Nova Scotia

N.S. to pardon its Rosa Parks

The Nova Scotia government will apologize and grant a pardon to the late Viola Desmond — considered Nova Scotia's Rosa Parks.

Viola Desmond sat in theatre's whites section; niece seeks apology, not pardon

The Nova Scotia government will apologize and grant a pardon to the late Viola Desmond  — considered the province's Rosa Parks.

Desmond, a black woman, was fined and jailed in 1946 for sitting in the whites' section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow.

Premier Darrell Dexter will be joined by Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis, the first black woman to serve in the province's vice-regal post, and Justice Minister Ross Landry to grant the apology and pardon at a ceremony Thursday.

In a statement, Dexter's office said the free pardon is based on innocence and recognizes that a conviction was made in error. The pardon is meant to right the wrong done to Desmond.

Desmond's niece, Sharon Oliver said however that it would be a mistake to grant a pardon.

Oliver said her aunt did nothing wrong, and does not need a pardon.

"The consensus is that pardon is the wrong word. Pardon puts the blame, says, 'Viola, you were guilty,'" Oliver told CBC News. "Who should be pardoned, perhaps, is the society, the government of the day, the police who carried her out of the theatre, the theatre itself.

Leave on public record

"Those are the people who need to be pardoned, not Viola."

Oliver does not want the case taken off the public record. She and others in the African Nova Scotian community would like to see an apology instead, and a scholarship for business students created in her name.

On Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond, a 32-year-old Halifax beautician, went to a movie theatre in New Glasgow to pass the time while her car was being repaired.

She took a seat on the main floor instead of the upstairs section — the only section open to black people.

Desmond paid a $20 fine and the Roseland Theatre's court costs of $6 after spending a night in jail.

Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man. Her arrest inspired the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to pursue a case to the U.S. Supreme Court that ended segregation on public transportation. Parks died in late 2005 at the age of 92.