'Twelve hours I spent in jail'
March 9, 2018 8:17 AM   Subscribe

In 1946, Viola Desmond went to see a movie in the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Instead of the blacks-only balcony she was supposed to sit in, she sat in the main level of the cinema. She was arrested, spent the night in jail, and charged with tax evasion -- of the one cent difference in taxes between the two tickets. Her appeal was denied, but she helped start the civil rights movement in Canada with her actions.

In 2018, the Bank of Canada unveiled the new 10 dollar note, with the portrait of Viola Desmond. Her sister, Wanda Robson got a sneak peek.

In 2010, Viola Desmond received a posthumous free pardon, the first in Nova Scotia. The pardon was signed by lieutenant governor Mayann Francis, the first black Nova Scotian in that position. In 2016 a Heritage Minute recreated the incident. There is also a longer documentary of her story.

The building on the other side of the note is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
posted by Homeboy Trouble (23 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Huh. I was certainly aware that Canadian history was far from free from racism, but I had no idea they had actual Jim Crow laws in some plalces.
posted by tavella at 8:43 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Wanda is a delight. Imagine being 93 years old and seeing your sister on your money.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:53 AM on March 9 [18 favorites]


I had no idea they had actual Jim Crow laws in some plalces.

There was an interesting Ideas programme that looks at some of the history of this through the prism of Black activism in Canada.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:01 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


Huh. I was certainly aware that Canadian history was far from free from racism, but I had no idea they had actual Jim Crow laws in some plalces.

Especially when you consider how aboriginals have been treated in this country (residential schools as one example), or how the Japanese were internned in Canada, Canada has absolutely zero footing to look down on any other nation on race issues.

I'm from Nova Scotia originally, spent a bunch of time working with black and aboriginal activists there, and racism is alive and well in the province that Viola called home. Police still street check (or card) youth despite plenty of evidence that overwhelmingly young males of color are targeted. I can dig up three recent examples of currently sitting town councillors in Nova Scotia who've had to apologize for blatant racist statements or acts in the last year or two. So yeah, Canada is as much a racist cesspool as anywhere else.
posted by notorious medium at 9:32 AM on March 9 [13 favorites]


I’m not crying you’re crying
posted by greermahoney at 9:36 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]


Aww her sister's reaction is amazing. Love she got out her magnifier!
posted by sio42 at 9:53 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


That human rights museum is amazing. We spent not nearly enough time there last fall - it's huge and covers a wide range of eras and events and is intellectually and psychologically overwhelming. Highly recommended if you are in Winnipeg, especially if you can go for a few hours at a time over multiple days.

Some nice touches:
  • All the walkways between floors are inclined, to give you a sense of literal upward progress as you climb toward the top floor, which focuses on present-day human rights initiatives
  • The middle floor is a lovely place with rocks and stumps around a winding river, where you can relax and reflect on or recover from the rest of the museum
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:54 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


I heard on the radio today that on the Bank of Canada site for the bill there's a button that lets you spin the bill around to see all sides of it. There's an Easter egg if you click the button 20 times. Didn't say what it was but said it would be good for fans of space invaders.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:57 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


there's a button that lets you spin the bill around to see all sides of it. There's an Easter egg if you click the button 20 times.

It's true... there is.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:10 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


I saw this yesterday and was immediately like "Oooh, that's pretty"

I love the designs the Bank of Canada has been coming out with so much. They're gorgeous.
posted by quaking fajita at 10:16 AM on March 9


I'm actually excited to get change back and get this bill for the first time.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:52 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


There seems to be dust in the room! eta: (my room, not hers)
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 11:03 AM on March 9


I had no idea they had actual Jim Crow laws in some plalces.

If only! There was never even the pretense of “separate but equal” up here; it was nothing but bald-faced racism. Many towns in Canada once had a satellite neighbourhood with a very unfortunate name. They’re mostly forgotten now — the government would neglect these neighbourhoods, which would make them delapidated, which would become a handy excuse to “revitalize” (i.e. bulldoze) them — but if you ask an older person (not even that much older) they’ll tell you all about it.

Nova Scotia in particular has a loooooong history of not being great to Black people. Back in the eighteenth century, American-born Loyalists who fought for the British during the Revolution were awarded land in Canada; many of the Black Loyalists ended up in the backwoods of Nova Scotia on less and worse land than White Loyalists got. Many very quickly were like, “Man, fuck this bullshit,” and caught the first boat to Sierra Leone. And then there’s Africville, which, see above.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:11 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]


"Inflation Busters" someone's getting disciplined. These things just aren't done on government sites.
posted by Yowser at 12:12 PM on March 9


Never mind, they did it on purpose?

I'm very confused.
posted by Yowser at 12:16 PM on March 9


There are some shameful things in our history that have been hidden well enough to actually cause shock when we learn of their existence. I've always been studious and interested in history when I was in school, but those things were never mentionned. And after school, most of my energy was spent on honing other skills related to my career.

It certainly took a while for those shame bubbles to make their way up to the surface of our collective consciousness from the depths of where they were confined all those years.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 12:53 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


I just realized for her to have been charged with tax evasion they must have been charging MORE, not less, for the blacks-only balcony, which is a special kind of nerve I cannot even imagine.
posted by corb at 1:25 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


What I really like about the video with Wanda is the pause at around 20-25 seconds in; she must not know exactly what she's being getting filmed for. She sees the envelope, reads "Bank of Canada", then turns it over, opens it up and it takes just a bit to recognize what's in the envelope -- when she touches the note, feels the distinctive polymer and sees it's the size and colour of a $10. There's just that tiny pause of a few seconds before she slides it out, where you can see it sink in that she's about to come face to face with the bill they've been talking about for two years, and then when she's ready, she looks.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:28 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


corb: "I just realized for her to have been charged with tax evasion they must have been charging MORE, not less, for the blacks-only balcony, which is a special kind of nerve I cannot even imagine."

Balcony tickets were cheaper, but when she asked for a main floor ticket they charged her for and gave her a balcony ticket. She returned to the ticket booth and tried to pay for a ticket upgrade and was refused, the cashier telling her “I'm sorry but I'm not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.” So Desmond went back and sat on the main floor anyways. The situation escalated from there.

From www.blackpast.org: "It was also common practice for the New Glasgow theatre to assign tickets based on race with an amusement tax determined by seat location. Those purchasing a downstairs ticket paid a tax of three cents while patrons in the balcony paid a tax of two cents. Ironically Desmond was charged with tax evasion for her failure to pay the proper tax for a downstairs ticket. She was, according to prosecutors, one cent short."

The Canadian Encyclopedia article on Desmond includes period articles from historic Black Nova Scotian newspaper The Clarion (I can't link to the articles directly, but you can click on their images on the Encyclopedia page to open a larger more readable image).

News snippet from The Clarion after Desmond's application to have her conviction quashed was rejected for technical reasons:
"The Desmond Case

Although the Supreme Court decision in the Desmond case which was handed down last week was disappointing, we would like to applaud the objective manner in which the judges handled the case.

It would appear that the decision was the only one possible under the law. While in the moral sense we feel disappointed, we must realize that the law must be interpreted as it is.

The Clarion feels that the reason for the decision lies in the manner in which the case was presented to the Court. This was very strongly implied by the Supreme Court. This is a regrettable fact. The Court did not hesitate to place the blame for the whole sordid affair where it belonged. Mr. Justice W.L. Hall in his comment on the case said in part "One wonders if the Manager of the theatre who laid the complaint was so zealous because of a bona fide belief that there had been an attempt to defraud the Province of the sum of one cent or was it a surreptitious endeavour to enforce a "Jim Crow" by misuse of a public statute."

It is gratifying to know that such a shoddy attempt to hide behind the law has been recognized as such by the highest Court in our Province. We feel that the owners and managers of places of amusement will now realize that such practices are recognized by those in authority for what they are - cowardly devices to persecute innocent people because of their outmoded racial biases"
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:06 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


"Inflation Busters" someone's getting disciplined. These things just aren't done on government sites.

Never mind, they did it on purpose?

I'm very confused.


I am confused, too. The Space Invaders easter egg seems pretty disrespectful, given the context.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:30 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Coincidental with this I asked a Black Canadian friend to recommend a Canadian history, as I know nothing; am now in the middle of Afua Cooper's history "The Hanging of Angelique," about the Portugal-born slave hanged for burning Old Montreal. Learning a lot.
posted by goofyfoot at 10:39 PM on March 9



"Inflation Busters" someone's getting disciplined. These things just aren't done on government sites.

Never mind, they did it on purpose?

I'm very confused.

I am confused, too. The Space Invaders easter egg seems pretty disrespectful, given the context.


Seems to be gone. Or else it doesn't work in Safari.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:05 AM on March 10


They've done it before.
posted by quaking fajita at 4:55 PM on March 10


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