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Advocates applaud Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision on sentencing Black offenders

Click to play video: 'N.S. judges to consider systemic racism when sentencing Black offenders' N.S. judges to consider systemic racism when sentencing Black offenders
The highest court in Nova Scotia has ruled that when judges sentence Black offenders, they must consider their historical disadvantages brought upon by systemic racism. Graeme Benjamin reports. – Aug 24, 2021

Local advocates and members of the legal community alike are praising a recent Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision that will require judges to consider historical disadvantages and systemic racism that Black offenders have faced.

Last week, Justice Anne S. Derrick, on behalf of a five-judge Court of Appeal panel, said inquiring about the systemic issues facing African Nova Scotians could “help reduce the levels of incarceration in that community.”

“It paints and provides a full picture, and brings their story to life in a much different way,” said DeRico Symonds, who co-founded Game Changers902, a grassroots organization with a goal of challenging injustice and centralizing the African Nova Scotian experience.

“It’s validation that those experiences that you have had are true.”

The ruling, released last week, came to be after a Black man was a conditional sentence and was released on parole in connection with five firearm-related charges.

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Read more: N.S. top court: judges must consider systemic racism when sentencing Black offenders

Rakeem Rayshon Anderson was found guilty of the charges after it was confirmed that police had found a .22-calibre revolver in his waistband following a traffic stop in November 2018.

Anderson was sentenced in February 2020 by provincial court Chief Judge Pamela Williams, who said her decision was supported by the results of a race and culture assessment on Anderson.

The Crown appealed that sentence, opening the door for the Court of Appeal to examine the use — and benefits — of Impact and Race and Cultural Assessments (IRCAs).

Brandon Rolle, who acted as co-counsel in the Intervenor, is calling it a “historic decision that signals a shift in the landscape when we talk about the sentencing of African Nova Scotians.”

“This decision will directly impact every African Nova Scotian being sentenced from this point forward,” said Rolle. “African Nova Scotians are a distinct people with a unique history and this decision acknowledges that.”

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Removing systemic barriers in education for African and Indigenous students – Aug 12, 2021

IRCAs were created by Nova Scotia social worker and sociologist Robert Wright, who’s dedicated his career to achieving lasting systemic changes through social public advocacy.

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“The decision came out, I printed it and I went for a walk and sat under a tree and read it,” said Wright. “I had a very emotional experience.”

Wright says IRCAs have the ability to connect how the effect of anti-Black racism to the individual’s lived experience, “articulating how the experience of racism has informed the circumstance of the offender.”

“Mr. Anderson’s sentencing show’s that change is possible for the offender, and as significantly, for our system.” said Wright.

Read more: Yes, there is systemic racism in Canada — our history is filled with it

That’s a sentiment echoed by DeRico Symonds, who says the decision reinforces the struggles African Nova Scotians have faced in the past and continue to face today.

“The next step is how then can we treat and support and help a black person who has had a lifetime of inequity and purposeful disadvantage by systems that were meant to support them,” said Symonds.

— with files from The Canadian Press.

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