Halifax is refusing to reveal the source of a controversial motion around defunding the police that was added to a Board of Police Commissioners agenda at the 11th hour this summer.

At the board’s July 9 meeting, municipal staff brought forward a motion aimed at defining the concept of defunding the police:

That the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners adopt a definition of defunding the police that supports a role for policing in HRM that includes:

  • Police performing policing functions
  • Appropriate resources to perform non-police functions
  • Investment in resources that have been proven to support community risks and promote crime prevention.

The motion was added to the agenda the night before the meeting. No one seemed to know where it came from, or at least they weren’t saying.

As the Halifax Examiner reported after that day’s meeting:

The motion uses the language of defunding to then go and reinforce the need for police without actually reducing their funding. Activists and commissioners alike were surprised to find the late addition to the agenda.

Municipal solicitor Marty Ward said the motion came from the clerk’s office and its addition was by the book, but didn’t provide any more detail.

The motion eventually morphed into a plan to appoint a committee to provide a definition of defunding, but the ensuing debates essentially derailed months of police board meetings. Other motions, like Coun. Lindell Smith’s attempt to get an independent opinion on the board’s legal representation, were deferred.

In mid-July, the Examiner sent a freedom of information request to Halifax Regional Municipality asking for “All correspondence among municipal staff and police commissioners about the creation and source of a motion for the Halifax board of police commissioners’ July 9, 2020 meeting regarding a definition of defunding the police.”

The municipality’s Access and Privacy Office received that request on July 29, and provided a response on Thursday, Sep. 17.

“This letter is to advise that access to the records requested has been partially granted,” Municipal Access and Privacy Officer Nancy Dempsey wrote in the letter.

The records disclosed add up to 51 words in a mostly-redacted June 13 email from police board chair Natalie Borden to Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella, copying police communications manager Neera Ritcey.

Here’s the full disclosure:

[gview file=”https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/124-Responsive-Record-Redacted.pdf”]

The full text we were allowed to see:

We will need to discuss the defunding piece further at agenda review, will need some clarity and detail on what you are looking for. The term is being used interchangeably between a variety of concepts right now, and we will need the Board’s direction on how they see these discussions evolving.

Given this is an email from Borden to Kinsella, it suggests she was asking the police chief for clarity on what he was looking for in a motion on defunding the police nearly a month before that motion came to the board.

There was another 40 pages of correspondence related to the motion, but the municipality withheld it completely.

Dempsey’s letter justifies the lack of disclosure with three sections of the Municipal Government Act:

Although access has been granted, information falling under the following exemption provisions has been held back (40 pages) or severed from the record enclosed for the following reasons in accordance with Subsection 465(2) of the Act:

  • Section 473(1) – The responsible officer may refuse to disclose to an applicant information that would disclose the minutes or substance of the deliberations of a meeting of the council, village commission or service commissioners or of the members of the municipal body held in private, as authorized by law;
  • Section 474(1)(a) – The responsible officer may refuse to disclose information that would reveal advice, recommendations or draft resolutions, policies, by-laws or special legislation developed by or for the …council, village commission or service commissioners;
  • Section 476 – The responsible officer may refuse to disclose to an applicant information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege.

Coun. Tony Mancini is still frustrated with the motion and everything that’s happened around the issue since, and he was curious about its origin, too. He asked about it at the July 9 meeting.

“I didn’t get any further, to be honest,” Mancini said in an interview Thursday after hearing about the results of the freedom of information request.

“No one in the clerk’s office wrote that motion. There’s no way they wrote that motion.”

And he knows the motion didn’t come from him or any of the other board members.

“It still concerns me, I don’t know where it came from,” he said.

Mancini felt it was unnecessary, given the board already had a definition from a presentation on defunding from Public Safety Advisor Amy Siciliano and Youth Advocate Program manager DeRico Symonds:

Reallocating money from Police and reinvesting into: Mental health supports, education, social services, housing, prevention programming, anti-racist education, food security and alternatives to policing.

Harry Critchley, vice-chair of the East Coast Prison Justice Society and a member of the Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group, reviewed the municipality’s freedom of information disclosure to the Examiner, and said it indicates the police were involved in the creation of the motion.

“It’s clear that there was extensive back and forth about this and that the police were obviously involved to some extent,” he said in an interview.

“Obviously at some point they got legal advice on it because they’re claiming solicitor-client privilege for part of it. But it’s concerning that the board, which is the unelected representative of the citizenry of Halifax, clearly played no role whatsoever in that 40 pages of correspondence because it was a surprise when it came up.”

There’s a police board meeting — and “further discussion” around defining the concept of defunding the police — scheduled for Monday.

The motion:

That the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners appoint El Jones to develop a proposal, for the Board’s review and approval, on the composition of a Committee to recommend a definition of defunding the police and investments to support communities and public safety.

Jones, a member of the Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group and a contributor to the Halifax Examiner, said in an email Thursday night she wasn’t told that motion was coming.

“We corresponded about the committee back when it was proposed but I have not received any updates from them since we sent them our proposal as a policy group,” Jones said.

In a July 20 news release, the Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group revealed that Borden had asked Jones to chair a committee to define defunding the police.

“In response, we proposed that we convene a committee to tender research and consultation on defunding the police in Halifax. We envision this process as being much broader than simply crafting a definition, as any definition that is not adequately supported by research and consultation will be of limited utility,” the release said.

The release went on to raise concerns about the motion:

This illogical and circular definition was concerning to those of us calling for a critical examination of where the public money devoted to police might be better spent to keep our communities safe and well. Given that it was billed as a “staff motion,” it also remains unclear who drafted the definition, raising significant accountability concerns.

The working group proposed a set of requirements for its participation in any committee, including public consultation, a new police budgeting process, and a public presentation of the committee’s research and findings.

The police board is scheduled to meet virtually at 12:30 p.m. Monday.

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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. I’m always interested in Freedom of Information issues, so I read this article with interest. It’s hard to know whether the claimed exemptions are justified. An independent review could take months, or longer.

    But really the key issue that leaves me puzzled is one of governance: In principle, only members of the committee should be able to place a motion on the committee’s agenda. In other words: there should never be a “mystery motion” that appears on the agenda without a committee member as sponsor.

    The FOI exemption for draft resolutions/by-laws/regulations is intended to ensure staff feel able to give committee members full, fair and frank advice. But that’s based on the assumption that committee members take responsibility for any motion brought forward. If staff motions are allowed, the rationale for the exemption evaporates.

  2. ” Reallocating money from Police and reinvesting into: Mental health supports, education, social services, housing, prevention programming, anti-racist education, food security and alternatives to policing.”
    Mental health supports,education,social services,housing, food security” are all provincial responsibilities.
    Sounds like a Waye Mason motion.
    There is an elephant in the room that several informed persons at HRM appear to not want want to talk about until after the election.

    1. That it’s a provincial responsibility doesn’t mean there is nothing the city can/should do. And CERTAINLY is no reason not to defund the police.

    2. Colin, I think you may be misreading the article. What you just quoted is not the motion whose source is trying to be determined — that is the entirely separate definition of defunding presented by HRM staff (Public Safety Advisor and Youth Advocate Program Manager) to the Police Board. There is no mystery behind where it came from at all. And just because some of those things are provincial responsibilities doesn’t mean the city can’t do some work in those areas.

      1. Thank you for the clarification. HRM can spend money according to the HRM Charter, the Police Act and other legislation; and in other instances it can provide grants to non-profit organisations. HRM has no power to directly deliver the services sought by advocates of defunding HRP. I very much doubt any HRM council will cut funding for sworn police officers for reasons that are well known within HRP, HRM council and senior HRM management.