Published on May 18 in the NS Advocate: here
Halifax Police chief Dan Kinsella owes an apology to the pro-Palestine drivers and their passengers at the Free Palestine COVID Safe Car Rally which gathered at the Saint Mary’s University parking lots on Saturday. The thousands of dollars of tickets (fines of up to $2,000 per person) that police issued must be shredded. And the one man (at least) who was handcuffed and arrested has suffered humiliation, injury to his self-worth, and a profound violation to his personal freedom. He deserves much more than a “sorry”.
What is most galling is that Chief Kinsella took to Twitter on Saturday to say,
“Challenging week & day for the brave members of @HfxRegPolice
on many fronts. Difficult but necessary actions today, performed professionally & to ensure safety of our community at large. Let’s all do our part to stop the spread.”
Remind me how exactly did drivers and passengers sealed off in their 200 cars endanger the safety of our community?
How did drivers in their own cars endanger public health?
Chief Kinsella crowed, “Illegal gathering and the time for demonstrations and protests ‘isn’t now’”. To that end he gave permission to his officers to arrest, detain and ticket pro-Palestinian car rally participants on the basis of the injunction issued on Friday by a Nova Scotia a Supreme Court judge. Kinsella clearly believed he could use his police to control any and all crowds in the interest of public health. But that is not so.
Readers should take a look at the terms of the injunction here. It is clear that the injunction is concerned only with Freedom Nova Scotia, an anti-masking group. To be precise, the injunction was to affect two NS venues where anti-mask demonstrations were organized. One location was Citadel Hill in Halifax. The other was in the town of Barrington in southwest NS. The injunction was so specific, it noted the injunction pertained to Saturday May 15 – and designated specific times of 1 pm for the Citadel Hill protest, and 6 pm for the Barrington gathering.
There were no other times, no other places and no other protests named.
Now, I am not a lawyer. But it seems to me that – unless we are now under martial law – judges do not issue blanket injunctions. For instance, in a strike, a judge can sometimes issue an injunction to limit the number of pickets at each entry to a certain worksite.
In this case, the injunction against the anti-vaxxers was granted ex-parte, which means that organization didn’t need to be consulted or even present at the hearing. That may have been necessary to prevent a superspreader event.
But for the Chief of Police in Halifax to use the injunction to allow police to ticket and arrest people at the Free Palestine Covid Safe Car Rally — an entirely different demonstration from the anti-maskers on Citadel Hill — cannot be allowed. The Chief can’t just decide he doesn’t want a good injunction to go to waste. That’s Kinsella showing a police-state mentality.
The police report they issued tickets for gathering in public, noise, traffic violations.
Organizers for the Car Rally for Palestine phoned the police a couple of days before the event to tell the police of their plans for Saturday’s car rally. The organizers were told as long as they stayed in their cars and didn’t contravene the public health order for masking and remained the socially distanced two meters apart, there was no problem with their plan.
As for noise violations: last time I checked, this city (in the pre-Covid era) saw
- huge noisy walks and fun-runs for charities;
- 7-person party pedal bikes racing through town;
- the Harbour Hopper tourist ‘bus’ trundling up and down streets with tour guides continuously broadcasting with loudspeakers;
- an annual St Patrick’s Day parade; plus celebrations outside of bars
- many loud street parties, especially on Canada Day and Natal Day
- honking and driving around when a favoured team wins a sports game.
All of these events are permitted and accepted. The police rarely interfere.
And even when Santa Claus came to town…
Back in the pre-COVID day, I would go to aquafit at the old YMCA on South Park Street on Saturday afternoons. Upon leaving, every year the crowds for the Parade of Lights would physically block my walk home so I had to walk streets out of my way. Traffic anywhere near Spring Garden Road was blocked. Would my complaint to police have been heeded? At funerals, cars drove slowly down main streets with their lights on. On days leading up to major holidays, there are traffic jams in supermarket and mall parking lots. How about fun-runs and fundraising marathons?
Left: Parade of Lights, Halifax 2016 credit: FP images. Right: map of downtown streets closed to traffic for Parade of Lights credit: chronicleherald.ca
Traffic congestion and even traffic jams and intermittent noise are endemic to city life. Why pick on the pro-Palestine rally drivers? Do the police need to be reminded the car rally was Saturday afternoon? The universities, and schools are shut; shops, malls and restaurants are all but closed in the south end and downtown. There was light traffic so no real slowdown or delay for others on the road. So what were the arrests, and the ticketing of respectful and respectable citizens, who stayed in their cars all about?
Race and power…
They were about power.
And as I think about it they could be about race. Ninety percent of the participants at the pro-Palestine car rally on Saturday were of Palestinian or Arab origin. They were protesting Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza. True that is a world away but so was the heavy-handed police response.
Some last thoughts:
Item 1: in 2019 Chief Kinsella gave an abject apology to the way his force has treated African Nova Scotians. He promised the police would do better. Doing better does not merely affect African Nova Scotians – systemic racism undermines all our civil liberties and our freedoms.
Item 2: on June 1, 2020 more than 5,000 Haligonians took a knee in a huge demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter. It marked George Floyd’s murder the previous week at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who suffocated Floyd with a knee on his neck for nearly 9 minutes.
The huge gathering – in the midst of Covid’s first wave — closed Spring Garden Road to traffic. CBC reported that police kept a “discreet distance” on the side streets.
Item 3: in March 2021, there was a call to defund the police. As a first step the idea was to take away police authority in individual crisis situations and give from police to allow social service agencies and human service workers to attend to incidents. That has not happened.
Item 4: in April 2021, HRM Council passed a police budget for 2021-22 with a 3.1 % increase in funding for police; the Halifax police budget now stands at nearly $90 million. The budget also included $795,000 for body cameras, and $85,000 for a one year contract employee to write a report on their use.
These events show that despite the verbal apology and climb down of Chief Kinsella in 2019, two years later he is again flexing police muscle, and the Board of Police Commissioners is allowing it.
This past weekend, cities across Canada saw rallies and demonstrations against Israel’s deadly attacks on Gaza. In the last week alone, more than 200 Palestinians, including 59 children have been killed in airstrikes. Quebec City had nearly 2,000 peaceful and masked protestors, and thousands marched in Montreal . 5,000 protestors filled the square at Toronto city hall. In Vancouver about 2,000 marched. All these cities are suffering with Covid’s third wave, and hundreds (sometimes thousands) of new cases daily. Stores, markets, libraries, restaurants and bars are still closed. Yet in those cities, people could march for Palestinian human rights. As far as we know there were no arrests for merely walking, or driving in a cavalcade, and no tickets issued.
What’s wrong with the picture in Halifax?
Featured Image: “Halifax” by Kyle Jackson (2014) photo credit: Visual Arts Nova Scotia (VANS).