HALIFAX — A former resident of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children says he's encouraged by the initial steps the government is taking to adopt recommendations from a restorative inquiry into abuse at the former Halifax-area orphanage.
Tony Smith, who was also a member of the inquiry which issued its final report in 2019, said the government's ongoing commitment is a testament to the sacrifices made by people who made themselves vulnerable in opening up to the inquiry.
The inquiry used restorative practices based on what it called a "human-centred approach," and it called on the government to do the same in addressing the needs of people who deal with its departments and services.
"Today is especially exciting for us because it's a new shift in government," Smith told reporters Thursday. "The new premier is embracing with open arms ... the things that we need to do to help improve our way of delivering services to all people from all walks of life."
An 18-page report released Thursday by a government "task group" said the work required to complete that culture shift is "complex and will take time."
"The reality is our systems are populated by individuals who need to understand and learn how to be intentionally human-centred," the report states. "It will take time ... to put supports for learning in place and reorient systems."
However, the group pointed to initiatives such as the creation of an Afrocentric child welfare team within the Department of Community services as a sign of gradual improvement.
It also said the recent creation of COVID-19 vaccine clinics in African Nova Scotian and Indigenous communities using the assistance of community organizers is another example of the shift in attitude called for by the inquiry.
Premier Tim Houston said over the next few months another action that was called for by the inquiry — a Child and Youth Commission — will be designed to protect the interests of children and youth in the province.
Houston told the legislature the commission will take a restorative approach.
"There is much more work to do and more for us to learn," the premier said in a statement. "I am committed to listening, to working with communities and to doing everything in my power to address racism and injustice in this province."
The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children opened in the Halifax area in 1921 and closed as an orphanage in 1978.
The inquiry determined that a culture of silence and shame allowed abuse to persist at the home over decades, and it concluded systemic racism in Nova Scotia continues to breed mistrust and fear of public agencies.
Gerry Morrison, who was sent to the orphanage as an infant in the early 1950s, said the provincial government and society at large need to continue to push forward with the inquiry's ideals.
Former premier Stephen McNeil issued a formal apology to the residents of the orphanage in 2014 for physical, psychological, and sexual abuse up until the 1980s. Class action lawsuits against the home and the province ended in settlements totalling $34 million.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press