‘We are sorry racist institutions have failed you’: Nova Scotia apologizes for systemic racism

Premier Stephen McNeil announces public safety policy redesign to take place throughout the next year


Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil in 2018. Photo: APTN file

Nova Scotia is sorry for generations of systemic racism in the justice system and pledges to do better by Black and Indigenous communities, the province said on Tuesday.

Premier Stephen McNeil issued a formal apology for the harms, trauma and pain people have suffered as a result of racism in the justice system from policing to the courts.

“Our system of justice has failed members of our Black and Indigenous communities. This system is supposed to keep all Nova Scotians safe, but because of the colour of your skin, many of you live in fear. Today, I say: enough,” McNeil said in a release.

“I see you, I hear you, I believe you and I am sorry. On behalf of my ministers, my caucus, our government, we are sorry racist institutions have failed you, your families and your ancestors. I can’t take away your pain or bring back the opportunities and lives lost. But I am showing up today to try to work with all of you to find a new approach to public safety.”

The province says it’s committed to revamping policing and law enforcement through a “restorative process” to transform provincial public safety policy and announced the creation of a “design team” to spearhead reform.

“This will not be another ‘review,’ said the design team’s co-facilitator Jacob MacIsaac. “This is about mobilizing and creating the conditions and connections needed for action and change, and we stand on the shoulders of all the work of the past that has showed so clearly the problems and failings and the need for fundamental change.”

The province explained that the nearly two dozen members of its new design team hail from Black Nova Scotian or Mi’kmaw communities and represent academia and government.

Provinces set their own policing policy, but some rely on the federal police to provide these services.

This is the case in Nova Scotia, where the RCMP is contracted out to the province and acts as the provincial police with about 53 detachments and 1,500 employees.

McNeil’s announcement follows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s lead.

While the Liberal prime minister didn’t apologize for the adverse effects of systemic racism in law enforcement, he pledged to reform the RCMP as he laid out his government’s legislative priorities in his throne speech last week.

Trudeau promised to do the following:

  • Introduce legislation and make investments that take action to address the systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system, from diversion to sentencing, from rehabilitation to records;
  • Move forward on enhanced civilian oversight of our law enforcement agencies, including the RCMP;
  • Modernize training for police and law enforcement, including addressing standards around the use of force;
  • Move forward on RCMP reforms, with a shift toward community-led policing;
  • And accelerate work to co-develop a legislative framework for First Nations policing as an essential service.

McNeil’s release noted that the Black Lives Matter movement brought issues of systemic racism and police brutality to the forefront across the world after the policing killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd in the United States.

Canada was also rocked by incidents of police violence, such as the police killings of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in New Brunswick, the violent arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam in Alberta and the dooring of an Inuk man in Nunavut.

Mounties were involved in all of these events except for the death of Chantel Moore, who was killed by a municipal peace officer in Edmundston.

You can read APTN News coverage of these events and several others here on our in-depth topic page: Policing in Canada

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