Halifax armoured vehicle reversal gains recognition as movement to defund police grows
HALIFAX -- This week’s decision from Halifax city councillors to cancel the purchase of a police armoured vehicle is getting plenty of attention across the country, as calls to defund police continue to reverberate.
On Tuesday, Halifax city council reversed a decision to purchase an armoured vehicle, and pledged to reinvest the majority of the money, approximately $300,000 in supporting anti-black racism efforts and initiatives, and $53,500 to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
That reversal is being held up as a victory for those arguing that law enforcement should be defunded across the country.
“What they did, they said they were going to shift that money from an armoured vehicle into partly the public safety division,” says Desmond Cole, an activist and author. “So essentially you’re handing money from one police force that was going to spend it, to a different police force that is going to spend it.”
The true ripple of the Halifax decision is still to be seen, but the discussions of defunding police departments across North America continue to gain momentum.
“Is there enough money to be put toward de-escalation training, dealing with mental issues and concerns, dealing with substance abuse issues?” asks Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Police defend purchase
However, not everyone supports the city’s decision to cancel the order.
“This vehicle on many occasions would have provided more options to resolve dangerous situations peacefully,” said Constable Dean Stienburg, president of the Halifax Regional Police Association.
Stienburg did not respond to a CTV News interview request on Sunday.
Less than a week before the armoured vehicle purchase was cancelled, Halifax Regional Police chief Dan Kinsella told CTV Atlantic that he was aware the image of the vehicle could have an effect on the community, but that the vehicle would be used for rescue and protection purposes.
“We’ve had some tragic events recently in Nova Scotia, and across Canada on a far too regular basis,” explained Kinsella on June 3. “That vehicle is designed for rescue and protection, not only of police officers, but the community, should they be under attack by discharge of firearm.”
Fredericton and Moncton already have police armoured vehicles in their fleets. Saint John was given one late last year as a gift.
“Every day I think and worry about how can we do the very best we can so our members go home,” said Saint John Police Chief Bruce Connell on November 14, 2019. “When this vehicle rolled in on Tuesday night, it sunk into me, I have this here in Saint John.
Council approved purchase last May
In May 2019, Halifax regional council voted in favour of spending up to $500,000 on an armoured vehicle, prompting criticism the city was militarizing the police.
Halifax Regional Police, then under the direction of a different chief, chose to buy an 8,000-pound machine built by Terradyne Armoured Vehicles in Newmarket, Ont., which came equipped with a rotating roof hatch, eight gun ports and a powered battering ram.
On Tuesday, the budget committee motion presented by councillor Shawn Cleary passed by a vote of 16-1 in favour of cancelling the contract.
After Halifax Regional Council made changes to the Halifax Regional Police budget, Mayor Mike Savage said during the debate any changes to police budgets should not construed in any way as being an anti-police vote.
"It is a vote recognizing that we need to step up and there has to be a stronger relationship between populations like the African Nova Scotian populations and the police and the people they elect to represent them," said Savage.
Savage says cancelling the vehicle will not cause any financial penalty.
Call for body-worn cameras continue to grow
An online petition asking for police in Halifax to be required to wear body-worn cameras while on duty continues to grow momentum as well. The petition has over 109,000 signatures in less than two weeks, and was presented to Halifax council last week.
"I think people are ready for a change and they're starting to pay attention," said Erin Johnson, who started the petition.
The 2019 Wortley Report into Halifax Regional Police's street-check policy recommended that body-worn cameras be purchased for police.
In 2017, former Halifax police chief Jean-Michel Blais recommended against a costly five-year body camera pilot program.
Last week, new Halifax police chief Dan Kinsella said he would reconsider that decision.
"We are currently looking at it," Kinsella said. "We've reviewed the previous report and there are some things that have changed since then, around the technology, around the data storage and those things, so we are committed. It is a tool that can have great use, we just have to make sure we consider it and we also have to look at the resources required to carry that out."
Johnson says the petition is a real-time document showing a desire by the public for change to be brought to the police force.
She's calling on other levels of government to support the implementation of body cameras.
Body cameras for police were not part of Tuesday's regional council budget debate.
That issue and the funding that goes with it will be discussed at a future council session.