Nova Scotia

Banning street checks non-negotiable, says African Nova Scotian group

A group of African Nova Scotian leaders walked out of a meeting called by Justice Minister Mark Furey Thursday evening, saying street checks need to stop immediately.

'They have not modified their practice to be within the scope of law yet, what confidence could anybody have?'

Robert Wright is part of the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent coalition. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

A group of African Nova Scotian leaders walked out of a meeting called by Justice Minister Mark Furey Thursday evening, calling for the immediate ban of street checks.

The minister, who was not in the meeting, convened the gathering to discuss responses to  University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley's recent report that found black Nova Scotians were stopped and questioned by police six times more frequently than whites. 

Social worker Robert Wright was one of six members of the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent coalition who briefly attended. He said the group had "grave concerns" heading into it as they didn't have an agenda or know what the focus would be. 

"We were really concerned about sitting at a table to negotiate around the issue of street checks given our position that street checks are illegal," he said. "We simply delivered that message and then left the room." 

Wright said there are many justice-related issues African Nova Scotians want to see addressed but "conceding to allow street checks to continue in order to have bargaining chips at that table is not a position that we would take." 

"We cannot sit and talk with the police or the province about what the alternative to street checks should be while street checks are still happening," he said. 

Furey has said that he would make an announcement on street checks by the end of this week. 

On Monday, the minister continued to defend his belief that street checks were "a valuable tool" for police officers if "used appropriately" to a legislative committee

Wright compared a more respectful approach to street checks to softening the entry during a break-in — he believes the act remains illegal. He said the force had the chance to change and improve after the 2003 human rights inquiry that found police discriminated against boxer Kirk Johnson. He was awarded $10,000. 

"If they have not modified their practice to be within the scope of law yet, what confidence could anybody have that they're going to do that today?" Wright said. 

In Halifax, the odds of being stopped for a street check were highest for black people, followed by Arab and west Asian people. (CBC )

Present at Thursday's meeting were representatives from various African Nova Scotian communities and groups, members of Halifax Regional Police officers including outgoing chief Jean-Michel Blais and deputy chief Robin McNeil, as well as officials with the department of justice who are responsible for policing and public safety, according to Wright. 

Wright said a more respectful approach to community policing is possible and needed. 

"So that police can move casually and efficiently in community, and be in relationship with various members of the community, and to conduct themselves in a way that does not violate their civil rights? Yes absolutely," he said. 

Demonstrators stopped at the Halifax Regional Police station on Gottingen Street during a march against street checks on March 30. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

In a letter to the minister dated April 10, the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent coalition called for nine changes including banning street checks and implementing the safeguards for police checks recommended in the Wrotley report.  

The group also said police and RCMP should apologize to African Nova Scotians for the disproportionate amount of street checks and it wants the agencies to inform the people subjected to the checks in writing about what information police recorded about them and how it was used. 

With files from Information Morning