A man wearing a black suit, striped shirt, pink and black striped tie and glasses speaks into a microphone at a podium. In the background are three Nova Scotia flags, coloured blue, yellow and red.
Justice Minister Brad Johns speaks to reporters in Halifax on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

A new directive from the provincial PC government has closed what some called a loophole in the ban on street checks in Nova Scotia, replacing the term “suspicious activity” with “reasonable suspicion.”

“The new directive removes the term ‘suspicious activity’ and replaces it with ‘reasonable suspicion’ in cases where a crime is about to occur or has occurred. Reasonable suspicion is the legal standard to be used by police to detain individuals suspected of unlawful activity,” a government news release reads.

In that same news release, Justice Minister Brad Johns said the department took the “additional steps to better protect racialized communities.”

“Today’s change makes it clear that police must use the criminal law standard of reasonable suspicion before detaining a person or collecting identifying information without their consent,” Johns said.

The practice of street checks was first suspended by former Justice Minister Mark Furey following a CBC report that triggered an independent study that found Black were six times more likely to be street checked by police in Halifax.

However, a directive issued by Furey said that police could still perform street checks if they deemed there to be “suspicious activity,” though it didn’t provide any specific definition as to what counts as “suspicious activity.”

Mark Furey. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Under pressure from the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition (ANSDPAD), the province issued a further study that determined that the practice of street checks was altogether illegal. Street checks were officially banned by the McNeil government in October 2019.

Still, Furey’s “suspicious activity” loophole remained in place, leaving it up to an individual officer’s personal discretion as to whether or not someone deserved to be street checked.

In his official mandate this past September, Premier Tim Houston told Johns to “Support the implementation of the Wortley Report and ensure that street checks end.”

In an interview, last month, ANSDPAD director, Vanessa Fells, said that there significant difference between “suspicious activity” and “reasonable suspicion.”

“One is based in law, and one isn’t,” she said.

Vanessa Fells, ANSDPAD Coalition Director smiles at the camera while working from her laptop at her office.
Vanessa Fells, ANSDPAD Coalition director. Photo: Matthew Byard.

At the time, Fells said that the government had been working with ANSDPAD to close the loophole and that she expected it would happen very soon.

To view the new ministerial directive, click: here.

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Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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