London | Thomson Reuters Foundation — Historic black communities in Nova Scotia will be given funds to establish legal ownership of land where they have lived for generations, the government said, in a drive to solve what critics call a case of long-running discrimination.
The provincial government will spend $2.7 million over two years to sort out title deeds to land that was given originally to black loyalists who fought with the British during the American Revolution or to escaped U.S. slaves.
“We’re turning a corner with new supports that will help remove the barriers to the legal title to the land on which many African Nova Scotians live,” Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Tony Ince said in a statement Wednesday.
Lack of a land title can prevent people from using property as collateral for bank loans to start businesses and complicates inheritance claims, legal experts say. It also makes it hard to sell property and disputes more common.
“With clarity of ownership, residents will be in a better position to enjoy and use their land and resolve problems that can result from lack of clear land ownership,” Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell said in the same statement.
It is not exactly known how many people are affected but hundreds of parcels of land in the affected communities are lacking legal titles, a government spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation earlier this month.
Communities in North Preston, East Preston and Cherry Brook, near Halifax, and in Lincolnville and Sunnyville in Guysborough County in the province’s east, will be getting help with legal fees and other costs under the initiative.
They will also be supported by community liaison officers, a land surveyor and technicians who will complete surveys and compile land title information, the government said.
When Nova Scotia was administered by Britain before Canada became independent in 1867, several thousand black people settled there after the American Revolution and some also were offered land following the War of 1812 in the U.S.
But the good farmland went to white settlers, while black residents got poorer quality land without legal structures that gave them property rights, experts say.
Nova Scotia first launched efforts to provide property titles in historic black communities in the 1960s, and some residents obtained titles.
This month, a U.N. human rights group criticized Canada and the government of Nova Scotia for failing to ensure loyalists’ descendants have clear title to the land they inherited.
The U.N. panel, which looked at anti-black racism in Canada, heard from residents that funding had dried up over time for a program that had become expensive, unjust and discriminatory.
The situation is an anomaly in the world’s second largest country where property rights are generally well-defined.
— Reporting by Astrid Zweynert for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters covering humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.