Halifax police force more diverse than community it serves
CBC News survey found Halifax Regional Police the only force to match or surpass city's racial diversity
Halifax Regional Police has more diversity among its officers relative to population than any other city in Canada.
A CBC News investigation compared the numbers of Aboriginal and visible minority officers in 22 urban centres across Canada.
While many police organizations have higher rates of diversity, only Halifax has a greater percentage of non-white officers than appear in the general population.
In Halifax 12.1 per cent of officers are either Aboriginal or visible minorities.
According to latest Canadian census data, 11.6 per cent of Halifax's general population is non-white.
In Vancouver, 22 per cent of police officers are from minority groups but 54 per cent of the city is non-white.
Halifax more homogenous
"Obviously we're very pleased with the numbers," said Chief Jean-Michel Blais of the Halifax Regional Police.
But Blais points out Halifax has a more homogenous population than larger urban centres such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
"In another sense, we also recognize the limitations that statistics can provide," he said.
Anti-violence activist Quentrel Provo says while he doesn't dispute the statistics, they don't reflect his experience living in Halifax.
Activist says not diverse enough
"Being a black young man, I don't see that many black police officers in the HRP," he said.
While Provo says while African-Nova Scotians don't face the same levels of police violence highlighted by the Black Lives Matter campaign in the United States, fundamental issues remain.
"It's not on the level that they're killing us. But it's still on the level that we're being treated with racism," he said.
Provo would like to see Halifax police hire more African-Nova Scotian officers, and continue efforts at community outreach.
The force's acting diversity officer Const. Amit Parasram says being a visible minority officer can sometimes help defuse tense interactions with the public.
He used the example of police being called in to disperse a crowd.
"Opinions may have been that the police are just here clearing people out based on ethnicity," Parasram said.
"But having the fact that they look at me, I've had youth say, 'That's fantastic. I have no issues with this.'"
Public reflected in police force
Parasram says it's important for visible minorities to see themselves reflected on the police force.
He says it's also valuable to have offices with inherent cultural knowledge and language skills that can be harnessed during investigations.
"If I have an officer that's a friend of mine and I'm going to a call, and I know the background he has might able to help me here, it's pretty quick to be able to say, 'What are the things that I should be aware of when I go here?'" he said.