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Black human rights matter: Rally calls for shake-up of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission

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“When you go back and do your editing this afternoon, before the five o’clock news, will you actually capture what we have said? Will you capture the pain and the frustration that was displayed here today?  I would encourage you to let our words speak the truth, because we can’t make up this shit.”

Raymond Sheppard at today’s rally, addressing the media.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Black Nova Scotians and allies rallied outside the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission offices on Spring Garden Road. The NSHRC is reluctant to pursue race-based human rights violations while its employees often lack a lived understanding of racism, protesters say. And the commission isn’t listening.

Michael Carvery is one of these people. Carvery was a Dalhousie employee who suffered discrimination at the workplace but, try as he might, he never even got his complaint heard at the NSHRC. 

“For five years they ignored me. Then after all that time they brought me in, and told me that they lost my complaint. And all they did was say, ‘I’m sorry, we’re making changes’,” Carvery told the crowd.

Community activist Rana Zaman spoke about how the NSHRC revoked her human rights award, a mere ten days after it was awarded, bowing to pressure from pro-Israel groups angry about her support for the Palestinian cause.  

See also: News brief: Rana Zaman’s human rights award rescinded after baseless accusations

Zaman compared the long wait Carvery and others experienced with the speed with which the complaint against her was dealt with.

“An emergency meeting has taken place over my tweets and that lobbying group had their complaint addressed within two days. What does that tell you about the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and how they treat people of colour,” Zaman wondered.

“To add insult to injury, several organizations of colour, the Imam Council of Nova Scotia, the Palestinian society, the Sikh community and others have reached out to the Human Rights Commission to meet with them, yet they have not acknowledged any of them,” said Zaman.

In recognition of the trauma many victims of racism have to deal with, the group also wants the time span to submit a complaint extended to three years from the current one year period.

“When we have to endure racism on a daily basis, it leads to anxiety, panic attacks, and eventually depression,” said Raymond Sheppard. “For an intake worker to ask an African Nova Scotian if you’re sure it’s racism that you experienced, that’s re-victimizing and it’s really, really painful.”

Activist and poet Angela Bowden spoke on her own behalf, but also related the story of a young African Nova Scotian woman who, after facing racism and transphobia in her workplace, had her own unfortunate encounters with the NSHRC. 

The woman tells how during an interview the white intake officer held her arm next to the woman’s and suggested that she was so light skinned she wasn’t really Black.  

“That is precisely the problem with the intake workers. They lack the knowledge, the understanding, and the intellect to even process racial trauma. So what happens is that when we come here to file a complaint, we first have to educate them on what racism is, and next we have to convince them of the impact that it is having on our lives,” Bowden said.

In an article by Noushin Ziafati published yesterday in the Chronicle Herald NSHRC director and CEO Christine Hanson responded at length to many of the allegations made by today’s speakers and others before them.

In particular she says that a lack of diversity among intake officers has been addressed. As well, an African Nova Scotian liaison officer was appointed last year to serve as a direct point of contact for African Nova Scotians. Turn around time for investigations has dramatically improved, Hanson said.     

“I will say that I was extremely triggered by her words in the newspaper, having met with her personally, on two occasions,” said Bowden, who went on to call for Hanson’s resignation. 

“The wrap up time may have been quick, but that’s for your stats. There needs to be a follow up after these people come out of the trauma to see if you actually really did do a good job. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is preying on the vulnerability of individuals when they make their complaint,” Bowden said.

“When we met, our request was that the significant damage done by the Commission needs to be addressed. The only way we were going to be able to do that is if they actually went into our communities and took ownership of their mistakes, because the trust among our communities has been destroyed. So fixing problems in the newspaper is nice, but our scars and injuries are ugly, and they’re ongoing.”

See also: Two years after Court decision NS Human Rights Commission still not transparent about its intake processes

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One Comment

  1. The times are a changing!

    One needs to be empathetic and open minded with a drive towards solutions surrounding systemic racism issues.

    The old school mentality won’t last much longer and if people wish to live in harmony then it’s time to become more inclusive and learn from one another as to make HRM better place to live and work.

    Holding authority accountable is one of those ways to betterment of our communities and it will shake some to their foundation as they’ve not walked in shoes of discrimination or worse

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