A Burning Cross for Black History Month

by Joanna D'Angelo

No, they weren't filming a movie.

I was shocked and horrified to read about the Howe family in Nova Scotia who woke up to a burning cross with a hangman's noose dangling from it on their front lawn and hearing a chant of "Die n***** die".

Shocked because this is 2010. Shocked because this is Canada.  Nova Scotia has deep African cultural roots and a significant black population.

What a despicable act. But I had to stop and breathe for a moment. Because this does happen in Canada. Unfortunately. Tragically.

Canada has seen its fair share of hate crimes.  Probably one of the worst in my lifetime occurred on December 6th, 1989 when 25 year-old Marc Lépine walked into an engineering class at École Polytechnique and gunned down 14 women (also wounded 10 other women and four men). Then killed himself.  It became known as the Montreal Massacre. It's an event that will forever be burned in my memory.  I was in university - just starting Christmas exams and as soon as I got out of my exam - the entire campus was talking about it.  I was shaken to the core.  We all were. It was such a blatant and violent act against women.  I will never forget that day.

Marc Lépine was clearly mentally unstable to have committed such an horrific murder/suicide - but hate crimes all have at their base mental instability.  Not to mention a deep hatred towards a particular group - based on race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. There is nothing sane about this kind of hatred. It is inhumane, ignorant and vile.

Here are a few stats:

- In 2006, Canadian Police Services covering 87% of the population, reported 892 hate-motivated

- According to the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS) by Statistics Canada which collects self-reported data on individuals’ perceptions of crime, reported about 260,000 incidents motivated by hate. 

The discrepancy between police stats and the GSS stats indicate incidents that are actually reported and investigated by police.

- Police-reported data show that the vast majority of hate crimes were motivated by either race/ethnicity (61%), religion (27%) or sexual orientation (10%). GSS data also indicate that hate crimes motivated by race/ethnicity were the most common.

-  Half of all racially-motivated hate crimes reported by police in 2006 targeted Blacks and nearly two-thirds of religiously-motivated hate crimes were directed at the Jewish faith.

- Half of all hate crimes reported by police were property-related offences, usually mischief, and one-third were violent offences. Conversely, hate crimes reported by victims to the GSS were more likely to be violent than property-related.

This discrepancy would seem to indicate that many who suffer from violent hate crime attacks simply do not report them to the police.

- Data from the GSS indicate that the psychological impacts of crime tend to be more severe when the incident is motivated by hate. In 2004, victims of hate crime more often reported feeling worried than did victims of other crime when walking alone at night and while waiting or using public transportation.

Then again - property offences also have a lasting emotional impact. Imagine seeing a wooden cross burning on your front lawn as the Howes did in Hants County, Nova Scotia. Shayne Howe is black and his partner Michelle is white. They have five children ages 2 to 17.  The Howe family has been living in Hants County for years but are now seriously considering moving because of this attack.

The RCMP is investigating this incident as a hate crime.  I hope that something good comes out of this. Increased media attention would be good. I hope Hants County will rally around the Howe family and show them the support they need right now.  I hope that parents talk about this incident with their children. This kind of hatred should be discussed not ignored.

What does this say about us as a nation? Especially during this time of world unity under the banner of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver? It shames our nation.  It shames humanity.


  1. Powerful article - thanks for writing it. I think it shows for as far as race relations have come, especially in the U.S., that these incidents show how far we need to go. Realistically, will there ever be total harmony? I doubt it in our lifetime, but maybe if future generations work hard at it, there will be.

  2. As a Nova Scotian, I can speak from experience that our reputation as super-friendly, lighthearted Maritimers only counts if you are a white anglo/celtic/european. If you are - heaven forbid - an Acadian, of all things, Nova Scotia is far from friendly. And that doesn't bring into account race differences.

    Also from experience, when I lived in Toronto, huge city of multiculturalism, I was standing beside an Arabic coworker chatting with him when a stranger walked by and insulted him. I called him on it, but it was a useless waste of my precious breath. And this was long before 9/11.

  3. I agree squozed - I don't think there will ever be harmony as long as ignorance keeps breeding more ignorance. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  4. You know Julia as Canadians we have this nice veil of multiculturalism to cover our multitude of sins and as we all know - racism and violence towards women is alive and well here. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. I'm from Mississippi and think cross burning is horrible! My heart goes out this family. I'm old enough (barely) to remember that happening here in the 60's. People should all learn to get along with one another, I doubt it will ever happen.

  6. Martha - I agree with you. It is so pervasive that I don't know if it can be eradicated. Nevertheless, it's important to discuss. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I appreciate it.

  7. Incredibly horrifying, and sad to think people are still so bigoted and narrow-minded. I feared for Obama after his election (and still do) because of such hatred - based on what? He is of mixed race, so the logic should apply that he appeals to all, but unfortunately that's not the case. Even for some of my own family, shockingly. Arguing is no use, sadly. It's every nation's shame, unfortunately.

  8. I agree Cate - it is shameful, shocking and horrible. I think the only way to combat this type of ignorance is to shine a light on it - education is the key - esp. for young children. Thanks for your comment.


Post a Comment

We would love to hear from you but hope you are a real person and not a spammer. :)

Popular Posts