Halifax Nova Scotia's premier, justice minister and lieutenant-governor will gather with members of the provincial legislature today to posthumously pardon a young black woman -- Viola Desmond, an icon of Canada's civil rights movement -- who was arrested and jailed in 1946 for sitting in the whites-only section of a cinema.
Although the pardon is being hailed by many as a fitting and overdue gesture, some members of Desmond's family say if she were alive today, the former teacher and entrepreneur would want nothing of the sort.
"If the justice minister had come to Viola and said, 'We want to pardon you,' she would have laughed and said, 'Pardon me for what? I didn't do anything wrong.'
A fourth sister who lives in Halifax, Wanda Robson, supports the pardon and has worked diligently in recent years to educate schoolchildren about Desmond's unwitting role as a civil rights pioneer.
Born in Halifax in 1914, Desmond was a smart, ambitious woman who worked as a school teacher before opening her own beauty salon, catering to the city's black population.
She was chic and glamorous and honed her skills at a hairstyling school in New York.
Desmond later opened her own beauty school for African Canadian women, and developed her own line of beauty products, which she sold across Nova Scotia.
She was on a business trip to Cape Breton in 1946 -- her car loaded with beauty products -- when mechanical trouble forced her to spend the night in the small town of New Glasgow, N.S.
Desmond dropped into the Roseland Theatre that night to watch a movie and sat near the front, ignoring or unaware of the theatre's segregated seating policy restricting black patrons to the cheaper seats in the balcony.
After refusing the theatre manager's order to leave the whites-only section, Desmond was dragged out of the theatre by police and forced to spend the night in jail.
Nova Scotia had no segregation laws at the time, however, prosecutors found a way to convict her -- for defrauding the government of the one-cent tax Desmond allegedly avoided by failing to pay the higher price of a whites-only movie ticket.
Her penalty was a $20 fine.
Desmond's conviction upset many Nova Scotians, black and white, and raised awareness of the unofficial segregation rules of society at the time.
"Viola's refusal to give up her seat that day ushered in a new era of social activism," writes Tony Colaiacovo, a Halifax publisher who has chronicled Desmond's story in an education booklet, The Times of African Nova Scotians.
He says Desmond became known as Canada's Rosa Parks, the African-American who is famous for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white passenger in Alabama in 1955.
Justice Minister Ross Landry -- who represents the town of New Glasgow in the legislature -- says the Free Pardon, as it's called, is not an expression of clemency for any crime committed by Desmond, but rather an admission of wrongdoing on the province's part for convicting her in the first place.
"The Crown made an error, in what we perceived at that time in law, and we're correcting that," Landry told CBC radio on Wednesday.
"This is the process that we have in law to do that."
That was also the conclusion of a recent public meeting on the subject hosted at the Dalhousie University law school.
"A pardon -- no matter how you dance around the word and define it -- makes the government feel good about themselves, and it excuses the supposed wrongdoing of Viola, but not the wrongdoing of society," Oliver says.
"I was very disappointed to hear the minister saying all the family had accepted this, and they haven't."
None of Desmond's surviving sisters could be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Even better than a pardon or apology, says Oliver, would be the creation of a university scholarship for black Nova Scotia women, fully funded by the province, in Desmond's name -- something Landry won't commit to.
"Viola wouldn't have wanted all this attention," says Oliver. "But a scholarship for young women, she would have loved that."