POLITICS

1996 Africville lawsuit could start anew if amendment not granted, lawyer says

02/25/2015 01:12 EST | Updated 04/27/2015 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - A lawyer for hundreds of people who were relocated from a black community in Halifax in the 1960s says if proposed amendments to a 1996 statement of claim are not granted, they may decide to restart the entire class-action process anew.

Lawyer Robert Pineo argued in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Wednesday that the City of Halifax expropriated the land in Africville, but did not follow its own rules under the city's charter.

Pineo 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.

He also argued that the new expropriation evidence should mean that roughly 65 people who signed release claims in 2010 after a settlement was reached with the municipality should be included in the statement of claim.

That settlement included a public apology from then-mayor Peter Kelly and $3 million to rebuild the Africville church, among other things.

The amendments would also remove some earlier claims, such as personal injury and conspiracy, which "should vastly improve the advancement and manageability of the action," a motion filed with the court on Dec. 15 said.

The city is not disputing the amendments to add the evidence of expropriation to the statement of claim while removing the other claims. But its lawyer said adding former residents who already signed off on the settlement would effectively reopen the deal.

"The release is all encompassing," Karen MacDonald told the court. "It is clear that it releases the city from any claims or causes of action arising from the relocation of Africville residents in the 1960s."

But Pineo said he's confident the case will proceed in some form, whether or not Judge Patrick Duncan approves the amendments.

"The plaintiffs could start an entirely new class action and (Halifax) would then have to come and defend it in much the same manner as we're suggesting they do on these amendments," Pineo told the court.

Later outside court, he said: "Those who've signed releases, if they're not allowed back in, then they don't have an opportunity to tell their story and have their rights determined."

He said the amount of compensation the residents are seeking is not known at this point, but would be based on land values.

Duncan reserved his decision.

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