Justice institute to use federal funds to help Black Nova Scotians understand legal rights
The acting director of the African Nova Scotia Justice Institute says federal funding for the institute will go toward programming to help Black people in Nova Scotia better understand and assert their rights.
On Wednesday, the federal Department of Justice announced it will spend $607,000 over three years for a Justice Partnership and Innovation Program.
The money will go to the Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition (ANSDPAD) to hire a full-time lawyer, legal assistant, and legal support and research person to provide free independent legal information and advice to clients of the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute.
In an interview with the Halifax Examiner, Robert Wright said the funding will also be used to help educate Black people in Nova Scotia about their legal rights around issues such as housing, education, land and property, wrongful dismissal or harassment at the workplace, human rights claims, and police complaints.
“We will be able to provide independent legal advice to Black folks who have questions or concerns in any number of these areas,” Wright said.
Wright said the partnership is evidence that the federal government understands that systemic racism and systemic anti-Black racism exist and that Black people need to be given resources to highlight those injustices, assert their rights, and seek justice.
In 2019 the province announced a permanent ban on police street checks after a CBC investigation and an independent legal study found the checks disproportionately targeted people of colour, particularly Black men.
In December 2021, Justice Minister Brad Johns issued a directive that closed what some called a "loophole" in the street checks ban, making “reasonable suspicion” the new “legal standard to be used by police to detain individuals suspected of unlawful activity.”
Wright points to the recent changes as a reason the new Justice Partnership and Innovation Program will borrow from past initiatives set forth by the federal government.
“When the [Canadian] Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] was a brand-new thing in the 1980s, the federal government began what they called the Charter Challenges Program,” Wright said. “The federal government actually gave people money so they could advance cases and litigate using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Wright said funding will go toward offering free legal service and legal advice, but it will also be used to spread the word about the institute’s service and the creation of a Know Your Rights Campaign.
“We’ve asked the question, if people are worried about how the police treat them, are the police the best people, who have the trust of the people, to inform the people about what their rights are [in terms of] the police limits of authority?” said Wright.
In 2019, Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella made a public apology for historic and ongoing systemic racism within the department.
A few weeks prior to apology, Kinsella was the sole white panelist at a community town hall at the Halifax North Memorial Library attended by roughly 200 Black residents.
In that meeting, Kinsella said his department had plans to roll out a public Know Your Rights Campaign.
That plan was never implemented.
“I think that when the police were given that responsibility the chief of course said, ‘Ok, I have to do this, the province wants me to do this.’ But I think the conversation from that time until this has been, ‘Are we the best people to do it?’” said Wright.
“I think that he was commissioned by the province to figure this out. And I think that figuring it out has meant realizing that the police are not the best people to do this.”
Wright said he expects a Know Your Rights Campaign led by the Justice Institute will borrow from past education campaigns and will also include in-person aspects as well.
“Remember during the sexual violence strategy, there were a series of information pieces on radio and television and in print media and social media that were just kind of advancing these ideas about limitations on sexual behaviour and that sort of thing,” he said. “I could imagine a Know Your Rights campaign would have elements like that. But I think it would also include focused community meetings in certain communities to talk about these things.”
Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner