Well before she became a candidate for MLA, Angela Simmonds had already accumulated an impressive array of awards recognizing her work on behalf of the people in the Preston riding—especially her involvement in helping people gain clear title to land their families have lived on in some cases for more than 200 years.
Simmonds was born in Cherry Brook, and now lives in North Preston, where she and her husband raised their three children. She graduated from law school at Dalhousie in 2017. “I’ve always been interested in how the law governs society,” she said in an interview.
In law school, Simmonds worked with Legal Aid, starting with youth and criminal law, before getting into the problems of land titles in the Preston area. Simmonds dug deep into this history, authoring a report in 2014 as a law school student, This Land Is Our Land: African Nova Scotian Voices from the Preston Area Speak Up. In the introduction, she lays out a problem that has been festering for more than 200 years, as African Nova Scotians lived, generation after generation, without clear title to their land:
The African Nova Scotian communities in the Preston areas continue to face ongoing concerns regarding the expropriation of land, clarity of land titles and education regarding land ownership and inheritance. These challenges stem from a history fraught with racism, oppression, and inequity.
“To be honest, I knew about these land title problems,” Simmonds said. “But I didn’t know the depth.”
In April of this year, Simmonds got a chance to take on the land problem from the inside as the Executive Director of the Land Titles Initiative in the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism. Untangling the historical record is an expensive and time-consuming process. As Simmonds noted, sorting out who owns a given lot can be especially difficult when more than one family has housing on a single lot.
Earlier provincial commitments have all fallen far short of solving the problem for the estimated 800 parcels of land whose owners lack clear titles, in part due to inadequate levels of funding to pay for new surveying and legal work.
Simmonds believes that with the latest effort, “Changes are already happening that will make things better.” If she wins this election, she will have to step down as executive director, but she says she would continue working on the problem from her new position.
“I might have to give up the title,” Simmonds said, “but I don’t know about giving up the ‘job.’ As MLA, I’ll be able to help accelerate things. I understand the nuances of this program, I know how government works, I know how to navigate.” Simmonds won the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission’s 2017 Dr. Burnley Allan "Rocky" Jones Individual Award “for her commitment to human rights by helping African Nova Scotian communities to obtain titles to their land.”
As she goes door-to-door campaigning, Simmonds said that she was “hearing a lot that really resonates with me about peoples’ health care problems, and about our schools and education. And seniors tell me about problems they’re having with maintenance around their homes, like getting snow cleared.
Simmonds and her husband, Halifax Regional Police Superintendent Dean Simmonds, found themselves on the front pages after a frightening “driving-while-black” experience on July 4, 2021. They were headed to the grocery story around 12:30 pm when they were pulled over by the RCMP and held at gunpoint. Simmonds said she did not want to go into the details again, but she wanted people to know that “this experience was not an isolated incident. These things happen.”