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‘Black robes, white justice’: protesters meet outside Pictou courthouse on Friday

It must have been nearly -20 degrees Celsius outside the Pictou Court house on Friday, Jan. 18.

Hands clutching speeches written on sheets of paper or on smart phones were turning red and raw from the cold. Nonetheless, people were there to protest the leniency shown to Shawn Wade Hynes by Judge Del Atwood back in January when Hynes did not come for his scheduled first court appearance.

Hynes is the man who, back in September 2018, is accused of shooting a co-worker Nhanhla Dlamini in the back with a nail-gun. He was supposed to be in court on Jan. 7, but he didn’t show-up. Del-Atwood rescheduled the court date for Feb. 11 and reserved the right to issue a warrant should Hynes fail to appear again.

At the time Hynes was seeking the legal council of Stellarton lawyer James David O’Blenis. However, Hynes retention of O’Blenis was not yet official.

According to court audio from Jan. 7, this likely factored in del-Atwood’s decision to not issue a bench warrant.

“As he has not firmed up his retention of Mr. Shawn Wade Hynes, he (O’Blenis) is requesting we adjourn the matter over to February,” said Del Atwood. “The court will reserve until that date its decision whether to issue a warrant for Mr. Hynes.”

The court date was re-scheduled until Feb. 11 at 10:30 a.m.

“If I was scheduled today to be in this court house, there’s no misconception in mind, that if I didn’t show up I bet you by this afternoon there’d be a warrant issued for my arrest,” said veteran and human rights activist Raymond Sheppard.

“So, when judge Atwood said, ‘well you know he doesn’t have a lawyer, and this that or the other thing’, and so on, and let Mr. Hynes go without any consequence, he was using in my opinion he was using his white privilege to say, ‘hey brother, come back on Feb. 11.’

Sheppard was one of the organizers of the protest which saw more than a dozen people gathered from Pictou County and Halifax. He and others point to past cases where Del Atwood presided and where bench warrants were issued when the accused did not present themselves in court.

In particular, they point to a case back in May 2017 where Atwood issued a warrant after Brandon MacDonald failed to appear in court.

MacDonald was charged with not having a helper’s license on a fishing boat.

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“We compared it to the lobster fisherman. He didn’t appear to court and it was judge Atwood hit the hammer pretty hard on that guy,” said Angela Bowden who also helped organize Friday’s event as well as past protests at the Pictou court hours and in Halifax.

Angela Bowden speaks to the group gathered outside the Pictou courthouse on Friday

“When you see that type of inconsistency and you see the type of crimes that was committed, it sends a clear message to the black community that your lives don’t matter,” said Bowden in a phone interview.

The events of Friday highlight an ongoing anger about the way that this case has been handled.

The incident which left Dlamini in hospital for four days is being seen as the culmination of three weeks of racial taunting and workplace pranks that he says were only being directed at him because of his race.

Furthermore, Dlamini says that Hynes repeatedly called him a word that sounds like the ‘n-word’ and told him that ‘everyone should own a black person’.

Protesters have previously called for upgraded charges against Hynes including attempted murder in what they say is clearly a hate crime.

Incidentally, the number of police reported hate crimes went up 47 per cent between 2014 and 2017, according to the most recent data from Stats Canada. Within that percentage, there had been an 84 per cent increase in crimes against black people nationwide.

"Shawn my have shot NH, but we all felt that wound," said Bowden. 

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