Seats saved for black electors

12th May 2000 at 01:00

BLACK people are to be given sole voting rights over one seat on every school board in a Canadian province - a move unprecedented in North America.

Education minister Jane Purves said the seat is needed to repair historic wrongs suffered by Nova Scotia's black minority.

"They've arguably been the most discriminated-against group of people in our province," she said.

"This will ensure that perspectives and concerns of African Nova Scotians are considered in the educational decisions affecting their children."

School boards are the equivalent of education authorities in Britain and are normally made up of 12 to 18 elected representatives.

Delvina Bernard, executive director of the Council on African Canadian Education, said the number of black people on school boards dropped in the mid-1990s when the province amalgamated 22 boards into seven. Even before then, black people had found it difficult to get elected.

"With respect to schools where key and catalytic decisions are made, African Canadian voices are conspicuously absent," she said.

"These school boards are so large in size that it as become next to impossible for African Canadians to mount a successful electoral campaign. In a radicalised society like Nova Scotia, people still cast their vote on the basis of the colour of their skin rather than the content of the campaign."

Wayne Mackay, professor of law at Dalhousie University and the former director of the province's Human Rights Commission, said the reserved seat would enable black people to tackle issues of ccrucial importance to them - such as representation in the curriculum, teaching methods, evaluations and equity.

Nova Scotia's 30,000 black people make up 3 per cent of the province's population. They are mainly descendants of the 5,000 blacks loyal to the British crown who fled the United States in 1783 after the American revolution and suffered many years of discrimination by the province which supported segregation by funding black-only schools until the 1950s.

Canadian historians point to the razing of Africville, the black quarter of provincial capital Halifax, under the guise of urban renewal in the 1960s as an example of how Nova Scotian black people were marginalised.

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