New community-led centre for Black Nova Scotians who interact with justice system

·3 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is launching a community-led justice institute to support Black Nova Scotians who interact with the legal system.

Premier Iain Rankin and African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Tony Ince announced a $4.8-million investment to create the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute during a news conference on Monday.

The institute is an initiative of the non-profit African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, they said, adding that the centre will include programs aimed at reducing the over-representation of Black citizens in the justice system.

It will be set up over the next year and run eight programs, including on race and cultural assessments for courts, data collection and policing accountability. There will also be an African Nova Scotian court-support program as well as programs for community justice legal defence and for reintegration.

"The justice system has often failed members of the Black community and that cannot continue … This is a fundamental change and a revisioning of how we deliver justice in this province," Rankin told a news conference at the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, in Halifax.

On Sept. 29, 2020, former premier Stephen McNeil publicly apologized to Black and Indigenous Nova Scotians for systemic racism in the province's justice system, and he said the Liberals were committed to reform. The pledge came amid heightened awareness raised by the Black Lives Matter movement in Nova Scotia and around the world, and in the wake of a 2019 study by criminologist Scot Wortley, whose research indicated Black citizens were five times more likely to be stopped by police than white citizens.

Michelle Williams, a law professor at Dalhousie University, told the news conference the institute is part of a fresh approach to justice led by the province's Black community. "The African Nova Scotian Justice Institute is part of a new path, where community experts will help lead the way as we work to build a more equitable province, together," said Williams, a member of the coalition's justice working group.

According to statistics from the Justice Department, African Nova Scotians represent about 2.4 per cent of the province's population but 10 per cent of admissions to sentenced custody and 11 per cent of admissions to remand in provincial correctional facilities.

Augy Jones, the son of the late Nova Scotia Black rights activists Joan Jones and Burnley (Rocky) Jones, spoke during the news conference to praise the initiative. The 52-year-old former school teacher said he's seen many initiatives come and go but he believes the institute will become a lasting means to help address the province's deep-seated racial problems.

"My mother (Joan Jones) taught me the way to handle systemic racism is with systemic solutions, built-in solutions," he said.

"In an institute like this, it allows the community to get assistance to navigate a very complex (justice) system that's been inequitable in how it's been set up," Jones added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2021.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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