason to arrest me. The whole atmosphere from them was just “give me a reason to put you in cuffs right now”. Like, I’m aware that any time I have an interaction with police that my life could be in danger or my or my freedom.
Daniella: This is what all the Black people in my life think about when they have to interact with the police, me included. That all of a sudden we become the ones responsible for deescalation because we know all too well what could happen.
Gyasi: That really describes my behavior, deescalation. Because in my mind, I knew that this could go a few different ways and none of them end well for me.
Daniella: These tactics become a reflex.
Gyasi: Keeping a monotone voice, keeping my arms down, not doing anything to escalate the situation. All I know is that, you know, when you’re a Black man, it’s easy for people to assume that you’re inherently criminal. And that’s what happened to me on that day. I was very, very upset. I don’t know how I continued to work that day. I actually finished the workday. I don’t know if I even realized what I just experienced and how awful it was.
Daniella: For Black people these experiences are common. Like Gyasi says, it’s easy to dismiss them and say “Nothing so bad happened. So what’s the big deal?” Well, it’s that something worse could have happened and simply existing in public space or white space as a Black person seems to pose a problem. Think for a second about what that does to your sense of self. To be constantly placed under suspicion, told you’re probably doing something criminal or not allowed, so you should be watched and monitored. It’s a mundane daily invasiveness that can so quickly escalate and it grates on you.
Remember when Jesse mentioned that his ancestors were Black loyalists? That’s not just an interesting piece of family history. Blackness, enslavement and surveillance are intimately connected. It’s exactly what scholar Simone Browne has spent years researching and piecing together. Tactics from enslavement inform the modern ways Black people are surveilled. You may have heard of the Book of Negroes. The novel by the same name is based on this 18th century ledger. Browne says these documents were essentially the first passports allowing formerly enslaved Black people passage over the border into Canada. They linked bodily markers to the right to travel. People were documented based on name, appearance, identifying features, all handwritten and steeped in racism. “Yellow skinned wench” “worn out half Indian” “fine girl, three quarters white”, “lame of the left arm” “cut in his right eye”. According to Browne, these historical practices linked to slavery laid the groundwork for how surveillance technology shows up in our lives.
El: She suggests that the slave ship is one of the first surveillance organisms in the way that slave ship was constructed and Black people were packed in to the hold, right? And then they could be watched. And of course, the entire mechanism of slavery was a society wide surveillance marked by black skin. My name is El Jones. I guess Dr. El Jones, theoretically.
Daniella: El is a black professor, journalist, poet and activist who also lives in Halifax.
El: So these ideas of race are a result of enslavement, and we take them as kind of natural, but they’re installed particularly during enslavement, in order to secure the labor of Black people. And in order to do that, Black people are stripped of our history, our humanity and we began to be read as animals. And then a whole social, legal and political apparatus arises around slavery that marks Blackness in particular ways. And one of those ways is fundamentally surveillance that, of course, a Black person walking around you knew they were Black, so therefore they couldn’t blend in. It was easy to track. So all of this is really about racial surveillance, because then, of course, you could always scan where Black people were.
Daniella: Not blending in. This is exactly how Gyasi described it, being singled out as a Black person on the street. El talks about another piece of history described in Simone Browne’s book.In the 1800s…
El: Black people in New York, for example, could not be out after dark without carrying a light to literally shine a light on where they were. And surveil themselves.
Daniella: And Black people aren’t the only folks who’ve had to contend with centuries of racial surveillance. Canada was built on it.
El: Indigenous people, of course, have experienced surveillance practices through the reserve system, and then you had to show a path to get off the reserves. The residential schools is a surveillance system, right? You weren’t allowed to not be in the school. You had to send your child, you had to register your child. The Indian Act is a form of surveillance, right? Canada’s immigration laws. Surveillance practice. Chinatown. Surveillance practice. The Chinese exclusion laws. Surveillance practice. Right. So all of these things are embedded in our history for a long time. And of course, updated now through technology.
Daniella: There’s a lot beneath the surface of what happened to Gyasi. And what happened to him is called many things:
El: Carding in Toronto or Ontario, what we call street checks in Halifax had quite a bit of attention a few years ago, which is just racial profiling practices where police are singling out Black people. In Halifax, it’s a rate of six times the white population.
Daniella: There it is again. Across Canada, Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in who is stopped, harassed, questioned, arrested and jailed by police. And this has consequences. The Ontario Human Rights Commission tells us that Black people in Toronto are up to 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police than white people are. Indigenous and Black people are significantly overrepresented in street checks in Vancouver. In 2017, Black people accounted for 4% of street checks, despite making up only 1% of the population.
El: They keep data on street checks. You stop more Black people. So therefore you’re going to see that Black people commit more crimes. Then you commit more police, which means more surveillance, which means finding more crimes. You’re perpetually basically creating a situation where Black neighbourhoods get labeled as high crime neighborhoods and get policed as a result.
Daniella: The Vancouver Police Department was one of the first in Canada to establish a predictive policing system. Basically, predictive systems feed historical crime data into an algorithm that spits out where crime is likely to happen in the future. Different policing institutions across Canada have employed similar biased technologies.
El: So even though they’ve said they’ve stopped those practices of racial profiling, the maps, the data, the way they’re using, that hasn’t gone away. So there’s no way around that. These technologies are based upon racial bias.
Daniella: This data embeds racist policing practices. It’s then reflected onto people who are seen as disposable:
El: Sex workers, queer and trans people, racialized people, people living in poverty are all far more vulnerable to criminalization, not because we commit more crimes, but because of the way obviously the system targets those who are seen as not belonging.
Daniella: El was a lead author on a Halifax report on defunding the police. It was contracted by the Board of Police Commissioners in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to understand what defunding the police could really mean.
El: Defunding police is not a new movement. It’s new to many people.
Daniella: This movement has been around since the 1960s with a focus on prisons.
El: There are more Black people incarcerated now than there ever were Black people held in slavery. All our lives we are really fed this idea that the police keep us safe and they’re the only solution to harm. And everybody who’s policed is a bad person who needs to be put away somewhere. And that’s not true and it’s not effective. And it doesn’t actually address what people want, which is what we call public safety. Abolition is the fight to end prisons.
Daniella: Many activists say defunding the police is a stop along the way to abolition. But what does defunding mean in practice?
El: What it means is simply to shift resources away from police and into those organizations, communities or services that are more appropriate for those tasks. And that’s often called also DE-tasking or re-tasking as in retasking community. Police are called in to address social issues that they are not appropriate to address, such as particularly wellness checks. And when we concentrate all our budget, our money and what we value into police, we end up with a society built on punishment. So then our option is, “Oh, if I see someone who’s unhoused, I call the police. If someone’s asking me for change outside Tim Hortons, I call the police. If I hear noise, I call the police”. So we start to see the police not as the last line of defense, but the first thing that we do. And then we become a society very much dependent and based in policing.
Daniella: In the Halifax Commissioner report…
El: We went through what policing looks like and did snapshots of data because many people have a misconception of what the police do and really believe that there’s murders all the time, there’re shootings all the time, and we need the police for that. And in fact, police are often just policing bylaws, policing, traffic, policing other things. Many people will say we need the police to fight sexual violence, but the police don’t fight sexual violence. Many people hear “defunding the police” and they think, “oh, that’s crazy, that’s anarchy. We’re going to have murderers running the streets”. So part of this conversation is about really getting people to ask if that’s true and if the police really are necessary in the ways we’ve come to rely and depend on them, or if there’s ways that we can do other things. Any task the police do, by definition becomes a policing task, which is the problem right? That the police end up taking over all kinds of tasks and then saying that’s a policing task.
Daniella: In addition to looking at policing tasks, the report explored different ways to improve police accountability, including body cameras.
El: Body cameras, which many people pose as a solution to police brutality. But as we address in our report, they have no impact on police brutality at all. There’s no study that shows the police change their behaviour. The police commit the same amount of brutality on camera. The police themselves know how to create a record and that’s why when they’re arresting you, they’ll scream stuff at you like “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!”, because they’re creating a verbal record of you resisting. So even if you’re not resisting, any jury is going to hear them yelling, “Stop resisting. He’s assaulting me!” Right? And police do this on purpose because they know that they’re creating a public record. So the police already know how to manipulate these systems. And having technology doesn’t take any of that away.
Daniella: So while body cameras might record police violence, they don’t seem to stop it. In fact, body cameras are also marketed to police institutions as a way to gather more evidence. Communities that already have high levels of contact with police are wary that this will become yet another tool to constantly watch them and look for things to charge people with. Cameras aren’t the simple fix many people would like to believe they are.
ADVERTISEMENT: ADVERTISEMENT: On Mother’s Day 1985, Philadelphia did something unthinkable. The city had been engaged in a standoff with a radical organization called MOVE. The helicopter takes off. Then the city dropped a bomb on Move’s headquarters, killing 11 people, five of them children. My daughters were taken away by this corrupt government. Why is it so many have never heard of the bombing? Black people will never get justice in America. The Africans versus America available now everywhere you get your podcasts.
Daniella: Let’s leave Halifax for now and take a leap across so-called Canada to Vancouver, where I live. Both cities had Black communities that were bulldozed to the ground. Africville in Nova Scotia and Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver. This is the traditional unceded land of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. And this is where the grassroots abolitionist collective Defund 604 operates.
Tonye: “Abolition requires changing one thing, and that’s everything.”
Daniella: That’s a quote from Ruth Wilson Gilmore, a black feminist scholar and abolitionist who’s been organizing for decades for a world that’s safe for everyone.
Tonye: My name is Tonye Aganaba. My family is from what is known today as Nigeria and Zimbabwe. But obviously those are fake a** constructions. Borders are nonsense. So my family is actually from the Ijaw speaking people and the Shona speaking people.
Daniella: Tanya is an organizer with Defund604 working to hold the Vancouver Police Department accountable.
Tonye: People think that we’re just focused on the VPD. No, the VPD are our most closeby aggressors. But this is VPD. This is Border Patrol. This is all of the different entities. Private security, even. BIAS even. Community policing centers, even. It’s a large web. The prison industrial complex is a web.
Daniella: BIAs are business improvement associations. The term “prison industrial complex” describes the interconnected cogs of government and industry that uphold current power structures. The term is often attributed to Angela Davis. The prison industrial complex uses surveillance, policing and prisons as answers to complex social issues. Defund604 exists to push back against this. The group has also invested in organizing communities.
Tonye: And then also advocating for a change in our culture that moves us away from carceral ways of thinking towards responding in ways that center care and community and love and art and creativity and no more coercion and control. Because really we know that there’s like root causes of crime. People don’t just like wake up and be like, “I’m going to be a criminal today”. Like, we don’t mmm… That’s not how that works.
Daniella: Defund604 did a survey. They created a people’s budget for the City of Vancouver. A people’s budget is a tool that lets the public imagine where they want money to go. The people told defund604 they wanted peer-led mental health supports and crisis intervention services. They wanted to redirect 50% of the Vancouver Police Department’s budget, add affordable housing and end street sweeps. This is a very different vision for the future than what we actually spend public money on. Vancouver spends about $365 Million dollars a year on policing. That’s $1,000,000 a day. Halifax spends $100 million a year. Toronto over $1 billion. Chuka Ejeckam is a Black writer and political researcher who recently did an analysis of police budgets. Like El and Tonye he’s also challenging the idea that police and prisons are really the best answers we can come up with for public safety.
Chuka: Fundamentally, policing is about catching quote unquote criminals, quote unquote. Right. It’s about attempting to determine after harm has occurred, attempting to determine who committed it and then punish them in ways that will ostensibly make them less likely to perpetrate that harm in the future. It’s not about creating a circumstance in which harm is less likely to occur. And I don’t understand how you could want anything other than that. Sequestering people who have perpetrated acts of harm often to simply perpetrate acts of harm against one another in a place that we don’t have to see or think about daily, that’s not peace in a meaningful way. That’s not justice in a meaningful way. That’s simply out of sight, out of mind.
Daniella: A couple of weeks before I interviewed Chuka, the Vancouver Police Department posted a video to their Twitter account.
Chuka: It appeared to depict police officers in what anyone would take as tactical gear, all black with body armour, headgear goggles, long barrel rifles.
Daniella: They had heavy guns with what looked like scopes on them, rappelling down the side of a building, all set to really intense music.
Chuka: Like breach and clear style tactics that people almost everyone would recognize from like a big budget action movie.
Daniella: They were swinging from helicopters and looked like they could have been in a war zone. People were rightfully concerned, wondering who exactly the police were trying to appeal to with this…
Chuka: “Call of Duty Black Ops 3” announce trailer that the VPD released. Whether or not they were using it as a recruiting video, they thought it was cool. You know, they liked it. It represented a part of their culture that they were proud of.
Daniella: Like in episode 1 1hen we learned how the RCMP named its surveillance division after comic book mutant-hunters. It’s a glimpse into culture.
Chuka: Karen Ward, who is a drug policy advisor to the City of Vancouver, asked how much the video cost on Twitter. The VPD’s response was that everything was done with in-house resources, which of course is not an answer, right?
Daniella: The police deleted the video from Twitter and simply said, I quote, We apologize if the video was upsetting to some, especially during current world events.”
Chuka: Everybody who is a police officer is an adult. You know, they have as much access to Wikipedia as you or I. They have more than enough resources with which to inform themselves on why people have significant issues with the culture of policing in industrialized democracies throughout the West. People have been paying more attention in recent years to police budgets and police practices. And so in the context of all of that, they made this decision. It’s not just that they made this decision, it’s that they made this decision when it was in their interest- heavily in their interest- not to. And it was very easy to identify that it was in their interest not to. So they are either… impressively uninformed or they have no interest in the public’s concern because they either think that they’re above them or that those concerns don’t apply to the VPD.
Daniella: Chuka has done a lot of digging into police budgets. It’s why I asked him to chat with me. Earlier, El laid out the premise of the argument to defund the police: that police budgets take up a disproportionate amount of city expenses, which has a negative impact on other public services. Chuka says that when other services like health care and housing are cut, it contributes to people’s desperation, poverty and distress. And this creates harm, crime and sets the scene for violence.
Chuka: It ends up being a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in that police are continually creating a justification for not only for their own existence, but for their own increased prominence in policy and in budgets.
Daniella: Chuka wanted to look at how this plays out in Vancouver compared to US cities with similar populations like Nashville, Baltimore and Portland. The US has a reputation for its policing culture, and as Canadians, we often hear “At least it’s not the United States”. So a comparison to that context really highlights Vancouver’s situation.
Chuka: Notably, Vancouver had the highest budget out of all of the cities that we analyzed.
Daniella: That is the highest absolute dollar amount for policing. The other surprising thing? Vancouver also spent the biggest portion of its total budget on police compared to the other cities. So if you think of each city’s total budget as a pie, Vancouver cuts the biggest piece of its pie and gives it to the police. Even though other cities have bigger pies, none of them give as big a piece to their police. 21% of the total city budget, to be exact.
Chuka: That’s a lot, right? That’s a lot. And it doesn’t give you that much left. Housing isn’t really affordable anywhere, but Vancouver is, of course, one of the most unaffordable places to live in North America. The inequity that is evident in Vancouver is sort of one of the defining elements of the city, right? There is immense wealth and deep deprivation.
Daniella: Chuka says we have the means to end these social harms.
Chuka: The idea that we should take radical action to eliminate that harm is more upsetting, it’s considered more out of bounds than the notion that we should lock people in cages. Lock people in cages! What, what? I mean, you can call it whatever you want. It’s putting people behind bars, right? That’s, that’s a cage, you know? And I don’t care how you justify it, knowing what we do about the way that harm is inculcated and then reproduced, how it’s reproduced through generations, how crime follows poverty. And then still we have the gall to sit back and say, “Oh, well, you just shouldn’t you just shouldn’t commit crimes, though”. I think it is a complete abdication of our responsibilities to other people. Any conversation that talks about punishment or personal responsibility or what have you that doesn’t first seek to eliminate those inequities I think is fundamentally not a serious conversation.
Daniella: Many people have heard of increased crime and think more police is all we need for more safety.
Chuka: You can take any instance of harm and say, who’s going to stop X from happening if the police aren’t here? Well, did the police stop X from happening? Because clearly they didn’t. And over time, have the police reduced the likelihood that X is happening? Do people to whom X happens feel safe even reporting X to the police? We are all going to respond differently to things that happen directly to us. And I don’t say this to be callous in any way. Simply that if we allow our experiences of harm to lead us to support a system that’s going to create harm for others, then we’re nowhere.
Daniella: Given everything we’ve heard, it shouldn’t be surprising that Gyasi’s been stopped by the police many times. But this time after they monitored and followed him on his morning coffee run, he decided to do something about it.
Gyasi: I’m just a regular Black man. I work a 9 to 5 job. I’m a father and I represented myself at a human rights trial, and I was successful. The human rights hearing ended up being a circus around the legality of jaywalking. It’s not about jaywalking. It’s about differential treatment from police. It’s about having just and equal and equitable enforcement of the law. You know, regardless of what the crime is.
Daniella: Gyasi spent five days in the human rights court.
Gyasi: Those five days were very stressful. I received little to no support. I was alone. I was, it was me sitting at a desk by myself on the left, then the Human Rights Commission’s lawyer in the middle, and then the Halifax Regional Police’s two lawyers on the opposite right side.
Daniella: Remember the Black elder in the lobby?
Gyasi: Her testimony was damning. It was damning. And I think she did the most damage. So I’d say of everybody, she’s probably the main reason that I was successful. I always want to like, pay homage and respect to her if she ever hears this.
Daniella: Even so Gyasi said it was awful having to face those officers outside the courtroom.
Gyasi: One of the officers tried to bump into me on the way to a water cooler like we’re in grade seven. Could not believe it. I thought I might have been 12 again. I thought I was in grade seven. I swear to goodness. Like, it ended up being a severe waste of time and taxpayer dollars if this is going on taxpayer dollars. And that was a major waste because it ended up being about logistics that did not even matter. How many steps did it take? What was the approximate distance?
Daniella: And how long did they spend talking about discrimination in particular?
Gyasi: I might be generous in saying 25%, and that’s generous. I’d say less than that, maybe 15%. They said that I initially ran across the street on the way back and caused the Metro transit bus to slam on the brakes, squeal, and all the passengers in the bus fell towards the front of the bus when the Human Rights Commission went to look for an incident report from a bus driver, there was none that existed, nor could the Halifax Regional Police provide any camera footage. So Gottingen street is also a heavily surveilled area. There’s a lot of street cameras, things like that, and there’s also a few bus routes in that area. There would have been an incident report. There was nothing like that stated. So there was outright blatant lies by so-called officers of the peace.
Daniella: During the trial, Gyasi said old racist stereotypes came up with comments like:
Gyasi: “He’s being aggressive, just listen to him.” If you’re a Black man and someone says you’re being aggressive, unless you’re actually being aggressive, that’s racism. You can tell when someone’s being aggressive.
Daniella: After experiencing all of this, Gyasi is pretty nonplussed.
Gyasi: I won. For what that’s worth, I got a little bit more than 15 grand, but when there’s a settlement that’s supposedly punitive, the amount should be enough of a deterrent to prevent that action from happening again. But what I was given was crumbs. What that shows me is that the adjudicator didn’t value my experience. He stated that discrimination did happen, obviously, but he couldn’t put a dollar amount on it. My pain, the damages that was done to me was only worth a little bit more than 15 grand. So I guess you have to die otherwise.
Daniella: And what happened to the two police officers?
Gyasi: They didn’t lose their jobs. If you ask me what I would have liked to happen, I wanted them to get the most harsh punishment possible because I believe that they wanted the worst outcome for me on that date. And like I said, if I didn’t de-escalate and have maintained my calmness the best I could on that date, that could have ended tragically.
Daniella: Besides the $15,000 and the moral win, he got something else.
Gyasi: I did get a letter from the police commissioner as well.
I guess you guys will have to edit out this part. I’m walking up the stairs here. Yeah. I have it here somewhere. Okay. It’s not that long. It’s about three paragraphs. It’s from the Chief of Police, Daniel J. Kinsella.
Daniella: Here’s an excerpt:
Gyasi: Dear Mr. Simon’s to Halifax Regional Police. HRP officers discriminated against you in their interaction with you outside of the Nook Café on January 24th, 2017. The Board Chair determined that race was a factor in the officer’s actions. On behalf of HRP, I apologize for the discrimination you experienced. I am sorry for the actions of the two police officers that caused you fear and humiliation. In the four years since your interaction with the two HRP officers, HRP has taken several steps to address anti-Black racism. However. We recognize that this must be a continuing and ongoing effort by HRP and that further work needs to be done. The two police officers involved in this matter will undergo the journey to change training at the earliest opportunity and HRP’s goal is to offer it to all HRP officers. In closing, I would like to say that everyone has the right to be treated with respect and to go about their lives without being subject to discrimination.
Daniella: He’s not impressed by the letter.
Gyasi: I guess he summed it up. It seems generic. This seems very cookie cutter. Cut and paste. For what it’s worth, it’s on paper. You’ve got to look at the silver lining to an extent. I guess I did get a victory on some levels. I’m definitely not satisfied.
Daniella: Real apologies come with changed behavior. We’ve seen time and again that Black people are still profiled, harassed, arrested and injured at the hands of police. In June 2022, the Toronto Police Service apologized to the Black community for perpetuating systemic racism. But many community members did not accept this apology. Dr. Beverly Bain told them directly that it was a public relations stunt and said the Black community didn’t ask for an apology. It came just before a report about discriminatory policing was released. The report showed that police are four times more likely to use force against Black people than white people. And police are also twice as likely to point a gun at Black people.
In Freedom of Information documents, Jamie Duncan, a PhD student and researcher from the University of Toronto, showed me that the Toronto police are using biometric identifiers in their facial recognition systems that eerily echo the kind of notes in the Book of Negroes. Descriptors like “thick lipped”, “dreadlocks”, “afro”.
Apology after apology does not seem to have produced different results. Perhaps it’s time to think about policing differently. Perhaps it’s time to stop thinking about policing at all and imagine new worlds together.
That’s it for Rights Back at You this time. You can learn more about carding in our show notes or at amnesty.ca/rightsbackatyou.
This episode was produced and written by me, Daniella Barreto and Sarika Iyar. Hosted by me. Story Editing, Sound Design and Post-production Work by Katie Jensen at Vocal Fry Studios. Theme Music by Produced by Youth. Podcast Artwork by Sasha Mbabazi. See you next time, when we talk about immigration, racism and tech at the border.
Produced, written, and hosted by Daniella Barreto. Co-produced by Serisha Iyar. Story editing, sound design, and post-production work by Katie Jensen at Vocal Fry Studios. Theme music by Produced by Youth. Artwork by Sasha Mbabazi.
A special thank you to Leon Liberman, Adjua Akinwumi and Serisha Iyar.
Canada: Stop Anti-Black Racism and Overpolicing – Amnesty International Canada
Carding and Anti-Black Racism in Canada – Amnesty International Canada
Anti-Black Racism and Policing: Keep up the Pressure – Amnesty International Canada
Halifax, Nova Scotia: Street Checks Report (March 2019), Scot Wortley
BOOK: Simone Browne “Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness”
Africville Forever – a podcast about Africville, Nova Scotia
SPREAD THE WORD
If you liked this episode, please tell your friends and share it on social media!
Let us know what you think
Got feedback on this episode or the series as a whole? Do you have ideas for future seasons or just want to tell us what you loved? We care about your feedback so please let us know.
"*" indicates required fields
1 | FACIAL RECOGNITION AND POLICING PROTESTERS
After posting a photo on the internet from a Black Lives Matter protest, Derrick Ingram’s apartment was surrounded by the New York Police Department. It seemed like they had tracked him down using facial recognition. If police can use surveillance technology to target activists like Derrick, will people think twice about speaking out?
2 | Street Surveillance and The War on Drugs
What does the future of harm reduction look like for communities that are already overpoliced and surveilled? In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, we connect with harm reduction activist Hugh Lampkin who saves lives with naloxone and community building. We investigate how drug criminalization impacts Black people in Canada, and visit the MySafe machine, a palm-scanning smart vending machine for drugs.
3 | Don’t You Be My Neighbour
Rowa Mohamed showed up to support her neighbours at an encampment eviction and was injured by police during the protest. Her experience of violence is not unusual – Black Muslim women are often treated with suspicion, like they don’t belong. What happens when people “fight crime” with home surveillance technology and treat their own neighbours as suspects?
5 | Access Denied – tech at the border
Borders have long been sites of colonial enforcement about who can come, who can go, who gets expelled, and how Indigenous Peoples are treated. Canada’s border is no different. When you’re fleeing danger in your home country and entering another, is it fair to have life-altering decisions made by technology
— technology that can be unreliable and reinforce bias?