Today in Racism: Canada Day in Halifax Edition (Updated)

[CN: organized white supremacy, racist violence, colonialist violence.]

On July 1, as celebrations of Canada’s 150th anniversary were underway across the nation, a number of Indigenous groups conducted ceremonies and protests calling attention to their historical and contemporary oppressions. One of these, a Mi’kmaq ceremony in Halifax, Nova Scotia, attracted the attention of white supremacists, who decided to crash the ceremony wielding the Red Ensign, a flag associated with pre-1965 Canada as well as with the earlier colonial period of British North America.

Before I get into the actions of these racist dipshits, it’s important to note the significance of the ceremony and its location. The ceremony, led by Chief Grizzly Mamma, was held in Cornwallis Square, in front of a statue of Edward Cornwallis. Cornwallis was briefly governor of colonial Nova Scotia, from 1749-1752, and is associated with the founding of Halifax. He’s also associated with waging attempted genocide against the Mi’kmaw people, offering a bounty for the scalps of men, women, and children alike. Thus, holding the ceremony before his statue holds special significance in a commemoration both of past genocide and present issues including the violence against murdered and missing Indigenous women.

The ceremony, as described by CBC reporter Anjuli Patil, included the following:

Chief Grizzly Mamma, who is originally from British Columbia but now lives in Halifax, shaved her head and then placed her hair — which had been braided in two sections — at the foot of the statue. "Cornwallis, you took my last brothers and sisters. I cut off genocide, genocide no more," she said, standing in front of the statue while holding the braids in her hand. "You took their scalps, you can have mine too.

As the ceremony progressed, a group of people in yellow-trimmed black polo shirts, carrying the aforementioned Red Ensign, approached the ceremony while singing "God Save the Queen." They identified themselves as members of "the Proud Boys," a hate group self-described as "Western chauvinists." The Fred Perry polo shirts (also favored by skinheads) serve as their default uniform. You can read a good deal more at this link, but one thing important to note: part of their initiation into the higher degrees of their pseudo-fraternity involves street brawling.

Very fortunately, the Halifax confrontation involved no physical violence against human beings, although one of the assholes apparently tried to trash one of the flowers left in memorial of missing and murdered indigenous women. From an eyewitness:

 photo flower_zps4qgicmjg.jpg

[Screenshot from The Anti-Racist Canada blog, where it was submitted.]

A short video captures three of the men giving their names: John Eldridge, David Eldridge, and Grant, who is very insistent that his name be captured. A longer video captures more of their confrontation with protest-goers who ask them to leave and block them from interrupting Chief Grizzly Mamma.

I regret that I don’t have a transcript of the video, but it includes these guys pulling the usual racist and colonialist disphittery, with an added dose of not actually knowing the history they attempt to spout. They insist that the ceremony should stop because this is Canada, not Mi’kmaq territory. Yet they also are obnoxiously insistent on carrying their Red Ensign, because “this is a British colony.” Well, no, nimrods. Nova Scotia ceased to be a British colony in 1867. And yes, it’s been Mi'kma'ki for 13-15000 years. There’s also garbled talk that the protestors should "give back" their "Medicare" cards (that’s MSI or Nova Scotia Health card, but thanks for playing) because that’s been "given" to them by the government of Canada. That this logic eventually leads to the government of Canada folding and giving the entirety of its geography back to its original inhabitant doesn't seem to occur to him.

Now, I could make fun of these ill-informed assholes all day, but the point really isn't how nonsensical their ideology is. It’s that they spout it like the true believers they are, having been thoroughly indoctrinated. And they spout it aggressively, confrontationally, as they co-opt the language of social justice. At one point in the video, Grant tells the women standing in front of him that she is too close and that it’s a "microaggression." That didn't come from nowhere. That’s a conscious mockery, and it’s one he relishes. It doesn't really matter that their doctrine is founded on bullshit. What matters is that they believe it and want to fight for it. They want to hurt people, to dominate by verbal and physical aggression. Like many hate groups, they embrace the pseudo-intellectual nonsense because it tells them that they are superior and promises to restore an imaginary version of history. What’s not imaginary, though, is the pushback against bilingualism, the rights of Indigenous people, the entry of non-white and non-Christian immigrants into Canada, and all of their other aggressive hostility towards most of the better parts of modern Canadian history.

Two of the five "Boys" were quickly identified as members of the Royal Canadian Navy. Later it was confirmed at all are serving in the armed forces, including at least one soldier from the Canadian Army. I seriously doubt that it’s a coincidence that this incident occurred just days after the Department of National Defence announced a major effort to promote more diversity in its armed forces. There are ongoing, deadly issues with systemic racism in Canada's armed forces. Indoctrination by organized hate groups isn't new, either. Which gets us to the issue of what consequences are in store for this particular band of (literally) blackshirts.

The Minister of Defence has apologized for the disrespect, and both the commander of the RCN and the chief of Defence staff have assured that the persons involved have been suspended and that there is an investigation ongoing and that there will be consequences. The service members have almost certainly violated the Code of Values and Ethics for service members. What is not clear is whether the Department of National Defence will work from an Indigenous-centred perspective, as suggested by Rebecca Thomas, who is Mi'kmaw (specifically, a member of the Pictou Landing First Nation) and Halifax’s poet laureate. In an interview with David Squires, she expressed appreciation for what the DND has done thus far, and reiterated the need for a restorative approach:

Rebecca Thomas, a Mi'kmaq activist who attended the ceremony to mourn the atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples says the military’s apology was respectful.

"I was pleasantly surprised at the apology and without conditions. Just we're sorry. This shouldn't have happened. End of story. There were no conditions and that meant something," said Thomas.

Thomas is now calling on the military to address the root cause of the problem that led five of its members to interrupt the Indigenous protest.

"I think having a restorative justice peace is really important. I want them to understand why what they did was wrong … if you just punch them without adding that context it might further entrench them into this belief that Indigenous people are deviant or disruptive," said Thomas.

That's a pretty crucial distinction, frankly. Because the problem isn't just that their behavior violated DND standards. It's that the armed forces have a known problem with racism, and whatever has been done thus far, it isn't working. Further, simply severing these men from their jobs just frees them to continue their hate group activities openly. Practicing catch-and-release with racist recruits only ups the ante in terms of what they will do next.

My point, here it is: the DND has a responsibility to be concerned with more than its own reputation and internal discipline. It has a responsibility to the people being hurt by racist servicemembers, whether those people are civilian or military. It has a responsibility to all Canadians to ensure that the RCN, RCAF, and CA not continue to be be incubators for hate. And it has a special responsibility, considering the military's institutional history of anti-Indigenous violence, to work in earnest towards reconciliation. That means listening to voices like Rebecca Thomas, rather than assuming non-Indigenous perspectives will be enough. She's opened a door; will anyone walk through? I certainly hope so.

Update: The CBC has decided to give Gavin McInness, founder of the Proud Boys, a platform tonight on which he's lying his ass off, unchallenged by host Hannah Thibodeau. He actually defended the bounty on Mi'kmaq scalps, a quote which CBC posted to Twitter. CBC, this is not a time for "both sides" lies. One of these things is NOT like the other. Where is your Mi'kmaq guest? Where is their perspective? Oh that's right. You didn't bother.

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