Nova Scotia

Prominent African-Nova Scotians question legality of police street checks

A group of prominent African-Nova Scotians is calling for the end of street checks, and one member argues the practice is eroding trust with police in black communities.

Halifax Regional Police stats revealed black people are three times more likely to be street checked

Statistics from the Halifax Regional Police revealed 41 per cent of the street checks done by the force around Halifax in the first 10 months of 2016 involved subjects who officers identified as black.

A group of prominent African-Nova Scotians is calling for an end to police street checks, questioning the legality of a practice they say is driving a wedge between black communities and law enforcement.

The group, which includes social workers and lawyers, has written a letter the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), the province's police watchdog.

The letter was also sent to the premier, the province's justice minister and police complaints commissioner, among others.

The group wants SIRT and the human rights commission to investigate the practice and ask for police to immediately halt street checks, which they say violates citizens' individual rights under the Constitution. 

Police collected street check data  

Statistics collected by the Halifax Regional Police going back 11 years reveal police are three times more likely to stop and check people who are black than white individuals.

In the first 10 months of 2016, 41 per cent of street checks done by the RCMP around Halifax involved people identified by officers as black.

Social worker Robert Wright was one of the people who wrote the letter, along with Dalhousie law professor Michelle Williams, lawyer Shawna Hoyte and Rev. Lennett J. Anderson of the African United Baptist Association. 

Wright said African-Nova Scotians are disproportionately targeted for surveillance by the police, and that erodes trust. 

Robert Wright, a social worker, has experienced street checking first-hand. (Submitted by Robert Wright)

"I wonder if this kind of treatment that the black community receives is actually impeding police's ability to have positive working relationships with members of the black community [which] might be a more powerful tool in helping to solve crimes than street checking," Wright told CBC's Maritime Noon.

Street checks not an 'innocuous encounter'

Wright said he has experienced street checking first-hand.

"It's kind of an experience of an African-Nova Scotia male to be stopped by police, so yes, in the past I've been pulled over — doing absolutely nothing illegal or nothing criminal," he said.

Wright said when a black person is street checked, it is not an "innocuous encounter between police and citizens."

"It is a reminder to a black citizen that their full citizenship is not yet accepted in this society."

Statistics need to be understood

Steve Craig is the chair of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners. He told CBC's Information Morning that he believes it's too soon to call for an immediate end to street checks.

"I think it has to be looked at, but immediate is quite a reaction," he said. 

Craig pointed out that 30,100 white people in Halifax were street checked in the past 11 years compared to just 4,100 black people, but acknowledged the black community is a much smaller demographic group.

He said the statistics need to be better understood before taking action. 

"This is a communications, information and understanding issue," he said. 

"It sometimes takes a lot of effort for people to understand."

With files from Maritime Noon, Information Morning