Nova Scotia

New committee to review recommendations from Halifax report on defunding police

The subcommittee of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners will take on reviewing each of the 36 recommendations in a recent report on defunding the police.

El Jones, who helped author report, supportive of subcommittee but calls for urgent action

Some Halifax police officers donned riot gear as part of the efforts in August 2021 to remove a temporary housing shelter at a city park. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

A new subcommittee of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners will take on reviewing each of the 36 recommendations in a report on defunding the police.

Commissioner Lisa Blackburn motioned to create the committee at Monday's board meeting after discussions with one of the report's authors, El Jones. The motion passed unanimously.

"I just see this as the logical next step," said Blackburn. "We have this report, we've had about a month and a bit to digest it."

The committee is to review each recommendation and determine the governing body responsible for its completion.

Blackburn, the municipal councillor for District 14, said while the board can act independently on some recommendations, others — like mental health and housing supports — will require action from council and the provincial government. 

"We need to get our bearings and determine who will be responsible for what and then work on next steps from there," she said.

Divvying up responsibilities

Questions of responsibility and jurisdiction came up in Friday's council debate over the policing budget.

While many councillors referred to the report and public outcry over a proposed $2-million budget increase as signals that it is time to fundamentally change the city's approach to policing, others argued many of the recommendations in the document fall outside council's mandate.   

Speaking at Monday's meeting, Jones said she was pleased to see the interest in moving the report's work forward.

But she pointed out that several recommendations are straightforward and could be addressed by the board of police commissioners directly; for instance, use of force reviews, participatory budgeting, and not funding police body cameras.

Wherever possible, she said, the report specifies when a recommendation falls within the board's or council's spheres of responsibility.

Action is urgent

While she agreed it is important not to rush new policies, Jones cautioned the board not to get bogged down by bureaucratic details.

"I do want to remind us that there are many urgencies to this work," Jones said. "Some things are life and death."

Jones referred to the recent killing by Calgary police of a young Black man said to have been suffering a mental health crisis.

Police in that case have said they were responding to a complaint of an assault, not a mental health call. Alberta's policing watchdog is investigating the shooting.

"That shows the urgency of mental health services," Jones said, adding that "there is a chance here to do the kind of work that prevents that from happening."

El Jones is a well-known community activist who chaired a committee created to define what it means to defund the police. Jones is an assistant professor of political and Canadian studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. (Robert Short/CBC )

Jones also referred to the events of Saturday night at the People's Park in north-end Halifax, where Halifax Regional Police seized lumber and materials from a structure that housed food for people living in the park in tents.

"The name of the committee does not matter as much as the fact that people are living in tents," Jones said. "People are living without food." 

The board agreed the new subcommittee would require terms of reference and a work plan to ensure efficiency and transparency. Board chairman Lindell Smith said work would begin toward defining those as soon as possible.

He also promised not to allow the "government-ese" to overshadow the actions required.

"It's the work and the urgency of the actual items within the report that need to be done now," said Smith, the councillor for District 8.

Linking defunding to public safety

Committee members have yet to be determined, but will include three members of the board of police commissioners.

Public safety adviser Amy Siciliano told the board meeting that the municipality is also starting discussions about how to link the report's recommendations with HRM's new public safety strategy.

The two forces that operate within the municipality, the Halifax Regional Police and Halifax District RCMP, reported their most recent crime statistics during the meeting.

Total Criminal Code offences from July to December 2021 were up about 9.5 per cent, according to HRP statistics, and about 12 per cent for the RCMP. 

Darren Campbell, acting superintendent of the Halifax District RCMP, said he believes part of the increase is attributable to the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella gave a third-quarter spending update projecting a surplus of $1.2 million for 2021-22. 

The board of police commissioners will meet again March 7 or 8 to revise this year's recently rejected policing budget.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rose Murphy is a reporter for CBC Nova Scotia. You can contact her at rose.murphy@cbc.ca.

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