London

Black family speaks out after racist act on Hwy. 401

A 47-year-old man from Toronto is speaking out after a racist act against his family while driving along Highway 401 in the Ingersoll area.

Brent Martin calls it 'a clear sign, a clear attack' on his family

Brent Martin snapped this photo along Highway 401 in Ingersoll. He calls it a clear sign and a clear attack on himself, his son, and his two nephews, who are all Black. (Brent Martin/Instagram)

A 47-year-old man from Toronto is speaking out after a racist act against his family while driving along Highway 401 in the Ingersoll area. 

Brent Martin, who is Black, said he was heading westbound to Windsor with his son and two nephews Thursday afternoon when they noticed a passenger in a vehicle lingering next them with a sign dangling from their sunglasses, covering their mouth, that said 'SLAVE.'

"There it was, something right out of a horror movie. Three middle aged white men, trying to intimidate us," said Martin, who was in the passenger seat while his son drove. 

"We were in the middle lane, doing 115 km and they were doing 120 km to pass us, and as soon as they came beside us they decided to just trace us and reduce their speed so we could see the sign the passenger was wearing." 

Brent Martin posted the photo on social media, along with a description about how he and his family handled the situation. (Provided by Brent Martin)

Martin said the blue vehicle with what appeared to be a Quebec licence plate hovered next to them for about 30 to 35 seconds, and then sped off after he started taking photos.

"They wanted this car of young Black men … because all of my nephews and son, they're between 16 and 18, they wanted them to know 'hey this is the message we're sending you.'"

Face coverings have become commonplace because of COVID-19, but the material bearing the message doesn't look like a typical face mask, and Martin feels the message on it had nothing to do with the pandemic.

"It was a clear sign. A clear attack," he said.

Martin said he directed his son to drop his speed, turned off the radio, and initiated a conversation that lasted for the final two hours of the drive about how it made everyone in the vehicle feel. His son remarked that it felt like they were in a horror movie, one of his nephews had never experienced anything like it, and the other – like Martin himself – was angry. 

"This was just another opportunity for them to understand where they come from, who they are and what kind of things they're going to experience in life as a Black man."

Disappointed by OPP response

Martin has shared photos of the vehicle and its passengers on Facebook and Instagram, which are being shared widely and are evoking important conversations about the existence of racism in Canada, he said.

But there's one conversation in particular which Martin wishes had gone differently. They had pulled off the highway for a bathroom break and spotted an OPP officer, whom Martin spoke to about what happened. 

"His advice was 'oh it's a Quebec licence plate, I can expect that from them.'" said Martin. "If I were in his shoes, I would have at least taken down a licence plate number and called it in and said 'hey I have a family here that's been racially profiled, racially attacked by some Quebec drivers.'" 

Martin said OPP should have alerted police further west on the highway to look for the car, and should have at least had a conversation with people inside of it.

"I'm quite disappointed at the reaction of the OPP. For me to take my time and just let him know what was going on, and for him to really show no interest, I think that's all part of it." 

A spokesperson for OPP said he's not aware of an investigation into the incident.

About the Author

Liny Lamberink

Reporter/Editor

Liny Lamberink is a reporter in London, ON. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

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