Street checks permanently banned in N.S. after review calls them illegal
Earlier study found black people were street checked six times more often than whites in Halifax
Nova Scotia's justice minister says he will permanently ban street checks after a legal opinion co-authored by a former top judge found the Halifax police practice, which disproportionately targeted black males, is illegal.
"The decision that I've come to, based on a number of contributing factors, is we will move to make the moratorium to a permanent ban on street checks," Justice Minister Mark Furey said Friday.
"It's reasonable that any Nova Scotian is treated with respect and professionalism."
Furey's announcement comes after Michael MacDonald, a former chief justice of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, and Jennifer Taylor, a research lawyer, analyzed the controversial police practice of logging information about people they interacted with or observed.
They wrote in a review released Friday that street checks are not reasonably necessary for police to execute their duties.
"We have concluded that the common law does not empower the police to conduct street checks, because they are not reasonably necessary. They are therefore illegal," the review says.
The practice came under the spotlight because of a CBC News investigation. That triggered a formal review by criminologist Scot Wortley that revealed black people were street checked at a rate six times higher than white people in Halifax.
'Interfere with individual liberty'
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission called on MacDonald to offer a legal opinion on street checks, which are different from another controversial practice known as carding.
Friday's report says street checks are when an officer interacts with or observes someone, and then records personal or identifying information into a database.
"The Wortley report confirms that street checks interfere with individual liberty, and disproportionately affect Black Nova Scotians," wrote MacDonald and Taylor.
They say street checks are not authorized under the Nova Scotia Police Act, and they also put an individual's privacy rights in question.
Their review says under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadians have the right to simply walk down the street or spend time in public spaces anonymously. When police document those moments, they're no longer private.
In April, Furey ordered a moratorium on random street checks.
"We are not aware of the police having any difficulty executing their duties during this time, without the ability to record street checks," wrote MacDonald and Taylor.
'Nobody believed us'
MacDonald and Taylor say police still have other tools available, including the ability to gather information at traffic stops or police inquiries into suspicious activity.
"If the police are legitimately concerned for someone's personal health or safety, that would be an appropriate reason to stop them and ask some questions."
For Lake Echo resident DeRico Symonds, who organized a large march against street checks in March, the announcement is "a huge win" that's long overdue.
"The black community was saying, 'This affected us.' Nobody believed us. Then it took another white male to validate that," he said, noting both MacDonald and Wortley are white.
"That it took this amount of effort is absolutely disappointing," he said. "If folks don't get their driveway shoveled in Halifax, it's an uproar, it's immediate action."
'Larger systemic issue'
Symonds intentionally put the hood of his jacket up while doing an interview with CBC News to pay homage to those who have been the target of street checks for wearing a hood.
"We have to look at the larger systemic issue," he said of ongoing racism.
It's a comment mirrored by the justice minister.
Furey said since the April moratorium, he's had many meetings with members of the African-Nova Scotian community. Youth, in particular, are passionate about making change, he said.
"This is about systemic racism in Nova Scotia. We'll have another continued discussion around that."
Furey said Friday he will immediately tell police in the Halifax Regional Municipality that the ban is now permanent.
"I anticipate we'll have continued co-operation," he said of Halifax Regional Police and RCMP. "Street checks based on race are unacceptable."
Furey said he hasn't actually read the report, and was basing his comments on two briefings about its contents. He said he will spend the weekend reading the 92-page review himself.
With files from Blair Rhodes.