Nova Scotia

NDP tables legislation to create justice institute for Nova Scotia's black community

A coalition looking to have a justice institute established in Nova Scotia that would provide legal services, restorative justice services and youth mental-health programming to the province's black community got a boost from the provincial New Democrats on Thursday.

'I think it is very important that the African Nova Scotia community take the lead on this'

Susan Leblanc is the NDP's African Nova Scotian Affairs spokesperson. Her party tabled legislation Thursday to create a community-led, independent justice institute for black Nova Scotians. (CBC)

A coalition looking to have a justice institute established in Nova Scotia that would provide legal services, restorative justice services and youth mental-health programming to the province's black community got a boost from the provincial New Democrats on Thursday.

The party tabled legislation to create a community-led, independent institute to address the issue of black Nova Scotians being over-represented in the province's justice system and in correctional facilities.

Currently, no one organization addresses issues for black Nova Scotians in the justice system.

"Essentially, it's a bill that is coming from the African-Nova Scotia community, so we are answering the call for this institute and hoping that the government will move forward with it," Susan Leblanc, the NDP's African Nova Scotian Affairs spokesperson, told reporters at Province House.

Through an access-to-information request, the NDP received data that shows 13 per cent of people incarcerated in provincial prisons are black, despite representing less than three per cent of Nova Scotia's population.

Dartmouth resident Vanessa Fells is program co-ordinator for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The NDP also tabled petitions containing 6,000 signatures that called for an immediate ban on street checks.

A report released in March found black people were street checked at a rate six times higher than white people in the Halifax area.

The checks allow police officers to document information about a person they believe could be of significance to a future investigation, and record details such as their ethnicity, gender, age and location.

Vanessa Fells, program co-ordinator for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent, a coalition made up of 30 organizations and many individuals, welcomed the political support for the justice institute.

"I think it is very important that the African-Nova Scotia community take the lead on this and what it should look like and how it should help because we know what our issues are," she said.

"We all know that there are issues with incarceration and African Nova Scotians spending more time in the prison system, African Nova Scotians having, of course, longer sentences and longer probation periods."

In April, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey announced an immediate moratorium on random street checks throughout the province. After that, Halifax Regional Police ordered all of their officers to halt street checks.

But even with the moratorium, Fells said she's heard from many people that they are still being stopped and questioned by police on the street.

She said they've asked the Justice Department for clarity on what exactly the moratorium means.

An independent review by retired chief justice Michael MacDonald on the legality of street checks is expected soon.

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