Nova Scotia

Halifax police will apologize for street checks, says chief

The chief of the Halifax Regional Police said at a meeting on Monday that his force will formally apologize for the controversial practice that disproportionately targeted black people.

Members of the African Nova Scotian community also want data on traffic stops released

A group of people stand in front a library holding a sign that says "ban street checks"
On Friday, the province announced that the controversial police practice of random street checks would be banned. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

The chief of Halifax Regional Police says his force will formally apologize for random street checks that targeted black people at a rate six times higher than white people.

The controversial police practice was banned by the province on Friday.

Chief Dan Kinsella, who made the comments at a Board of Police Commissioners meeting Monday afternoon, said the apology will be delivered by the end of January. 

"This is an apology for much more than street checks," he told reporters after the meeting. "The more broad issue here is some 200 years of inequalities and injustices that have occurred, and the apology will be all-encompassing."

Robert Wright, a Halifax social worker with the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, told CBC's Information Morning earlier Monday that people want more than an apology. 

"I think that someone needs to not just apologize, but compensate the black community for having to fight to simply have their rights respected," he said. 

Wright wants the government to release more data on police interactions with black people.

Robert Wright is a social worker and member of the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition. (Jayde Tynes/CBC)

He said that while the government was collecting data on street checks, it was doing the same for traffic stops. But that information has never been released to the public.

"Some of us believe that the data on traffic stops will be even more damning than the street checks data, but we don't know because it's never been released," he said. 

The Board of Police Commissioners met Monday to discuss a review by the former chief justice of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. It was released last week and concluded that street checks are illegal. 

Michael MacDonald and research lawyer Jennifer Taylor analyzed the police practice of logging information about people they interacted with or observed. They concluded that street checks are not reasonably necessary for police to execute their duties.

A formal review by criminologist Scot Wortley earlier this year revealed black people were street checked at a rate far higher than white people in Halifax.

Kinsella said he knows that words won't be enough. 

"Apologies are a great way for institutions to apologize and move forward, but we need more than just an apology in this case," he said. "We need a robust action plan and that's something that I will be working on, not only with the community, but also employees within HRP."

Chief Dan Kinsella said 'a robust action plan' is needed in addition to an apology. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Members of the African-Nova Scotian community had long been calling for an outright ban on street checks. Instead, the province in April issued a moratorium on random street checks.

But Vanessa Fells, program co-ordinator with the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, is not convinced that moratorium worked.

"If you talk to members of the African-Nova Scotia community, they will say they have been street checked even with the moratorium in place," she said. 

Kinsella said he's not aware of any street checks happening since the moratorium was imposed. But he added that if anyone thinks the practice is still happening that they should let him know.

"I will certainly look into it," he said. "I will investigate and I will hold members accountable in the instances where they're not abiding by the requirements, policies and the law."

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

Fells said while she's pleased that the government is finally listening to people who wanted a ban, it won't change the deep-seated distrust that many black people still have for police.

"That history of corralling and regulating where black bodies could be, and spaces that they could be in, street checks is another part of that story," she said. 

Activist Kate MacDonald, who was at the police meeting on Monday, said members of the African Nova Scotian community didn't need a report to tell them about the racism they experience from police.

"Our lived experience, and first-person experience is equally as valuable, if not more valuable, than all the research and time put behind those reports," she said. 

"It also would have paid to believe us first."

What happens to the data?

Christine Hanson, director and CEO of The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, has asked that police collect more "race-based data on all police stops" so that their practices can be better scrutinized. 

As for the data that's been collected so far, Hanson said it should remove all identifying information, but be stored for research purposes.

 "The commission feels very strongly that the data needs to be de-identified, so all the, kind of, identifying information — people's personal data that can specifically identify them — should be scrubbed," she said. 

Wright said the spotlight on street checks has shown that what's really needed is an African Nova Scotian policing strategy, one that would engage police groups and communities from across the province in meaningful conversations. 

"Now that street checks are banned, why don't we go look at the whole system and see how we can reform the whole system," he said. 

The RCMP said more discussions are needed before they decide whether they too will apologize for street checks.


With files from CBC's Information Morning, Carolyn Ray and Blair Rhodes