The complete archive of a 1990 royal commission report that examined how systemic racism in played a role in the wrongful murder conviction of a Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw man in 1971 is now available online.
All documents pertaining to the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr. Prosecution have been digitized and uploaded to the Nova Scotia Public Archives’ website. The collection includes all seven volumes of the royal commission report, notes, transcripts, submissions and evidence pertaining to Marshall’s trial and appeal court hearings.
The digital archive was unveiled during a reception at the Nova Scotia Public Archives in Halifax on Thursday. Marshall’s family members and friends were invited to the launch and reception.
“We are grateful to the Treaty Education office and the Nova Scotia Archives for creating this amazing resource that documents in detail the years of intense investigation and litigation that it took to bring my brother from the injustice of this wrongful conviction and to restore our family’s dignity and the honour of the Mi’kmaw Nation,” David Marshall, younger brother of Donald Marshall, Jr., said at the launch.
Donald Marshall, Jr., a member of the Membertou First Nation, was 17 years old when he was wrongfully convicted of murdering Sandy Seale in Sydney, N.S. in 1971. He served eleven years in a federal prison before new evidence came to light which resulted in his conviction being overturned.
A royal commission was struck in 1986 to examine how the Nova Scotia justice system failed Marshall. The three-judge panel heard testimony from 113 witnesses during public hearings in Sydney and Halifax in 1987-88. A majority of the 82 recommendations made by the commission were aimed at reforming the way the provincial justice system treats Mi’kmaw people and other visible minorities.
Marshall was 55 years old when he passed away in August 2009 from complications of a double-lung transplant he received in 2003.
Digital archive includes audio of Marshall’s testimony in Mi’kmaq
The idea to upload the documents onto the Nova Scotia Public Archives website began with a request by now retired Nova Scotia Chief Justice Michael MacDonald to have the royal commission report available online, said Patti Bannister, director at the Nova Scotia Public Archives.
“Following up on that, we felt it would be a missed opportunity for us as an archive if we stopped with just the report because we have within the holdings here, really, the totality of the record of the royal commission,” Bannister said on Thursday.
“So we made the decision at that point that we would digitize everything and make it accessible,” she said.
The online archive includes audio of Marshall’s testimony during the commission’s hearings in 1988.
“To date, we have been able to digitize the audio of Donald Marshall’s testimony which is given in Mi’kmaq and then translated into English in the audio,” Bannister explained. Video of Marshall’s testimony will also be uploaded to the archive’s website at a later date, she added.
All of the digitized documents are optimized for online search engines for keyword searches, Bannister explained.
“This is enabling people to access this record in whatever way they most feel comfortable with and for whatever purpose they want to make of the information and the material,” she said.
For David Marshall, the digital archive will allow the younger generation of his family to learn more about his older brother’s legacy.
“I’m glad that it did happen because like, for my grandchildren to see what kind of man Junior was, what he went through and what our family went through which wasn’t easy,” David Marshall said.
“He would have been honoured. It was a hard thing for him but he would have been honoured,” he said.