Black people in Halifax 6 times more likely to be street checked than whites
Number from new report is almost double CBC News estimate in 2017 that triggered review
A new report released Wednesday on racial profiling by Halifax-area police found black people were street checked at a rate six times higher than white people in Halifax.
The independent report found that in Halifax, the odds of being stopped for a street check were highest for black men, followed by Arab males and black females.
The number is about double the CBC News estimate that triggered this review. The new report comes more than two years after data showed black people were three times more likely than whites to be subjected to the controversial practice in the municipality.
The report by Scot Wortley, a University of Toronto criminology professor, also found that police in the Halifax region do more street checks than police in Montreal, Vancouver or Ottawa. There were comparable rates in Edmonton and Calgary.
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.
The 180-page report also found the practice of street checks has a disproportionate and negative impact on the African Nova Scotia community, contributing to the criminalization of black youth.
Wortley reported that black community members interviewed for the study said they are afraid of police, they feel targeted by police, and they are treated rudely and aggressively. They also said police treatment of black people has not improved significantly in the past 20 years.
Blacks more likely to be charged
Wortley was hired by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 2017 after a report from Halifax RCMP in January of that year found that in the first 10 months of 2016, 41 per cent of 1,246 street checks involved black Nova Scotians.
Halifax Regional Police figures showed that of the roughly 37,000 people checked between 2005 and 2016, almost 4,100 were black — about 11 per cent of checks — despite making up only 3.59 per cent of the city's population, according to the 2011 census.
In what Wortley described as a "difficult statistic," the report showed that 30 per cent of Halifax's black male population had been charged with a crime, as opposed with 6.8 per cent of the white male population, over that period.
Wortley said this likely means black people are more likely to be charged for the same behaviour than white people. The charge rate for black males with cannabis offences was four times higher than for white males, even though there's no evidence that black people use more cannabis than white people.
This chart shows how much more likely black Haligonians are to be street-checked by police. <a href="https://t.co/ChKvRoHFKb">pic.twitter.com/ChKvRoHFKb</a>—@Brett_CBC
He said police street checks have contributed to an erosion of trust in law enforcement and undermined the perceived legitimacy of the entire criminal justice system.
Wortley presented several recommendations including that street checks must be banned or at least regulated.
He said it's clear that street checks have a disproportionate effect on the black Nova Scotia community and consequences of current street check use "clearly outweigh and crime prevention benefits."
Nova Scotia Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard said she supports stopping the practice of street checks.
"The rest of Canada will be watching what happens here," she told an audience gathered at the Halifax Central Library, where the report was unveiled.
Lindell Smith, the first black city councillor elected in Halifax in 16 years, said in a statement on his website that he hopes this is an opportunity to "repair the broken relationship with the black community and our police force."
"As a member of the African Nova Scotian community, I certainly do not need Dr. Wortley's report to tell me that for decades the community has felt that there is anti-black bias, and racial profiling when policing black communities. I hope that with the release of this report that we as the black community don't see this as a 'I told you so' moment," he said.
Smith said he's been stopped many times by police, both while driving and walking in the Halifax area. He said in those instances he had the feeling of "humiliation and being racially profiled."
Across Canada, the report found the average annual street check rate was highest in Toronto, with Halifax in second place. Despite an overall reduction in street checks in Halifax in recent years, Wortley says the over-representation of minorities has remained constant.
Ontario banned police carding in specific situations in 2017 — a controversial practice that is similar to street checks.
However, Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais has argued in the past that the valid street checks performed by police officers in Halifax differ from the random stops or carding practices that are now restricted in Ontario.
With files from Cassie Williams, Jack Julian, The Canadian Press