Nova Scotia Liberals says province is undermining Office of Anti-Racism


Candace Thomas

Nova Scotia Liberal MLAs questioned Premier Tim Houston on his on government’s recent decision to downgrade the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism from a standalone entity to be part of the Department of Justice. He suggested that the move would diminish the office’s work and effectiveness.

Brendan Maguire, a Liberal member of the public accounts committee, asked Deputy Justice Minister Candace Thomas for the reason behind the change, which took place May 12.

“What was the need to take that and dismantle it as a standalone department, into a department … that historically a lot of people don’t have a lot of faith in?” said Maguire. “The department existed only for a quick moment in time, then the government came in and said, ‘You know what, this is not working on its own.'”

Thomas, who assumed responsibility for the office just weeks ago, told the committee she wasn’t part of that discussion.

“It would be more appropriate to ask that question of government,” she said. “As deputy minister, I would not have been a party to the rationale and the reasoning for making an organizational change.”

Thomas told the committee that the mandate and budget of the two-year-old office remain intact, and its work continues.

“The Office of Equity and Anti-Racism has not been dismantled,” she said. “And very proudly, we can say that there is a great degree of alignment with the mandate and the work of the Department of Justice and the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism.

Tony Ince

 “All of that great work happening, the people, the team who were part of that work are still there.”

Tony Ince, a Liberal who is one of only three Black MLAs in the House, suggested the Justice Department was ill-suited to oversee the work of the office because the department and the justice system it oversees, “both have racism ingrained within the institution.”

Speaking to reporters outside the meeting, Ince noted the change also took place without any consultation with the communities most affected by racism and most involved with equity issues.

“That concerns me,” he said. “It concern me, because as a person of African descent, that’s what I’ve gone through many times in my life.

“You’re moving forward, and then all of a sudden there’s five steps back and you’ve got to restart.”

After the meeting, Thomas defended the decision, calling it “a natural fit.”

“Much of the work that [the Justice Department does] is dealing with anti-racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, building an African Nova Scotian justice strategy,” she said.

“We’ve funded almost totally the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute. So we are really well versed in understanding human rights, equity, fairness within the Department of Justice.”