Nova Scotia

Pastor implores Halifax police to speak up against racism

The pastor of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church called on Halifax Regional Police officers not to be silent at a service to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Emergency responders sang in the choir at Cornwallis Street Baptist Church's event to promote racial unity

Cornwallis Street Baptist Church Rev. Rhonda Britton challenged people not to be complacent about gender-based violence and racial discrimination. (Radio-Canada)

Insp. Dean Simmonds knows what it's like to get up in the morning and put on a type of armour.
 
The Halifax Regional Police officer says as a black man, he has experienced discrimination and knows what it's like to brace against racism.

On Sunday, he told the congregation of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church that it's important not be silent. 

"I choose not to give up. To fight and to speak up and address racial discrimination. Because I believe I can make a difference, like we all can," he said.

"It is our right to be equally included and to participate in society without the fear of being racially targeted."

Insp. Dean Simmonds says he has experienced being racially targeted and discriminated against but he says he's also 'determined, confident and resilient.' (Radio-Canada)

Simmonds spoke at an annual service marking the International Day of Elimination of Racism and sang in the choir alongside the force's police chief and other emergency responders.

Rev. Rhonda Britton echoed his comments in her sermon — calling for people to speak up for each other. She turned to face the the law enforcement officers and implored them to show compassion and integrity.

"Unnecessary roughness is a not part of your job. Disrespect of person is not a part of your job. Profanity is not a part of your job. Brutality is not a part of your job. Speak up by doing that which is a part of your job and leave out the rest," she said. 

Britton also called on community members and the public officials in the pews — including Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, MLAs Tony Ince and Lisa Roberts — to speak up against poverty, education and employment gaps.

"Disrupt the status quo. If you really want violence to cease in our city, it can't be the same old, same old, we have to speak up," she said. "Your silence makes you complicit."

The annual service at Cornwallis Baptist Church aims to promote racial unity. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Britton's comments come just weeks after a Halifax police sergeant called for the end of street checks that target black residents. 

Last year, a CBC News investigation found black people were three times more likely to be street checked in Halifax than white people.

Speaking after the service, Police Chief Jean Michel Blais acknowledged the issue of street checks remains "fraught with some emotion" for the community.   

He said his force is looking at how other jurisdictions are dealing with street checks and he awaits the findings of criminologist Scot Wortley, who was hired by the Nova Scotia's Human Rights Commission last fall to look into the allegations of racial profiling. 

"The reverend was very pointed in her remarks today," Blais said, adding people do need to be treated with respect.  

"It's just a matter of maintaining that professionalism and for people understanding that it's a lot more than just having some courses on cultural sensitivity. But it's on how individuals interact with one another and that's the key."

Activist Lynn Jones says she was moved by the sermon, which called for new approaches to support marginalized communities. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Simmonds said the force's relationship with the black community has warmed in recent years but remains "a work in progress.

"We have to work harder and we have to constantly look at what we're doing," he said after the service. "We constantly have to look at each other and say, can we do better as people?"

Lynn Jones, an activist who often attends the church, said Britton's words moved her and captured how the community is feeling.

She also said it was a reminder to support people who are speaking up against discrimination. 

"They are doing it at great cost … cost to their credibility, to their families. So when people do stand up, we need to be there with them."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

now