Late Viola Desmond Granted Apology, Free Pardon

Premier's Office

Published Thursday, April 15, 2010

The province has granted an official apology and free pardon to the late Viola Desmond. Mrs. Desmond, of Halifax, was an African Canadian wrongfully jailed and fined in 1946 for sitting in the white peoples' section of a New Glasgow movie theatre. Mrs. Desmond passed away in 1965.


This closes an erroneous chapter in the history of this province and allows a new one to begin. I am confident that the case of Mrs. Viola Desmond will be the focus of scholarly and human rights research for years to come. It is a historic moment for Nova Scotia and for Canada, and I am proud to be a part of it.Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis

This is a historic day for the province of Nova Scotia and a chance for us to finally right the wrong done to Mrs. Desmond and her family. This is also an opportunity for us to acknowledge the incredibly brave actions of a woman who took a stand against racism and segregation.Premier Darrell Dexter

What happened to my sister is part of our history, and needs to remain intact. We must learn from our history so we do not repeat it. If my parents were here today, it would warm their hearts to see Viola recognized as a true Canadian hero.Wanda Robson, sister of Mrs. Desmond

Quick Facts

  • On the advice of the Executive Council, the lieutenant governor has exercised the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to grant a Free Pardon.
  • A free pardon is based on innocence and recognizes that a conviction was in error.
  • A free pardon is an extraordinary remedy and is considered only in the rarest of circumstances.
  • This is the first time a free pardon has been posthumously granted in Canada.

Learn More

Media Contacts

Janet Lynn McNeil
Premier's Office
Cell: 902-237-4287
Megan Tonet
Department of Justice
Cell: 902-440-5792

Formal statement of apology read by Premier Darrell Dexter

On behalf of the Nova Scotia government, I sincerely apologize to Mrs. Viola Desmond's family and to all African Nova Scotians for the racial discrimination she was subjected to by the justice system in November 1946.

The arrest, detainment and conviction of Viola Desmond is an example in our history where the law was used to perpetuate racism and racial segregation -- this is contrary to the values of Canadian society.

We recognize today that the act for which Viola Desmond was arrested, was an act of courage, not an offence.

The government of Nova Scotia recognizes that the treatment of Viola Desmond was an injustice. This injustice has impacted not just Mrs. Desmond during her life and her family but other African Nova Scotians and all Nova Scotians who found, and continue to find, this event in Nova Scotia’s history offensive and intolerable.

On behalf of the province of Nova Scotia, I am sorry.

The actions of the past help future generations understand the damage done by racism.

As we move forward, I want to reaffirm this province's commitment to equality for all Nova Scotians. Mrs. Desmond should be remembered as a leader of her time.

Présentation des excuses officielles par le premier ministre Darrell Dexter

Au nom du gouvernement de la Nouvelle-Écosse, je présente mes plus sincères excuses à la famille de Madame Viola Desmond et à toutes les personnes afro-néo-écossaises pour la discrimination raciale dont le système judiciaire a fait preuve à son égard en novembre 1946.

L'arrestation, la détention et la condamnation de Viola Desmond est un exemple dans notre histoire où la loi a été utilisée pour perpétuer le racisme et la ségrégation raciale, ce qui va à l'encontre des valeurs de la société canadienne.

Nous reconnaissons aujourd'hui que l'acte pour lequel Viola Desmond a été condamnée était un acte de courage, et non une infraction.

Le gouvernement de la Nouvelle-Écosse reconnaît que Viola Desmond a été traitée de façon injuste. Cette injustice a eu des répercussions non seulement sur la vie de Madame Desmond et de sa famille, mais également sur tous les Afro-Néo-Écossais et les autres Néo-Écossais qui considéraient et qui considèrent toujours que cet événement de l'histoire de la Nouvelle-Écosse est absolument insultant et intolérable.

Au nom de la Province de la Nouvelle-Écosse, je vous présente mes excuses.

Les actions du passé aident les générations futures à comprendre les dommages causés par le racisme. Je souhaite réaffirmer l'engagement de cette province envers l'égalité et l'équité pour tous les Néo-Écossais. Madame Desmond doit être considérée comme une chef de file de son époque.


Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis (left) speaks with Wanda Robson, sister of Viola Desmond after the ceremony.
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Premier Darrell Dexter smiles while talking with Wanda Robson, sister of Viola Desmond.
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Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis looks over at a photograph of Viola Desmond during the ceremony.
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The large crowd applauds during the ceremony to grant an apology and free pardon to Viola Desmond in the Red Chamber at Province House.
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Wanda Robson, sister of Viola Desmond, looks at the audience during the ceremony.
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Justice Minister Ross Landry chats with Wanda Robson, sister of Viola Desmond, after her remarks.
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A ceremonial certificate to mark the free pardon given Viola Desmond with the signature of Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis.
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Video of event


The reading of formal statement of apology by Premier Darrell Dexter.
Premier Dexter says today is a time for deep reflection for all Nova Scotians.
Viola Desmond's sister, Wanda Robson, says change is coming, and it's for the young people.
Lieutenant Governor Mayann E. Francis says the story of Viola Desmond will not be forgotten.
Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Percy Paris says the free pardon recognizes the injustice of the past but also assures all Nova Scotians are equal.