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Black in Halifax: Mother of innocent shooting victim speaks out

Ronalda Tolliver is still coming to terms with the shooting of her son two years ago and wants to start a support group for moms like her.

Ronalda Tolliver has spent two years coming to terms with the shooting of her son.

He was shot in the chest, hand and face while sitting in his car, preparing to switch to winter tires. The shooting left him permanently blind.

“I feel that when people hear that my son was shot, they’re like, ‘Ooh, what was he into?’” Tolliver said.

“He graduated from high school, he had his driver’s licence. He was not a bad guy.”

Tolliver’s son, now 26, had a month-long hospital stay followed by eight months of physiotherapy for his hand, numerous trips to the hospital and many to specialists at an eye clinic.

"I paid for all of that. There was no help. There was no support. Nothing,” Tolliver recalled.

“Nova Scotia has the unfortunate distinction of providing one of the lowest levels of compensation for victims of crime of any province in Canada,” said Benjamin Perrin, a University of British Columbia law professor who authored the book Victim Law: The Law of Victims of Crime in Canada.

“Nova Scotia’s victim-compensation program has been gutted since the 1980s, to the point that since 2000 it only covers counselling services up to $2,000 over a two-year period for all eligible offences, except homicide, which qualifies for up to $4,000 to immediate family members.”

No other claims for compensation are currently eligible in the province.

Perrin said his university’s three-year nationwide study on the treatment of victims of crime found Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador were the only two provinces that don’t provide comprehensive financial compensation for victims of crime.

“It also found that many of Nova Scotia’s laws dealing with victims are outdated and need to be improved,” Perrin said.

Perrin said other provinces, like Saskatchewan and Manitoba, provide up to $100,000 to individual victims of violent crime for lost wages, counselling and rehabilitation programs, retraining services, compensation for damaged property, compensation for family members of deceased victims and funeral expenses.

“The bottom line is that when a tragic incident happens, whether it’s an unexpected death or whatever it is, families still have to live, they still have to eat and they still have to pay bills,” Tolliver said.

“But first and foremost they have to mourn, and that comes first. So it’s ridiculous that there’s nowhere to go, that there’s no other support system in place.”

Tolliver hopes to organize a local Mother’s Against Gun Violence group to support other mothers and to demand change. The group even has an email address for people to reach out to:

Goals would include better support for victims of violent crime and lobbying for changes to existing laws, including mandatory sentencing for illegal gun possession and more severe penalties for gun crimes.

“Right now it’s just a thought. I can’t do this alone. I need support. I need to know there are mothers that are going to rally behind me and be there 100 per cent, not just lip service,” she said.

Tolliver is already supporting another person as they navigate the emotional and financial “nightmare” of having a member of the family forever altered by a bullet.

“My home used to be such a happy place and now it’s so sad,” said the person, who asked not to be identified to protect the family member, who may never walk again.

They are still struggling with the aftermath. The person fought back tears as they slapped a $146 ambulance bill on the table. The family has also had to pay out of pocket for crutches and other items. Despite being told by their MLA to turn to social assistance, the person is defiant.

“I’ve worked for 20 years and I pay my taxes. Why should I have to turn to social services?” the person asked. “You just feel victimized every which way with the police, with the hospitals, with victim services.”

Our guest editor says these stories nothing new

Tolliver's story is one Carlos Beals has heard again and again.

“When Black people are victims of violence and victims of crime, they’re often told or they’re often treated as if they provoked it,” said Beals, Metro's guest editor and a senior outreach worker with Ceasefire Halifax.

“That is very unfair and so far from the truth. But that’s exactly how too many people think, which is extremely unfortunate. But this is the sad reality of the Black experience. We get treated differently because of the colour of our skin.”

While it’s “incomprehensible” that there’s not more assistance available to victims of violent crime, he said, the desperation and sense of helplessness is magnified when you’re Black.

“You need to listen to how Black people are perceiving the world around them in order for us to make an impact," he said. "If they say that they’ve been mistreated because they are Black, well find me a Black person in this city that lives in a marginalized community who will not validate the same claim.

“You have to listen to them. We have to do a lot more of that and stop allowing our privilege and our personal experience to get in the way.”

This story is part of Metro's ongoing Black in Halifax series. Let us know your thoughts on the series, and share your own stories using the hashtag #HalifaxWhileBlack with tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook comments. We may just share it in a future edition.

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