Credit where credit is due.
When he was still the opposition leader, Stephen McNeil met with former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. He listened to their claims that, as mostly black and often orphaned children, they'd been subject to physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of their mostly black caregivers and, worse, that their complaints had been dismissed or ignored by decades of white Liberal and Conservative politicians and bureaucrats who were supposed to protect them.
During last fall's election campaign, McNeil promised to reverse the then-NDP government's tone-deaf policy of legally challenging certification of their class action lawsuit on the grounds that some of the allegations were necessarily based on hearsay or speculation.
As premier, McNeil promised what he called a "respectful" conclusion.
And last week, he delivered.
The department of justice announced a tentative $29-million settlement involving more than 150 former residents, and likely at least as many more who are expected to ultimately join the class action.
It is another stop on a long, painful journey that began in 1998 with a failed attempt to file a complaint with the RCMP about abuse at the home. By 2001, the first civil law suits had been filed and the numbers of complainants rapidly spiralled upward.
Last year, the Home itself agreed to a $5-million settlement in a separate arrangement, but the province stubbornly resisted making a deal.
McNeil, who paid tribute to the courage of the former residents -- calling the road to settlement "a tough process on everybody involved" -- coupled last week's announcement of the financial settlement with equally welcome news that there will eventually be a public inquiry along the lines of the Aboriginal residential schools process in order to allow the former residents to bear public witness to what was done to them.
Darrell Dexter's government had also been reluctant to call such an inquiry.
Tony Smith, a former resident who organized and advocated on the residents' behalf, praised McNeil. "He listened, he asked questions. He actually got involved in trying to understand what was going on with us."
The real question is why did Darrell Dexter and the NDP fumble so badly on this one?
This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.
Photo: Tom Flemming/flickr
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.