Nova Scotia

Road restriction prompts racism allegation

Some people in a predominantly black community near Halifax are outraged that only a handful of families have been granted access to a private dirt road in their area.

Protesters say they want 'justice for all'

Protesters block traffic Monday morning near North Preston, N.S., to draw attention to what they say is unfair and racist treatment. (CBC)

Some people in a predominantly black community near Halifax are outraged that only a handful of families have been granted access to a private dirt road in their area.

About 40 protesters stopped vehicles Monday morning that were driving on a main road near the community of North Preston. Some protesters carried signs that read "Justice for all" and "Equality is a two-way street."

They claim that the 10 families who have been given keys to a nearby padlocked, private dirt road are all white.  Wayne Desmond, chairman of the North Preston Ratepayers Association, calls it an "injustice."

The main road into North Preston is closed while a bridge connecting the community to a nearby highway is being repaired. A detour is in place that takes drivers several kilometres off their regular route.

The families who live in Lake Major, one of the communities affected by the closure, have special permission to take the single-lane road to avoid the detour.

"It's not right," said Desmond. "We've gone back 50 years in which we are denied just the privileges that are open to residents of Lake Major."

Neville Provo, a North Preston resident, said he heard the families were afraid to take the longer route through his community, where there have been several shootings in the past year.

"There is volence everywhere," he said. "We had to go through a detour and they should have to go through a detour too. Taking note of special people just isn't right."

Councillor David Hendsbee defends the road restriction to demonstrators on Lake Major Road Monday. (CBC)

Wylie Cain, another North Preston resident, doesn't like the road restriction either.

"They're making a road, a separate road, a private road for the whites, which is discrimination, and I think that is bad, that is wrong," Cain told CBC News before the protest.

David Hendsbee, the municipal councillor for the area, got an earful as he addressed the demonstrators Monday morning.

He said the families granted access to the road all live directly across the bridge in the community of Lake Major, so are inconvenienced the most by the construction.

"Race has nothing to do with this," he told CBC News. "It's a case of simple geography. The problem is this country road cannot hold the traffic volumes that North Preston generates."

The property owners want to minimize traffic on the single-lane road as much as possible, he added.

The old road is meandering and runs through a wooded area along a golf course. Hendsbee said the people allowed to use it had to sign liability waivers.

He also said local firefighters and police have been given keys to the locked gate, and the Halifax Regional Municipality spent $40,000 to upgrade the road for emergency vehicles.

Ten families have keys to the locked dirt road. (CBC)

He said he offered to explain the road restriction to people in the area, but no one took him up on his offer.

Wayne Desmond said North Preston residents suggested alternative routes once they heard the bridge would be closed but were told they weren't feasible.

"Nowhere along the lines were the community and the ratepayers association informed that there would be a gate and that we would be denied access," said Desmond. "The entire community knows that [Hendsbee] didn't call a public meeting."

Neville Provo vows to keep up the blockade.

"We're not standing for this kind of stuff no more," Provo said. "If we get detoured, they're going to get detoured too."

The Ernst Mill Bridge replacement project started last month and is expected to wrap up by Oct. 15.