Nova Scotia

Anti-racism bill receives unanimous support in N.S. legislature

A bill meant to start reversing centuries of systemic racism and hate in Nova Scotia has received the unanimous support of the house. Although all parties agree the bill has merit, Black members of the House have warned the PC government that they expect action.

Black members of the house warn the Houston government they expect action

The Act to Dismantle Racism and Hate has been passed, but not without scrutiny and criticism. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Houston government was able to garner unanimous support for a bill it touted as an all-party effort, but moving the Act to Dismantle Racism and Hate through the legislative process was not smooth.

The PC government was criticized for refusing to change the bill and Black members of the House served notice they expect to see concrete changes now that it has cleared the house.

New Democrat Suzy Hansen, who tried and failed to amend the bill on Thursday, offered only lukewarm support for the bill during third reading debate.

"I will be supporting this bill as I know something is better than nothing," said the MLA for Halifax Needham.

She reminded her colleagues in the chamber that her life experience was very different from almost all of theirs.

"Before you see anything and before I say anything out of my mouth you see the colour of my skin, and I am judged upon that every single day of my life," said Hansen.

'I feel that this process is rushed'

Hansen said she would continue to push the PC government to work "toward dismantling the system that was never designed for us or even by us."

Liberal MLA and former cabinet minister Tony Ince also talked about his personal experience with racism — discrimination that started as a school child.

"Grades 2 and 3, I had an educator physically abuse me — not anybody else in the class, me!," he told a hushed chamber. "I had an educator who would not let me go to the bathroom, let me sit in my seat until I wet myself because of her perception of the skin that she saw."

New Democrat Suzy Hansen, pictured above in a file photo from 2021, tried and failed to amend the bill (Robert Short/CBC)

Like Hansen, Ince had criticism for the bill and said, "I feel that this process is rushed."

He also talked about the need to see action once the bill became law.

"This bill is important and I will vote for it, however I have to remind us all — don't just go through the motions," said Ince. "We people of African descent have 400 years of that. We've seen it."

Liberal MLA and former cabinet minister Tony Ince, pictured above in a 2021 file photo, shared personal stories of racial discrimination he faced as a child in school. (CBC)

Ince noted he was troubled to have witnessed Hansen's frustration and disappointment at not being able to change the bill on Thursday night. 

"I stayed up most of the night because that bothered me because I saw my community's reaction to historically being told that they were listened to, that they will be heard," said Ince. "When it suits them we're listened to and heard."

His Liberal colleague  Ali Duale, an Imam and refugee from Somalia, also spoke of how his skin colour affects the way he is perceived by most Nova Scotians.

Liberal MLA Ali Duale, pictured above in a file photo from 2021, called the bill a compromise. (Robert Short/CBC)

"When I walk that street, nobody knows where I come from — but everybody knows I'm a Black man," said Duale. "And everybody will treat me like a Black man walking the street."

He offered more praise than criticism for a bill that he called a compromise. 

"Do we agree with everything? No we don't," said Duale. "Have we got everything that we want? No, we did not. Did we compromise? Yes we did, and we need to admire that."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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