The director of the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent (ANSDPAD) Coalition is taking on a new role at the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.

On Wednesday, the society announced that Vanessa Fells was hired for the role of advisor of equity and access. The society also announced that Marla Brown will be taking on the role of director of equity and access. 

“What both of those positions do is they will work closely with the executive team of the Barristers’ Society, [which] helps to regulate the legal profession,” Fells said in an interview.

“It’s to make sure that the legal profession is accessible and reflects all of the different equity-seeking peoples within Nova Scotia, so that whether the person is African Nova Scotian, or Indigenous, or a person with a disability, or somebody that has immigrated here from another country, that the legal profession understands what those challenges will be, legally, but also that they have individuals that come from all of those diverse backgrounds.”

Prior to becoming ANSDPAD director in 2018, Fells completed the United Nations Human Rights Fellowship Program for People of African Descent in Geneva, Switzerland.

Brown previously worked for McMaster University as a senior human rights officer before working as a staff lawyer at two organizations focusing on advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in different communities.

Cheryl Hodder, CEO of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, said in a statement published Thursday that the hirings were part of a “months-long nationwide recruitment process.”

“Marla and Vanessa will begin working with the Society over the next few weeks. I, along with the rest of the Society, look forward to having them join our team as we strive to champion equity, diversity, and inclusion in our province’s legal profession,” Hodder said in the statement.

ANSDPAD to hire new director

Fells said she begins her new position with the society on Mar. 10. She said ANSDPAD will hire someone to fill her position as director, adding the organization is looking at the job description to see if it needs to be updated.

Though she said there was never a public announcement, Fells said she believes that ANSDPAD’s provincial funding has been extended until 2024. After that, she said they will work with the government to try to secure more permanent funding.

“If funding wasn’t going to be renewed, I think that would be a much bigger deal and a much bigger situation that would have to be addressed,” Fells said. “But if we’ve been told that funding has been renewed then things just carry on as they have been. We still continue to do the work and build those relationships [like] we’ve always done.”

Fells said one of the first tasks she and Brown will take on at the society will be working on an equity and access strategic plan.

Fells said she “won’t be going too far” from ANSDPAD and will continue to be a member and lend her support when she can and when needed.

“I would always encourage [the Black] community and businesses and organizations to join ANSDPAD for the simple fact that as a collective, we’re stronger together when we work collaboratively to address issues that affect us than we are when we are apart,” Fells said. “It’s not something that we have done a great job of over the past several hundred years.”

A graphic that says Funded by Canada

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