Government Advances Work of Restorative Inquiry, Commits to Youth Commission
NOTE: A statement by Premier Tim Houston, read in the House of Assembly today, November 4, follows the release
The learnings from the Restorative Inquiry into the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children will have a positive and long-lasting impact by shaping important changes in how the government serves the needs of Nova Scotians.
Premier Tim Houston tabled the third and final report of the Reflection and Action Task Group in the legislature today, November 4. It outlines the government’s progress in addressing barriers and working to find solutions centred around people’s needs.
“We want to make a positive difference in the lives of children, young people, families and communities and the inquiry’s final report gave the government a road map for real change,” said Premier Houston. “We are looking at our systems and institutions, reflecting on the impacts of systemic racism and working with communities. There is still more work to do, and more for us to learn. I am committed to listening and doing everything in my power to finding a different way forward together.”
The Premier also committed to creating a Children and Youth Commission to protect and advance the rights, interests and viewpoints of children and youth in Nova Scotia, which fulfills another recommendation of the Restorative Inquiry.
The commission will take a restorative approach, working with children and youth, families and the entire care system. It will be designed over the coming months by government and community partners, with related legislation being introduced in the spring of 2022.
The Reflection and Action Task Group report highlighted several initiatives that are using human-centred and restorative approaches, with the Province’s response to COVID-19 as a recent example.
When needs arose in African Nova Scotian communities, multiple government departments worked alongside organizations like the Health Association of African Canadians, the Association of Black Social Workers and the African United Baptist Association to provide services and support where people needed them most. Vaccine clinics were mobilized in African Nova Scotian and Indigenous communities, with community organizers helping to lead the way.
Other examples include:
- the Department of Community Services has formed an Africentric Child Welfare Team to better serve the needs of children, youth, and families of African descent
- an African Nova Scotian youth employment social innovation lab is bringing multiple departments together to help close the employment gap for Black youth
- the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives is leading a government-wide approach to address systemic racism and achieve more equitable outcomes in health, education and the economy
- the Province is investing in an African Nova Scotian Justice Institute, to be led by the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, that will support African Nova Scotians in contact with the law and help address overrepresentation and anti-Black racism in the justice system
- as the government implements the Adoptions Record Act, it will balance access to information and privacy for those who request it in a respectful, trauma-informed and culturally respectful way.
Although the Child and Youth Advocate model is one which exists in other places, the Restorative Inquiry recommendation offered an alternative – one which would incorporate a more human-centred approach to supporting and bringing forward the voice of children and youth. This model, which we will develop with communities over the coming months, will be unique to Nova Scotia and will serve the young people in our province.
Karla MacFarlane, Minister of Community Services
- the Reflection and Action Task Group, made up of representatives from the Restorative Inquiry’s Council of Parties and deputy ministers from several government departments, was mandated to report on actions in advancing the recommendations of the Restorative Inquiry
- the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children operated from 1921 to 2015, initially as an institution for Black children who were not welcome in mainstream orphanages; residents experienced neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse
- the inquiry was established following the settlement of a class action lawsuit by former residents, which also took a restorative approach to the settlement; the restorative inquiry was established under the Public Inquiries Act and began work in 2015
- the inquiry was established following an apology from the Nova Scotia Government to former residents and the African Nova Scotian community in 2014 for the harmful impacts of systemic racism
- the inquiry focused on three central issues: responses to institutionalized abuse, experiences of children and youth in care and impacts of systemic racism on African Nova Scotians; its final report was released in November 2019
The Reflection and Action Task Group final report to the legislature is available at: https://beta.novascotia.ca/documents/restorative-inquiry-nova-scotia-home-colored-children-final-report
Reports, videos and fact sheets about the Restorative Inquiry are available at: https://restorativeinquiry.ca
Moments ago, I tabled the final report to the legislature from the Reflection and Action Task Group, outlining how the government has continued the work of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry.
Mr. Speaker, as all members of this House would know, the Restorative Inquiry is one of the most important pieces of work this Province has ever undertaken. I want to credit the previous government for launching the Inquiry – it was done with strong support and participation from all parties, and I am honoured to stand as Premier and speak to the final report today.
The Restorative Inquiry was a call to examine some of the most difficult and painful parts of our past, to learn from them and do better.
The former residents of the Home really modeled for us how to do this work. They made it clear that the goal was not to name or punish individual bad actors, but to look at our systems and institutions, to reflect on the impacts of systemic racism, and to find a different way forward together.
This report outlines how government has begun to do that work, and how government will continue in the future.
Mr. Speaker, I want to be clear, as the Restorative Inquiry was clear – this is not just a matter of adding new programs or services. It’s about changing how we work, to put people and human needs at the centre of all we do.
Government is taking steps to address barriers. The learnings from the Restorative Inquiry have shaped many positive changes within government.
The Department of Community Services has formed an Africentric Child Welfare Team to better serve the needs of children, youth, and families of African descent.
An African Nova Scotian youth employment social innovation lab is bringing multiple departments together to help close the employment gap for Black youth.
And the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives is leading a whole-of-government approach to address systemic racism and achieve more equitable outcomes in health, education, the economy, and in all walks of life here in Nova Scotia.
There is much more work to do, and more for us to learn. I want to acknowledge that I, as Premier, have more to learn. I understand my privilege.
But I am committed to listening, to working with communities, and to doing everything in my power to address racism and injustice in this province.
I look forward to working with my colleagues on the all-party committee that will discuss these issues openly, so that we can bring forward equity and anti-racism legislation in the spring.
And I want to recognize the members opposite for the passion, the wisdom, and the experience they bring to this Legislature and to these important issues. We want to work together, and work with Nova Scotians, to tackle racism head-on and say in unison that racism has no place in this province.
Today our government is committing to another action from the Restorative Inquiry.
Over the next few months, we will work with community partners to design a Child and Youth Commission to protect and advance the rights, interests and viewpoints of children and youth in Nova Scotia.
While some other jurisdictions have a Child and Youth Advocate, this commission model will be unique to Nova Scotia. It will take a restorative approach and focus on working with children, youth, families and the entire care system.
We want to do this right. We will work with communities and our colleagues in this House to design legislation and introduce it next spring. We will have more details to share soon.
Mr. Speaker, I want to close by extending my profound gratitude once again, on behalf of this Legislature and all Nova Scotians, to the former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. Truly, we can never honour you enough.
I know many of you felt that when you were young, experiencing awful things that no child should ever experience, your voices went unheard. No one was listening.
I want to assure you again today that your voices matter. Your courage has changed the course of this government, and this province. And we want to make sure that no child in Nova Scotia ever feels unheard again.