Charge in N.S. case involving noose sign comes after 18-month investigation

A man has been charged with willfully promoting hatred 18 months after a sign featuring an image of a noose was spotted on his cabin. Submitted by Angela Bowden

Editor’s note: This story contains an image of an offensive symbol. Reader discretion is advised.

After nearly two years, Angela Bowden still remembers the fear she felt when she laid eyes on a sign bolted to a cabin in the woods of Queens County, N.S.

Bowden, an African Nova Scotian writer and poet, had been spending the 2020 Labour Day weekend in a cottage with friends and family in the Greenfield area.

One of her friends returned from an outing and reported seeing a disturbing sign on a nearby cottage – a sign depicting a noose, with the words “Redneck Hangout.”

Bowden went to go see it herself and was shocked by the sight.

“I immediately started to shake. The image was so unsettling and I just wanted to get out of there,” she said. “We felt very unsafe.”

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The sign affixed to the cabin featured an image of a noose and the words ‘Redneck Hangout.’. Submitted by Angela Bowden

Bowden said by now, the symbolism behind the image of a noose should be well-understood.

“Unless you grew up on the planet Mars, the noose is synonymous with lynching of Black folks. It’s like the golden arches: you know what it is when you see it, it’s not something that you have to guess,” she said.

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“When you see that noose, you instantly know what that represents.”

The incident put a damper on the rest of the weekend. Bowden said the group was worried for their safety and had trouble sleeping that night.

“That message was clear to us that we weren’t welcome in that neck of the woods,” she said.

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Man charged

One of her friends made a complaint to the RCMP and Bowden provided them with pictures she took of the sign – and 18 months later, a charge was brought forward.

On Wednesday, the Nova Scotia RCMP announced they had charged Mark Andrew Kozlowski of Dartmouth with willfully promoting hatred against any identifiable group, on March 22.

Kozlowski, 46, has pleaded not guilty. The charge has not been proven in court.

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In an interview Thursday, RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall said officers in the Queens County district received a complaint in September 2020 about a sign on a cabin on Beaver Tail Lane, which was visible from the roadway.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall said the charge follows an 18-month investigation.
RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall said the charge follows an 18-month investigation. Global News

Police seized the sign and Kozlowski, who police say is the property owner, was arrested on Sept. 16, 2020, and released without charges.

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Marshall said investigators have been gathering further evidence and information over the last 18 months, and have had “lots of discussions” with the Public Prosecution Service to ensure the threshold was met to lay charges.

“In order for charges of the willful promotion of hatred to be laid, ultimately it has to be content that’s displayed in a public place and clearly targets an identifiable group, that is basically something that rises above the level of simply a remark,” he said.

“But there are sometimes things that are much more subvert.”

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Marshall said a search warrant was executed for Kozlowski’s phone, and it also took time for investigators to sift through its contents to gather evidence.

He could not say what was gathered, but said they were looking for any further evidence that could “corroborate the intent of the sign.”

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“And ultimately, whether or not we could get the objective belief on reasonable grounds that the sign itself, and all the circumstances surrounding it, met the definition of willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group,” he said.

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Marshall said the RCMP takes allegations of hateful acts seriously.

“Any act that promotes hatred … is absolutely unacceptable in our view, and our investigators are going to follow up on any information that we receive,” he said.

Creating new wounds

Bowden said she is still processing the news about the charge and has mixed feelings.

“On one hand, yes, of course, it’s nice that justice does its job and the wheels are turning and we’re recognizing that that’s something that we’re not going to tolerate in our society,” she said.

“But charges are only as good as the conviction, the conviction is only as good as the sentencing – and we’ve seen far too much in Nova Scotia where people are charged, people are convicted, and then there’s a slap on the wrist, because I don’t believe that the justice system in itself is able to actually view these incidences in the proper context, or through the proper lens.”

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“So I guess my expectation and hope would be, for this particular case, that they do seek that expertise, and they do seek those resources, so justice can be served for African Nova Scotians in this province.”

Bowden says she has mixed feelings about the charge being laid. Submitted by Angela Bowden

Bowden added that this case is not just about a sign – it’s a reminder of the centuries of racism and oppression felt by Black people around the world.

“These types of incidents, they not only rip open old wounds, they create new wounds. And it just keeps going and going and going,” she said.

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“And so I think it’s important for us to recognize, as a society, that when these types of behaviours happen, the ripple effect is felt straight throughout the Black communities of Nova Scotia, Canada and beyond.

“We’re dealing with people’s trauma – historically and contemporary.”

‘Trial by social media’

Kozlowski is the president of Wilson Equipment Ltd. He could not be reached for comment Thursday, and a person who answered the phone at Wilson Equipment said the company had no comment.

Kozlowski’s lawyer, Victor Goldberg, said in an interview that he believes this is a matter of “character assassination” and his client maintains his innocence.

“Mark’s done nothing illegal and I’m confident that he will be exonerated when this matter comes to court,” he said. “What’s unfortunate is that the presumption of innocence that operates in our court system doesn’t necessarily operate (in) a trial by social media.”

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Asked about what the noose on the sign meant, Goldberg said he won’t comment on the facts surrounding the charge.

“He’s entered a not guilty plea and the trial’s been scheduled … so I’m not going to start getting into any description of facts or any interpretations of the facts,” he said.

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The matter will go to trial March 27-28, 2023.

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