Twenty Haligonians had a unanimous message for councillors: no more cash for cops.
Halifax regional council’s budget committee met on Wednesday to debate the 2022-2023 Halifax Regional Police and RCMP budgets.
As the Halifax Examiner reported earlier this month, the Board of Police Commissioners voted to recommend council approve HRP Chief Dan Kinsella’s full budget request for an increase of $2 million, or 2.3%. That vote, passing with a narrow 4-3 margin, came after 24 people spoke out against the budget increase.
At Wednesday’s meeting, councillors heard from 20 people. All of them were opposed to a budget increase for HRP.
“The last thing police need is more funding,” sociologist Hailie Tattrie told the committee.
Numerous speakers cited the conduct of police on August 18, 2021, when they arrested and pepper sprayed protesters outside the Halifax Memorial Library as city staff evicted unhoused people from makeshift shelters. They cited the Wortley report that found Black people were six times more likely than white people to be street checked in Halifax. They cited the many instances of police violence against Black people in the city, like Demario Chambers and Santina Rao.
The speakers argued the municipality should heed the recommendations from El Jones’ Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police. That subcommittee’s report, tabled in January, recommended better oversight, “detasking” the police from some of their duties, and increasing spending on social programs including affordable housing.
After the public speakers made their case, the committee heard Kinsella’s. The chief argued there were “unique complexities” to policing in Halifax, and that the force needs more resources to keep up with the growing population.
Kinsella is looking to hire 26 new sworn officers and 10 civilians. The sworn officers include 12 patrol constables; eight traffic constables; one traffic sergeant; two sexual assault detective constables; two hate crimes detective constables; and one “member reintegration” constable, who would work to get other officers back to work.
Those other officers are off work due to mental illness stemming from trauma and a cycle of burnout.
“The current model is not sustainable,” Kinsella told councillors.
“We are experiencing extreme shortages in the area of staffing. There are currently many employees off. The ripple effects include financial costs, burnout by other employees, decreased ability to cope with stressors, decreased morale and engagement, and ultimately results in more people being absent from the workplace.”
Kinsella offered to give councillors more detail in camera — that is, out of public view. The police board got the same in-camera presentation at its meeting, lasting about an hour, and then voted in favour of Kinsella’s request.
“I would like to have the other councillors hear what we had so they can have the full context of the decisions that were made at and being considered for approving the budget at the time as a board member,” Coun. Becky Kent said.
Coun. Sam Austin wondered aloud whether the committee really needed to go in camera to hear what the chief had to say.
“If we’re talking about individual employees, well I mean that’s definitely an in camera sort of discussion,” Austin said.
“How do we pinpoint when it is appropriate here to be going in camera versus going in camera to discuss things that are more general in staffing that really should be in public?”
Municipal solicitor John Traves told Austin there are lots of justifications for meeting in camera. Under the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter, they include personnel matters, labour relations, contract negotiations, litigation or potential litigation, legal advice eligible for solicitor-client privilege, public security, and more.
“In terms of voting to go in camera councillors should be satisfied that, based on the information you’re provided, that it’s a matter which is covered in terms of going in camera,” Traves said.
Traves said any councillor could make a point of order during the in camera session to bring the matter back in public.
Councillors voted unanimously to go in camera, which is not typical for the budget committee, and spent about an hour and 20 minutes meeting without public scrutiny before adjourning for the day. Coun. Paul Russell, chair of the budget committee, said they were about half done. The meeting will continue on Friday.
While they have no control over it, councillors also heard a presentation on the RCMP’s budget. That figure is rising by about $2.9 million, or 9.8%, in 2022-2023 to $32.3 million. That increase is attributed entirely to RCMP employees’ contract negotiated by their new union.
Municipal finance staff have also budgeted $6.7 million for the estimated retroactive pay increase associated with the contract. As the Examiner reported last month, HRP officers are also owed retroactive pay in the amount of $5.3 million after their new contract awarded raises dating back to April 2020. Both amounts are coming from the current year budget, 2021-2022.
If the HRP and RCMP budgets are approved as presented on Wednesday, overall policing costs in HRM will rise 4% to $123.1 million.