HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government will apologize and grant a pardon to the late Viola Desmond, a black woman who was jailed and fined 63 years ago for sitting in the whites-only section of a segregated movie theatre.
Premier Darrell Dexter will be joined by the lieutenant-governor and his justice minister to grant the formal apology and pardon during a ceremony Thursday.
Dexter said Tuesday the pardon is based on Desmond’s innocence and recognizes that a conviction was made in error.
“It’s an exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy and it looks to set aside an error that has taken place and to right a wrong,” he said outside the legislature.
Dexter said it’s proper to recognize that Desmond was a person who suffered during a time of racial intolerance.
“It is a good thing in this day and age to continue to affirm our commitment to equality,” he said.
On Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond went to the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, N.S., to pass the time while her car was being repaired.
She took a seat on the main floor instead of in the balcony, which was the only section of the theatre open to blacks.
Management called police and she was forcibly removed from the theatre and jailed for 12 hours. She was subsequently convicted of defrauding the province of a penny — the difference in tax between the main-floor and balcony tickets.
Desmond paid a $20 fine and also had to foot the bill for the theatre’s $6 court costs.
Dexter said the province is also considering the designation of a special day to commemorate Desmond, who died in 1965.
“This, in fact, is an important part of our history now and I think it is something that should be widely talked about,” he said.