Desmond was found guilty of tax evasion after she challenged racial segregation at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow on Nov. 8, 1946. She was given a posthumous apology by Nova Scotia in 2010.

Desmond was found guilty of tax evasion after she challenged racial segregation at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow on Nov. 8, 1946. She was given a posthumous apology by Nova Scotia in 2010.

Nova Scotia symbolically repays Viola Desmond’s $26 fine from 1946 theatre protest

An official cheque for the original $26 fine will be displayed at the Nova Scotia legislature

Viola Desmond’s $26 fine and court costs have been repaid by Nova Scotia, nearly 75 years after the civil rights pioneer was arrested for refusing to leave the whites only section of a movie theatre.

Desmond’s interest-adjusted fine is estimated at $368.29 but the province topped it up to $1,000 and presented the money to her sister Wanda Robson during a virtual ceremony on Wednesday.

The idea to repay the fine originated from Varishini Deochand, a student from Vaughan, Ont., who asked the province to consider the symbolic reimbursement after learning about Desmond’s story.

“Upon realizing that this fine was not repaid I wrote a letter to the Honourable (Premier) Stephen McNeil addressing something meagre, yet paramount in fostering a more just society,” Deochand said during the event. “I strongly hold that one should not pay a fine for a crime they did not commit.”

Desmond was found guilty of tax evasion after she challenged racial segregation at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow on Nov. 8, 1946. She was given a posthumous apology and pardon by Nova Scotia in 2010.

McNeil thanked Deochand and said her request was “insightful” and “driven by a desire for social justice.”

READ MORE: O’Ree’s hockey stick reminds Trudeau daily of the work needed to combat racism

The premier described Desmond’s story as one of aspiration, activism and determination, adding that she was a trailblazer who continues to influence people. “We must continue to acknowledge and recognize the incredible people of African descent like Viola, who have made a significant contribution to our society,” McNeil said.

He said an official cheque for the original $26 fine will be displayed at the Nova Scotia legislature along with Desmond’s pardon certificate.

Desmond’s act of courage came nearly a decade before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama.

A resident of Halifax, the beautician and entrepreneur who sold her own line of cosmetics was headed to Sydney, N.S., when her car broke down. Stranded in New Glasgow overnight, Desmond decided to go to the local theatre to watch a movie.

The Roseland Theatre, however, was segregated at that time, with black patrons relegated to the balcony while floor seating was reserved for whites.

The short-sighted Desmond sat in the floor section in order to see properly and when she refused to leave she was dragged from the theatre by police. She was arrested and left in jail for 12 hours before being fined.

Desmond died in 1965 and although her story received little attention for several decades, her stature has grown through a number of tributes in recent years. She has been featured on a stamp, a Halifax harbour ferry is named after her, while a Toronto park and streets in Montreal and New Glasgow bear her name.

READ MORE: BC Place to light up with special display for Black History Month

In 2017, she was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame and in November 2018, a new $10 bill bearing her likeness was put into circulation. Desmond became the first black person — and the first non-Royal woman — on a regularly circulating Canadian banknote.

Robson said the growing recognition of her sister has been “overwhelming.”

“Particularly the letter to the premier from Varishini,” she said. “She sounds like the future and there will be thousands behind her raising the torch of justice and freedom.”

Black History Month

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mayor Bill Dingwall said grant will go a long way to ensure the risks and hazards of wildfires are minimized in Pitt Meadows. (News files)
Pitt Meadows receives grant for wildfire resiliency planning

City awarded $50,000 as part of provincial program designed to reduce risk and impact of wildfire

School board chair Korleen Carreras, left, is looking forward to receiving input for the 2021/2022 preliminary budget. (The News files)
Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows school board expecting COVID will impact budget

Work being done now on 2021/2022 preliminary budget

Last month there was a COVID-19 variant at Maple Ridge’s Garibaldi secondary. (Neil Corbett/The News)
COVID-19 rapid response teams to assist school districts

Little in-school transmission in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows says Carreras

Police seized drugs and a makeshift garrote. (Ridge Meadows RCMP/Special to The News)
Police seized drugs and a makeshift garrote. (Ridge Meadows RCMP/Special to The News)
Maple Ridge police arrest man with drugs, strangling weapon

Ridge Meadows RCMP street team stopped suspect for driving while prohibited

Almost 400 new child care spaces for the Fraser Valley. (Thinkstock Image)
Child-care spaces boosted by provincial fund across the Fraser Valley

400 licensed child-care spaces coming for Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and Maple Ridge families

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

Photo: Surrey RCMP
Surrey RCMP arrests two boys, age 16, during dial-a-dope investigation in Whalley

Sergeant Elenore Sturko said one boy is ‘alleged to have been in possession of a loaded handgun at the time of his arrest’

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

Most Read