Man accuses Halifax councillor of racial stereotyping after encounter at mall

Thu, Jan 25: A Halifax councilor no stranger to controversy is once again in hot water over something he said. Matt Whitman's encounter with a local man has become the focus of a recent podcast asking listeners if what the councilor said is racist or ignorant. Steve Silva explains.

A Halifax man said he felt uncomfortable following comments made by a municipal councillor in a mall on Saturday.

Duane Jones said he was with his brother buying clothes in Halifax when they saw District 13 Coun. Matt Whitman nearby. While Jones recognized Whitman, the councillor did not know the brothers.

Jones asked a store employee about pants with an athletic fit.

“Whitman said something to the effect of, ‘Oh, a more athletic guy couldn’t have asked that question,'” he recounted on Thursday.

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Jones said he and his brother, both of whom are black, chuckled.

“Then he asked, ‘Well, do you play for the [Halifax] Hurricanes [basketball team]?’ And we said, ‘No.’ And then he said, ‘Well, you should play for the Hurricanes.’ So then we kind of laughed uncomfortably, and it was just one of those things where I felt like it wasn’t a big deal but, at the same time, I had this gut feeling of, like, ‘Here we go again. You know, if it’s not a basketball player, it’s a drug dealer,'” he said.

Both brothers are more than six-feet tall.

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READ: Halifax Coun. Matt Whitman calls ‘Chinese fire drill’ video a ‘distraction’

In an episode of a podcast called Changing the Narrative, which Jones co-hosts, Jones said Whitman is “either really ignorant, or he’s just a friggin’ racist.”

An excerpt of the recording, which contains profanity, is on YouTube.

Whitman attracted negative attention last year for participating in a so-called “Chinese fire drill” and, in a separate incident, using the word “negro” in an interview.

He declined an interview but did provide a statement via text message.

“I did not know them. But they were tall. And they were former basketball players. They are looking for their 15 minutes of fame… They are at about 14 minutes right now,” he wrote to this reporter.

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Jones said he and his brother do play basketball, though not professionally.

“We’re both guys who work in corporate situations, and we’re trying to gain credibility in these workplaces that’s beyond being about our bodies and what we can do on the basketball court. And it’s very frustrating when you’re constantly being brought back to that,” he said.

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If Whitman had seen Jones playing basketball, Jones said he would have taken Whitman’s words at the mall as a “compliment.”

WATCH: Halifax council hears second apology from Coun. Matt Whitman over offensive comments

‘He should be apologizing to all residents’: Halifax council hears second apology from Councillor Matt Whitman over offensive comments
‘He should be apologizing to all residents’: Halifax council hears second apology from Councillor Matt Whitman over offensive comments

Jones said he wished he had “the courage” at the time to tell Whitman how he felt, and that the councillor should have been more careful with what was alleged to have been said.

There’s a bigger issue than the incident at the mall, though. It’s about people being labelled, people believing those labels, and the resulting problems,” he said.

“It’s dangerous.”

Last year, Halifax councillors voted to undergo sensitivity training in response to complaints against them.

“The CAO is working with the mayor to determine the details of the sensitivity training, which is expected to take place in the coming months. The resourcing will likely be external but there will be support from both internal and external staff to facilitate the training,” municipal spokesperson Erin DiCarlo said in an email.

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