Nova Scotia

Hundreds of former Africville residents could join class-action lawsuit

Up to 300 former Africville residents and descendants could join a lawsuit against Halifax over the loss of their land four decades ago.

More than 40 former residents showed up Wednesday at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax

Two children from Africville are pictured, with the Seaview African United Baptist Church and houses behind them. (Nova Scotia Archives/Bob Brooks)

Up to 300 former Africville residents and descendants could join a lawsuit against the City of Halifax over the loss of their land four decades ago, if a judge certifies the case as a class action.

More than 40 former residents showed up at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on Wednesday to hear lawyers argue the case. 

"Essentially, they weren't provided compensation at the time for the loss of their community so this is the one way we're able to ... get them compensation for their community, if that's what the judge decides," Robert Pineo, the Halifax lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told reporters.

A statement of claim was filed in 1996 against the City of Halifax, now part of an amalgamated municipality. The suit has been recently revived.

​Following the certification hearing, formal notices will go out to the media and anyone who believes they fit the class definition can put their name forward to join the lawsuit.

Estimated 300 could join lawsuit

"Right now, we estimate there's about 300 but we have no way of knowing that for sure, yet," Pineo said.

An eligible class member would include Africvillle residents who were removed from the historic black community by the City of Halifax, as well as those who had a property interest in the communal lands and whose lands were expropriated.

"There's evidence that quite a number of property owners sold their property interests to the city and other amounts of money were given to some of the members," Pineo said.

The proposed class members did not receive any compensation for their land interests.

Municipal lawyer Karen MacDonald asked the judge to deny the application. She told the court a person can enjoy the land but if they don't own it, they are not entitled to compensation.

"HRM's position is that it's unclear as to what the communal lands are in the statement of claim because it's not defined," MacDonald told reporters. "So if it's not defined then ... we're not sure what we're dealing with."

'They didn't depend on the city'

Tony Smith lived part of his childhood in Africville. His grandmother was forced out of the community that sat on the shore of the Bedford Basin. 

Former Africville resident Tony Smith speaks for the plaintiffs in the 1996 lawsuit against the City of Halifax. (Sherri Borden Colley/CBC)

"The case is so important because all my life growing up I heard many stories about Africville and how the city stole their land, and how they took it away from them, and again racism plays a big part of this," Smith said.

Multimillion-dollar settlement reached in 2010

Justice Patrick Duncan has reserved his decision. If the court application is successful, the plaintiffs can proceed to trial as a class action and don't have to file individual claims.

In 2010, some former Africville residents reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the city.

No individual compensation was paid out.

The settlement included an apology, a hectare of land on the former site to rebuild the Seaview African United Baptist Church and $3 million to help build it. The municipality also established an office of African Nova Scotian Affairs.

The CBC's Sherri Borden Colley live blogged from court.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca

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