Nova Scotia

Black police officer calls for immediate moratorium on street checks

Halifax regional police chief says he won't consider a moratorium on street checks until he hears from human rights commission's independent analyst.

Halifax regional police chief says he won't act until he hears from human rights commission analyst

Sgt. Robyn Atwell says she's disappointed the mayor and police chief won't impose a moratorium on street checks. (Robyn Atwell)

A black police officer in Halifax is calling for a moratorium on street checks, saying they unfairly target black people.

But the police chief says he isn't ready to do that.

This practice is wrong. It's not effective. End it.- Sgt. Robyn Atwell

Halifax Regional Police Sgt. Robyn Atwell said if police officers were using street checks — a policy that allows police to record interactions in the community —  to target white people, there would have been a moratorium on them long ago.

Instead, black Nova Scotians continue to be "subjected, unfairly, to this treatment," she said.

Street checks, also known as carding, 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.

A CBC News investigation in 2017 found black people were three times more likely to be street checked in Halifax than white people.

Last fall, Nova Scotia's Human Rights Commission hired criminologist Scot Wortley to address allegations of racial profiling in the context of street checks. At the time, he cautioned the results of his review would not come quickly. 

Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais says he will wait for the human rights commission's report before considering a moratorium. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Until the review is done, a full moratorium on street checks is needed, said Atwell, who is currently on leave from her job as a patrol sergeant with the Halifax Regional Police for personal reasons. She is expected to return to work in a few months.

In November, she wrote a letter stating her case and sent it to seven politicians and the police chief.

In that letter, Atwell said there is little evidence to show that street checks are effective. Instead, she said, they serve as a form of punishment "for the charge of being Black."

In a written statement, Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais said the force takes the human rights commission's review "very seriously" and will continue to co-operate fully with that investigation. He said he won't consider a moratorium on street checks until the independent analyst makes his recommendations.

In the summer of 2017, Blais announced all officers would receive training on fair and impartial policing in order to improve street check practices. He also committed to changing how long street check records are kept on file.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says it's not his job to tell the police what to do. (CBC)

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage told the CBC's Information Morning, "I have no doubt that there are occasions where people feel that they're being dealt with unfairly and we take it seriously."

However, he said he had no plans to impose a moratorium on street checks.

"It's not for me as mayor to tell the police how to do their job," Savage said.

Atwell said she is disappointed with that response. "This practice is wrong. It's not effective. End it."

In 2008, Atwell filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission alleging she was discriminated against during her career with the police force, based on her race and gender.


Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email:

With files from the CBC's Information Morning.