Urgent Need for Meaningful Consultation and Inclusion in Equity & Anti-Racism Legislation in Canada
February 15, 2022
By Lauren Salim
The province of Nova Scotia has proposed new equity and anti-racism legislation to address systemic racism and inequity in government policy, programs, and services. The province acknowledges that this legislation will need to work hand-in-hand with other tools like regulation, education, and connecting with community partners to be most effective.
The proposed legislation will focus on three principles: 1) everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity; 2) we are all responsible for taking action; and 3) inequity and racism require urgent action.
The province is holding virtual consultations and seeks community feedback regarding the proposed legislation. At this stage, the legislation has not yet passed, so details on the specifics of the plan are not available. Thus, requested feedback is largely limited to a review of the principles mentioned above and asking what success would look like for those consulted.
Nova Scotia has a rocky history including marginalized communities' voices in discussions on policies and legislation that impacts them. The most glaring example in recent memory is the destruction of Africville on the Halifax peninsula during the late 1960s. As part of the city of Halifax’s urban renewal strategy, the African Nova Scotian community was demolished after decades of neglect by the city. Despite paying taxes, residents were not provided with basic supports like paved roads, emergency services, and municipal water. The 400 residents were relocated, and the city used the land to build a container terminal, a dog park, and a bridge.
Former Africville residents have long criticized the municipal government for their actions in the destruction of their community and their subsequent relocation. Alongside complaints of broken promises for support services post-relocation, residents take issue with the inadequate inclusion of their perspectives and the patronizing behaviour of city officials at the time. The city held consultations leading up to the residents’ removal, however, the consultations failed to meaningfully engage with residents and largely ignored requests from residents to not demolish the community but instead provide it with resources to succeed. Decision-makers had already agreed on what they were going to do before holding the consultations.
While the removal of Africville residents fell under the municipal government’s jurisdiction, the provincial government can learn from their mistakes. Meaningful inclusion of affected groups is a key component of a human rights-based approach. Furthermore, rights to participation and inclusion are inextricable from the realization of a number of other human rights.
True participation requires that the inclusion of affected voices be deep and meaningful and not just another requirement in the process to be checked off. According to the UN High Commission on Human Rights, the decision-making process needs to be accessible to affected peoples, which includes that policy options are transparent and clearly presented. Having true participation and inclusion will also involve the ability for affected groups to hold decision-makers accountable for failures of legislation, for example. Most importantly, it will need to go beyond asking target groups for their approval of vague statements or buzzwords to include community members in determining the details of the planned legislation.
The province is making these consultations available by seeking feedback via virtual conversations, an online forum, and a survey which are available in both official languages. They have also identified organizations that work on behalf of affected groups to hold stakeholder meetings with and intend on creating an online community hub to further open conversations about the proposed legislation. However, it is important that these conversations get to the stage of accepting feedback on the actual details of the legislation. Only having details on the plan made available once the legislation is passed defeats some of the purposes of asking for feedback from potentially affected groups.
Nova Scotia is not the only province working through proposed legislation on the subject. Similar processes are happening elsewhere in Canada. In British Columbia, for instance, consultations began in September 2021. As the provinces work on equity and anti-racism initiatives including legislation, it will be important for decision-makers to ensure that the consultation process is robust and meaningful.