Slow road to justice for Home for Colored Children residents

Public inquiry into past abuses at Dartmouth orphanage could take years.

Without a media launch, formal announcement or much fanfare at all, the long-awaited $5-million inquiry into past abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children has begun.

But Nova Scotians hoping to find out how a disturbing chapter in the province’s child-welfare history was able to unfold as it did will have to be patient. The government-promised probe could take up to two and a half years to complete, and not all of it will be done in public.

The behind-the-scenes work of the restorative inquiry has been going on for months. The latest development will be a public information session about the proceedings, set for February 16, at the inquiry’s office on Quinpool Road in Halifax.

A well-attended open house was held there in December. In the coming weeks and months, former residents are to tell their stories—some in confidence—on the record.

“That will start a little later,” says Tony Smith, a former resident of the Home and a member of the inquiry’s council of parties. Smith says the residents’ class-action settlement needs to wrap up before abuse survivors share their experiences about the harm done to them. The business of the legal claim will probably be concluded in April, Smith said.

The inquiry into abuse at the Home for Colored Children is a restorative model focusing on avoiding further harm to former residents. Its council of parties includes abuse survivors, a member of the Home’s board, government officials and people from Nova Scotia’s black community.

Establishing culpability isn’t the objective. Personal and community healing, truth-seeking, learning from misdeeds of the past and preventing future maltreatment of vulnerable youngsters are the goals of this less-adversarial process.

The Home for Colored Children still operates as a short-term, child-welfare centre, where troubled youth of all races are cared for by diligent staff. The abuse that’s the subject of the restorative inquiry took place in decades past, when it was an orphanage housing black and biracial youngsters.

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