For the lawyers, of course, it is about protecting the client, lessening liability, mitigating damages. In that context, perhaps, it makes lawyer sense to niggle over nouns, to parse phrases like “as if we were slaves” for literality, to offer up a bookkeeper’s balance sheet to contradict allegations of underfunding, to use all the lawyers’ tricks try to make a legal action go away.
But the class action lawsuit by more than 150 former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children is more than a legal matter.
It is a cry for justice, for an acknowledgement — and apology — for five decades of systemic and systematic physical, sexual and emotional abuse of vulnerable children under the unwatchful eye of a series of governments, whose blindness seems willful and, too often, racist.
You’d think Darrell Dexter’s NDP government would appreciate that distinction. The abuse did not happen under its watch, and the NDP has a long and honourable tradition of supporting victims like those at the Home for Coloured Children.
But it is now government, and that, it seems, changes everything.
Last week, lawyers for the Dexter government were in court arguing, in a bureaucratic, tone-deaf, legally proper but morally questionable way, to exclude parts of the complainants’ affidavits because they did not meet certain legal criteria.
As former NDP MP Gordon Earle, who quit the party over this issue, put it: while residents seek “justice and accountability… the government is taking every possible step to prevent the matter from achieving justice through the court system or achieving a full, credible and transparent examination through a public inquiry.”
There will almost certainly come a time when a Nova Scotia government, either as part of a legal settlement or to avoid a messy judicial outcome, will do the right thing and apologize to the former residents. Witness Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology for Canada’s brutal Indian residential school system, Brian Mulroney’s “formal and sincere” 1988 apology to Japanese-Canadians interned during World War II and Peter Kelly’s 2010 apology to the former residents of Africville “for what they have endured.”
By then, however, the gesture will seem inadequate and insincere. The lawyers will have won. Justice will have lost. Pity.