Members of the African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities will lead a new design team charged with recommending policy changes that dismantle systemic racism in the province.
The 20-member team also includes police officers, academics, government officials, and representatives of other marginalized groups, who will engage their communities in driving “fundamental change” to the province’s approach to public safety.
“It’s important that we recognize this is a complex issue,” said Shakira Weatherdon, a member of the team and a human rights trainer at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. “It’s about interlocking systems of oppression, but also intersecting experiences of oppression and inequity,” she said.
“I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to reflect and to reimage what it means to be my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper in this province.”
The new initiative was announced Tuesday, coupled with an apology from Premier McNeil for generations of systemic racism and discrimination forced onto Black, Indigenous and other people of colour in Nova Scotia.
McNeil said the province’s system of justice has failed many members of the public, who do not benefit from white privilege — in particular, white male privilege.
“For those of us of white privilege, of white male privilege, and those of us who have been in positions of power, we have for too long failed to adhere and respond to the call for change, because the justice system has worked for us,” he said.
“I am sorry. On behalf of my ministers, my caucus, our government, we are sorry. We are sorry to young Nova Scotians, to adults, families and their ancestors who have been failed by racist institutions.”
That apology — and the decision to take a new approach — comes after years of platitudes from people in positions of power in Nova Scotia that have resulted in limited meaningful change for African Nova Scotians and other people of colour.
It comes nearly one year an after a historic apology from Halifax Regional Police for the discriminatory application of street checks and other forms of systemic racism within the institution.
The RCMP have still not apologized for their role in the practice, which saw Black people stopped and questioned for information at a rate six times higher than white people. Members of the Black community have reported the practice is ongoing today.
Jacob MacIsaac, co-facilitator of the new design team, said “the proof” of the premier’s apology will be in the actions taken by those who make and enforce the law going forward.
While the independent team will not have any legal powers, their recommendations will be made public, and McNeil said future governments “will have to justify why they don’t act on them, quite frankly.”
Community advocate and Game Changers 902 co-founder Kate Macdonald, who is also part of the team, said complacency will be “literally deadly” for Black people, which is why she’s driven to participate.
“Transforming policing actually doesn’t really exist, it’s not about reform right now because policing was born with racism as its backbone,” she told the crowd.
“We need to recreate something with a new backbone, born out of something else. I’m hoping this process involves reparations and is reparatory, because there’s a lot of mistrust between African Nova Scotian communities and police, and the justice system.”
The new team will carry out its work over the next 12 to 18 months.
Its members include: Julia Cecchetto; Richard Derible; Jean Flynn; Winnie Grant; Emma Halpern; Wayn Hamilton; Crystal John; Jennifer Llewellyn; Kate Macdonald; Stephanie MacInnis-Langley; Jacob MacIsaac; Paula Marshall; Shelly Martin; Martin Morrison; Craig Smith; Dean Smith; Lindell Smith; Tony Smith; Tracey Taweel; Candace Thomas; and Weatherdon.