Nova Scotia

'I want my kids to feel safe': Mi'kmaw father speaks out about racism in Lunenburg

Stephen Labrador, who has lived in Lunenburg, N.S., for six years, alleges RCMP failed to properly investigate racist messages targeting his family. Labrador has spent the last five months trying to get answers.

Stephen Labrador has filed complaint over RCMP's handling of racist messages

Stephen Labrador, a member of the Acadia First Nation who lives in Lunenburg, says he's speaking out about racism to be an example for his kids. (Robert Short/CBC)

NOTE: This story contains disturbing language

Stephen Labrador is tired of seeing his kids hide who they are. 

That's why the father of six from the Acadia First Nation in Nova Scotia is speaking out about the racism his family has endured in Lunenburg, where they've lived since 2014. 

The most recent incident, involving racist messages sent to his son and wife by someone they know, led him to contact RCMP in the summer. But Labrador said police have failed to properly investigate the matter and he's spent the last five months trying to find out why.

"It's consumed our lives," said Labrador.

He said he can see the impact the ordeal is having on his kids who are between the ages of two and 17.

"To this day, they're trying to hide who they are," he said. "They used to wear their medicine pouches and now … they're scared if they go out, they're going to get looked at different, and I'm just trying to get them to believe in who they are again."

Labrador says his family has faced discrimination in the past but has never received such blatantly hateful messages before. (Robert Short/CBC)

It all started on June 18 when Labrador's 15-year-old son showed him a message he received on Facebook from a young man he knows through mutual friends. The message called Labrador's son "a f--king useless Indian."

Labrador said he's not entirely sure what prompted the hateful message, only that the two had a disagreement over "friend stuff."

It was a lot of hate and meaning to hurt us, and it worked.- Stephen Labrador, father of six

But it was the second message, sent by the same person to Labrador's wife not long after, that led him to pick up the phone and call the RCMP. The message, laced with profanities and a racial slur against Indigenous women, is too painful to read, Labrador said. 

The young man called all Indigenous people thieves and said the family was "worthless."

"It was a lot of hate and meaning to hurt us, and it worked," Labrador said. 

Formal complaint filed last month

CBC News has reached out on Facebook to the person who sent the messages for comment. 

Labrador said he's been dealing with racism for much of his life. What really worries him is what happened after he contacted the RCMP in the summer. 

He said police didn't initially come to his house to take his statement or see the messages. When he called back the next day to find out why, Labrador said the officer told him, "I took care of it."

"I said, 'How did you take care of it? You didn't come see the message,'" recalled Labrador. 

"I felt like they didn't want to help me, the first officer didn't want to help me. I was being an inconvenience to him and that was the impression I got."

Amanda and Stephen Labrador have six kids, ages two to 17. (Peter Zwicker/Facebook)

Labrador said he made more calls to the RCMP and a different officer showed up the next day.  

On July 3, Labrador said he had a meeting at his house with a sergeant where he complained about how the investigation was handled at the beginning. 

Labrador said that night, around 10:30 p.m., an RCMP cruiser pulled up in front of his house and shone a spotlight from the vehicle into the window of his house. 

"The kids were terrified," he said. "We was just sitting on the couch watching movies, having a fun time and it got ruined."

Amanda Labrador received this Facebook message on June 18. (Robert Short/CBC)

A neighbour told CBC News they also saw a bright light from an RCMP cruiser that drove slowly down the street in front of the family's home. The neighbour said the cruiser drove by several more times that night without the spotlight on.

It's unclear what police were doing in the neighbourhood that night, but Labrador sees it as intimidation for lodging a complaint earlier in the day.

"I believe it was retaliation," Labrador said. "He knew what he was doing. That's why he took off when I run out the door."

He filed a formal complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP in October. The independent government agency examines complaints against on-duty members of the force.

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia RCMP said he couldn't comment on Labrador's allegations outside the formal complaint process. 

In an email to CBC News, Sgt. Andrew Joyce said connecting with Mi'kmaw communities is a priority for the Nova Scotia RCMP.

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia RCMP said connecting with Mi'kmaw communities is a priority. (Taxiarchos228)

The force has developed a four-day Indigenous training course that's taught by Indigenous facilitators and local elders, Joyce added.

"The Nova Scotia RCMP works with Indigenous communities throughout the province to understand and address individual and community needs related to policing," he said. 

Lunenburg to form anti-racism group

Rachel Bailey, the town's former mayor, spoke with Labrador this summer about the racist messages and police response.

The Labrador family's experience was one of the reasons the town decided to set up its first anti-racism special committee, she said.

"I certainly think systemic racism exists and I don't think the RCMP or the town is immune from that," Bailey said. "How that actually plays out in specific circumstances, I can't speak a lot to. But I know we need to take it very seriously."

WATCH: The Labrador family raises the Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag on Treaty Day:

Acknowledging the problem

The special committee, which has yet to be assembled, will include councillors as well as members of the Mi'kmaw and Black communities.

The group's mission is to create an action plan for ending racism and discrimination in town.

"I think this is a first step. It's a very important first step. We can't eliminate a problem until you acknowledge it exists," Bailey said.

Labrador and his kids, including nine-year-old daughter Sydney, raised the Mi'kmaq Grand Council Flag on Treaty Day last month. (Robert Short/CBC)

"It's not going to be up to those of us who aren't in those communities or a part of those populations to know what that is."

Labrador has been asked to sit on the committee.

"I want change and I will help educate as much as I can," he said.

"I want my kids to feel safe to go out the door. I've dealt with bullying my whole life and I've always said I don't want my kids to have to go through it, and that's why I want it to stop. This is enough." 

Stephen Labrador called the police when someone in Lunenburg sent his family racist messages, but he says the police failed to investigate. 10:24

Lunenburg's newly sworn-in mayor, Matt Risser, said the town is working to invite more people to be part of the committee.

"We can't just make this another report that sits on a shelf," he said. "This has been identified as a priority area and we're going to move forward with it."

On Treaty Day last month, Labrador and his kids took part in a ceremony to raise the Mi'kmaq Grand Council Flag in Lunenburg.

The Labrador children proudly wore their medicine pouches around their necks as nine-year-old Sydney lifted the flag.

"That was a happy day, very happy," Labrador said.

He has a Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag on his house, too, but not in a place where people can see it. 

"I was scared to put it out front, so I put it around the side of the house," he said.

"I should be able to feel safe enough to put it in front. Eventually, I can put it out front."

About the Author

Emma Smith

Reporter

Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email emma.smith@cbc.ca

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