Nova Scotia

Moratorium on random street checks 'step in right direction,' says rights advocate

A Halifax social worker and member of a coalition seeking a ban on street checks that target African Nova Scotians, Robert Wright is satisfied for the moment with a moratorium on the practice.

Coalition says street checks are 'against our charter rights' and can't be reformed

Robert Wright said the moratorium on street checks will begin to address racial targeting, but more work needs to be done. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

A Halifax member of a coalition seeking a ban on police street checks that disproportionately target African Nova Scotians says he's satisfied for now with a moratorium on the practice.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," said Robert Wright of the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent.

On Wednesday, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey announced an immediate moratorium on random police street checks throughout the province. The decision will prevent police from stopping people in public areas such as parks and sidewalks, unless there is suspicious or illegal activity.

Wright said he doesn't think the practice can be reformed through regulation.

"Our position has been that this kind of arbitrary stopping of people is illegal," Wright told CBC's Information Morning on Thursday. "It's against our charter rights. We're not really interested in regulating police activities that are outside of police authority."

His group wants to see an African Nova Scotia justice institute created to oversee policing through a racial lens. "We need our own infrastructure to be able to do this work ... [with] the resources to advance the rights and to oversee the protection of the rights of people of African descent, particularly as it relates to the justice system."

Wright said it would start to address the psychological effect of any racist and discriminatory police practices against black people.

He said it will take a long time.

"I think that we should realize that the fears that black men — and particularly young black men — have of police is something that has come to us as a historical reality. And if the police want that to change, they're going to have to invest significantly in activities that are designed to change, fundamentally, that relationship," he said.

"Just banning street checks is not going to be enough."

Police say 'bias exists within our systems'

Halifax police Supt. Jim Perrin said he has told all of his officers to halt street checks.

"Our job right now is to make sure the moratorium is enforced," Perrin said Thursday at Halifax Regional Police headquarters.

He wouldn't say if he thought police had done anything wrong or if police owe anyone an apology. "We certainly understand that bias exists. Bias exists within our systems and bias can also creep into any of our lives, in our professions," he said.

Premier Stephen McNeil said a provincial apology was "not something that I've considered." 

"We believe the street-check approach needs to change. That's what we did," he said.

With files from Information Morning Halifax