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Coun. Shawn Cleary wants a staff report on the municipality’s use of polygraph testing for employment screening.

At the end of council’s meeting on Tuesday, Cleary gave the following notice of motion:

That Halifax Regional Council requests a staff report on developing an evidence-based formal policy for polygraph testing for the purposes of human resource management, especially during the selection process for any or all employees of the municipality. The report should provide a jurisdictional scan and include peer-reviewed academic literature on the efficacy of polygraph testing for employment. The report will include recommendations for use or not of polygraph testing in all departments and business units at the Halifax Regional Municipality, as well as with contracted services.

As pointed out in a Halifax Examiner story by El Jones in September, Halifax Regional Police spend more than $260,000 on polygraph testing annually. Jones wrote:

Polygraph tests, popularly known as lie detectors, are notoriously unreliable. In 1987, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the tests are inadmissible in court. In 2000, however, the court ruled that it is acceptable to use the tests to extract confessions from suspects. In other words, despite being unscientific and unproven, the police are allowed to use the tests to deceive suspects into often false confessions.

During the budget process this year, councillors asked HRP Chief Dan Kinsella to justify the spending.

“Polygraph is a tool, and it’s a tool that’s used primarily investigatively,” Kinsella said. “I’m not an expert on it. I don’t know all the details, but I do know that it is a tool that has value to our investigative ability. I’ll leave it at that. Subject to different opinions on it, or whether it’s good or bad, there are a number of police services across the country that use polygraph investigatively.”

Kinsella also confirmed HRP uses polygraph testing “as an employment screening tool to ensure security clearances for candidates for work.”

And those candidates aren’t just police officers.

Last week, Committee Trawler’s Matt Stickland reported on the case of a man, to whom he assigned the pseudonym Pedro, who applied for work with HRM as a “floating custodian.” As part of the interview process, Pedro was subjected to a polygraph test. Stickland reported:

During the interview, Pedro was open and honest with the interviewer because he felt it was his best chance of getting the job. After the interview, still feeling good about his chances, he was told by his interviewer they’d be in contact if there were any issues. Then he went home and waited.

Instead of getting the job, he was removed from his house and his family on Christmas Eve.

It’s a long and complicated saga, but it started when Pedro told the polygraph interviewer about two minor altercations he’d had at home. And it ended with criminal charges, later dropped, against him and his partner, who are now both struggling to find work and required to attend counselling and parenting courses.

A municipal spokesperson told Stickland, “The pre-employment polygraph is required for all custodial positions that will have access to HRP facilities. This would also include floater custodial positions that may have access to a variety of municipal facilities, including HRP facilities.”

Cleary’s motion will come forward for debate at the next meeting of regional council, scheduled for June 29.

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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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