Nova Scotia

African Nova Scotian organization calls for RCMP apology over street checks

A organization in Nova Scotia's Black community says that the RCMP's refusal to issue an apology to Nova Scotia's Black community is disappointing.

'An apology is a place to start'

Dartmouth resident Vanessa Fells is program co-ordinator for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent coalition. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

An African Nova Scotian organization says that the RCMP's decision not to issue an apology to the province's Black community over excessive street checks in Halifax is disappointing.

The African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition is calling for an apology from the RCMP, which polices the city's suburbs. The group's program director, Vanessa Fells, says an apology would be a place to start.

Earlier this week, the RCMP said it acknowledges "the disproportionate harm that street checks have caused" the Black community in Nova Scotia, but the RCMP's national policy still allows the practice and they will not issue a formal apology

Street checks, which are now banned in Nova Scotia, are defined as police randomly stopping citizens on the streets, recording personal information and storing it electronically — a practice sometimes referred to as "carding" elsewhere in Canada.

On Thursday, Premier Tim Houston said he agrees with the past apologies from the provincial government and the Halifax Regional Police for street checks.

African Nova Scotian Affairs minister Pat Dunn said that he was "very surprised and disappointed" in the RCMP's response. 

Fells spoke about the RCMP with Portia Clark on CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Thursday.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

The director of operations for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition is disappointed the RCMP will not issue an apology for its use of street checks, a practice which disproportionately targets Black people. 8:18

What do you make of this, that RCMP have decided not to issue a formal apology to members of the African Nova Scotian community and their reasons for not doing so.

Well, it's very disappointing to see that the RCMP are not willing at all to take any responsibility in the harm and trauma that they caused the African Nova Scotian community for their active role in street checks. 

And to be clear, the data that showed that black people were being street checked six times more than than other people, that included RCMP data?

Yes, absolutely. That included RCMP data, as well as Halifax Regional Police. RCMP are just as responsible for the over-policing and racial profiling due to street checks as Halifax Regional Police.

What do you think it says that the spokesperson, Cpl. Chris Marshall, told us in a in a statement that the RCMP national policy still supports the use of street checks as a policing tool?

Again, not only disappointed, but it also speaks to the deep-seated roots of systemic racism within policing agencies and the fact that RCMP need to immediately work with African Canadians for change and collaborative changes. 

Does it suggest that the RCMP consider it to be an effective policing tool? And what's your response? 

I believe, yes, that they do consider it to be effective, which deeply concerns myself and I would believe other African Canadians and African Nova Scotians.

It means that they're OK with the trauma that they're causing. They are completely OK with that. And again, they take no responsibility for it. 

And so as far as establishing rapport with the African Nova Scotian community ... the corporal is also saying that there will be some consultation, for example, with community members in Preston? 

For me, it's almost laughable to say that, you know what? We're not going to take responsibility for harm that we've caused.

We teach our children that if they do something wrong, that they should admit that they've done something wrong, apologize and then work to make it better.

What the RCMP are saying is 'We have done something [wrong'] and won't even admit, that they've done something wrong, even though it's well documented that what they were doing, at least here in the province of Nova Scotia, was illegal.

They won't even take responsibility and apologize for it and yet we want to meet with the community and make things better. I don't even see how that makes any sense at all. 

Does the apology mean that street checks end? If you take the case of Halifax Regional Police and what's happened in the two years since the apology, is there practical change or impact for the community? 

An apology is a place to start.

It means that it means the admission of wrongdoing, and at least it lays the groundwork for starting to make positive changes.

How can you then go to the community and say 'We want to have consultations with you, but we're not going to apologize for any harm that we've done to you?'

I don't see how the community would want to believe and trust in, have any trust in RCMP that what they're saying is credible. 

Your group's been calling for a provincial African Nova Scotian policing strategy. How hopeful are you that's going to happen now? 

You know, we have called for a policing strategy for several years now. We have been ignored by policing agencies as well as governments throughout the province.

And so again, you know, with the RCMP refusal to apologize, it only proves that we still need this policing strategy and how desperate it is needed to change the way that policing agencies interact with the African Nova Scotian community.

If policing agencies are there to protect and serve and groups like the RCMP do not want to apologize for the wrong that they're doing and who are they really protecting and serving? 

Has there been an impact from the apology from Halifax Regional Police? In terms of street checks not being as obvious or stopping altogether? 

We heard at the beginning there were still some complaints from members of the community [about] issues.

We haven't really heard a lot else of what is going on, but part of that reason is that data is not being collected, so we can't really tell for sure what the impact of the community is unless we're asking the community directly, which has been a little bit hard because because of COVID. 

Do you plan to do that in any formal way with your group to to find out or to have that communication about the impact of the apology and what's been happening since? 

As part of the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute that was announced just in July, we are hoping to do provincial consultations with the African Nova Scotian community to get their thoughts not only on the institute itself, but as well as other issues which we're hoping policing will be part of that that affect the African Nova Scotian community and justice.

We're hoping to hear those collective voices so that we know what those top priority issues are and start to address them. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black In Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

With files from Information Morning Nova Scotia and the Canadian Press