'It's not right': Black Nova Scotians share experiences with street checks

A meeting on Thursday about police street checks revealed many African-Nova Scotians worry every time they drive that they'll be pulled over by police.

Meeting on Thursday part of an investigation by the province's Human Rights Commission

Ishmeal Beals was one of about 25 people who attended the meeting in North Preston on Thursday. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Many African-Nova Scotians worry every time they drive that they'll be pulled over by police. That's one of the messages from a meeting in North Preston on Thursday evening.

It was one of three meetings the province's Human Rights Commission held this week.  

The investigation stemmed from police street check data between 2006 and 2016 that showed black people in Halifax were three times more likely to be stopped by police than white people.

Ishmeal Beals said he's pulled over at least once a month, and usually the only reason police give him is that he has tinted windows.

"I'm a good driver … So I don't really know how to feel about it honestly. I know it's not right, for sure, I know it's not right, and I really wish it didn't happen to me that much," said Beals. He was one of about 25 people at Thursday's meeting.

Stopped for no reason

"When I have a female passenger in the car, the officer always feels the need to ask that female if she's O.K. or if she's being held [against] her will," he said. 

Many people spoke about being pulled over for no reason, feeling humiliated when it happens and the fear they feel every time they get into a car.

Another common story was people being stopped and told their car matched a description of a vehicle that just left a crime scene, or that a similar style of car was reported stolen.

Kymberly Franklin is senior legal council at the Human Rights Commission. (CBC)

In many cases, people said even when they showed their insurance and registration as proof of ownership, it wasn't enough to convince the police they were innocent.

Several people described the lengths they've gone in order to avoid getting pulled over, such as avoiding busy roads, changing the address attached to their licence plate and even buying a new kind of car.

Checks common place

"We've heard numerous stories about multiple stops and checks, lots of stories about people not being given reasons for why they were stopped," said Kymberly Franklin, senior legal counsel at the Human Rights Commission.

"It's a wide gambit of what we've heard, but it's been common throughout the three meetings that we've held."

Many people spoke about being pulled over for no reason and feeling humiliated when it happens. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Scot Wortley, the independent expert hired to examine Halifax police street check data for the investigation, said they've also heard about "a lot of fatigue."

He said many of the people they've spoken to felt issue had been studied before and that the recommendations made in the past were not fulfilled.

"And I think a little bit of cynicism that, you know, is this process going to lead to any meaningful change?" Wortley said. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

'Help them get past these obstacles'

Wortley also said police involvement is just as important.

"When law enforcement and the community can talk about their interest and their concerns through data and through research, it can help either side of the equation listen to each other," he said.

Scot Worley has been tasked with examining Halifax police street check data. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Several people on Thursday pointed out the lack of police presence at the meeting.

"The police have been very co-operative with us," Franklin said. "The whole idea of this was that we would try and partner with them and collaborate with them, so that we can help them get past these obstacles. So it's my hope that having this report will help us help them."

'Really impacting on young people's lives'

Beals said he hopes to see more communication between the police department and the communities in the future.

"It could show them how they're really impacting on young people's lives and African-Nova Scotians' lives," he said.

In January, Wortley will conduct online surveys to hear from more people about their experiences.

He also hopes to conduct meetings with younger people, as research suggests they receive the most police attention.

From there, Wortley said he will start analyzing the data and create recommendations to help deal with some of the issues going forward.

About the Author

Emma Davie


Emma Davie is a reporter, web writer and videojournalist in Halifax. She loves listening to, and telling stories from people in the Maritimes. You can reach her at emma.davie@cbc.ca.