Nova Scotia

N.S. boxer who won discrimination case wants race-based data on traffic stops

Random street checks have been banned in Nova Scotia, but a boxer from North Preston who fought back against racial discrimination by police says traffic stops need to be addressed too.  

Kirk Johnson says ban on street checks a start, but more needs to be done to address racial profiling

In 2003, a human rights inquiry found Kirk Johnson was discriminated against based on race when he was stopped by police in Dartmouth five years earlier. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Random street checks have been permanently banned in Nova Scotia, but a boxer from North Preston who fought back against racial discrimination by police says traffic stops need to be addressed too.  

In 2003, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission sided with Kirk Johnson, who launched a legal battle after he was repeatedly pulled over by the cops, and in one case had his car seized. 

He told CBC's Information Morning on Wednesday that he continues to be a target when he's driving in Nova Scotia. Johnson, a heavyweight boxer, splits his time between his home province and Texas, where he trains. 

"If somebody stopped you, and has got a real reason and is polite, and is not trying to harass you, I don't have a problem with that," he said. "But when you start yelling and raising your voice at me as if I'm doing some kind of bad act, well then we have a problem." 

Johnson ⁠— who is black ⁠— said at the time of the human rights inquiry, his car was pulled over 29 times in a span of three months. 

He called the ban on street checks a start, but he said he also wants police to pay attention to the racial profiling that happens in traffic stops.

'Not acceptable'

"It's an alright thing for them to say they're going to apologize for the street checks. But at the same time... for us to be stopped traffic wise, car wise, way more than the whites being stopped, that's really not acceptable," he said. 

A report by University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley earlier this year found that Halifax police randomly street checked black people at a rate six times higher than white people

Justice Minister Mark Furey banned the controversial practice on Friday after a legal opinion by a former chief justice said street checks are illegal.

But Michael MacDonald was careful to differentiate between street checks and traffic stops. Street checks are defined as an interaction or observation where identifying information is collected by police.

On the other hand, MacDonald wrote that traffic stops are legal because driving is a privilege, not a right, and police have the authority to stop people under the Motor Vehicle Act

"It was beyond the scope of our opinion to separately consider the issue of drivers being stopped by the police pursuant to the Motor Vehicle Act and/or to investigate impaired driving," he wrote. 

A brick building with a sign that says "police headquarters" on it.
A formal review by criminologist Scot Wortley earlier this year revealed black people were street checked at a rate far higher than white people in Halifax. (Robert Short/CBC)

Christine Hanson, director and CEO of The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, has asked that police collect more "race-based data on all police stops" so that their practices can be better scrutinized. 

Johnson agrees.

He said being pulled over by the cops simply for driving continues to be a reality for black people in Nova Scotia. In fact, he said he was pulled over just three months ago. 

"This is problematic in the black community because when certain officers pull us over, they already have attitude in raising their voice and making you all nervous and making you uncomfortable," he said. 

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella said on Monday that his force will formally apologize for street checks, and that he will continue to work with the African Nova Scotian community. 

With files from CBC's Information Morning