On March 5, Premier Iain Rankin announced a $3 million compensation fund to resolve cases that involve parties with competing claims and help speed up efforts under the Land Titles Initiative, which was established in 2017 to provide clear title in communities including Lincolnville and Sunnyville.
Chad Lucas, communications director with the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives, said the properties identified have complicated title issues and this announcement allows contested claims to be resolved outside the court process.
Judges Corrine Sparks and Valerie Miller (retired) were appointed as commissioners to adjudicate disputes. Lawyer and community leader Angela Simmonds was named as the executive director of the Land Titles Initiative and will lead the work across the various government departments involved, according to the province.
Under the Land Titles Initiative, the province said all legal and surveyor fees are covered at no cost to the applicant.
For more than 200 years, many African Nova Scotians have been living on land passed down by their ancestors without clear land title, the province said, noting that without clear title, people can’t get a mortgage, bequeath or sell their land, or access housing grants.
To date, the Land Titles Initiative has been successful in clearing approximately 194 parcels from more than 527 applications received, and more than 850 eligible parcels, the province noted.
Clarifying land title can be an expensive legal process, so the province wants to help residents with legal fees and other costs associated with clarifying land ownership. The province also partnered with the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission to provide legal services with two lawyers and two legal assistants.
To start an application for land title clarification, the province hired community navigators to book an appointment, and follow the application process. Community Navigators are in place to work directly with residents to help them through the land claims process, the province explained.
A Community Liaison Committee was established to make sure the organizing body receives input from communities, the province said, noting that members of the committee include Robert Pelley from Sunnyville, Juanita Byard of Lincolnville and Sabrina Skinner, Sunnyville.
Skinner said African Nova Scotians throughout Guysborough County assumed they had clear title to their land as they were promised. Skinner said without this initiative, the legal costs would have been the greatest barrier since property migration alone is over $500.
She explained the committee works with the Department of African Nova Scotian Affairs, cabinet ministers, lawyers, and community navigators.
This is an example of what government should be spending money on; helping marginalized communities and righting an historic wrong.
The fact that many African Nova Scotians were promised land and clear title to that property – but in some cases received neither, or were granted land with little value or potential, and in other cases, were provided no documentation for proof of ownership – casts a pall over the history of this province.
To see the province acknowledge this pattern of historic and systematic racism, then commit the money and resources to give people control over their lives, is an excellent initiative.
The fact it came so long is regrettable, but correcting this mistake is worth celebrating.