N.S. justice minister says RCMP owes public an explanation over high-speed chase
Mark Furey says police forces need to do a better job communicating with the public
Nova Scotia's justice minister says the RCMP owes the public an explanation for a high-speed chase that played out in Halifax during heavy traffic and an armed raid at an apartment that happened just as students were being dismissed from a nearby high school.
A federal RCMP investigation became very public Wednesday as unmarked police cars cut across traffic-filled roads and sidewalks before crashing into the car they were chasing near Joseph Howe Drive, a busy arterial road in the city. At the same time, armed RCMP officers raided an apartment building near a high school in Bedford.
Officials with the school and the regional centre for education have said they were given no advance notice of the operation, which prevented them from being able to keep students and staff inside as armed officers converged on the scene.
The Mounties have provided few details, other than to say it was all part of an operation targeting organized crime and drugs and that arrests have been made.
Justice Minister Mark Furey, who was a member of the RCMP for 32 years, wasn't impressed.
"I'm concerned, so certainly the public concern is warranted and it, quite frankly, deserves an explanation, and these are discussions that I will advance with RCMP senior managers," he said in an interview with CBC News.
While Furey didn't know what led up to the pictures and videos that have circulated widely online from the chase, he recalled the force's policy not permitting chases in unmarked vehicles and for chases to be abandoned if there is a risk to public safety.
"There are clear policies when it comes to high-speed pursuits and pursuits that don't have that element of high speed," said Furey. "And there's a supervisory role when public safety could be put at risk or compromised; the senior officer has a responsibility to cease that pursuit."
The province has "a gangs and guns problem," said Furey. His government has spent a lot of money in recent years trying to provide police the tools they need to address that problem and he supports their efforts.
But Furey also said it is "critically important as they do that work that they recognize the broader element of public safety, in that we would not want to be doing anything that's going to put public safety at risk, whether it's students in school communities or pedestrians in the Joseph Howe circumstances."
Furey said the events of Wednesday have him reaching out to law enforcement leaders across the province with the RCMP and municipal forces to remind them of how important strong community communication is. While police can't always share all of their information with the public, Furey said the community is owed as much transparency as possible.
"There are circumstances where we see strong communications and there's strong outcomes," he said. "When there's poor communications, there are poor outcomes, there's a lack of transparency and accountability."
RCMP transparency in Nova Scotia has been criticized this year, largely because of how public communication related to the investigation of last spring's mass shooting was handled. A situation like Wednesday doesn't help, either, said Furey.
"My experience has been that when you engage the public, you get constructive outcomes, you build relationships," he said. "That's a challenge that we're facing right now; that's a challenge that the law enforcement community is facing not only here in Nova Scotia, but across the country and continent."
Although there have been concerted efforts to engage Black and First Nations communities in an effort to improve communications, Furey said there is a need for broader efforts to ensure the public has confidence and trust in law enforcement.
"I see every day police officers in our communities engaging youth — they're in our schools, they're problem solving with youth and families and schools and educators. There's lots of good work happening," he said.
"But it's these types of incidents and social media — public awareness through social media — that raise the level of concern of residents and we have to address that. We need our uniformed officers to understand the optics that it presents and the concerns that Nova Scotians have."
Although it's not driven by any recent events or criticism, Furey said he's initiated talks within his department about provincial policing service models. The Police Act allows for the creation of a provincial force.
Provincial policing review initiated
Furey said the issue at hand is labour issues within the RCMP, the fact membership has become the largest police labour group in the country, and rising contract costs that are becoming increasingly difficult for municipalities to afford.
Policing is the largest line item for most, if not all, municipalities in the province, said Furey, and many are concerned about the sustainability of it. His department has periodically done policing reviews at the request of municipalities looking at alternatives to the RCMP because of the growing costs of the contract.
"With the labour circumstances within the RCMP, it's only prudent that the minister responsible for policing in the province would look to this as an area that requires attention and work, because the discussion will continue with municipalities," he said.
Furey said there is no timeline for the review. There is an existing contract between the provincial government and RCMP that runs until 2032.