Nova Scotia

Halifax police say they will purge 14 years of street check data by 2020

The Halifax board of police commissioners is set to discuss street checks from several different angles at its monthly meeting Monday afternoon, including how the police force intends to purge roughly 14 years of records from its database.

Police commissioners to discuss how police intend to remove data

Halifax Regional Police say they will purge historical street check data by December 2020. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The Halifax board of police commissioners is set to discuss street checks from several different angles at its monthly meeting Monday afternoon, including how the police force intends to purge roughly 14 years of records from its database.

"We felt it prudent for us to take some action today and that's why we've taken [the] steps we have," said Robin McNeil, interim chief of Halifax Regional Police.

A report released earlier this year by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission revealed black people are six times more likely to be street checked than white people.

It made numerous recommendations, including around how long police should be able to retain private information gathered during street checks.

In May, the police commission asked Halifax Regional Police to figure out how to remove the records of existing street checks from Versadex, the force's records management system, and whether any records should be retained.

Some street check records will be kept

There are about 109,000 street check records in the Versadex system. In a report to the board, Halifax Regional Police said it plans to maintain all street check data collected from 2005-2019 until December 2020.

After that, all the records and the metadata will be purged, except for records officers have marked as necessary for investigations or court cases, or have "significant intelligence value."

It's unclear how many of those records police intend to keep, but McNeil said he thinks that number is "actually small."

Police officers who conduct street checks record information such as a person's ethnicity, gender, age and location. This record can be used in future investigations.

Moratorium on random street checks

In April, Justice Minister Mark Furey placed a moratorium on random street checks, after weeks of community pressure following the release of the human rights commission report by criminologist Scot Wortley.

Furey said the department would develop regulations governing street checks, but stopped short of a total ban. 

McNeil said Halifax Regional Police could create its own ban on street checks independent of the Justice Department.

Thousands sign street check ban petition

Nancy Hunter, who is part of the Coalition to Ban Street Checks group, said she thinks the practice will come to an end.

She and another woman started a hard-copy petition several weeks ago calling on the province to totally ban street checks. They are scheduled to present it to the legislature in the fall. 

"I really think anti-racism work is the responsibility of white people. We set it up, we get [to] advantage from it, so it is our responsibility," said Hunter, who identifies as white.

"And also I've heard from the elders in the black community how tired they are of working on this issue for so many decades, so this was something that I felt I could do, that I could help and stand in support."

Hunter said they have gathered 3,551 signatures as of Monday.

The police board last month asked that Halifax Regional Police and RCMP prepare a formal apology to the black community. Both forces said they would not do that, saying an apology would "appear disingenuous" right now.

Former Nova Scotia chief justice Michael MacDonald has agreed to offer an opinion on whether street checks are legal. 

The Wortley report defined street checks as a record created by police when they believe they have seen or learned something about a person "that could be of intelligence value."

The report said street checks don't capture all traffic stops, pedestrian stops, or other times police talk to civilians. Street checks are a small subset of those incidents.

Anyone who wants to know what personal information the police have collected on them in street checks will have to make a freedom-of-information application before Oct. 31, 2020.

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca