The NDP candidate for Preston in the upcoming election, Colter Simmonds, met with party leader Gary Burrill and community activist Quentrel Provo in a Cherrybrook playground Saturday to publicly discuss police street checks.
They were joined by Suzy Hansen, the NDP candidate for Halifax–Needham; Angela Downey, the candidate for Hammonds Plains–Lucasville; and Matthew Green, a federal member of parliament for Hamilton Centre in Ontario.
Street checks were banned in Nova Scotia in 2019 following a report by Ontario criminologist Scot Wortley that concluded that while they were authorized under the Nova Scotia Police Act, they put people’s privacy rights at risk. Wortley’s report was in response to a CBC investigation that found that Black people and other people of colour are more likely to be stopped or observed and have their information recorded as data both by Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP.
Simmonds, Burrill, and Provo spoke of what they feel to be a “loophole” in the ban with respect to suspicious activity, and say that street checks are, in fact, still happening.
Simmonds and Provo both spoke about several instances where they say they were racially profiled by police both before and after the ban.
Simmonds said there was an incident when, driving with family members as passengers, he left Shoppers Drug Mart and suspected a police car was following him. He says he pulled into a McDonald’s to see if the police would follow him, and they did. He said they then continued to follow him after he went through the drive-thru, and then pulled him over.
“They really didn’t have a reason to be pulling us over, just that we, you know, ‘fit the description,’ as we always hear,” said Simmonds. “At the end of it nothing really happened but just the whole disappointment of having family members in the vehicle with me and being pulled over … for no real reason at all.”
Relating a second incident, Simmonds said he was admittedly “irritated” when police pulled him over; he was asked to produced his licence and registration and then made to exit the vehicle to remove a non-tinted car dealership licence plate covering.
“What about the people and the persons that are so frustrated with stuff like that, that they’re not able to contain theirselves and it becomes a situation where [the police] have a right to take you out the car and basically harass you?,” said Simmonds.
Provo said he raises that very issue to police when speaking on panel discussions. He said that, ironically, one of the four-to-five occasions where he’s been pulled over by police since purchasing a new Mercedes Benz was while he was on his way to pick up payment for speaking on one of those police panels.
Simmonds then described a third instance, when he was dropping his son off at school. Simmonds described how a white Halifax police officer pulled him over and accused him of not stopping at a stop sign. Simmonds said he told the police officer: “I looked and saw where you were, and made sure to come to a complete stop, because I don’t usually come to a complete stop, but because I saw you, I came to a complete stop.”
Provo also talked about an incident in his teens when he was pulled over by RCMP on Lake Major Rd. in North Preston and handcuffed while his vehicle was searched. He said he was crying and felt embarrassed.
Provo is on a basketball team. Over the past couple of years, he said the six Black players have been pulled over about 30 times whereas the roughly 10 white players, they were only stopped twice. Once, when one of the white players was a passenger in one of the Black players’ car when pulled over, the police officer asked the white player “was he OK?”
“Its interesting that you’re actually having conversations about that,” said Simmonds, “and the general public are getting to see the discrepancies and the unfair treatment that definitely has to change. Like enough is enough.”
Before taking questions, Burrill said that “An NDP government will fully ban, completely ban, street checks in all of Nova Scotia.”
The group was asked about police officers who continue to street check despite the ban, where and how they feel the McNeil and Rankin governments may have fallen short since the ban, and specifics about what an NDP government would do differently.
In response, Burrill pointed to the Wortley report, which he said “makes recommendations on these very subjects which have not been implemented. So there are recommendations there about providing appropriate supports for officers who call out other officers in case of (…) unprofessional activities. There are recommendations there about providing a lifting-up of officers who are doing an exceptional job when working with diverse communities. This hasn’t been acted on.”
He continued: “So it’s important as part of our commitment as the NDP that the recommendations of the Wortley report shall be enacted (…) in their full across-the-board scope, and a mechanism set up to reporting to the legislature on the progress that’s being made on that front.”
Asked about removing the “suspicious activity” loophole while having to consider actual instances of suspicious activity, Simmonds acknowledged there is a balance to be had. Still, he emphasized that “They gotta take a look at the statistics and understand that, you know, you wanna be safe, but so do we wanna be safe. When my 21-year-old son is leaving the house to go out with his friends, I shouldn’t have to have a conversation with him about how to conduct yourself with police officers because of the colour of your skin.”
RCMP stop of Angela and Dean Simmonds
Last week, Preston’s Liberal candidate Angela Simmonds and her husband, Halifax Regional PoliceSuperintendent Dean Simmonds, who are both Black, accused Cole Harbour RCMP of racial profiling, after the couple was pulled over at gunpoint following a reported shooting in North Preston.
The Halifax Regional Police has issued an apology over its history of street checks; the RCMP has not.
Asked if the provincial contract with the RCMP should be ended and their duties turned over to Halifax Regional Police instead, Burrill replied: “Our position is that the recommendations of the Wortley Report should apply not just to the HRP, but also the RCMP.”
The MP for Hamilton Centre, Matthew Green, said that street checks are a constitutional issue “that are absolutely about racial profiling, statistically.”
Green brought up an instance where he says he was racially profiled by police in Hamilton where he was city councillor at the time, and when Dan Kinsella was Hamilton’s Deputy Chief of Police; Kinsella is now the Chief of the Halifax Regional Police.
Green has an active human rights complaint against the Hamilton police. “I know this issue very well,” he said.
Asked directly about Kinsella, Green responded, “I think he was right in the (street check) apology, but without action it’s empty and meaningless. And we’ve heard that time and time again,” he said while pointing to Colter Simmonds and Quentrel Provo.
After speaking with reporters, Simmonds and Burrill attended the North Preston Day parade in North Preston, and were joined by Liberal candidate Angela Simmonds and PC candidate Archy Beals. Colter Simmonds said he knows Angela Simmonds and her husband Dean Simmonds, and the three “are like family.”