POLITICS

Matt Whitman, Halifax City Councillor, Accused Of Racism After 'Chinese Fire Drill' Video

03/28/2017 07:49 EDT | Updated 03/28/2017 07:49 EDT

HALIFAX — A Halifax councillor and provincial Tory candidate has apologized for racially insensitive language he used on a video posted to his YouTube page.

Coun. Matt Whitman had posted a video showing him yelling "Chinese fire drill!'' as he and a friend scrambled from a car.

Whitman removed the short video Sunday, a week after he posted it. At the time, he said it had become a "distraction,'' but on Tuesday he apologized amid a growing backlash.

"I apologize for my lapse in judgement and my unintentional use of what I now understand to be an insensitive term,'' he said in a Facebook post.

"I never meant to offend or hurt anyone. I have learned from this experience.''

matt whitman Matt Whitman is also the Progressive Conservative candidate for Hammonds Plains-Lucasville. (Photo: Facebook)

The roughly 12-second video shows Whitman running around the car with a passenger after he screams the expression, prompting several people on Twitter to accuse him of being racially insensitive.

"'Chinese fire drill' is the kind of thing that should get people fired from public office,'' tweeted Melissa Mackie on Saturday.

Whitman is also the Progressive Conservative candidate for Hammonds Plains-Lucasville. Tory Leader Jamie Baillie was not available for an interview about the video, and the party declined to give a comment.

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, who is a professor at Dalhousie University, said the expression is concerning because of its history.

"A concern that I have about the term is the racist origin and hence racist overtones,'' she said in an email.

The term dates back to a botched fire drill during the Second World War, according to University of King's College professor Simon Kow.

"Some people will find it offensive,'' he said. "It obviously taps into a stereotype about Chinese, meaning something which is chaotic, confused, incompetent, that sort of thing.''

"People should be careful how they use language.''
— Simon Kow, University of King's College professor

Kow, who is of Chinese descent, said in the context of more extreme comments made by public figures, the content of the video isn't surprising.

"It's not OK,'' he said. "People should be careful how they use language.''

RCMP Cpl. Dal Hutchinson said Tuesday that officers were reviewing the video to determine what action, if any, is required.

"We'll look at it to see if it warrants us conducting an investigation,'' he said.

The RCMP has said police are also investigating whether the video was made while the car was on the road, and the force discourages people from this type of action while driving.

(Global News, The Canadian Press)