Nova Scotia

Halifax police say street checks will continue despite concerns

A privacy lawyer is raising concerns about a Halifax police procedure called "street checks" where police stop people and ask questions about why they're in the area and what they're doing.

Practice is quite controversial in Toronto, where it is called 'carding'

Deputy Chief Bill Moore says Halifax police don't want to be in the harassment business. (CBC)

A privacy lawyer is raising concerns about a Halifax police procedure called "street checks" where police stop people and ask questions about why they're in the area and what they're doing.

The practice is quite controversial in Toronto, where it is called "carding" and people, many black, have been stopped and asked for their ID.

In Halifax, police say they do stop people, but deputy chief Bill Moore says those stops are not based on race, rather suspicion.

"So it may be we saw individuals near a building late at night, stopped, talked to them and they said they didn't work there and they said they were just walking by. That could be a street check," he said.

In 2014 there were almost 7,000 street checks in Halifax, where police stopped someone and questioned them or noted their behaviour when there was something suspicious.

"We don't want to be in the harassment business," Moore said.

"We want to be in the business of being able to gather information, try to prevent crime. We want to try to intervene if persons are potentially planning something to show that we're here and we're watching."

Privacy lawyer David Fraser is keeping an eye on the practice too.

May escalate situation

"Somebody standing there in a uniform asking for your ID, for whatever reason, without telling you why and without telling you the lawful authority, there's a measure of coercion that goes on there that I find problematic," he said.

Fraser is also concerned that, based on population, the number of street checks in Halifax is much higher than carding numbers in Toronto.

"One might say they are different circumstances but I don't think we have two times the criminals or more or there's another justification for it," he said.

Moore says he's OK with Halifax's high numbers, calling it good police work.

Fraser says Halifax police could do more to help people know their rights.

"Police actually should, as I understand they are in Toronto, let you know that this is voluntary, you are not being detained. You are free to go at any time," he said.

Fraser says declining to speak to police may escalate the situation, even if it's your right to walk away.

Moore says they don't get a lot complaints about street checks, but if someone is concerned, they should contact the department.

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