New African Nova Scotian institute to address racism in justice system


Michelle Williams

The new provincially funded African Nova Scotian Justice Institute was announced last Monday at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S. The institute will offer policing accountability, data collection, court support, legal defence and other programs. It is expected to begin operating within one year.

The province is spending $4.8 million to help create an African Nova Scotian Justice Institute that will support African Nova Scotians in contact with the law and address racism and overrepresentation of Black people in the justice system.

The institute, one of the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, will be led by the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition.

Michelle Williams, a member of the coalition who is also a Dalhousie University law professor, said Black people in Nova Scotia were historically oppressed through enslavement and segregation, and that legacy continues today through racism, hate crimes and human rights violations.

Williams said she hopes the institute will bridge the gap between law and justice, and that she appreciates the support of the government.

“But make no mistake: It won’t be easy,” she said at an announcement about the institute at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S., she said.

“Centuries of structural racism and white supremacy have built this province. Uncomfortable truths will need to be examined, old ways of doing things disrupted and the voices of African Nova Scotian people heard and respected.”

The institute will provide the following programs: Race, cultural assessments and treatment services; Data collection and policing accountability; African Nova Scotian court support; Community justice legal defence; Bail alternative, incarceration support and reintegration program for African Nova Scotians;     Alternative justice and victim services; Public legal education and youth development; and Human rights and policing accountability.

“We recognize that our system of justice, from policing to corrections to our courts, has been structured to the benefit of some but not all Nova Scotians,” Premier Iain Rankin told those gathered for the announcement.

“This system has often failed members of the Black community, and this cannot be our future.”

The institute will be fully staffed and begin offering programs and services within one year.

Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Tony Ince said the institute has been a long time in the making.

“Each and every African Nova Scotian here has had to face the reality that they may not be treated equally in the eyes of the law,” he told the gathering.

“With today’s announcement of the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute, we are bringing to life a dream that has been too long in the making … the dream of knowing that in this province, the colour of your skin shouldn’t determine how you’ve been treated in the eyes of the law.”

The $4.8 million the province has promised will cover the institute’s costs for the first three years, said Robert Wright, a social worker and member of the coalition’s executive.

He expects more provincial funding to be announced in the coming years.