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The African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition: Open letter to Premier McNeil re the Design Team

Open Letter

October 13, 2020 

Dear Premier McNeil 

Over 30 years ago the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Jr. Prosecution officially recognized  systemic racism in the justice system and its impact on the Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotians (ANS). The African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent (ANSDPAD) Coalition  acknowledges the provincial government’s official apology for systemic racism, while remembering  that it has been a long time coming. 

The ANSDPAD Coalition includes thirty-five ANS organizations across the province and the  thousands of individuals that these organizations collectively serve. Our Coalition has been in  discussions with the province of Nova Scotia and policing officials aimed at addressing anti-Black  racism in the criminal justice system for over three years.  

The Coalition has formally proposed to the Nova Scotia government both structural – African Nova  Scotian Justice Institute (ANSJI) and procedural African Nova Scotian Policing Strategy (ANSPS)  interventions designed to achieve a more just system for all. On December 11, 2019, we submitted a  proposal for the ANSJI. This was followed, in the spring of 2020, with an ANSPS proposal. Instead of  working with the Coalition and other ANS community leaders, the province unexpectedly announced  funding to support two government-selected facilitators and a design team that did not include  representation from either the ANSDPAD Coalition or any ANS organization.  

The ANSDPAD Coalition rejects the legitimacy of the ‘design team’ announced as part of the  government’s proposal. In addition to its lack of independence from the government, and its  fundamentally flawed composition in terms of its failure to include ANSDPAD or its member organizations, we question whether all of the individuals named to this supposed team were even  aware that they had agreed to serve on it or its terms of reference. Moreover, we have no confidence  in the ability of the co-facilitators of this government-imposed process to bring together the diverse  members of the ANS community to ensure that the process has legitimacy, widespread community  participation, viability and a reasonable chance of success.  

The government of Nova Scotia must not decide for the ANS people that our fundamental legal and  human rights will be mediated through a forced process. To impose this approach on us, in the way the  government has suggested, is to reinforce the very systems of racism and discrimination that have  marginalized and oppressed the ANS people for centuries. 

The government’s proposed restorative approach to improving public safety is an unnecessary and  illegitimate diversion from the work that we have been doing. It does not respect the longstanding  work and expertise of ANS and Black organizations and individuals who have been leading responses  to anti-Black racism in the province’s justice system. Again, the imposition of this process on our  people is a form of anti-Black racism. It is in no way restorative. Indeed, the manner in which this has  come about is antithetical to the very principles that are purported to guide restorative processes. 

Any process to address ANS justice issues must be designed and led by ANS people. The  government’s proposed process must be dismantled in favour of an ANS led process that centres our  own justice priorities and approaches. If the government seeks to reform public safety in the province,  it ought to work with our community and its leaders to refine and implement the proposals that  ANSDPAD has already submitted. We believe that this work could and should be done in solidarity  with and parallel to the work being done by members of the Mi’kmaq First Nation.  

African Nova Scotian’s remain ready to engage in a renewed relationship with the government of  Nova Scotia. That cannot happen through the design process proposed by the government. 

Ms. Vanessa Fells, Director of Operations On behalf of ANSDPAD Coalition cc:

  • Hon. Mark Furey, Minister of Justice 
  • Hon. Kelly Regan, Minister of Community Services 
  • Hon. Tony Ince, Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs 
  • Ms. Candace Thomas, Deputy Minister, Justice and the Office of Social Innovation and  Integrative Approaches 
  • Ms. Tracey Taweel, Deputy Minister, Community Services 
  • Mr. Justin Houston, Deputy Minister, Communities, Culture and Heritage