Nova Scotia

Proposed $2M increase to Halifax police budget faces public opposition

Halifax's proposed police budget remains unchanged despite opposition from 24 members of the public and hours of debate at the police commission on Monday.

Halifax Regional Police budget passed by police commission, will head to regional council

The Halifax Regional Police budget will go to regional council on Feb. 23. (Robert Short/CBC)

Halifax's proposed police budget remains unchanged despite opposition from 24 members of the public and hours of debate at the police commission on Monday.

Halifax Regional Police officials are asking for a $2 million increase for a total of $90 million.

The session was the first time residents were given the chance to voice their opinion on police spending. No one who presented spoke in favour of an increase.

Some talked about racism in the force and the 2019 report on street checks, a now banned practice in Nova Scotia where officers documented the race, gender and other details of people they encountered.

"If we're green-lighting an extra two million, what are we saying yes to and what is the real cost to society and my communities?" said Kate MacDonald of Cole Harbour.

The budget was narrowly passed by police commission members and will be presented to Halifax regional council on Feb. 23. Councillors cannot make changes to the budget, but they can reject it and send it back to the commission.

Halifax police surround a shelter outside the old library on Spring Garden Road on Aug. 18 to keep protesters back. One protestor sat on the shelter roof for hours to prevent its removal. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Some members of the public who attended Monday's meeting pointed to the police handling of a homeless encampment in August, where protesters were pepper-sprayed by officers outside the old library site on Spring Garden Road.

"Why would the police do any better if we just keep increasing their budget without scrutiny," said Hannah Man of Halifax. "Now is not the time to do what we have always done."

Several presenters referred to the recent release of a report on defunding the police with three dozen recommendations. It noted Halifax has a higher number of officers per 100,000 people than the national average for municipal police forces. 

"According to Statistics Canada, Halifax is actually more heavily policed than almost any other city in Canada," said Karen Gross, a resident of north-end Halifax who is doing a masters in counselling. "Rather than approving an increase to the police budget, I would like to see funding directed towards non-police social services."

Three women at the meeting said the police and the board have failed to properly deal with gender-based violence and resources should be redirected to non-profit groups that victims of sexual assault can trust.

Other costs

There were also concerns raised about the lack of details available about police spending, and questions were asked about the cost of lawsuits involving police and the cost of training done outside the province.

Gary Grant, a retired RCMP police officer, asked about money spent on the police that is put in other areas of Halifax's overall budget.

"There's so much that isn't there, I shake my head, I don't know how you can make a proper decision on it, I really don't," said Grant.

A former member of the Dartmouth Police Commission, Colin May, told the commission that his analysis of the violence severity index, a measure used by Statistics Canada, shows that Halifax is one of the most violent places in eastern Canada.

He pointed to the death of eight-year-old Lee'Marion Cain, who was shot in the late afternoon of Dec. 21 while in a vehicle on Windmill Road in Dartmouth.

"I'm not saying I support the police budget increase, but we have to face the truth and get three levels of government to fund ways to make improvements," May said.

Polygraph concerns

Lisa Roberts, a former NDP MLA, focused on one aspect of the police budget — the $250,000 spent on a polygraph machine, which is used in hiring.

Roberts recounted the experience of a man who applied to be a janitor for the police department and took the polygraph test. One of his answers led to him being charged and forced to live apart from his family.

Roberts said the family's life "really exploded," and the incidents he revealed "were not serious crimes" and all charges were dropped.

"I don't think that is a justifiable expense ... to me it's indefensible," said Roberts.

The police commission debated the budget proposal for several hours, including a private session so Chief Dan Kinsella could discuss personnel and deployment.

"If we don't engage in a meaningful way with the concerns and questions of the public it will come off as a pro forma exercise," said commissioner Harry Critchely.

Attempt to cut increase fails

Critchley tried to amend the budget to remove any increase to the number of uniformed police officers. He did agree to change the amendment, at the request of the commission chair Coun. Lindell Smith, to increase the number of civilian employees plus three uniformed officers for a new hate crime unit. That would have reduced the increase to $963,000.

But the amendment was voted down 4 to 3, with Critchley, Smith and commissioner Carole MacDougall voting in favour. The commission members who supported retaining the $2 million hike said it is a matter of timing and insisted the concerns raised would be dealt with.

"Rest assured, big change is coming," said Coun. Lisa Blackburn.

Halifax's chief administrative officer, Jacques Dubé, who listened to the entire session, told commissioners that many of the questions raised will be dealt with in two separate reports on policing now underway.

One focuses on investing more in social services and having civilians respond to certain calls. The other will look at changing Halifax's police model. Both reviews will take another year to complete.

"It's not going to happen tonight, or in two weeks, or a month, it's going to take some time," said Dubé.

Dubé asked the police commission to respect the budget schedule adopted by Halifax regional council.