Nova Scotia anti racism advocates call for changes to ‘racist’ justice system

HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government needs to address systemic racism that has led to the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people in its criminal justice system, anti-racism advocates told a legislative committee Tuesday.

Emma Halpern, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, said there needs to be mandatory anti-racism training for police and other front-line workers who encounter African Nova Scotian and Indigenous residents.

“We need to think about the way in which policing and carceral systems have infiltrated so many of our state systems and to address that at its root,” Halpern told the standing committee on community services.

The Elizabeth Fry Society, a non-profit organization that helps women and girls in the criminal justice system, has seen a steady increase of Black and Indigenous clients in the last five years, Halpern said.

Robert Wright, executive director for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, says despite the group’s advocacy for the end to police street checks, he thinks the practice continues to have support in the province.

In 2019, Justice Minister Mark Furey imposed a moratorium on police street checks following a report by University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley that said the practice has had a “disproportionate and negative” impact on Nova Scotia’s Black community. The RCMP, however, have since delayed a decision on whether to offer an apology to Halifax’s Black community for their use of the practice.

Wright says his group has seen a disappointing lack of commitment to anti-racism initiatives in the province’s criminal justice sector. “Government has yet to demonstrate the proper use of their authority to eliminate those things that we have identified as illegal and problematic,” he said.

Halpern said government departments need to have a more “human-centred approach” for offering services to racialized people in the criminal justice system.

Candace Thomas, deputy minister of the Department of Justice, told the committee the government is implementing the recommendations from the Wortley report, but acknowledged that “much remains to be done” to tackle anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.

She said a long and painful history of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism has manifested in the overrepresentation of the groups in the criminal justice system.

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