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Nova Scotia's problematic top-down approach to race relations

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Photo: Spacing Magazine/flickr

It's difficult to see Education Minister Karen Casey's decision to cut off funding for the Council on African Canadian Education (CACE) as anything but vindictive.

Let's examine the history.

In 1996, after high school race riots and a critical government advisory report recommended establishing an Africentric Learning Institute to improve Black students' education, the province set up CACE.

In 2008, CACE registered the name Africentric Learning Institute. It offered programs and scholarships with plans to make the institute independent.

That's when the battle began with a dispute over what to call it.

In May 2012, then-NDP Education Minister Ramona Jennex announced she would provide the institute $2.2 million -- if it was named after Buddy Daye, the late Halifax boxer and the legislature's first Black Sergeant-at-Arms.

The choice was controversial, partly because Daye's connections to education were tenuous and partly because many in the Black community, which hadn't been publicly consulted, preferred a more generic name.

That triggered a legal battle, settled last August after a Supreme Court judge ordered the "Delmore 'Buddy' Daye Africentric Learning Institute" to stop using that name because it was too similar to CACE's "Africentric Learning Centre."

That didn't deter Casey's new Liberal government.

On Dec. 10, Casey -- citing "troubling" results from audits in 2010 and 2013 (which she has not released) and claiming CACE never had authority to hire staff (contradicted in letters from various education ministers) -- ordered CACE to transfer all its resources to the now-named Buddy Daye Learning Centre, effectively firing CACE's small staff.

If you read between the lines, that seems to have been the point.

Ironically, that means CACE can't fulfill its other key mandate: "to monitor and continually analyze the policies of the Department of Education with respect to the needs of black learners."

That's especially troubling given the minister's own Panel on Education recently reported "African Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaq students and their families are less likely than other Nova Scotians to feel welcome in schools," and the latest provincial literacy scores. Black Halifax Grade 3 students scored barely 50 per cent on reading comprehension tests compared with 70 per cent overall.

In the week the never-ending Africville issue returned to court, Casey's decision is just one more they-never-learn example of government's top-down approach to racial concerns.

A fitting end to Black History Month?

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Spacing Magazine/flickr

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