Nova Scotia

N.S. justice minister orders police to stop using quotas for street checks

Justice Minister Mark Furey's directive comes a day after a racial profiling report found that black people were street checked at a rate six times higher than white people in Halifax.

Mark Furey's directive comes a day after Halifax police racial profiling report

University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley's report found the practice of street checks has a disproportionate and negative impact on the African-Nova Scotia community, contributing to the criminalization of black youth. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia's justice minister is directing police across the province to stop using quotas for street checks, a day after a racial profiling report found that black people were checked at a rate six times higher than white people in Halifax.

Mark Furey said the findings of the report, which was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, are alarming and unacceptable.

"Immediate action will be taken to correct this," Furey said in a news release on Thursday.

The 180-page report by Scot Wortley, a University of Toronto criminology professor, found the practice of street checks has a disproportionate and negative impact on the black community, contributing to the criminalization of black youth.

It also found that frontline officers felt there was "internal pressure" to increase street check numbers but that many are of "poor quality and contribute little to public safety."

"Others maintained that the performance evaluations of frontline officers are often predicated on the number of street checks they complete during a given period," the report said. "Some expressed that there was a perceived quota for street checks, much like there is a perceived quota for traffic tickets."

The new norm?

Furey said there have always been formal or informal numbers attached to police performance, including street checks. 

"This is about correcting a behaviour that unfortunately appears to have become a norm in society," Furey told reporters. 

Furey's directive to "cease using street checks as part of a quota system or performance measurement tool" will not end the practice of street checks, but instead focus on mandatory training related to the report's findings for police officers throughout Nova Scotia.

Street checks allow police officers to document information about a person they believe could be of significance to a future investigation, and record details such as their ethnicity, gender, age and location.

Furey said he based his decision on Wortley's suggestion that an outright ban may not change the interaction between police and residents.

"I believe that an immediate response in a moratorium or a ban could in fact allow a practice to continue," Furey told reporters.

"The risk of driving this issue underground, quite frankly, without any mechanism of accountability, to me further compounds the problem."

Opposition calls for moratorium              

NDP MLA Claudia Chender said removing quotas from streets checks is the bare minimum.

"Basically what the minister is saying is the police shouldn't be doing something that's totally unconscionable and illegal, so that's good I guess, I mean they shouldn't be. But I think it doesn't actually address any of the fundamental issues in the report."

Chender said the government should take the report's recommendation to regulate street checks and place a temporary moratorium on them in the meantime.

"This is part of the solution, but as many including Dr. Wortley have said, that there also needs to be much more work done on this issue."  

Tory Leader Tim Houston also called for a moratorium "until there's some understanding of what's happening and why it's happening and where we go from here."

"I don't see the value in just targeting people and stopping them," said Houston.

Addressing the issue

Furey requested that the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, the Human Rights Commission and the policing community gather to plan actions to address the issue by mid-May.

The independent report found that in Halifax the odds of being stopped for a street check were highest for black men, followed by Arab males and black females.

The number is about double the CBC News estimate that triggered the review.

The report by Wortley also found that police in the Halifax region do more street checks than police in Montreal, Vancouver or Ottawa. There were comparable rates in Edmonton and Calgary.

He reported that black community members interviewed for the study said they are afraid of police, they feel targeted by police, and they are treated rudely and aggressively. They also said police treatment of black people has not improved significantly in the past 20 years.

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