The Halifax Regional Police office in Dartmouth in July 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford

In response to a freedom of information request, Halifax is refusing to release a review of policing in the municipality tabled at regional council earlier this year.

In January, council voted to accept some of the recommendations in a report by B.C. consulting firm perivale + taylor. Halifax paid nearly $200,000 for the review, designed to provide the city with recommendations to address gaps in service and save money.

As the Halifax Examiner reported back then:

Most of the recommendations were released publicly in the staff report to council, but the report itself is noted under the in camera section of the agenda, marked “Public Security Matter,” and not available to the public.

When Coun. Waye Mason asked why the report is in camera, chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told council he could release a “heavily redacted” version, but not the whole thing.

“That report is actually full of sensitive information,” Dubé said.

“It deals with how police deploy, allocate resources, estimate response times and how they deploy resources operationally. There’s also privacy concerns related to stats noted in the (criminal investigations division) section that could potentially identify those accused but not charged, as well as potentially compromise the identity of suicide victims and their families.”

There’s also a section on court delays which Dubé said could compromise investigations that are still ongoing, and one on information technology security that could expose police to security threats and jeopardize ongoing audits.

“And finally, releasing the report without full context or explanation because of the above risks could lead to confusion and misunderstanding among the public,” he said.

Privacy lawyer David Fraser disagrees that the report should be redacted at all.

“That’s not at all sensitive,” he wrote on Twitter.

“That’s an administrative and public policy review of the provision of basic public services. There’s no reason, on its face and according to the description in that document, to redact any of it.”

“Frankly, if someone thinks that an external consultant’s report about how well we are served by the HRP and RCMP is too ‘sensitive’ for public scrutiny, we have much bigger problems. The citizens of HRP have a right to know and to question whether the current arrangement works.”

Dubé told the Examiner on Tuesday that he would prepare a redacted version of the report and release it to media, but he said that process would take weeks.

That never happened, and in June, the Examiner filed a freedom of information request with Halifax Regional Police, asking for a copy. A month later, police told us the municipality has the document, not them.

In late-July, the municipality’s freedom of information office received our request: “A copy of the Police Service Review by Perivale & Taylor, tabled at Halifax Regional Council on Jan. 14, 2020.”

On Monday, more than two weeks after the 30-day deadline in which the municipality has to respond, the request was denied in a letter from municipal access and privacy officer Nancy Dempsey.

Dempsey cited Section 473(1) of the Municipal Government Act in denying the request:

The responsible officer may refuse to disclose to an applicant information that would disclose the minutes or substance of the deliberations of a meeting of the council, village commission or service commissioners or of the members of the municipal body held in private, as authorized by law.

The decision to withhold the review calls into question whether a recent request from Coun. Waye Mason in response to pressure to defund the police will be shrouded in the same secrecy.

In August, council unanimously passed Mason’s motion seeking 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.”

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Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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