NS prosecution services statement on racism, Santina Rao

Release: A statement from Martin Herschorn, director of public prosecutions

As prosecutors, Crown attorneys of the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service are committed to the fair treatment of all members of the public who encounter the criminal justice system, including African Nova Scotians. We are disgusted by the recent acts of violence that have resulted in the loss of black lives including George Floyd. We condemn the past and present-day violence that continues to be inflicted upon black people, including violence by people sworn to protect and serve our community.

We are mindful of the legacy of colonialism, centuries of slavery and segregation. We recognize that anti-black racism and racial profiling remain an ongoing and deeply entrenched social problem. Many African Nova Scotians experience systematic and direct racism, including racial profiling everyday. We acknowledge the effects of these experiences, as well as the historical disadvantages, have led to lack of opportunities and over-representation of African Nova Scotians in correctional facilities.     

Our courts have acknowledged the existence of institutionalized racism in Nova Scotia. In the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 decision in R.D.S. v. Her Majesty the Queen, the Court stated:
“The reasonable person must thus be deemed to be cognizant of the existence of racism in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It follows that judges may take notice of actual racism known to exist in a particular society. Judges have done so with respect to racism in Nova Scotia. 

“Racism is a pernicious reality. The issue of racism existing in Nova Scotia has been well documented in the Marshall Inquiry Report, previously known as the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr. Prosecution. A person would have to be stupid, complacent or ignorant not to acknowledge its presence, not only individually, but also systemically and institutionally.”

The Public Prosecution Service was established as a direct result of the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Jr. Prosecution. We understand our obligation to seek justice by applying laws fairly and equitably to all whom encounter the criminal justice system, including African Nova Scotians. A fair and equitable justice system is essential to a free and democratic society.     

As mentioned in our last news release, the Public Prosecution Service was contacted by members of the public asking for the charges against Santina Rao to be withdrawn. To protect the fundamental right of due process of law, our prosecutors do not publicly debate matters before the courts. However, we can say that our prosecutors are duty-bound to look at both the availability of sufficient evidence and whether it is in the public interest to proceed with a prosecution. In doing this, our prosecutors are empowered to consider systematic racism, including racial profiling, faced by African Nova Scotians as an important factor on both grounds of this analysis.     

Our prosecution service acknowledges that much work is still required to meaningfully address this longstanding issue. However, it is important to highlight some of the work we are doing toward improving prosecutions involving members of marginalized communities, either as accused persons or as victims of crimes:

Building organizational change:
— in 2015, the Public Prosecution Service renewed an Equity and Diversity Committee. The committee’s mandate is to support the Public Prosecution Service by promoting, monitoring and providing advice about programs and policies that enhance equity and diversity within the service, in the delivery of prosecution services and in our efforts to contribute to addressing equity and diversity issues across the criminal justice system to enhance the administration of justice

Engaging in education/training for Crown attorneys: 
— spring 2019 – Dr. Scot Wortley, professor of criminology at the University of Toronto and author of the Wortley Report on HRM street checks, spoke to our Crown attorneys about his report and on equity and diversity
 — October 2019 – Public Prosecution Service Fall Education Conference – education session on the history of slavery and racism in Nova Scotia and how that history impacts our prosecution process, including sentencing

Contribution to reversing overrepresentation:
— work is underway on a comprehensive Public Prosecution Service policy respecting the fair treatment of African Nova Scotians in criminal prosecutions, which will be patterned after our policy Fair Treatment of Indigenous People in Criminal Prosecutions in Nova Scotia, issued to Crown attorneys in October of 2018. Central to both policies is the acknowledgment that racism and discrimination have contributed to the over-representation of Indigenous persons and African Nova Scotians in our criminal justice system

Increased support for existing initiatives:
— for the first time ever, an articled clerk position with Public Prosecution Service will be offered exclusively to a graduate of the Indigenous Black and Mi’kmaq Initiative at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University

The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service continues to strive everyday to deliver on our mission to prosecute with professionalism, integrity and fairness for all Nova Scotians. We want to assure all Nova Scotians that we are committed to the hard work of tackling this complex issue. We remain committed to ensuring the fair treatment within the criminal justice system of African Nova Scotians by striving to be sensitive to and acknowledging their unique history and experiences. 

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