Nova Scotia

N.S. Legal Aid's first black social worker hopes to break down barriers

East Preston resident Charnell Brooks will travel around the province to promote legal aid's services in the black community.

'I know that there's gaps and mistrust between … the justice system and the African-Nova Scotian community'

East Preston's Charnell Brooks will travel around the province to promote legal aid's services in the black community. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Nova Scotia Legal Aid has hired a black Nova Scotian social worker who will exclusively work with black clients to provide them with better access to justice.

In this new role, East Preston's Charnell Brooks will provide expertise to people involved in criminal, child protection and youth court matters, as well as advise legal aid staff.

"I know that there's gaps and mistrust between … the justice system and the African-Nova Scotian community, so I'm hoping that I'll be able to help bridge that gap and to offer support to the clients and also make the justice system more aware of the challenges that the African-Nova Scotian community faces," said Brooks.

"I'm going to be there to help my clients so that they see someone who looks like them and who can advocate for them and … be a voice for them if they don't have the courage or they don't feel comfortable speaking on their own behalf."

Megan Longley, Nova Scotia Legal Aid's executive director, said black Nova Scotians are over-represented in the criminal and child-protection system.

Megan Longley, executive director of Nova Scotia Legal Aid, says it's important for legal aid lawyers and staff to provide service in a culturally aware and appropriate way. (Submitted by Megan Longley)

"With that knowledge, it is part of our strategic plan that in all of our decisions we make as an organization we look … at them through the lens of over-representation, not only of African-Nova Scotia people, but Mi'kmaq and other Indigenous people as well."

Longley stressed the importance of its lawyers and staff providing service in a culturally aware and appropriate way.

Legal aid has had a Mi'kmaw social worker on staff for a few years, but Longley said the organization realized there was a gap in the services it was providing to black Nova Scotians.

Of Nova Scotia Legal Aid's approximately 100 staff lawyers, nine of them and one articling clerk self-identify as being black Canadian or of African descent. Two more black Canadian articling clerks will join the service in June.

Promoting legal aid in the black community

Brooks will also be travelling around the province to promote the services legal aid can provide for people in the black community.

Brooks has a social work degree from Dalhousie University and over 12 years of experience working with marginalized and vulnerable populations. Most recently, she worked as a social worker with the Department of Community Services.

The new position is supported by a grant from the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia.

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