A black stenciled "defund the police" image on a Halifax sidewalk
A stenciled “defund the police” seen painted on a Halifax sidewalk in April 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Four months after El Jones’ Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police tabled its report with the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners, the board has yet to move on the recommendations.

Jones presented the report, Defunding the Police: Defining the Way Forward for HRM, to the board in January, as the Halifax Examiner reported:

“We have disinvested and defunded social services and then turned to the police to fill in the gaps, which is also not fair to the police, and not reasonable or rational or efficient, or the best way of doing things,” Jones said.

“So in order to shift away from policing, we also need to shift the way we resource other organizations and the way, more importantly, that we think about why we rely on police when we can rely on other strategies … defunding police is in many ways about reinvesting in fundamental and historically underfunded community resources.”

Coun. Lisa Blackburn said the report was “everything I wanted it to be, and then some.” Blackburn said she’ll bring a motion to the next meeting to strike a new subcommittee of the board to examine each of the recommendations in detail and come up with a work plan.

Jones was supportive of Blackburn’s proposal.

“Certainly I would not suggest that people adopt recommendations without thinking closely about them. Some of them you may decide you don’t want to adopt; some of them you may adopt,” she said.

But Jones also noted some of them could be implemented quickly. For instance, the report’s recommendations not to adopt body-worn cameras and to require Halifax Regional Police to make their policies public could be implemented immediately.

Smith said the board would likely schedule a full meeting to discuss the report recommendations. The board passed a motion on Monday to accept the report and thank the subcommittee for its work.

At the end of February, Blackburn moved to form a subcommittee of three members of the board to work toward implementing 36 recommendations. Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board, said at the time he’d work to get the terms of reference for that subcommittee done in time for the board’s March meeting.

On Monday, the board held its May meeting, and the terms of reference are now coming, per Blackburn, to the board’s June meeting.

The plan has also changed to create a working group before the subcommittee. That means a working group will review the recommendations, and then form a subcommittee to further review the recommendations, which came from another subcommittee. Then, maybe, the board and council will implement some of the recommendations.

“Basically the mandate for that initial working group would be to review the recommendations of the define defunding police report, classify those recommendations into separate buckets, depending on which level of government or order of government is responsible for their completion,” Blackburn said.

That is actually done clearly in the report. Each recommendation starts with the body responsible for its implementation. For instance, “The Police Board should conduct a comprehensive review of all use of force techniques currently employed by the HRP and RCMP with an eye toward establishing policies intended to minimize all types of use of force incidents.” Another example: “Regional Council should direct that its ‘Alternatives to Policing’ review include an analysis of opportunities to civilianize the enforcement of motor vehicle offences and traffic-related bylaws, as well as the response to collisions where appropriate, within the municipality.”

That’s the working group’s first job, Blackburn said, but not its only one.

“They will also determine a path forward for a subcommittee to work on implementing the report recommendations. And they would also submit a report to this body with recommendations regarding the classification of responsibility,” Blackburn said.

The working group will meet informally, Blackburn said, not in public. She estimated it will require three or four sittings to complete the work.

“Ideally, what we’re hoping for is a terms of reference for this working group to be ready by the June 20 meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners, and then we’ll vote on a motion to create that working group and adopt its terms of reference,” Blackburn said.

Once the working group is done, the subcommittee will get underway.

“We’re thinking the membership would be a mix of commissioners — not necessarily those involved with the initial working group but could be — and also I’d like to see some community members brought into this level of of the work that needs to be done,” Blackburn said.

“The scope of activities for this subcommittee would be done more formal, it would be formal meetings held in public.”

A new staff person who will work for the board, as approved in council’s 2022-2023 budget, will oversee the subcommittee, Blackburn said.

Commissioner Yemi Akindoju and Coun. Becky Kent expressed interest in being part of the working group, but their membership, along with Blackburn’s, will be confirmed at the next meeting.

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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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  1. All the meetings should be open to the public, in the same manner as other HRM advisory committees and the public should be allowed to make presentations in the same format as provincial Law Amendments Committee. An open and transparent process is essential.
    Closed doors meetings should not be an option.

    1. Strongly agree that all meetings should be open to the public. Don’t understand the purpose of having both a working group and a subcommittee. It just seems that alot of bureacracy is being created which will just delay and water down implementation of anything. My cynical nature makes me think that our police chief is smiling.