Home for Colored Children formally apologizes to former residents

At a ceremony to mark the official start of the inquiry into abuse at the Home for Colored Children, former residents received something they never thought they would get: an apology from the orphanage.

Inquiry is next step in healing for victims of abuse

The lessons learned from the restorative justice process will be used to inform future relationships between government and the community. (CBC)

At a ceremony to mark the official start of the inquiry into abuse at the Home for Colored Children, former residents received something they never thought they would get: an apology from the orphanage.

On Friday the province laid out the terms for a $5 million restorative inquiry regarding the home, where former residents allege they were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse for years.

At the announcement Sylvia Parris, a representative of the home's board of directors, formally apologized for the hurt suffered.

It was met with tears and hugs.

Tony Smith, a former resident of the home, says the apology from the home means the victims can start healing.

He helped design the terms of the restorative justice process along with Jennifer Llewellyn, a Dalhousie University law professor who specializes in the subject.

"This is a day a lot of us never thought would happen," said Smith, the co-chair of the group Victims of Institutional Child Exploitation Society. "A lot of people went to the grave not being vindicated for the harms that they were subjected to." 

The inquiry will be similar to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Aboriginal peoples.

However, this process will focus on the future and will take two and a half years.

Tracey Dorington-Skinner lights a candle symbolizing the journey former residents have taken. She co-chairs the group Voices, formed by abuse claimants. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The organizers said the ultimate goal is to use the lessons learned from the inquiry to inform future relationships and ensure what happened at the orphanage is never repeated. 

'No further harm'

Smith said one key consideration was "no further harm" so victims can feel safe when sharing their stories.

According to Llewellyn, the process is meant to "provide a space" for the community to delve into the truth of what happened. She said they've been "fortunate" to see the level of commitment by the government to collaborate including the departments of education, health and police.

"We know that one inquiry will not solve every issue of racism and equality in Nova Scotia," Premier Stephen McNeil told the audience at Emmanuel Baptist Church. "But we're hopeful this will mark a new beginning and a new way forward, one that we can walk together."

Last fall, McNeil formally apologized for the abuse suffered by residents of the home and promised a public inquiry this year.

"Your courage to tell your stories has been inspiring and impressive," he said Friday.

The inquiry is set to start in October.

It will be overseen by a council that includes former residents and members of the home's board, as well as government representatives and members of the African Nova Scotian community.

With files from the Canadian Press