Nova Scotia

Jamaican Cultural Association speaks out against MLA's comments

The Jamaican Cultural Association of Nova Scotia is demanding a public apology from Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin for comments she made in the Nova Scotia Legislature about Jamaicans last week during a debate on the legalization of marijuana.

'Sometimes racism crops up in the words that we use and we don’t even know it,' says Olive Phillips

Olive Phillips is president of the Jamaican Cultural Association of Nova Scotia (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

A Jamaican cultural group says comments made by a Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidate last week during a debate in the Nova Scotia Legislature on the legalization of marijuana have deeply wounded that community.

"I would say … many people are very angry. I got so many phone calls asking me, 'What are you going to do about this?'" said Olive Phillips, the president of the Jamaican Cultural Association of Nova Scotia. "Jamaicans are a very proud people."

Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin came under fire last week for relaying comments from her Jamaican best friend in Amherst, N.S., who told her that "smoking marijuana in Jamaica is completely accepted, and there's a completely different work ethic and very low productivity in Jamaica."

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin is a candidate for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership. (CBC)

To make her point, Smith-McCrossin said she thinks Nova Scotia already has "a productivity problem" and doesn't "need something else making it worse."

'This is total ignorance'

"Her statements were really disrespectful and not well thought out because her assumptions are generalizations which have no basis in fact," said Phillips, who was born in Jamaica and came to Canada in 1968.

Phillips said when she read Smith-McCrossin's comments she, too, felt immediate anger.

"But I also thought, 'This is total ignorance.' I grew up in Jamaica. I never saw the marijuana plant until I came to Alberta. That's my first introduction to drugs, believe it or not, because the general populace did not use it."

Smith-McCrossin made the comments during a debate in the Nova Scotia Legislature on the legalization of marijuana. (Robert Short/CBC)

Phillips, a retired school teacher, returns home to Jamaica almost every year and now takes her grandchildren to learn about their culture.

"They've never seen the plant over there, really, and I don't see anybody smoking. If people are doing it, they'll do it in the privacy of their home or wherever," she said.

The association sent a letter to Smith-McCrossin on Friday. The group wants her to retract her words and also recommends that she take cultural sensitivity training.

"Sometimes racism crops up in the words that we use and we don't even know it," Phillips said. "It's not necessarily deliberate; it's just that we're not aware that some expressions are offensive to another person."

Wants to apologize face-to-face

Smith-McCrossin sent the association a letter of apology Friday morning. She wants to meet with members of the group later this week to have an open discussion and to apologize face-to-face.

"There's been a lot of hurt and pain over the last number of days since this became public, and I think a lot of people have been hurt by the choice of my example and I genuinely feel very badly about that," Smith-McCrossin said in an interview Monday.

"It's not something I ever would have intended. I gave a poor choice of an example when I was speaking about excessive use of cannabis.…

"I love all people of any countries and certainly appreciate the people of Jamaica.… I appreciate what they contribute to us here in Nova Scotia — the temporary foreign workers, many of those important workers here in this province are Jamaican." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca

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