How smartphones are helping Canadians confront racism

A short, sometimes shaky cellphone video can be a powerful tool for Canadians fighting back against racism.

Videos of confrontations show what some Canadians experience 'daily,' says professor

A video showing a man yelling racist threats at a couple outside the Stoney Creek Walmart is part of a Hamilton police hate crime investigation. (Patryk Laszczuk/YouTube)

The videos were recorded at the grocery store, a ferry terminal and a Walmart.

Each one shows a white man shouting, sometimes swearing, at people of colour.

One man was reportedly called an "illegal alien" and pushed when he tried to escape the encounter. A family was berated for daring to ask a question "in my f--king province." Another man was threatened because he didn't "talk like a Canadian."

Each incident is different, but they all have something in common: they were documented in short, sometimes shaky smartphone videos, which have become a powerful tool for people to expose hate and validate their experiences with racism.

Ameil Joseph, the son of Guyanese immigrants, remembers the first time he was told to go back to his own country.

In the early 1990s, there was no smartphone to record the incident. Joseph, who now studies trends in racism and radicalization as an assistant professor at McMaster University, was in the second grade and riding through a fast-food drive-thru with his father when someone shouted at them.

Back then, there was nothing he or his father could do. But today, with smartphones never far away, the outcome might have been different.

Joseph said these recent cases showcase the power of this technology.

"People feel somewhat empowered by being able to record and put evidence out there," he said.

Ameil Joseph is an assistant professor studying racism at McMaster University's School of Social Work. (Ameil Joseph)

A 'regular' occurrence for some Canadians

Joseph was dismayed by the video of a white man berating a couple at a Stoney Creek Walmart for not talking "like a Canadian," before claiming "I'm racist as f--k" and stating, "I would kill your children first."

Joseph said it made him shake his head in sadness and anger. But he wasn't surprised.

People feel somewhat empowered by being able to record and put evidence out there.- Ameil  Joseph, assistant professor McMaster  University

"I think some of these videos are capturing what some people are experiencing on a regular basis," he explained, noting a viral cellphone video showing a man hurling racist insults at a Muslim family in Toronto that was recorded just days before. 

Lombray Ball, centre, has been charged with assault and threatening death after a tourist filmed a heated exchange with a Muslim family in Toronto. (Mir Tabassum Javed/Facebook)

In that case, Toronto police charged Lombray Ball, 50, with two counts of assault and one count of threatening death, after investigators deemed that the incident was a hate-motivated crime.

Video of a separate incident shot at a Sobeys in London, Ont., racked up more than 2.4 million views on Facebook earlier this month. It shows a man in a red shirt blocking a darker-skinned man from leaving the store.

On Tuesday, police in London announced the aggressor, Phillip McLaughlin, had been charged with assault, forcible confinement and causing a disturbance.

After Friday's parking lot confrontation in Stoney Creek, police in Hamilton charged Dale Robertson, 47, with threatening death. The service is now investigating the incident as a hate crime.

The power of video

Joseph said that when recounting such an incident without video evidence, people who are insulted or attacked can often be made to feel that whatever happened was their fault, or that they're exaggerating.

Det. Paul Corrigan with Hamilton's hate crime unit confirmed police are continuing to use the video of the Walmart confrontation as part of their investigation.

"The video is useful," he said Monday. "We're still looking at that."

WARNING: This video contains offensive language.

The Walmart video was posted to YouTube by Patryk Laszczuk, who said he's a coworker of one of the victims. He originally shared it as a way to help police find and charge the suspect. But he said that since the arrest, it's become much more.

"The point is not to make it about specifically the people involved," he explained. "It's to show that this is an issue that's still occurring on a day-to-day basis."

If it's not shown then people don't see it for what it is.- Patryk   Laszczuk

Laszczuk said Canadians, especially those living in the Toronto area, can sometimes "turn a blind eye" to racism around them.

He said he was sent a "surprising number" of messages telling him to take it down, as some people believed he was supporting hate speech and promoting division.

Patryk Laszczuk is hoping the video he posted of a man shouting 'I'm racist as f--ck' at one of Laszczuk's co-workers starts a conversation about racism in Canada. (Patryk Laszczuk/YouTube)

Since sharing the video Friday, Laszczuk has been contacted by news organizations around the world, and said he's hoping it helps kick-start a conversation about racism in Canada.

"If it's not shown, then people don't see it for what it is," he added. "We have to stop being ignorant to the situation. It's just as bad as it is in the States, and we have to shut it down."

Posting videos such as these help victims find communities of support, as well as people who are willing to confront racism, said Joseph.

That support is especially important in a social climate where the professor says some leaders in the United States, Canada and Europe seem to be supporting anti-immigrant messages.

"You feel that people feel more emboldened to be outright racist, and there seems to be a stoking of those fires both online and on social media, and nationally and internationally with governments as well."

Hate in Hamilton

Hamilton has consistently finished first or second when it comes to the highest rate of police-reported hate crimes in the country. Last year, the service looked into 136 hate and bias incidents, an increase of 18.3 per cent compared to 2016.

Joseph described that jump as an "explosion."

There were 18 per cent more hate and bias incidents investigated by Hamilton police last year than in 2016. (Hamilton Police Service)

It's easy to treat viral videos showing racism as one-offs, but Joseph said each incident should trigger more than momentary outrage and risk being forgotten until the next time someone spewing hate is caught on camera.

Instead, he said, they should signal just how prevalent racism is in Canada, and show officials that more support for initiatives to study and fight racism is needed from all levels of government.

"You see something like this that makes those fears a little more tangible. It can happen anywhere, it can happen at any time. Your kids are at risk, your families are at risk of overt acts of violence, even in a Walmart parking lot. And those things are terrifying."

What can you do if you witness a racist confrontation?

Source: Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre

  • Approach the person being victimized and start a conversation. Stay close to them and ask how you can support them. Stay with them until the person threatening them goes away.
  • Avoid making eye contact with the attacker or engaging with them.
  • If the attacker does not back away, consider accompanying the person being targeted to a safer location and staying with them until they let you know that they are OK.
  • If the person being targeted is at risk of danger, call 911. Your own safety should be your priority. Don't engage in a physical altercation.
  • Try distracting the attacker by making noise and getting the attention of other bystanders and witnesses who may help.
  • Record the incident and study the attacker so you can identify them later. Don't share your recording of the incident on social media without getting consent from the victim.
  • If you encounter a family member, friend, loved one or acquaintance speaking in a discriminatory way about others, speak up.


Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?