Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Digging Down Deep: Racism in the Nova Scotian Legal Profession

By Selwyn A. Pieters, B.A., LL.B., L.E.C.
Lawyer & Notary Public (Ontario, Canada)
Attorney-at-Law (Republic of Guyana, Island of Trinidad)
Pieters Law Office
Created October 19, 2016

I have been following Lyle Howe's Nova Scotia Barristers' Society hearing which Blair Rhodes reports on via his twitter account @CBCBlairRhodes and through various other means including orders and decisions of the Discipline Panel hearing the case. What is clear is that the NSBS has dug in its heels and is going after Mr. Howe with all of its resources, legal, regulatory and financial. What is also evident, much to his credit, is Lyle Howe is clearly determined to fight this application to strip him of his law licence and he is fighting it with everything he can muster. .

On October 17, 2016 CBC Nova Scotia reported the Disciplinary Hearing as "shaping up to be the longest hearing of its kind in Nova Scotia history. The push is in to try to finish by year's end."

October 17, 2016, was interesting in that two Black Crown Attorneys testified under subpoena. Interestingly enough, the "nigger" word was raised when both attorneys were in the witness box.

Black Crown prosecutor Perry Borden and Black Lawyer Lyle Howe face-off at the hearing in what was described as a tense encounter. Mr. Howe apparently described Borden's presence in the Dartmouth prosecutors' office as being "so quiet he was almost nonexistent." Mr. Borden said Howe's comment made Borden appear to be the "house nigger" of the Public Prosecution Service. One of my colleagues J.H. reminded us that this was "Similar to how Johnny Cochran viewed (at least publicly) Chris  Darden during the OJ trial." 

Alonzo Wright Crown Attorney with Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service of Canada who is a special prosecutor handling mostly fraud matters testified about racism at Howe's hearing about his experience as an Black man in Nova Scotia in a way that is so real:

1) Wright identified as African Nova Scotian. 
2) Wright says he has experienced racism all his life.
3) Wright says he and teammates were called "niggers" during competitive games in an attempt to get them off their game.
4) Wright says even today he experiences racism: he wears his hair in dreads and gets singled out on occasion. 
5) Wright says as he prosecutes across the province he is frequently the only black man in the courtroom and often in the community. 
6) Wright says when he walks into court, people are often "shocked" to see him sit in the crown side in the courtroom.

This was reported by Blair Rhodes, CBC Journalist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Of course, Mr. Wright's testimony resonated with me because I have been chronicling my own experiences as a Black man with dreadlocks in legal spaces.

In my October 17, 2016 blog post I wrote:

Assumptions, everyday racism and micro-aggression
What evidence was/is there to justify such an assumption that I have no right to 1) be in the Lawyers’ lounge at Peel Law Association: See,  Peel Law Association v. Pieters, 2013 CarswellOnt 7881, 2013 ONCA 396, 228 A.C.W.S. (3d) 204, 116 O.R. (3d) 81, 306 O.A.C. 314, 9 C.C.E.L. (4th) 233, [2013] O.J. No. 2695(Ont. C.A.) 2) access the door that lawyers use at the Law Society of Upper Canada (See, Alex Robinson, "Lawyer alleges discrimination by LSUC security guard" July 25, 2016 <>,  LSUC responds to discrimination allegation <> and Narrative to application to the Human Rights Tribunal was filed on September 07, 2016) or 3) Even access my office where I have 24 hours access? NONE.
This is why in most cases I boil it down to racial profiling because the assumptions that a Big Black man with Dreadlocks has no right to be in certain legal spaces are covert, insidious, and pervasive. The assumptions, everyday racism and micro-aggression, in most cases, are unintentional attitudes and behaviors that are learned in conditioned in people so that they act event without self-awareness.

This then goes back to the reality that Black people, whether in a profession or not face everyday.

Wright testimony was important because it in some way exposes the lack of diversity in the various facets of the legal profession in Nova Scotia and the difficult conversations that are required to make the profession more welcoming and more diverse.

See, Selwyn Pieters bio for subject matter expertise.


  • R. v. Howe2014 NSSC 354 (CanLII) — 2014-07-30
    Supreme Court of Nova Scotia — Nova Scotia
    sexual assault — sentence — victim — offender — woman
  • 3.
    R. v. Howe2015 NSCA 84 (CanLII) — 2015-09-04
    Nova Scotia Court of Appeal — Nova Scotia
    honest but mistaken belief — jury — stupefying drug — sexual activity — evidence
    cited by 1 document

Nova Scotia (Public Prosecution Service) v. Howe2016 NSSC 207 (CanLII)— 2016-08-09
Supreme Court of Nova Scotia — Nova Scotia
subpoenas — prosecutorial discretion — ripeness — witnesses — evidence

1 comment:

Ernest Guiste said...

Well done ! It is very important that learned and conscious lawyers
do their part to combat what is tantamount to a cancer within the
administration of justice generally and especially within the
profession. I applaud your work Selwyn. Keep up the good work.