Nova Scotia

RCMP decides against apology to Black community for excessive Halifax street checks

The RCMP acknowledges the 'disproportionate harm' street checks have caused to marginalized communities, but its national policy still supports them as a policing tool.

Agency acknowledges 'disproportionate harm,' but national policy still supports street checks

An up-close picture of an RCMP shoulder patch.
A national study on street checks prepared by the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission was published earlier this summer. The report didn't recommend banning street checks, but recommended officers obtain consent before doing checks. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

The RCMP says there will be no formal apology to Halifax's Black communities for its heavy use of street checks, despite the Halifax Regional Police having done so almost two years ago.

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.

A provincially commissioned study of street checks released by criminologist Scot Wortley in March 2019 condemned the practice by the Halifax Regional Police and the local RCMP — which polices the city's suburbs — as targeting young Black men and creating a "disproportionate and negative" impact on African Nova Scotian communities.

Those findings led to a public apology before several hundred people by Halifax Police Chief Dan Kinsella on Nov. 29, 2019, for street checks and historical mistreatment of the Black community.

The Mounties attended but didn't participate in the apology, saying they were awaiting the results of a national study on street checks prepared by the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. After several delays, that report was published earlier this summer.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella apologizes in 2019 for years of police street checks that disproportionately targeted Black people. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

In an email to The Canadian Press sent Aug. 27, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Marshall said the agency "acknowledges the disproportionate harm that street checks have caused to marginalized communities, particularly African Nova Scotians."

"However, we are also part of the broader RCMP, and RCMP national policy still supports the use of street checks as a policing tool," he added.

The commission's report didn't recommend banning street checks, but set out a number of recommendations to change RCMP national policy, including a requirement that officers obtain citizens' "informed consent" before checks are carried out. Marshall said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has accepted this and other findings.

He said the findings of the Civilian Complaints and Review Commission along with "many consultations with a number of stakeholders and community members factored into consideration of a formal apology."

Professor Scott Wortley, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, conducted a provincially commissioned study of street checks in 2019. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

The justice working group for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition — which has advocated for reform of policing to reduce racial bias — provided a written response saying it's dissatisfied with the RCMP response.

"The coalition ... expresses our disappointment in the RCMP's lacklustre response to the trauma and harm being caused to the African Nova Scotian and African Canadian communities over the continued use of the illegal street checks in some parts of Canada," program director Vanessa Fells wrote on Tuesday.

Wortley, the University of Toronto criminologist who studied Halifax's street checks, said in a recent interview the RCMP "has a strong reputation for not issuing apologies.… It's consistent with their stances on policing of Indigenous or minority populations."

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

Wortley said it is worth noting that the RCMP is acknowledging the harm caused and is indicating it wishes to change.

In addition, he said it was encouraging to hear that the RCMP — in jurisdictions where street checks aren't banned — will follow the recommendation to read prepared statements seeking consent before a street check. The criminologist said that in jurisdictions where this occurs, street checks have fallen drastically.

Marshall said the RCMP has made progress on some of the Wortley report's recommendations, including developing an orientation package for Halifax employees that will include meetings between officers and people living in African Nova Scotian communities.

The force is also planning to drop street check data from its data management system by the end of 2022.

In addition, Marshall said the RCMP is forming a community consultation group based in Preston, which has a large Black population, to improve relationships between police and the community.

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.

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