Group calls for SIRT investigation into street checks by Halifax police
A group of African-Nova Scotian lawyers and social workers are calling for Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team to investigate the Halifax Regional Police for its use of street checks.
Social workers Robert Wright and Lana MacLean, along with lawyer Shawna Hoyt, say they represent a group of African-Nova Scotians interested in social justice. They say they weren’t surprised when Halifax Regional Police released statistics indicating black people are three times more likely to be stopped by police in so-called street checks.
“I’m a black man and just because I’ve been involved in social work and government doesn’t make me immune. I’ve been pulled over on a fairly regular basis,” says social worker Robert Wright.
Recently-released statistics show black people are disproportionately affected by the practice. Data collected from 2005-2016 shows close to 20 per cent of people being street checked are visible minorities. Over that 11-year span, nearly 37,000 individuals were street checked - some on multiple occasions. Of those, 4,100 people - or 11.08 per cent - were identified as black, in a community with a black population of about four per cent.
“We have always questioned its legality, its appropriateness, its usefulness,” says Wright.
A letter asking for an investigation of Halifax Regional Police has been sent to just about everyone with a leadership role in the administration of justice in Nova Scotia, including the province’s Serious Incident Response Team, whose mandate is to investigate all serious incidents arising from the actions of police.
SIRT’s director admits this is new territory - not within his team’s usual mandate as it’s not an investigation - but he thinks they could have valuable input.
“The letter raises an important issue and at this point I’ve been in contact with the office of the Police Complaints Commission and the director of the Human Rights Commission and we’re hoping by the end of the week to have met and start the process of developing a way to properly respond,” says Ron MacDonald, director of SIRT.
The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent visited Halifax as part of a Canadian “face-finding mission” in October 2016. In a preliminary report, the UN states there is clear evidence that racial profiling is endemic in the practices used by Canadian law enforcement and that street checks disproportionately affect people of African descent.
“I’d like to see the methodology that they’ve arrived at that conclusion with,” says Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais.
Chief Blais maintains he has no intention of stopping street checks.
“The question is, what is the net benefit that’s going to be there? I can tell you that the net drawback for us is that there’s going to be a lack of intelligence and information,” Blais explained.
He wants people to know street checks can just mean a visual check, without interfering with anyone.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kayla Hounsell.