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Dalhousie professor Isaac Saney says he and his baby girl Ashah Joan Mary-Katherine Vaughan Saney, five months, were victims of a racist attack in October. The two were at a media conference Thursday to announce the formation of a new group, Racism-Free Transit. - ERIC WYNNE
Dalhousie professor Isaac Saney says he and his baby girl Ashah Joan Mary-Katherine Vaughan Saney, five months, were victims of a racist attack in October. The two were at a media conference Thursday to announce the formation of a new group, Racism-Free Transit. - ERIC WYNNE

Isaac Saney sat silently in a daze as two people yelled racist remarks at him and his four-month-old daughter on a Halifax Transit bus.

But now, the Dalhousie University professor is speaking out with the new group, Racist-Free Transit in Halifax, to address racial incidents that happen on buses.

“That someone would threaten a little baby, I think in the sense, that was the final straw,” said Saney at a news conference at the Glitter Bean Cafe in Halifax on Thursday.

The Dalhousie prof told media of the Oct. 25 incident, where a white woman and man made several racist comments to him and his daughter while they boarded the bus. The comments continued after they got on.

“They began to make a bunch of antagonizing, racist comments about people being let in, people who don’t have manners or priorities of people in Canada,” recalled Saney.

Saney said when he asked them to stop, it made matters worse.

“They shouted threats at me in the bus, pointed at me and the stroller and the baby, ‘wait until we get you guys off the bus,’ several times,’” he recalled.

The Halifax Transit bus driver kicked the man and woman making the racist threats off the bus and reported the incident.

A passenger pointed out to Saney the man and woman had run off to where he previously requested the bus driver let him off.

“I was extremely alarmed, worried about the safety of my young child,” said Saney.

The woman passenger got off with the Dalhousie professor and called police.

“This is not just about the incident that happened to me and my beautiful baby girl,” said Saney. “There’s a pattern of events, a pattern of incidents.”

Racism-Free Transit, a new group targeting racism on public transit held a news conference at Glitter Bean Cafe Thursday. The group, which includes Connor Smithers-Mapp, left, Dalhouse Professor Isaac Saney, former Halifax Transit driver Tonya Paris and recent university graduate Rosa Poirier-McKiggan spokes to the media about racism towards users and employees of Halifax Transit. - Eric wynne
Racism-Free Transit, a new group targeting racism on public transit held a news conference at Glitter Bean Cafe Thursday. The group, which includes Connor Smithers-Mapp, left, Dalhouse Professor Isaac Saney, former Halifax Transit driver Tonya Paris and recent university graduate Rosa Poirier-McKiggan spokes to the media about racism towards users and employees of Halifax Transit. - Eric wynne

Tonya Paris said racial violence is common, noting she witnessed it about three to four times a week while working as a Halifax Transit driver.

“People are not feeling safe and that’s unfair,” said Paris, who also experienced racism at her former job.

“Racism is affecting all of us, not just the people of colour,” said Paris.

Connor Smithers-Mapp said the advocacy group is hoping for a “culture shift.”

“Where people feel empowered and protected in interrupting racism and reporting racism in public spaces, especially on transit, but this empowerment and protection has to be trusted by policy change,” said Smithers-Mapp, a member of Racist-Free Transit in Halifax.

“There’s an obvious deficit in Halifax Transit’s policy on racism and racial incidents. If you peruse the HRM Halifax Transit code of conduct, it’s a very generic document that talks about horse-play and bad behaviour but does not exclusively reference racist incidents.”

The group has yet to meet with the municipality.

“Our hope is that they will ultimately work with us and help us fashion the kinds of protections that I think all people deserve,” said Smithers-Mapp.

Raymond Sheppard, a human rights advocate, spoke out from the crowd at the news conference in frustration.

“It’s not up to us to solve the problem because we’re victims of it,” Shepperd said.

Rosa Poirier-McKiggan acknowledged she’s taken for granted the feeling of safety she experiences on public transit.

“I will never be made to feel unsafe on public transit because of the colour of my skin,” said the recent Dalhousie graduate. “I’m here asking other white people to confront racism whenever and wherever they witness it.”

Poirier-McKiggan, a regular Halifax Transit user, called out a man for yelling at a South-East Asian woman and her baby on the bus.

“As he passed her, he asserted himself in her space and stated something to the effect of (expletive) Filipino, go home,’” the recent grad recalled.

Poirier-McKiggan said she approached the man, told him “there is zero tolerance for racism and harassment on this bus,” and he responded aggressively.

“The surrounding passengers, who were white and were male, said and did nothing,” she said.

Members of the group are encouraging fellow transit users to speak up, without risking their own safety, and report racist actions.

Const. John MacLeod said Halifax Regional Police take reports of racism “very seriously.”

“If someone finds themselves exposed to behaviour that is offensive, threatening or intimidating, we encourage them to report it to police to investigate so we can determine if criminal offences have occurred,” said the police spokesman.

“Even if the investigation does not find criminal wrong doing in that specific incident, it is important to have it on record,” said MacLeod.

Halifax Regional Municipality did not respond before deadline.

Dalhousie professor Isaac Saney says he and his baby girl Ashah Joan Mary-Katherine Vaughan Saney, five months, were victims of a racist attack in October. - Eric Wynne
Dalhousie professor Isaac Saney says he and his baby girl Ashah Joan Mary-Katherine Vaughan Saney, five months, were victims of a racist attack in October. - Eric Wynne

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