New African Nova Scotian institute to address racism in justice system
Institute will offer policing accountability, data collection, court support, legal defence
The province is spending $4.8 million to help create an African Nova Scotian Justice Institute that will support African Nova Scotians in contact with the law and address racism and overrepresentation of Black people in the justice system.
The institute, one of the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, will be led by the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition.
Michelle Williams, a member of the coalition who is also a Dalhousie University law professor, said Black people in Nova Scotia were historically oppressed through enslavement and segregation, and that legacy continues today through racism, hate crimes and human rights violations.
'Uncomfortable truths' must be examined
Williams said she hopes the institute will bridge the gap between law and justice, and that she appreciates the support of the government.
"But make no mistake: It won't be easy," she said at an announcement about the institute at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S., on Monday morning.
"Centuries of structural racism and white supremacy have built this province. Uncomfortable truths will need to be examined, old ways of doing things disrupted and the voices of African Nova Scotian people heard and respected."
The institute will provide the following programs:
- Race, cultural assessments and treatment services.
- Data collection and policing accountability.
- African Nova Scotian court support.
- Community justice legal defence.
- Bail alternative, incarceration support and reintegration program for African Nova Scotians.
- Alternative justice and victim services.
- Public legal education and youth development.
- Human rights and policing accountability.
Services to begin within one year
"We recognize that our system of justice, from policing to corrections to our courts, has been structured to the benefit of some but not all Nova Scotians," Premier Iain Rankin told those gathered for the announcement.
"This system has often failed members of the Black community, and this cannot be our future."
The institute will be fully staffed and begin offering programs and services within one year.
Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Tony Ince said the institute has been a long time in the making.
"Each and every African Nova Scotian here has had to face the reality that they may not be treated equally in the eyes of the law," he told the gathering.
"The impact that this has had on us has been traumatic and it's our lived reality. But we have never backed down in the fact of adversity.
"With today's announcement of the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute, we are bringing to life a dream that has been too long in the making ... the dream of knowing that in this province, the colour of your skin shouldn't determine how you've been treated in the eyes of the law."
The $4.8 million the province has promised will cover the institute's costs for the first three years, said Robert Wright, a social worker and member of the coalition's executive.
He expects more provincial funding to be announced in the coming years.
"This certainly isn't going to be a three-year project ... where we'll be able to tie everything up in a bow and say, 'OK, we've eliminated systemic racism in the field of justice in Nova Scotia in three years, so we can pack it all up and go home,'" Wright told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Monday.
"I expect this will be the beginning of a very long-term commitment and partnership between the African Nova Scotian community and government to address systemic racism in the justice system."
African Nova Scotians represent about 2.4 per cent of the province's population, but 10 per cent of admissions to sentenced custody and 11 per cent of admissions to remand in provincial correctional facilities, according to the province.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet