Nova Scotia

Truro council passes historic motion to improve relationship with black residents

The motion was passed unanimously at a town council session on Monday in Truro, N.S. It will create a special committee of 10 people to develop an "action plan" to address the concerns of the local black community.

Motion came after police stopped women 'watching deer while black'

Lynn Jones grew up in Truro, N.S., and now lives in Halifax. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Town council in Truro, N.S., has passed a motion some are hailing as "historic," in an attempt to better address the concerns of the local black community.

The motion was passed unanimously in a session on Monday and will create a special committee of 10 people who will develop an "action plan" for the town.

Five members of the committee will be from the town's existing diversity committee, and five will be chosen by Truro's black community.

"It's extremely significant. It's historical," said Lynn Jones, an elder in Truro's historic black community who now lives in Halifax. 

At a community meeting in September led by Jones, Mayor Bill Mills and others, participants created a list of 20 points they felt the town needs to act on in order to improve the relationship between black residents and the municipality.

Some of those points included things like:

  • Better communication.
  • Funding for new or existing black businesses.
  • Removing barriers for black people who are applying for work with the town. 
  • A physical gathering place such as a community centre focused on the black community.
  • Better recognition for the history of the black community.
  • Making sure the school system doesn't disadvantage black students.

Mills said council became primed to understand the issues the community identified through years of work by people such as former councillor Raymond Tynes and current councillor Wayne Talbot, both of whom are black.

Bill Mills is the mayor of Truro. (Robert Short/CBC)

"With all of the things that we've talked about, you know, it's a great thing to talk about, and now it's time to put those words into action and start to walk it," Mills said.

'Watching deer while black'

Jones was relieved that council voted to go ahead with the motion.

"It was a feeling of relief that at least at this stage there was a victory and it was quite wonderful," she said.

However, the moment that led her to demand council consider the motion was painful. 

In August, Jones, her sister and a friend were driving in their old neighbourhood in Truro when they spotted a group of deer beside the road. They pulled over to watch and take pictures.

While they were watching the deer, a police car pulled up and the officer began to question the three older women about what they were doing and why they were there. He told them the police had received a call of "suspicious people" matching their description. 

"This is a neighborhood that African people have been there for generations," Jones said. "I mean, the nerve that we're now alien in our own community."

Deer are regularly seen near homes in the Truro area. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Jones said the police check led her to write a letter to the town's mayor calling for a better relationship. 

"I'm confident that it can lead to real changes but it's going to depend more on the town's commitment. Because there's going to be a lot of education, training and development to do," she said. 

Immediate actions

Mills said he's "excited" about the new motion and the day after it passed he had a meeting with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to talk about how to get started. 

He said he thinks there are immediate actions the town can take, such as the request to create a book about Truro's black citizens. Other actions will take longer and he said he's considering applying for federal funding to make them happen. 

"We had a discussion today: is the town in a position, or do we need ... to maybe hire a person that would look after African affairs?" he said. 

"That's probably a little ways down the road, but there may be some funding available that we can start to have a staff person."

Mills said that kind of move would have to be discussed at council and in the community.

"These are, I guess you could say, things that we see that are possible." 

'A historical event'

One of the people who's enthusiastic about the new motion is Vanessa Fells, the program co-ordinator for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition.

She is based in Dartmouth and her group works to combat anti-black racism in Nova Scotia.

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

"It's a historical event. It says that we are moving forward and that people are recognizing the [United Nations] International Decade for People of African Descent, and it's important to combat these very significant issues that have been in our society for hundreds and hundreds of years," she said. 

Fells said she hopes other municipalities will follow Truro's lead. 

Since 2010, Halifax has had an African Nova Scotian Affairs Integration Office, which has the goal of improving the relationship between the municipality and the African-Nova Scotian community.

The town of New Glasgow also has a UNESCO Committee Against Discrimination & Racism (Race relations).

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca