Africville residents carry on fight for compensation 47 years after black community bulldozed in Nova Scotia

Interesting that the 2010 apology and settlement, which did not include any personal compensation, has effectively been challenged by this case.

But as in federal historical recognition, the likely form of compensation is ex gratia payments, as was the case for Japanese Canadian wartime internment (who also lost property) or those Chinese Canadians who paid the entry head tax:

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia will hear arguments this week about whether to certify a proposed class action lawsuit for dozens of former residents of Africville, the black community in north-end Halifax that in 1969 was cleared of its residents and demolished to make room for industrial development.

The destruction of the site, especially the Seaview United Baptist Church that had stood there for over a century, is widely regarded as a shameful symbol of the treatment of black Nova Scotians, many of whom had fled slavery in America.

“I’m hoping for a settlement,” said Flemming Vemb, a plaintiff and former resident who recalls being forced out of the four-bedroom house on the waterfront where his father had tried to build a dry dock, but was refused permission by the city. “It was an abrupt thing,” he said of his family’s removal from their home.

After years of slow negotiations and growing awareness of the historical outrage, in 2010 then Halifax mayor Peter Kelly signed off on an almost $5-million compensation deal, from three levels of government, which included an apology. As a result, a replica of the church has been built and a park established on the site.

Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives CanadaThe destruction of Africville, especially the Seaview United Baptist Church that had stood there for over a century, is widely regarded as a shameful symbol of the treatment of black Nova Scotians.

“We apologize for the heartache experienced at the loss of the Seaview United Baptist Church, the spiritual heart of the community, removed in the middle of the night. We acknowledge the tremendous importance the church had, both for the congregation and the community as a whole,” Kelly said.

That deal involved no personal compensation and no admission of liability by Halifax, however, and it led to discord, with some plaintiffs saying the settlement was signed over their objections.

The lawsuit is led by the Africville Genealogy Society, which represents the estates of 48 former residents whose identities are known, as well as those who are as yet unknown.

The lawsuit was filed in 1996, the same year Africville was designated a National Historic Site. It includes nearly 40 plaintiffs who are still alive, and families of many more who have died, who claim they were not compensated for the loss of their lands. Many of the named plaintiffs are related, with Carvery, Flint, Izzard and Vemb especially common surnames.

As a judge put it, they claim “Halifax is liable to the former residents and their descendants for a broad array of tortious conduct and breaches of contract over the span of the community’s existence.”

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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