Someone, somewhere in the annals of city hall must have seen I’thandi Munro’s 2020 Nocturne Festival art installation, titled Wejku’agamit > Owed: That was the only explanation I could think of when I saw the news earlier this month that Halifax was offering residents a chance out of their parking tickets, swapping the fee for a $35 purchase at a local business instead.
Back at the annual art festival, Munro, a multi-disciplinary artist, took over a shop window at 1660 Hollis street to build her installation piece, which was a display of 100-plus parking tickets she racked up while working her way through a NSCAD degree. The way she saw it, the fines felt as inevitable as tuition: She couldn’t afford to live close enough to walk to campus and city transit doesn’t serve her neighbourhood.
Wejku’agamit > Owed became a record of the ephemeral paperwork that’s a byproduct of systemic oppression, a hidden cost that ended up being yet another barrier: “We’re all talking about challenging the systems, and this is one I know people aren’t thinking about: You get a ticket, you pay it, that’s it,” Munro, who identifies as an Afro-Euro L’nu Woman, told me at the time. “No one’s out there being like ‘No, this is my land. I’m not paying for this ticket. This is where my ancestors are from. How dare you make me pay for parking on my own property?’"
"No one’s out there being like ‘No, this is my land. I’m not paying for this ticket. This is where my ancestors are from. How dare you make me pay for parking on my own property?"
Munro’s piece stuck with me because it made me reconsider parking tickets—something I had, until then, probably not even spent five minutes really thinking about. Whomever she inspired at council must’ve felt the same. Too bad they didn’t quite follow the artist’s train of thought all the way to the station: Where Munro is positing that this stolen land isn’t the city’s to tax in the first place, the nameless civic worker is positing for…well, lunch, perhaps. (The $35 you have to pay at a downtown business to qualify for your ticket to be voided seems about the right amount for a nice noontime meal, if you ask me.)
“I feel like this is always a thing that was there. Certain businesses, you’d get free parking based on what you spent at, say, Scotia Square. There’s already businesses that have been doing this,” Munro tells me with a laugh when I call her this week to ask her thoughts on her not-quite-copycat’s attempt. “The only benefit is that yes, it's helping local businesses that are downtown— but you can also just offer free parking—which would help them, too.”
While she’s paid off the tickets her degree netted her, the rising price of gas—and, also, the cost of parking—means going downtown is still something Munro has to mull over: “I need to be making at least over $100 just to make it worth my while to come into the city—and that's expensive, too, for people,” she says. (She agrees with me that improvements to the transit system could be an answer, with expanded routes to serve more far-flung neighbourhoods and buses that are more frequent.)
I ask her what she’d do about parking if she was mayor for a day. She’s quick to point out the need for available parking for those with accessibility needs, but otherwise? “I’d be like: ‘Anyone of Indigenous ancestry, you don't pay for parking. Like that's obvious. No brainer. This is your land. Why would you have to pay for parking on your own land?’ That would be where I would start.”
Back in 2020, Munro told me that “bringing [parking tickets] to people’s attention will start something. Or, it’ll start other people to start questioning these things—and maybe, somebody in power will do something about it. And I probably won’t stop until it does.” I read this quote back to her on our call, asking if she still feels this way—and still feels like she won’t stop until change is reached.
She takes a beat. “I think it's just chipping a little tiny bit off of the surface of parking and land. I mean, everyone's talking about land ownership and all of that stuff. But no one thinks about the everyday, random acts or random things that you do that really show that no one's really thinking or appreciating unceded land that they're on.”