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Black in Halifax: Mayor Mike Savage on racism, street checks and councillor language

The mayor sat down with Metro for our Black in Halifax series.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage

Staff / File photo

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage

Mayor Mike Savage sat down with Metro for a Q&A style interview and discussed everything from street checks, language by councillors, and hiring at City Hall. The answers were edited for length and clarity.

Do you think Halifax has a racism problem?

You can’t look at the history of our city and say that there isn’t a racism issue. We have parts of our city that have been the victim of systemic racism for years, decades, throughout their history really, and there continues to be issues where race plays a factor where it shouldn’t.

How have you personally helped the Black community as mayor?

I think one of the great things we have done as a city is we set up a department specifically to look at issues of diversity and inclusion. I think it was overdue and it was really very important on a number of issues.... We have a perspective that I don’t think we had on a continual basis before.

We know you can’t stop street checks, but some in the community feel your voice should be stronger on this issue. Why hasn’t it been?

I don’t tell the police how to do their business. It’s that simple. I don’t. It’s not our job as council. It is our job to make sure that there is the understanding and the relationship building with communities such as the African Nova Scotian community so that they can react to these. I think the work that the police commission has done has been very useful in bringing in the professor from the U of T to do the work and we will react very strongly to that. We will take that seriously.

Some language by councillors has been under scrutiny recently. Should your voice be louder when city officials make inappropriate remarks?

I think my voice was very loud. Certainly I’ve talked to the councillors who’ve made comments that were either out of date or completely inappropriate of people of colour, including Indigenous people as well.... I think the language that Coun. Whitman used was wrong. Not just a little bit out of date or historically out of place, but wrong. Because the world changes, and we as elected representatives have a responsibility to change with that. I think my voice has been very strong on issues of diversity in this city and I don’t hide my point of view. I also don’t exaggerate it. We have a responsibility to use language when we refer to people that they embrace.

What if anything is being done to ensure more Black citizens are being hired for jobs within the city?

It’s part of our economic plan, it’s part of our HR policies that we want to be more reflective.... We’ve had issues in the past where not only have we not hired enough people, African Nova Scotians for example, but then when they have worked here they’ve been the victim of discrimination. So we know that we have to do better.

Why do you think the Black community continues to express that the city is not listening to their experiences and expertise?

It’s probably part history and part performance. We have had communities within HRM that have been cut off in every way possible from a transit/transportation connection point of view historically, to where we ran waterlines historically, to where health services were provided historically, to where we put libraries and rec centres and all those things. It would be very hard to look at the history of this municipality … and say that there hasn’t been considerations of race in the distribution of services. So that’s a real issue. We can’t be defensive about the deficiencies or the history that we represent. On a go-forward basis, we have to be open and honest and respectful and try to do better.

What is your message to the Black community of Halifax as their mayor?

We need to do better and we are trying to do better, and with your help we will do better. We welcome people from around the world now. We live on the unceded lands of the Mi’kmaq people, so we have to respect that. We also have people who’ve been here for generations who have been the victim of systems that have been set up which have excluded them, so we have to do better. While we welcome people from around the world — and I absolutely think it’s the right thing to do — we also need to do a better job of providing opportunity and access to communities that have been here for a long time. We want to do that.

This story is part of Metro's ongoing Black in Halifax series. Let us know your thoughts on the series, and share your own stories using the hashtag #HalifaxWhileBlack with tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook comments. We may just share it in a future edition.

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