'It's okay to be white' signs posted around Halifax

A group of men wearing identical white masks stapled posters with the slogan "It's okay to be white," on poles throughout downtown Halifax on Wednesday night, sparking concerns of racism.

Masked men spotted downtown, alarming passersby

This poster was stapled to a pole on George Street in Halifax, one of several put up Wednesday night by a group of masked men. (Submitted)

A group of men wearing identical white masks stapled posters with the slogan "It's okay to be white," on poles throughout downtown Halifax on Wednesday night, sparking concerns of racism.

Jody Corkum had just finished his dinner at a Barrington Street restaurant when he saw "four or five" men in masks and dark clothing. At first he thought they were Halloween revellers.

"But they're posting stuff along the way as they're walking down the street," he said. "When I looked at the poster… it says 'It's okay to be white.'"

He found the message disturbing for its "undertones" of racial intolerance.

It appeals, he says, to the insecurity of some who feel threatened by people of colour.

"Anyone who pays attention to politics south of the border, I think, will look at that and be equally disturbed," he said.

Corkum, who's a member of the Royal Canadian Navy, reported it to police but was told the posters could not be termed "hate speech."

'Shocked and disgusted'

Chad Simmons said he and his girlfriend were "shocked and disgusted" when they encountered the group at about 6:30 p.m. AT near Barrington and Sackville streets.

"They were talking amongst themselves and laughing," he said.

"We followed them for a few blocks, tearing down the signs as we went. I think at one point they noticed but they did not say anything. I was not trying to hide at all."

He saw the act as "attacking the community in my home city."

'Wake-up call'

Dr. Kesa Munroe-Anderson, manager of race relations, equity and inclusion at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, believes the posters should serve as a wake-up call.  

She said many Nova Scotians mistakenly believe they live in a "post-racist world" but pointed to recent incidents in New Glasgow and Yarmouth as evidence that racism is still too easily found in the province.  

"This is a wake-up call to us, to wake up and be aware of what is going on in our society."

She said the posters should be investigated by law enforcement.

"Often times they are, what I call, 'whitewashed' — they are dismissed as not being anything offensive, that couldn't cause any type of harm to anyone physically, emotionally, psychologically."

That type of attitude comes from not having the life experiences of people of colour, she said.

"You cannot walk along a street in Halifax without being assaulted by this type of language and what that means to an individual of colour, and what that means to every single citizen within Halifax who cares about that.

"This is actually a case where I question my safety as a woman of colour."