News / Canada

Halifax asks judge to reject class action lawsuit over Africville

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia is hearing arguments today about whether to certify a proposed class action lawsuit for former residents of Africville, a black community ithat was demolished in the 1960s.

The Africville Heritage Trust Museum is housed in a replica of the Seaview African United Baptist Church. It was once the heart of Africville, a small African Nova Scotian community in the northend of Halifax.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The Africville Heritage Trust Museum is housed in a replica of the Seaview African United Baptist Church. It was once the heart of Africville, a small African Nova Scotian community in the northend of Halifax.

HALIFAX — On the shores of the Bedford Basin — where a thriving black community once stood before it was bulldozed by the City of Halifax — lives a man who still refuses to leave Africville.

"Until justice is served, I'm going to be out there in Africville doing my protest," said 70-year-old Eddie Carvery, who lives in a small trailer near the rebuilt Africville church with his German shepherd, Shadow.

Carvery was one of about 40 Africville supporters at the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Wednesday, where arguments were being heard about whether to certify a proposed class action lawsuit for personal compensation for as many as 300 former residents.

For half a century, Carvery has fought for the people of Africville, who were pushed out of their community in the name of urban renewal in the 1960s.

"I've been through heart attacks and Hepatitis C. I've seen the Ku Klux Klan. I've been chased out of Africville by the police ... Negative people used to come down and chased me out. They burnt my little place a couple times — but I'm still there."

A statement of claim was filed in 1996 against the City of Halifax, now part of the amalgamated Halifax Regional Municipality, and the suit was recently revived after amendments to the claim were granted by the court.

Robert Pineo, a lawyer for plaintiff Nelson Carvery, argued the potential class members had an interest in the communal land of Africville and used it for a variety of activities including fishing, farming and gardening. He said the continued use of that land was taken away when the City of Halifax expropriated it.

"They don't have access to the former community aspects of their community," Pineo told Judge Patrick Duncan. "This community continues to exist in spirit... but this is a community that continues to suffer and be hurt by its destruction in the 1960s."

Karen MacDonald, a lawyer for the city, argued that just because the former residents used the land does not mean they had any sort of ownership of it. She said the definition of communal land was not defined in the claim, and argued claims should proceed on an individual basis, not as a class.

"We've taken the position that it's not appropriate to certify because of the fact that it's difficult to determine what the communal lands are and who would be in the class," said MacDonald outside of court.

The plaintiff has proposed that an eligible class member would include Africville residents who were removed by the City of Halifax, who had a property interest in the communal lands, and that those interests were expropriated or taken by the city.

The suit seeks liability on the part of the City of Halifax, damages and costs. Pineo said any damages would be paid out to class members equally.

Duncan reserved his decision.

In a brief filed with the court, Pineo says Halifax did not follow its own expropriation rules under the city's charter.

He said the residents were never informed at the time there was a process they could follow to appeal the amount of compensation they were offered for the land.

In 2010, some former Africville residents reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the city that included a public apology and $3 million to rebuild the Africville church, but the settlement did not include personal compensation.

Follow (at)AlyThomson on Twitter.