News / Halifax

'I'm sorry if I offended anyone:' Coun. Matt Whitman apologizes for saying 'negro' during interview

The Halifax councillor made the statement at Halifax City Hall as council began.

Councillor Matt Whitman listens to proceedings at City Hall in this file photo.

Staff / Metro Halifax

Councillor Matt Whitman listens to proceedings at City Hall in this file photo.

A Halifax regional councillor apologized on Tuesday for “inappropriate dialogue” after he used an offensive word during a television interview last week.

Coun. Matt Whitman used the word “negro” during an interview with CTV Atlantic. The TV station was talking to him about an argument he’d been having on Twitter with Coun. Shawn Cleary about whether the word “marijuana” is racist. He said “Mexican” isn’t a race, but “negro” is.

Four councillor conduct complaints were filed with the municipal clerk’s office as of Monday afternoon, but a municipal spokesperson couldn’t confirm which councillor they were related to, or whether they were all related to the same councillor. Metro has seen confirmation that at least two of those were against Whitman.

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting of council’s committee of the whole, Whitman rose on to speak on a point of privilege.

“I apologize to my colleague and all members of council for any embarrassment I may have caused. My comments never meant to insult, hurt, demean or otherwise disparage anyone. My posts lost sight of the issue, and I became engulfed in inappropriate dialogue,” he said.

“For that, I apologize. I’m sorry if I offended anyone. That never was, nor has ever been, my intent. In future I commit to, as Mayor Savage has said, read twice, send once.”

Whitman declined to speak to reporters during a break in the meeting, and said only, “The apology stands.”

“He did the right thing,” Mayor Mike Savage told reporters during the break. “He came to council today and he apologized, and that doesn’t nullify the issues we have to deal with. It helps.”

Though Whitman’s comment was made on television, not social media, Savage said he’s indicated to councillors before that they need to be careful about what they say on social media.

“It was a poor choice of words, no question, and that’s right, but I think it was all spurred on initially by a conversation that started on social media,” he said.

Savage said he was surprised Whitman used the word.

“I don’t think it’s a term you use now,” Savage said. “Do I think it was meant maliciously? No, but I think you have to be responsible for your choice of words … Is it the worst possible term you could use? No, but it’s not a good one.”

Despite his apology, the complaint process against Whitman continues. The matter will come to council for an in camera discussion, and he could be forced to apologize again, attend counselling, or be removed from committees.

Also, Cleary said Tuesday the social media fight between himself and Whitman is besides the point when compared to Whitman's language on TV.

“I think he should be apologizing to all residents of Halifax, especially our racialized communities for using the words that he used. The Twitter debate that we had, while fun, was just between him and I. What ended up resulting from that, I think, was much beyond,” he said.

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