African-Nova Scotian groups seek reparations for slavery
'The Canadian government has not acknowledged what happened to us,' says Lynn Jones of Global Afrikan Congress
A coalition of African-Nova Scotian groups is urging the province and Canadian government to make reparations to blacks for the enslavement of African people between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Lynn Jones, the chair of the Nova Scotia chapter of the international non-governmental network Global Afrikan Congress, said her organization is seeking to address the "crime against humanity that occurred to African people."
"Part of the reparations, too, is the formal apology because the Canadian government, generally, has not acknowledged what happened to us," she said. "I think that is very much the first step."
The group has not yet determined how much it believes should be paid in reparations.
Slavery was common in Nova Scotia in the 18th century. For instance, 400 of the 3,000 people living in Halifax in 1750 were slaves. New England Planters who arrived in Nova Scotia between 1759 and 1765 also brought with them hundreds of slaves.
The congress has asked federal MPs to take its plea for reparations to Ottawa. It has also met locally with African Nova Scotians Affairs Minister Tony Ince.
Ince was not available for an interview. However, he said in an email that these are complex provincial, national and international issues that all levels of government and the community need to discuss.
Outside of monetary claims, Jones said there are other types of reparations that could be considered by the community, such as education funds.
"People were streamed … into general courses," she said. "So, it may look like doing something about furthering people's education. It may mean that we ask for economic resources, for housing, because we haven't had proper housing or the ability to obtain housing and property."
UNESCO describes the transatlantic slave trade as the biggest deportation in history. The United Nations agency estimates between 25 to 30 million people were torn from their homes, deported to North America and sold as slaves. Many died aboard the ships that came from Western Europe.
In a recent report, a UN working group recommended the Canadian government issue an apology and consider providing reparations to African-Canadians for enslavement and historical injustices.
Robert Wright, a Halifax social worker who speaks for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, said the group met in May with provincial deputy ministers to discuss reparations and systemic anti-black racism.
"The first thing that reparations are is a substantive recognition of harm, continuing harm, and that that harm was not simply — it was not an accident," he said. "It was perpetrated harm that not only disadvantaged one group of people — in this case African-Nova Scotians — but that benefited another people.
"And so going back many, many generations our people have been used for economic benefit of the larger society and that use, that enslavement, impoverished us as a people. Robbed of language, robbed of culture, denied education, denied true citizenship until really, we could say, in the 20th century. And so for hundreds of years, that was our position."
Legacy of slavery in Canada
Slavery remained legal in most of Canada until it was abolished in the British Empire in 1834.
However, Wright said, the legacy of the harm from the slave trade continues today and is shown in disparities in health, education, economics and justice.
"We know that African-Nova Scotian students are underrepresented among the students who graduate, so our dropout rates have been higher," he said. "But we also attribute this to racism within the education system."
In criminal justice, the disparity is most dramatic. Black inmates, Wright said, are overrepresented in federal prisons, tend to get longer sentences than white inmates for similar crimes and tend to do more time behind bars.