Proposed Africville class action offers former residents a chance at reparations: expert

Children playing the in Africville neighbourhood of Halifax in 1958. Photo from Library and Archives Canada

As the Nova Scotia Supreme Court hears from lawyers this week on the merits of a class action suit from former residents of Africville, one local researcher says the neighbourhood’s demolition decades ago still harms the community today.

The structural discrimination that followed after Africville was forcibly relocated and then demolished by the City of Halifax, is tied to environmental racism, segregation, discrimination, and governmental neglect, Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor at Dalhousie University, told Yahoo Canada News.

“Africville symbolizes racism and discrimination in Halifax, specifically with respect to African Nova Scotian communities,” said Waldron, whose research interests include the Black Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities.

“It’s very much symbolic of ongoing racism that those communities continue to face today.”

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Africville was a Halifax suburb whose residents were nearly all members of Nova Scotia’s Black community. Over its 100 years, the area became host to a railway extension, slaughterhouses, a prison, and an open-pit dump, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. At the same time, the community often lacked basic city services like paved roads and running water.

Between 1964 and 1967 the land in Africville was expropriated by the city and houses were bulldozed, and residents from the tight-knit community were relocated to various parts of the city. A brief filed to the court by lawyer Robert Pineo claims residents weren’t given the required notice or compensation for the land appropriation as per the city’s own requirements.

In 2010 Halifax apologized for the community’s destruction and provided $3 million to rebuild the Africville Church. But if successful, the class-action lawsuit brought by former Africville resident Nelson Carvery would mark the first time community members received individual compensation, Waldron said.

The Black community in Nova Scotia is still experiencing the environmental discrimination those in Africville once did, she said. For example the African Nova Scotian communities of Lincolnville, Shelbourne, East Preston, and North Preston are located near waste dumps, she said.

And the 20,000 Black Nova Scotians who make up the province’s largest visible minority group experience higher-than-average rates of unemployment and lower-than-average income, and are less likely to complete high school or attend university, compared to Nova Scotia’s overall population, according to Statistics Canada.

“All those examples combine to create a pattern of discrimination,” Waldron said.

If compensation does eventually comes its value is mostly in what it symbolizes to the community of former Africville residents and their descendants, Waldron said.

“It would be a government response to the injustices that happened 40 years ago,” she said. “It would be the first time that the African Nova Scotian community has received reparations for a social injustice.”