HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's Liberal government tabled legislation Tuesday aimed at removing barriers to land ownership in five of the province's historic African Nova Scotian communities.
The Land Titles Initiative Acceleration Act will speed up the settling of land titles in the communities of North and East Preston, Cherry Brook/Lake Loon, Lincolnville and Sunnyville, Justice Minister Randy Delorey said.
There are still more than 600 residential parcels of land without clear land title in the communities, Delorey added.
In 2017, the province created the Land Titles Initiative, which assists applicants to get title at no cost.
"There are challenges that remain and that will be addressed with this bill," Delorey told reporters. "These include costly and time-consuming municipal subdivision issues."
Land was given to both white and Black Loyalists by the province in the 1800s, but only white settlers were given clear land titles, leading to years of confusion for descendants of Black settlers and limiting their ability to obtain mortgages, access housing grants or sell their homes.
Delorey said although there is no estimate for how much faster claims can be settled, he said the new bill should make a difference.
The minister said the proposed changes would recognize the province's Land Titles Initiative in law and expand the role of commissioners by creating a dispute resolution process that he said will help avoid claims getting bogged down in the courts.
Residents seeking title would be exempted from the requirement to receive approval for subdividing their land, Delorey said. The bill also establishes the $3-million compensation fund that was announced earlier this month.
Lauren Grant, manager of the Land Titles Initiative, said although the current focus is on clearing the outstanding titles in the five communities, there are as many as 45 other African Nova Scotian communities where land ownership is an issue.
"We know that the numbers in the remaining 45 are similar to the percentages that we've been seeing from the five under the initiative," Grant said, adding that there are likely thousands of claims outstanding.
She said it's hoped the initiative can be extended to those communities in the future. "Our families don't have the ability to mortgage their land, bequeath their land … to sell their land," Grant said. "Pride in ownership is a very big deal with the ability to leave something for future generations."
Since 2017, about 200 parcels of land have been successfully cleared by the initiative, involving about 527 applications from the more than 850 eligible parcels of land.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press