Viola Desmond became a civil rights icon in Nova Scotia after she refused to leave the “whites only” section in a New Glasgow theatre in the 1940s.
Desmond was dragged from the theatre and ultimately charged for not paying the one-cent difference in tax between the ticket she bought and the cost for the “white” seats.
She was sentenced to 30 days in jail or a $26 fine. So she paid the fine.
Now, more than seven decades after the incident, Nova Scotia is reimbursing the fine.
“I appreciate this, you know, I’m almost speechless,” said Wanda Robson, Desmond’s sister.
“This has been going on a long time.”
The issue of the fine was brought to light by a high school student in Ontario.
Varishini Deochand is a Grade 11 student in Vaughan, Ont., and says she first came up with the idea of symbolic repayment when she was researching Desmond for a project in Grade 8.
It was then she learned that in 2010, Nova Scotia granted a posthumous pardon for Desmond, the first such pardon to be granted in Canada.
“In my opinion, I strongly hold that one should not pay a fine for a crime that they did not commit,” Deochand said during a virtual ceremony on Wednesday.
After realizing Desmond had been pardoned, but the fine had never been reimbursed, Deochand wrote a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil asking for a symbolic repayment of the fine.
“This request was insightful and driven by a desire for social justice,” McNeil said in a recorded message for the virtual ceremony.
McNeil also announced that the province was increasing the total repayment to $1,000.
Following conversations with Robson, the decision was made to donate the money towards a one-time scholarship at Cape Breton University.
“My mom always said, ‘Education, education, education. Where are you going to be without education?'” said Robson.
“So now the road is paved for the younger people to be educated. Isn’t it wonderful that they can be anything they want to be?”
The province is also writing a cheque for the original $26, which will be displayed with the Viola Desmond Pardon at the Nova Scotia Legislature for public viewing.
“(Desmond) was a trailblazer whose story continues to affect the lives of many people,” said McNeil. “We must continue to acknowledge and recognize the incredible people of African descent like Viola who have made a significant contribution to our society.”