Halifax councillor Matt Whitman is facing backlash from members of the African Canadian community for a word he used on CTV Atlantic News at 6 Thursday evening.

It was part of a story about an ongoing debate around the word “marijuana,” after Halifax Regional Municipality councillor Shawn Cleary declared he would not use the term because of “racist connotations.”

Whitman had this response:

“I had a problem with (Cleary) saying that marijuana is racist because of Mexicans. The word marijuana might be racist because Caucasians, Negroes, or some other race, but not because of a nationality.”

That sparked an entirely separate language debate.

Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia General Employees Union, says the term “Negro” is outdated and offensive.

“I was shocked. My jaw dropped,” MacLean said. “We've evolved into using other terms. So is it a racist term? No, but it's what was used in the 60s to describe someone that looks like me.”

There's also been reaction online, including from fellow Halifax councillor Lindell Smith who tweeted: "Please don't use the word. It's not appropriate and we are not in 1950."

Smith declined to comment further to media. As did Whitman, who sent CTV Atlantic News the following statement:

"My comment is a word in the English dictionary as a race. It's not racist. Mexican is not a race in the dictionary. It's a nationality. Enough time has been spent on this. Each minute spent being offended & falsely accusing others of racism is giving real racism a free pass in Nova Scotia."

African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Tony Ince was not available for comment Friday, but in a statement said, "The use of that term is not acceptable. People do not want to hear it. It is hurtful. As a province, we must address the legacy of systemic racism. We can do this by understanding our past, focusing on education, and raising awareness."

Irvine Carvery says he's experienced racism in Nova Scotia regularly. He thinks public officials need to be held to a higher standard.

“I just wonder, like, where has he been?” Carvey asks. “It's even more surprising when you consider that councillor Whitman has such a large African Nova Scotian population within his district.”

Carvery says it's time for all levels of government to start implementing recommendations in the recent U.N. report on anti-black racism in Canada.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Sarah Ritchie.

Editor’s note: Part of Jason MacLean's criticism was against CTV Atlantic News for airing Matt Whitman's comment at all and without a disclaimer. CTV Atlantic News Director Dan Appleby says it was important for viewers to hear Whitman's full response and judge his language for themselves. He adds that holding public officials accountable to viewers/readers is a responsibility we take seriously.

But he also agrees that a warning should have been given before the original story. We regret that omission.