NS Home for Coloured Children apologizes to former residents

WATCH: It was an emotional scene as a current board member for the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children apologized to the former residents of the orphanage, Friday. Marieke Walsh reports on the apology and an upcoming public inquiry.

HALIFAX – It was an emotional scene as a current board member for the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children apologized to the former residents of the orphanage, Friday.

“We are deeply sorry for the physical, emotional and other harms that you have experienced,” said Sylvia Parris, chair of the Home’s board.

The province released the terms of reference for an inquiry into alleged abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, at an event at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Upper Hammonds Plains.

Premier Stephen McNeil was joined by former residents of the Home and members of the Home’s board for the announcement.

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The inquiry into the NSHCC stems from of allegations by former residents of the Halifax-area orphanage that they were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse over several decades.

Tony Smith, a former resident of the home, was part of the group designing the terms of reference said the inquiry is not about pointing fingers, but about looking at what happened, why, and what to do next.

“We want to make sure that what we’re saying is not just some book of stories that stays on the shelf. What is that we can do effectively, right now, with this information to make a difference,” Smith said.

The apology is a major step for all parties involved in the restorative process.

“The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children’s apology to us former residents of the Colored Home is something that a lot of us never thought would happen,” said Smith.

The restorative inquiry will be overseen by several parties, including representatives from the government, former residents of the home, the home’s board and African Nova Scotian community members. It will catalogue evidence from former residents, staff and others.

A trained facilitation team will help former residents and others participate in the restorative process in a safe way without doing any further harm. A Reflection and Action Task Group, made up of government and community partners, will meet throughout the inquiry process to discuss what has been learned, and decide what next steps should be taken.

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The inquiry will be lead by a consensus-based commission, to be appointed over the summer. They will begin their work in the fall.

“Along this journey we will have deputy ministers that will be at the table to look at what are the lessons we’re learning along the way. And if we can make changes in six months we’ll make them,” said premier Stephen McNeil. “If we see there are issues where we can make improvements, we will do them, we won’t wait for the end.”

“Its my hope at the end, we’ll be able to say here are the things we did over the last 30 months to make a difference in the lives of African Nova Scotians. And quite frankly, in the lives of communities who feel marginalized by government.”

Two people from VOICES (Victims of Institutional Child Exploitation Society) will be on the council, one of them will serve as a co-chair.

Jennifer Llewellyn helped design the restorative inquiry, she said the inquiry covers the years between 1921 and into the early 1980s. The budget for the inquiry is $5 million.

The inquiry is expected to be complete by late 2017 or early 2018.

– With files from the Canadian Press