Nova Scotia

Black Nova Scotians call for police to earn their trust with concrete change

After last year's ban on street checks, and in the shadow of worldwide demonstrations against police brutality and racism, Nova Scotia's black community is looking for local police to do more to stop racial profiling, over-policing and police brutality.

More needs to be done to address issues of racial profiling, over-policing and police brutality, advocates say

Protesters took to the streets of Halifax last year after the release of a report on street checks, which found longstanding and systemic bias in the police practice. Justice Minister Mark Furey ordered police forces across the province to end the practice last October. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

As demonstrations take place around the world in the wake of George Floyd's killing, many Nova Scotians have renewed their call for local police to address systemic racism. And while authorities say they're listening to the community, black Nova Scotians say they want more than words.

In March 2019, a landmark report confirmed what black people in Halifax had been saying for years — police officers were conducting street checks on black people at a rate six times higher than white people. 

Trayvone Clayton is a 22-year-old black man who grew up in the African Nova Scotian community in Halifax's north end. He was one of the organizers of protests against street checks last year.

In October, after the practice was deemed illegal, Justice Minister Mark Furey ordered police forces across the province to end the practice.

At the time, Clayton welcomed the ban, but expressed concern that prejudicial treatment would continue. More than seven months later, he said the practice of street checks seems to have waned, but the black community still distrusts the police.

Street checks progress marred by setbacks

"I still get chills through my body when I see a police officer," Clayton told CBC News.

He said the violent arrest of Santina Rao at a Halifax Wal-Mart in January unravelled some of the progress made with the street checks ban.

Trayvone Clayton, 22, says the ban on street checks was a positive step, but the relationship between black Nova Scotians and police is still fraught. (Jill English/CBC)

Vanessa Fells said it's time for police forces and the justice system to actively work to repair their relationships with black Nova Scotians.

Fells is the program co-ordinator for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, an organization that wrote to Furey and Premier Stephen McNeil this week to demand action. 

"While this incident with George Floyd didn't happen here in Nova Scotia ... incidents like this happen in Nova Scotia and they are traumatic to the community," Fells told CBC's Information Morning, also pointing to the Rao case. 

In its letter to the province, Fells' organization said street checks are still happening. A Halifax Regional Police spokesperson said no street checks have been conducted since the ban, and an RCMP spokesperson said they couldn't respond to the request in time for CBC's deadline.

The letter said "issues of racial profiling, over policing, police brutality, systemic anti-Black racism in the justice system, and differential treatment while incarcerated" are not being adequately addressed.

Vanessa Fells, program co-ordinator for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, says apologies are hollow without action against racism. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

"We saw everything that's happened with street checks, and while government and police are saying, 'Yes, we're working on it, we're working on recommendations,' it's not happening fast enough."

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella said he understood why the Floyd's killing was resonating in Nova Scotia. He told Information Morning that Floyd's death was "a horrible thing and a gigantic set-back."

Kinsella said "there is racism in all of our systems and ... policing is one of those systems." To address that, he said Halifax Regional Police offers regular training to officers on de-escalation techniques and anti-racism. He said he's open to other tools that might help correct systemic problems and build trust with the black community, including body cameras for officers.

On apologies

Kinsella apologized for street checks shortly after the practice was banned. Furey, who oversees Nova Scotia RCMP, has declined to apologize for street checks, repeating this week that it wouldn't be appropriate until police have bettered their relationship with the black community.

"I don't want any apology to be seen simply as an apology, there has to be substance, there has to be a feeling of inclusion as part of that discussion, and that's the direction we're taking," he told reporters Thursday.

Fells said she was ambivalent about apologies.

"Give us all the apologies you want, but it's a hollow apology unless you're actually going to take immediate action to work with the community and solve these issues."

With files from Information Morning