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‘Go back to your country’: Halifax taxi driver endures racist rant after asking passenger to wear mask

Halifax taxi driver Kuldip Dhunna was berated by a customer last week after he politely asked the man to wear a mask next time.
Halifax taxi driver Kuldip Dhunna was berated by a customer last week after he politely asked the man to wear a mask next time. July 6, 2020. - Eric Wynne
HALIFAX, N.S. —

When Kuldip Dhunna drives passengers in his cab, he always wears a mask.

So, when a man got in his Halifax taxi last week without a mask and started coughing, Dhunna was alarmed.

“Due to COVID-19, I just (told) him, ‘next time, please go with a mask,’” Dhunna said.

But he wasn’t prepared for the man’s response, a racial slur. The man said immigrants were stealing Canadians’ jobs and that Dhunna should go back to his country.

Dhunna calmly asked the man to get out of his car and said he would call the police. Video of the incident was recorded on Dhunna’s dash cam.

“We’re not slaves here," Dhunna said. "We are professionals. I’m just working for my kids. We have to give them a better life.”

That moment and Dhunna’s response are a representation of what many immigrants in Canada go through.

Shivani, Dhunna’s daughter, said she has heard a lot of stories from immigrants who have faced racism.

“Our parents come from their homeland leaving comfort," she said. "And when they come here, they have to start from scratch. … And on top of that, they face such racism. It’s just unacceptable.”

Dhunna is a Canadian citizen. He came to Canada with his family 14 years ago and has been in Halifax since 2009.

He said he’s worried not only for other immigrants, but also for his kids, who may continue to face racism if nobody raises their voice.

That’s why he called the police. But their response didn’t meet his expectations.

“The policeman talked with me," Dhunna said. "He said, ‘you’re a good citizen, you’re Canadian.’ He said, ‘you just ignore him.’”

Dhunna says he didn’t want the man to go to jail but wanted the police to talk to him. So he felt distressed when the policeman said to ignore the man.

“It hurt me," he said. "I didn’t sleep the whole night when I came home.”

Dhunna said police eventually met with him and the passenger.

Const. John MacLeod, Halifax Regional Police spokesman, said the investigation revealed no criminal offence had occurred.

Dhunna said he was surprised police don't ticket people for racist behaviour.

Last November, an NDP MLA in British Columbia, Ravi Kahlon, urged the government there to implement non-criminal sanctions such as ticketing to prevent racist acts. At the time, the province said it was looking into the MLA’s recommendations.

Kuldip Dhunna and his daughter Shivani say they want to raise awareness of racism that immigrants face in Canada. - Contributed
Kuldip Dhunna and his daughter Shivani say they want to raise awareness of racism that immigrants face in Canada. - Contributed

Shivani says there should always be repercussions for people who exhibit racist behaviour.

"The racist could hurt somebody tomorrow if they're not held accountable," she said.

When Dhunna found out the police couldn’t legally do anything to reprimand the man, Shivani said he felt hopeless.

So Shivani and her sister, Simran, took it upon themselves to bring awareness to the issue and post the video on social media.

At first, Shivani was hesitant because she expected her father, like many immigrant parents, wouldn’t want to speak about racism.

“It’s things like (racism) that our parents normalize," she said. "Like, ‘it’s OK, it’s just part of being an immigrant.’ But it’s really not and it’s really unacceptable.”

Shivani said young immigrants should talk to their parents about racism and encourage them to speak up.

“By speaking up, I felt like this would help other immigrants talk about their experiences as well,” she said. “If they have come in contact with police about such instances, I think they should question why the police didn’t do anything.”

MacLeod said determining whether racist comments are a criminal offence depends on the comments made and the context in which they’re said.

He added that comments leading to an offence “generally go towards public incitement of hatred” or may undermine the welfare of the community.

“Those behaviours are not acceptable and shouldn’t be happening to anyone whether they meet that criminal threshold or not,” he said.

MacLeod encouraged people to report racist incidents so police can investigate and document them.

“If no one reports it and no one speaks about it, then no one becomes aware of it.”

Nebal Snan is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. 

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