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As N.S. premier apologizes for systemic racism, Black Nova Scotians voice concern over lack of consultation

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Premier Stephen McNeil gave an apology to African and Indigenous Nova Scotians for centuries of systemic racism, on Tuesday. The words were coupled with a promise to do better through substantial policy reform and a new team has been appointed to recommend those changes. Elizabeth McSheffrey has the story – Sep 29, 2020

Two prominent Black Nova Scotians have voiced concerns about an announcement by the Nova Scotia government on Tuesday.

El Jones, a well-known community advocate and Black activist in Nova Scotia, says the province failed to adequately consult members of the Black Nova Scotian community before announcing a plan to address systemic racism on Tuesday.

“How can you talk about a restorative inquiry when it begins with people being marginalized, when it begins with people like DPAD (Decade for People of African Descent Coalition) having this strong sense that their work is being appropriated and marginalized?”Jones said.

Read more: N.S. appoints team to lead justice reform, drive anti-racist policy change in Nova Scotia

Part of the ‘restorative process’ announced on Tuesday is the creation of a design team charged with recommending policy changes that dismantle systemic racism in Nova Scotia.

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Premier Stephen McNeil apologized for generations of systemic racism and discrimination forced onto Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour in Nova Scotia.

“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.”

Click to play video 'Nova Scotia appoints a design team to transform public safety system' Nova Scotia appoints a design team to transform public safety system
Nova Scotia appoints a design team to transform public safety system – Sep 29, 2020

But Jones wasn’t the only one to voice criticism.

Coun. Lindell Smith, the only Black Nova Scotian councillor in the Halifax Regional Municipality, tweeted his thanks to the premier for recognizing systemic racism but said he had issues about supporting the intiative when there was no information on the team’s terms of reference or how Black and Indigenous communities would be included in the process.

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“I did not agree to having my name attached to this press release,” Smith Tweeted on Tuesday.

“We need to ensure that any process that looks at how systemic racism has affected Black and Indigenous communities provides clear outcomes in partnership with our communities.”

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BLSA Canada talks anti-black racism and increasing diversity on the bench – Jul 14, 2020

Smith’s name was one of 21 that the province’s press release named as members of the design team.

The premier’s office did not respond to a request to clarify the discrepancy between Smith’s statement and the province’s announcement.

It did not respond to a request about whether every individual on the list consented to be named in the press release or what groups were consulted.

‘It’s a lame-duck move’

Jones stressed that this isn’t the first time McNeil has formally apologized for decades of oppression resulting in trauma for racialized communities.

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In 2014, the province delivered a formal apology for decades of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse inflicted on residents of the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.

The final report on the restorative inquiry into the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, was released at the end of 2019.

The report is more than 500 pages long and includes a wide range of long-term goals including: ‘Eliminating racism existing at individual, institutional and systemic levels in Nova Scotia.’

Read more: Thousands participate in anti-racism rally in Halifax

Jones questions how this latest apology and newly-minted provincial mandate to ‘set a course for fundamental change in public safety, including the role and approach to policing and law enforcement’ will be any different than previous reports.

“It’s a lame-duck move. As he leaves, he assigns this inquiry, and again, didn’t he come into office on an inquiry?” Jones said.

“The Coloured Home inquiry? What was wrong with that inquiry? And, if you’re not going to tell us what was wrong with it and why it’s not adequate, then why did we spend so much money and time on it?”

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Jones adds that community-led groups like the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent [ANSDPAD] have consistently presented the province with community-based strategies to address systemic issues like anti-Black racism within the criminal justice system.
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“ANSDPAD has been active for years. They have proposed a very solid and thorough plan for an African Nova Scotian Justice Institute and an African Nova Scotian Policing Strategy. Which the province has consistently delayed on funding, consistently delayed on meeting about,” Jones said.

Jones says she isn’t critical of any of the members of the Black Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities selected to participate in the new initiative. What she takes issue with is how the province rolled out the announcement and that it wasn’t done with appropriate community consultation.

“I’m hearing a lot of confusion, and frustration, and anger, in the community, just around how this happened and that doesn’t mean necessarily that people are opposed to some kind of process, I think it’s the way the process was revealed, and the feeling of it being secret, and the feeling of not being consulted,” Jones said.