Nova Scotia

Black Halifax residents react to police refusal to apologize for street checks

A report released in March found black people in the Halifax area were six times more likely than white people to be street checked by police. Members of Nova Scotia's black community say the refusal by Halifax Regional Police and RCMP to apologize for street checks speaks volumes.

'I was quite disturbed, I was quite disappointed in hearing that,' says Melinda Daye

Halifax resident Melinda Daye says she can't understand why Halifax Regional Police and RCMP are refusing to apologize for street checks that disproportionately impact black people. (CBC)

Members of Nova Scotia's black community say the refusal by Halifax Regional Police and RCMP to apologize for street checks speaks volumes.

Street checks allow police officers to document information about a person they believe could be of significance to a future investigation, and record details such as their ethnicity, gender, age and location.

In March, a report by University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley found black people in the Halifax area were six times more likely to be street checked by police than white people. The report also found random street checks contributed to the criminalization of black youth.

"I can't find any other reason other than when you read that report that one would have to say, 'I apologize,'" said Melinda Daye, an educator and lifelong resident of Halifax's north end. "So … I would wonder why in the world would they be saying there is no formal apology."

At its last meeting on April 15, the Halifax board of police commissioners had asked the two forces to prepare a joint statement formally apologizing for the practice. It had also asked the two services to suspend street checks.

Connor Smithers-Mapp says if Halifax Regional Police and RCMP provided an apology for street checks without banning the practice, it wouldn't provide him with much comfort. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

On Monday, Halifax Regional Police and RCMP said they won't apologize for street checks.

"I was quite disturbed, I was quite disappointed in hearing that," Daye said.

The forces said they may issue an apology in the future.

Last month, the province placed a moratorium on random street checks.

Dartmouth resident Vanessa Fells is program co-ordinator for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent coalition. She says after the release of the Wortley report, Halifax Regional Police and RCMP had an opportunity to start to repair the trust between the forces and the black community. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Connor Smithers-Mapp is a board member with Equity Watch, a group that supports employment equity and advocates for better government regulation. He said for him, an apology right now "would be cold comfort."

"And the reason I say that is because an apology while the practice is continuing doesn't seem like something that has as much utility," Smithers-Mapp said.

"And the reluctance of both the RCMP and Halifax police department to provide statistics around interactions between police authorities and members of the black community says to me that in all likelihood the practice is continuing and I'm hearing reports from people in the community who are telling me that it is."

However, Smithers-Mapp said if that apology is accompanied by a ban of the practice and changes in programs, policies and procedures "would go a long way to sending the message to the black community that practice was unfair and should not have occurred in the first place."

'A really big opportunity here'

Vanessa Fells is the program co-ordinator for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent coalition.

"For us, it's disappointment," she said. "It's an indication that … African Nova Scotians are still treated as second-class citizens."

"There was a really big opportunity here after the Wortley Report for … the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP to step up and acknowledge that there is … a large issue of trust or mistrust between the African Nova Scotian community and law enforcement, and this was an opportunity to start to repair that trust."

The coalition's position is that street checks are illegal. It has called for a complete ban on the practice.

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca