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

A majority of council candidates who responded to a survey from a local advocacy group are in favour of some broad reforms of policing in Halifax, and the results indicate widespread dissatisfaction with the municipality’s unique relationship with the RCMP.

The Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group sent an online survey to all candidates in this month’s election in early September. The survey asked candidates 13 questions, including context around each question and opportunities for open-ended responses.

Of the 82 council candidates, 61 started the survey, and 49 completed it. None of the mayoral candidates responded at all. The only district with no respondents was District 2 — Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore.

“Candidates in Halifax are taking this issue seriously,” Tari Ajadi, a member of the working group and a doctoral candidate at Dalhousie University studying racism, Black social movements, and public policy, said in an interview.

“They’re thinking through these issues. Whether or not they agree with the Policing Policy Working Group … that’s actually immaterial compared to the fact that they’re willing to try to think through a meaningful response to these core issues. To that extent, I was fairly pleased with the turnout.”

Of those who actually filled out the survey, 100% support “holding the HRP and the RCMP accountable to implement the recommendations of the Wortley Report and the [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls] Final Report.”

“I don’t think that that’s empty,” Ajadi said. “I think that it matters because the candidates are saying that it matters in such overwhelming quantities.”

Asked whether they supported a more detailed line-by-line breakdown of the police budget being presented to council, 96% were in favour.

Presented with information that police budgeted $258,900 for polygraph tests in 2019-2020 and $264,700 for the mounted unit, exceeding $232,800 for the Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team, 72% strongly agreed that money would be better spent elsewhere.

The survey results show strong support for moving victims’ services, crossing guards and other items out of the police budget, with 96% of candidates agreeing those items should be budgeted under the city’s public safety office.

Following a presentation to the board of police commissioners by Women’s Wellness Within chair Martha Paynter, the working group asked candidates whether they supported adding a gender lens to arrest. That would mean, for example, not arresting women with their children present, like Santina Rao.

Of the candidates who responded to that question, 96% said yes.

Candidates were also asked about the municipality’s arrangement with the RCMP. Unlike any other city in Canada, Halifax splits its policing duties between a municipal force for urban areas, Halifax Regional Police, and the federal force for suburban and rural areas, the RCMP.

Asked whether they believe the arrangement is effective, 79% of the candidates who responded said no.

“They have different solutions of how to amend that,” Ajadi said, “but fundamentally, the fact that so many people believe this is an issue, that matters.

The same percentage of candidates, 79%, expressed support for allowing prisoners to vote in municipal elections. Nova Scotia’s Municipal Elections Act disenfranchises prisoners, even though they’re allowed to vote in federal and provincial elections after the federal courts ruled it was unconstitutional to bar them from casting ballots.

Candidates were also asked whether they’re in favour of the board of police commissioners’ original plan for a committee to define defunding the police (the survey was sent before the board voted for a new plan, appointing Examiner contributor and member of the working group, El Jones, to lead the committee).

Seventy per cent of candidates agreed or strongly agreed with the motion appointing a committee to define defunding.

Asked whether they agreed with the working group’s definition, 51% agreed, 34% neither agreed nor disagreed, 15% disagreed, and 0% strongly disagreed.

Ajadi pointed out the conflict between overwhelming support for pulling things like victim services and crossing guards from the police budget, and lesser support for the concept of defunding the police.

“As with most things, once we start to develop a form of sloganeering, we stop looking at the actual content of the arguments being levied,” Ajadi said. “And the content of the arguments being levied, is that when you subsume all of these other services under policing, what you do is you restrict the capacity of those services to be effective and you allow the police an undue level of force and influence over the way our municipality is governed.”

“There’s a lot of support for that perspective, but then when you frame it as defunding the police, what you start to get is a little more skepticism.”

Below are the full answers from every candidate that filled out the survey (also found here in Google Sheets). Scroll to the side to see all the answers, and type a candidate’s name into the search bar to isolate their responses. If you don’t see a particular candidate’s name, they either didn’t respond to the survey at all, or started filling in their name and district then didn’t finish the survey.

Advanced polls opened online and by telephone on Tuesday. For more information, go to halifax.ca/city-hall/elections.

You can read the candidates’ answers to the Halifax Examiner’s questionnaire here.

Not sure which district you’re in? Type your address into the map below to find out.


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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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