Nova Scotia

Human rights inquiry into allegations of racism by Halifax police officers wraps up

A human rights board of inquiry into allegations of anti-Black racism by two police officers wrapped up Tuesday in Halifax.

A final report will likely take more than 6 months to be completed

The two Halifax Regional Police officers said they acted appropriately after witnessing Symonds jaywalk immediately after issuing him a warning. Symonds said he was following the rules. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

A human rights board of inquiry into allegations of anti-Black racism by two police officers wrapped up Tuesday in Halifax.

Gyasi Symonds, a provincial government employee, has alleged he was targeted by two white officers for a jaywalking ticket because he is Black. 

It happened on Gottingen Street in January 2017 after Symonds went for a coffee across the street from the Department of Community Services office where he works. 

Halifax Regional Police constables Steve Logan and Pierre-Paul Cadieux testified they gave Symonds a warning at first. He was ticketed when they saw him jaywalk again on his way back to the office, they said.

The officers said a transit bus had to stop suddenly to avoid Symonds, causing some passengers to lose their balance. 

Symonds disputed that version of events, saying he crossed Gottingen Street properly in a crosswalk and that the bus stopped at a bus stop.

He testified the officers were angry because of his lack of deference as a Black man. The officers "hunted him down" and "humiliated" him in front of his clients and fellow staff in the lobby of his workplace, Symonds testified. 

Cultural training examined

On Tuesday, the inquiry heard testimony from Staff Sgt. Mark MacDonald, who runs the training programs at Halifax Regional Police. 

Symonds questioned MacDonald about cultural diversity training Halifax officers receive. 

MacDonald testified he has not read the 2019 report from Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley that used police data to show Black people in Halifax were six times more likely to be street checked than white people. 

Wortley's report also explored decades of fear and distrust the Black community feels toward police. 

MacDonald said members of the Black community designed a five-day training course for officers. Twenty volunteer officers have taken the course since the Wortley report was released.

He said the training was popular, with many of the officers saying it was the best training they'd ever received. 

MacDonald said he'd like to implement mandatory training for the more than 500 officers with the force, but that presents budget challenges.  

Officers receive two days of mandatory training per year, which in recent years has focused on workplace violence and responding to mass shootings. 

Final report to take months

Symonds declined to comment to CBC News before inquiry chair Benjamin Perryman issues his ruling in the complaint. 

That normally takes up to six months, but could take longer because the chair will require transcripts of testimony to proceed, said commission lawyer Kendrick Douglas.

About the Author

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian

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