A working group of a board has decided against creating a subcommittee. It instead wants a committee to implement the recommendations of a nine-month-old report.

Dr. El Jones presented Defunding the Police: Defining the Way Forward for HRM to the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners in January. As the Halifax Examiner reported, the report made 36 recommendations toward its four-pillar definition of defunding.

A month later, the board voted in favour of a motion from Coun. Lisa Blackburn to strike a subcommittee to look at the recommendations and determine how to implement them. In May, the Examiner reported the subcommittee still didn’t have terms of reference and its role had changed:

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.

Eventually, the working group, comprising Blackburn, Coun. Becky Kent, and Commissioner Yemi Akindoju, met four times between July and September. They assessed each recommendation, looking at who was responsible and what role the board and HRM could play in implementing them.

Blackburn reported back to the board on Wednesday that the working group wrote a draft report and submitted it to the clerk’s office and the legal department.

“And it was suggested that it might be a better idea to make this subcommittee one of regional council as opposed to one of the board of police commission,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn said that would allow for better intersection with the pending reports on police services and the joint RCMP policing model.

“It wouldn’t deprive the commission of its jurisdiction to address those matters that are within its purview, and a committee of council would also have more resources at its disposal,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn brought a motion to the board to recommend council create a new committee to implement the recommendations per the working group’s report. That committee would include two members of the board, two councillors, two HRM staffers, one representative each from the provincial Department of Justice, HRP, and RCMP, and four community members.

Blackburn said the working group’s report included a draft terms of reference for the committee.

A stenciled “defund the police” seen painted on a Halifax sidewalk on April 13, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Kent argued the board is limited in its ability to direct council, the province, or service providers to implement the report’s recommendations.

“There’s a lot of work that still has to be done that this board does not have administrative capacity to do,” Kent said.

Commissioner Harry Critchley, one of the authors of the defunding report, said he supported the approach.

The motion passed unanimously.

Another one of the report’s authors, Tari Ajadi, expressed disappointment earlier in Wednesday’s meeting that the board hadn’t acted on the report’s recommendations around budgeting.

Budget process beefs

Commissioners raised concerns Wednesday about a new budgeting process coming this year.

As the Examiner reported last month, the municipality has planned a new two-step budget approval process. First the board will be asked to recommend a staffing plan to council. After council approves a staffing plan, the board will build the budget and recommend a dollar figure to council.

Typically, the board just recommends a Halifax Regional Police budget, including staffing and a total dollar figure, to council. Council then either approves the total number or sends the budget back to the board for revision.

The board asked for a staff report on the budget process earlier this year, with a motion from Critchley, but the reports went to council for approval instead.

The board heard a presentation on Wednesday from Michael Pappas, acting director of corporate planning and performance at HRM. He told the board the new process was designed to reduce confusion and cut down on the back and forth between the board and council.

Critchley said that back and forth is a normal part of the democratic process.

“There could be circumstances where the board, being independent from council, being an independent statutory committee, wants to go in a different direction from council and it could be the board’s prerogative to do so,” Critchley said.

“These concerns about timeline, to an extent, almost encroach on the board’s independence in the sense that the board has to be satisfied it’s completing its duties, and that takes the time it requires.”

Kent agreed, arguing the new process was “restricting” the board’s role.

Chief financial officer Jerry Blackwood said the new process was just designed to add capacity to the budget process to allow time for the back and forth.

It remains unclear whether the RCMP will play by the same rules. Their budget is usually built in a secret process involving the provincial government and then presented to council without any real opportunity for revision.

Blackwood said he hopes the RCMP will present their staffing plan and budget to the board along with HRP on Dec. 7.

To start Wednesday’s meeting, the board received a presentation on participatory budgeting from Ajadi, along with Yaren Bilge Kaya and Dr. Kayse Maass, industrial engineers at the Northeastern University in Boston.

They spoke about the importance of participatory budgeting. And they urged the board to make enough data available to allow for mathematical modelling of different budget scenarios to inform the public.

The board took no action on the presentation, but did discuss holding another public hearing on the police budget. It held the municipality’s first ever last year. The majority of speakers urged the board to vote down a budget increase for Halifax Regional Police. Council eventually approved an increase of 0.4%.

No confidence in Kinsella

Meanwhile, the union representing Halifax Regional Police officers says its membership has lost confidence in Chief Dan Kinsella.

According to a news release on Wednesday, the Halifax Regional Police Association (HRPA) asked members whether they agree with this statement: “I have confidence in Chief Daniel Kinsella’s ability to lead the Halifax Regional Police.”

Over two weeks, 83.7% of them voted, and of those 96.6% said they disagreed.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella speaks during a meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

HRPA “feels this is a serious concern that requires the full attention of City Council, the Board of Police Commissioners, the Mayor, CAO’s Office and the Department of Justice.”

The vote doesn’t compel anyone to do anything. As a researcher told Global News reporter Karla Renić, it’s “purely and entirely performative.”

The board didn’t discuss the vote during its public session, but it may have discussed it in camera. Kent added a “personnel matter” to the in camera agenda, but there was no vote on that matter.

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. It was obvious when the “Defund” report came out that it would require involvement from the greater HRM and the province. (and the RCMP too, but the way to deal with them is to get rid of them since they can’t be dealt with).

    The take away here is that the BoPC took 4 private meetings to decide they wouldn’t be doing anything internally. Which means a year, since we are already deep into the budget process.

    Which is about par for HRM leadership. Always someone else’s fault, always next years problem to solve.

    1. The fastest way to ‘defund the police’ is through the province ending the annual gift of over $3,000,000 given to HRM to fund almost 40 police officers. Houston should take an opportunity during a media scrum to float the notion that the funding will end on March 31 2023.

  2. The Board deliberations yesterday reminded me of a British TV show from the 80s entitled “Yes Minister”. In this satire, a new cabinet minister tries to implement new policies and administrative reforms but is faced with a bureaucracy that is outwardly supportive but works behind the scene to thwart any changes from the status quo.
    By the time the various committees and subcommittees finish their deliberations and make recommendations to the Police Board and Regional Council (assuming this ever happens), nobody will remember what the Defunding the Police report was all about in the first place. The bureaucracy succeeds again.