When Kuldip Dhunna picked up a taxi passenger on July 2, the last thing he expected was to be verbally attacked with racial slurs over his request that the passenger consider wearing a mask due to COVID-19 concerns.
“He start yelling to me, ‘you bloody immigrant’. He say, ‘you steal our jobs away from us,'” Dhunna said.
The entire exchange was recorded on the taxi’s video camera and has been shared online by his daughters.
Dhunna says he requested that the man wear a mask because he was coughing in the backseat. Dhunna drives with a mask on and wants to keep himself and his passengers as safe as possible, while the risk of coronavirus transmission is still present.
He says the verbal attack left him hurt and concerned for the welfare of other persons of colour who may also encounter racially charged incidents.
“In Nova Scotia we have many immigrants now. They always on the street, like, brown, Black, all people but if they say, ‘go back to your country’, how would they feel? Especially new immigrants.”
Dhunna immigrated to Canada from India in 2007. Shortly after his arrival, he earned his Canadian citizenship and decided to raise his family in Nova Scotia.
Dhunna says he’s spent the past decade driving a taxi throughout the Halifax Regional Municipality but wasn’t working full-time for the past few months due to concerns over the novel coronavirus.
Recently, he’s begun transitioning back into more regular hours but safety protocols are still top of mind and that’s why he made the request for the passenger to consider wearing a mask.
When the passenger became hostile and hurled racist comments at him, Dhunna says he informed the passenger that he would be contacting the Halifax Regional Police.
He says he grew even more frustrated when he phoned the non-emergency police line for a response and he was told to “ignore” the passenger.
“I called police with very big hope but police, they say, ‘Sir, just ignore him’. So, I say, ‘No’. It hurt me very deeply and the police, they say, ‘there’s no law about that,'” Dhunna said.
Halifax Regional Police acknowledge the passenger made offensive, racially-based comments towards Dhunna but say beyond speaking with the white male passenger, there wasn’t much they could do.
“Officers investigated and determined that there were no ground to support laying criminal charges given the circumstances, however, if additional information comes to light, we would consider reopening the investigation,” said Const. Dylan Jackman, the acting public information officer with Halifax Regional Police.
The passenger has not been identified.
“We encourage anyone who has experienced similar behaviour to contact police. Even if the incident doesn’t lead to criminal charges, it is important to have this information,” Const. Jackman said.
The racial attack has been viewed by thousands online and is causing a surge of outrage over the incident.
Don Darling, the mayor of Saint John in New Brunswick, phoned Dhunna to express his disgust over the verbal assault and to let him know that the municipality of Saint John is introducing a motion that calls on provincial and federal governments to bring forward legislative changes aimed at making racial discrimination a punishable offence.
“We could have and likely do have, repeat offenders when it comes to this type of behaviour and discrimination but if there’s no repercussions from it, we’re likely not going to get at the root of the issue. So, we’re calling on all levels of government to take this decisive action,” Darling said.
Dhunna says he’s urging people to call out acts of racism wherever they occur.
“My message is, just don’t ignore it. If somebody tells you, raise your voice,” he said.