New funding will allow African Nova Scotian institute to hire team to provide free legal advice

Robert Wright is the executive director of the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Robert Wright is the executive director of the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

The African Nova Scotian Justice Institute will receive more than $607,000 in federal funding to hire a team dedicated to providing Black Nova Scotians with free legal advice.

The Department of Justice Canada announced the new funding, which will be provided through the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program over the next three years, on Wednesday.

Robert Wright, the executive director of ANSJI, said the funding will allow the institute to hire a full-time lawyer, a legal assistant, legal support and a researcher, who are schooled in critical race awareness.

"This is real public education and legal advice for individuals who might have issues related to property matters or civic matters, or employment matters, or human rights concerns, or even concerns related to police misconduct," Wright told CBC Radio's Mainstreet Halifax.

"To be able to go into those avenues and know that you have the ability to consult with a lawyer really gives people the ability to better understand their rights."

Wright said this type of process is revolutionary for people who might not know how to advocate for themselves.

"People of African descent are so systematically and historically discriminated against that it's an uphill battle for Black folk to understand and assert their rights in many areas, so this will be an opportunity ... to push back against the injustices that Black people experience," he said.

He said this program is different than legal aid because it's dedicated to the Black community, and doesn't have an income threshold or any fees.

Acknowledgement of systemic discrimination

Wright said the funding also serves as an acknowledgement from the federal government that Black people are "systematically discriminated against and the systems that we currently have in place have not addressed that."

"They say the layperson's definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result," he said.

"So innovation is the keyword here — this is a program that will fund a community agency like the justice institute to do things differently in pursuit of that different result and the different result is dismantling the systemic racism that Black people experience."

Wright said the funding is already being put to use, as one person has been hired. Support is expected to get underway in the coming days.

"It's very exciting. We're quite enthusiastic about it," he said.

"It's not that it's going to be an easy thing, but it's exciting to have the resources to begin that work."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.