Frac­tured care sys­tem ill-equipped to deal with abuse at Hal­i­fax or­phan­age

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - NATIONAL NEWS - KEITH DOUCETTE

HAL­I­FAX — A new re­port from an on­go­ing pub­lic in­quiry into decades of abuse at a Hal­i­fax-area or­phan­age says a frag­mented sys­tem of care wasn’t equipped to ad­dress the needs of chil­dren who were vul­ner­a­ble.

The in­terim re­port, re­leased Fri­day by the Nova Sco­tia Home for Col­ored Chil­dren Restora­tive In­quiry, says the story of the home il­lus­trates a so­cial sys­tem that works in iso­la­tion.

“Across the many ses­sions of the in­quiry, par­tic­i­pants ac­knowl­edged that so­cial sys­tems failed to pro­vide the sup­port and care that chil­dren and young peo­ple in the home re­quired and de­served,” says the re­port.

“This in­cluded the fail­ure to prop­erly pro­tect for­mer res­i­dents and re­spond to ex­pe­ri­ences of abuse and ne­glect. They rec­og­nized that cur­rent sys­tems and struc­tures re­main ill-equipped to fully re­spond to peo­ple’s needs.”

In­quiry co-chair­woman Pamela Wil­liams , who is chief judge of the pro­vin­cial and fam­ily courts, said peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences that pointed to short­com­ings within the sys­tem con­sis­tently emerged as the in­quiry con­ducted its work over the past three years.

“There is an ab­so­lute need to build stronger trust­ing re­la­tion­ships as we move for­ward and make bet­ter and last­ing changes for the fu­ture,” she said.

The re­port also says the sys­tem’s in­abil­ity to con­nect with the black com­mu­nity com­pli­cated a re­la­tion­ship that was al­ready over­laid with overt and sys­temic racism.

The Nova Sco­tia Home for Col­ored Chil­dren opened in 1921 and was ini­tially seen as a “sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment” by the African Nova Sco­tian Com­mu­nity. The in­sti­tu­tion looked af­ter chil­dren who weren’t ac­cepted by the Protes­tant and Ro­man Catholic or­phan­ages of the time.

More than 3,000 peo­ple turned out to cel­e­brate the open­ing of a home that would even­tu­ally see more than 1,000 chil­dren live there over its life­span.

“This is not a sim­ple story of bad in­di­vid­u­als or bad in­ten­tions,” said Jen­nifer Llewellyn, a mem­ber of the in­quiry coun­cil and a pro­fes­sor at Dal­housie Univer­sity’s Schulich School of Law.

“This home was cre­ated out of an in­cred­i­ble act of care, and yet re­sulted in a fail­ure of care for those who lived there,” said Llewellyn.

The re­port said eco­nomic dis­par­ity that lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties in the African Nova Sco­tian com­mu­nity also played a role in what hap­pened at the home.

Dur­ing its early pe­riod, many fe­male staff took jobs to sup­port their fam­i­lies, plac­ing them in a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion “were they to lose their in­come by re­port­ing abuse,” the re­port says. Eco­nomic in­equal­ity also led to chil­dren be­ing placed in the home by fam­i­lies who couldn’t af­ford to raise them.

In­quiry co-chair­man Tony Smith, a for­mer res­i­dent of the home, said overt racism also ef­fected how the sys­tem dealt with chil­dren like him.

As a “fair com­plected kid,” Smith said he went to the home at the age of five and was told af­ter a few weeks that he was white, not black.

“So they put me into a white or­phan­age and af­ter be­ing there for a few weeks they said you’re not white, you’re black, and you have to go back to a coloured home,” he said. “It was very clear that racism played a ma­jor role.”


Tony Smith, left, a for­mer res­i­dent, and Pamela Wil­liams, chief judge of the pro­vin­cial and fam­ily court, dis­cuss an in­terim re­port from the Nova Sco­tia Home for Col­ored Chil­dren Restora­tive In­quiry, in Hal­i­fax on Fri­day.

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