A Halifax Regional Police officer in their cruiser on a sunny day in June 2021. It's parked in a parking lot, and the capital letters of "POLICE" are stark agains the gleaming white paint job. You can barely see the officer through the tinted windows, but it looks like they're checking their phone. Maybe they're eating unch.
A Halifax Regional Police officer in their cruiser in June 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

During a messy meeting Wednesday night, the city’s Board of Police Commissioners recommended in favour of a 0.4% increase to the Halifax Regional Police budget.

The budget process has been going on since December. Arguing the force was in “dire straits,” Chief Dan Kinsella brought a proposal to increase his budget by more than 2%.

Kinsella proposed hiring two dozen new sworn officers: 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 off on leave back to work. The request also included 10 new civilian employees: eight emergency response (911) communicators, a victim services case coordinator and an administrative support person for Freedom-of-Information requests.

Since then, the board and council have heard from public speakers nearly universally opposed to any increase in the police budget, and the chief has spent hours justifying his requests in camera, without the public watching.

At a meeting of their budget committee last month, councillors rejected Kinsella’s full increase, and directed the board to reconsider a smaller, 0.5% increase put forward by Coun. Tony Mancini.

That increase, $1,393,850 over the budget target handed to Kinsella from the finance department and $413,050 over the previous year, was designed to include 12 new patrol constables, one new “member reintegration” constable, and four of the requested emergency response communicators.

Kinsella brought a revised proposal to the board on Wednesday, seeking a slightly lesser $1,365,000 above the budget target, which is an increase of $384,200 over the 2022-2023 budget. That figure was to include 12 patrol constables, one hate crime unit detective constable, one new “member reintegration” constable, one emergency response communicator supervisor, and three part-time emergency response (911) communicators.

While he would’ve preferred that council approve his full request, Kinsella said he was happy with the compromise.

“What we’re really trying to do is we’re trying to change the course,” Kinsella said. “We’re on a course where people are exhausted, people are overworked.”

Commissioner Harry Critchley questioned how Kinsella came up with the new plan, pointing out that he didn’t add the victim services coordinator back into the mix. Critchley argued Kinsella hasn’t provided the board with enough evidence and data to support his full budget requests, even after multiple in camera sessions.

“I would suggest that making informed decisions, making evidence-based decisions, is actually in keeping with our statutory duties under the Police Act,” Critchley said.

“We need to have sufficient information in order to understand the magnitude of risks.”

Critchley moved to amend the budget recommendation to include eight of the requested 12 patrol constables, one hate crime detective constable, one member reintegration constable, four full-time emergency response coordinators (ERCs) and one victim services coordinator.

Those positions add up to $1,233,833, corresponding to an increase over last year’s budget of $253,033, or about 0.3%.

“I suggest that it’s a very strong middle ground,” Critchley said. “It starts to build some of that backlog as it relates to patrol. It builds the victim services position, which I think is I’ve highlighted as being very important. It fills a number of those ERC positions in a more fulsome way.”

The motion kicked off a debate over the civilian oversight board’s authority to actually provide civilian oversight.

Resistant to that kind of oversight, Kinsella argued the motion was out of order.

“My understanding is that the Board of Police Commissioners can adjust the amount of money. I’m not of the understanding that the board can advise on how resources are selected operationally,” Kinsella said.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella speaks at a meeting of the board in 2019. — Photo: Zane Woodford

That distinction between operations and policy is important. Generally, police boards are meant to set policy while the chief is in charge of day-to-day operations.

But municipal solicitor Marty Ward said Critchley’s motion was within the board’s jurisdiction under the Police Act.

“I do not think that the motion is out of order,” Ward said.

Even after the legal advice, Kinsella disagreed:

This is a very, very, very important, I would say, milestone in policing. I’ve been in this business for almost 36 years. I don’t ever recall, in the business, not even in the three years that I’ve been here almost, where the board has provided operational direction on the deployment of police staff. It may turn out that that is the case and it is the purview of the board and it may change the way policing is done in the future here in HRP, but I suggest that perhaps a an independent view of this from a not involved perspective of either the chief, Commissioner Critchley or Mr. Ward, to have a more fulsome dialogue on the interpretation of the Act because I think we are separated on this in opinion and in articulation of it. And I would again, respectfully suggest the motion is out of order.

Ward said he agreed the board can’t tell the chief how to deploy the resources he has, but it can dictate the resources.

Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board, agreed with Critchley and Ward. He said if Critchley’s motion is out of order, there’s no point in even holding budget discussions.

Coun. Becky Kent, who has supported Kinsella’s full budget requests throughout the process, said she too believed Critchley’s motion was out of order.

Kent argued the chief shouldn’t have to provide evidence to back up his requests.

“Data does not always tell the whole story,” Kent said.

“We have asked Chief Kinsella and our RCMP chiefs to lead our service, and with that comes more than just data. If we had to rely on data every time, for instance, within our women’s movement and making advances, we would never have the data to support the gains that we have because it takes effort to get there.”

Kent led a charge to defer the vote because at one point, three of the seven members of the board were absent. Coun. Lisa Blackburn left the meeting for less than an hour to attend a virtual public meeting about a development. Commissioners Tony Thomas and Yemi Akindoju were absent, but there was no reason provided.

With four still present, the board had quorum, but Commissioner Carole McDougall agreed there shouldn’t be a vote on Critchley’s controversial proposal without the full membership in attendance.

Chief financial officer Jerry Blackwood, chief solicitor John Traves, and chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé all logged on to tell the board it needed to make a decision, with council’s budget committee scheduled to meet to discuss policing budgets on Friday.

Critchley agreed to withdraw the amendment, hoping his colleagues would support him in asking for an independent legal opinion on the board’s jurisdiction come budget time instead. And Kent withdrew the motion to defer.

The board recommended in favour of Kinsella’s revised proposal — $384,200 over the 2022-2023 budget, 0.4%. Kent, McDougall and Blackburn voted yes, while Critchley and Smith voted against the motion.

Critchley gave notice that he’ll move for an independent legal opinion on the board’s jurisdiction at a future meeting.

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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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  1. The facts that: 1. a majority of the Board’s deliberations were held in camera; 2. the Board clearly does not have an understanding of what its mandate is; and 3. the Police Chief is publicly disputing with the municipal solicitor on the legal authority of the Board; should give pause to all of us (scare the hell out of us) as to the state of policing in HRM.  I didn’t like the term “defunding the police” when I first heard it but after following this and the MCC deliberations to date, I think I’m much more comfortable with it.

  2. Feeling grateful this morning. . . Thankyou Harry Critchley and the voices of reason at the Board. Indeed what is the point of oversight if it is a blank cheque? Police accountability has been lacking for decades…(ah maybe forever?) we need to de-task police, and get true accountability and oversight over policing. Thank you to everyone (El Jones et al) for doing this work so well!!! And thanks Zane for being there to cover it all so clearly!