HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government has appointed two black lawyers, an openly gay lawyer and a female Crown attorney as judges, bringing its provincial and family courts closer to gender and diversity balance.
Premier Stephen McNeil announced the appointments Friday of Rickcola Brinton, Amy Sakalauskas, Samuel Moreau and Rosalind Michie, bringing the number of full-time provincial and family court judges to 38, of which 18 are women and five are black.
The appointments come just two months after the province appointed the first Mi'kmaq woman, Catherine Benton, and the third black woman, Ronda van der Hoek, to the provincial and family courts — after years of lobbying for greater judicial diversity from the province's black and indigenous communities.
Brinton is a black woman who has worked in legal aid for 15 years, while Sakalauskas, who is gay, is a Department of Justice lawyer who most recently practised in the child protection field and has worked nationally on LGBTQ issues.
Moreau is a black man who works with Nova Scotia Legal Aid's Port Hawkesbury office and has practised law for 18 years, and Michie has been a Crown counsel with the public prosecution service for 16 years.
The premier said in an interview that it was important to him when he took office in 2013 to mould a judiciary that better reflects the province's diversity.
"It's an important step in reconciliation. It's a step that's long overdue in my view. The bench should have been more diverse before now," said McNeil.
McNeil, who is 52, said when he grew up in the Annapolis Valley, he was proud his mother was the province's first female sheriff.
"We need minority representation, we need women doing all aspects of the workforce. It was important for me as premier, when I had an opportunity, to change the face of the judiciary."
Robert Wright, a Halifax social worker who has been a member of provincial advisory committees for judicial selections, greeted the appointments as a step forward after years of disappointment.
"This will be first time we will have four sitting judges in the provincial court who are of African descent. There were only two at a time before," he said.
There is also a fifth black judge, Corrine Sparks, who presides solely in the family court.
Wright has cautioned the justice system’s treatment of racial minorities remains flawed, pointing to the release of police figures showing that black men were three times more likely to be street checked in Halifax in the first 10 months of 2016.
However, he said the recent series of appointments has encouraged him.
"It feels to me like somehow someone has taken the issue of judicial diversity seriously and that's a fantastic thing," he said.
"Over time it will provide the opportunity for the court to be informed and educated with a greater diversity of perspectives."
The provincial court presides over most criminal charges, while the family court hears family issues, including maintenance, custody and access, and child protection matters.
The provincial government controls appointments to the provincial and family courts, while higher-court judges are federal appointments.
There are a total of 95 judges in the province, with 22 of those part-time. A spokeswoman for the judiciary says of those five are black, one judge is Sri Lankan, and two judges are aboriginal.
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Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press