Coun. Waye Mason’s motion aimed at reimagining what police do in Halifax passed unanimously at regional council on Tuesday.
Mason’s motion asked for a “broad review of policing and public safety, which shall examine the potential for shifting or creating programs for civilian delivery of non-core police functions.” He wants that review to look at traffic enforcement, public safety, mental health and more, and include a public engagement plan.
“This review supports Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities by looking to rebalance service delivery and explore alternatives to policing, with the goal to enhance community resilience through enhancement and development of alternative, complimentary civilian services,” Mason wrote in the reasoning portion of his motion.
On Tuesday, Mason said he’s heard from residents in support of the motion and others who say it’s disrespectful to the police and he should be ashamed of himself. But he said the motion is not attacking the police and a dozen former police leaders have told him his motion is on point.
“We’ve all heard the last four chiefs of police, of HRP, speak about how they have become a dumping ground for programs and social problems, without resources and without training, that divert police from their core mission,” he said.
Mason said he’s not looking for quick, rash decisions. He wants to build on past reports, like Scot Wortley’s on street checks, and take a “reasoned and measured approach” to responding to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The Wortley report shows that residents experience interactions with the police differently based on the colour of their skin. We can no longer deny that there is systemic racism in policing in Halifax. That is a fact,” he said.
Mason’s motion comes a day after the board of police commissioners voted to strike a committee to define the concept of defunding the police.
While some councillors worried the two processes could clash, or that council was stepping on the board’s toes, chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé said Mason’s motion was “squarely” in council’s jurisdiction as the body that annually approves the final police budget. Dubé’s office will lead the review.
There were also concerns that the RCMP couldn’t be swayed by the recommendations in a report.
“The RCMP is not accountable, whatsoever, and do not kid yourselves … They’re not accountable to the police commission at all,” said Coun. Stephen Adams.
“If they are given some advice by the commission they can take it or not take it. They’ll do what they feel they should do or what Ottawa tells them they should do.”
Coun. Steve Streatch called the hybrid HRP-RCMP model the “elephant in the room,” and asked whether the review would consider whether Halifax — the only jurisdiction in Canada with such an arrangement — is best served by that model.
The board does advise the RCMP, and city solicitor John Traves said he thinks they’re willing to participate in the review.
Coun. Tim Outhit expressed his support for community resource officers and school resource officers, and said those roles need to be filled. He said the provincial government will have to be involved.
“We are not financially in a position to take over health care or health wellness or mental health or housing, and we’ve got to realize that,” said Outhit.
Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn agreed the province has to be part of the review, “otherwise we are doomed to failure.”
It’s unclear how long the review will take or when it will begin.
The city just received a review, with a smaller scope, in January. That report, which cost $200,000, has been kept secret.
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