A machine draws line on a sheet of gridded paper.
A polygraph test. Photo: flickr/spiralstares

Halifax councillors have voted to stop using dodgy lie detector tests on municipal employees, but police are expected to keep using them for another seven months for employment screening and indefinitely for investigations.

Polygraph tests are notoriously unreliable, but as El Jones and the Nova Scotia Police Policy Working Group highlighted in 2020, the police still use them:

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.

Along with using them in investigations, Halifax Regional Police use polygraph tests to screen new hires, including officers and other employees or contractors who have access to HRP property or information.

As the Halifax Examiner reported on Sunday, acting executive director of human resources Laura Nolan recommended in a report to council’s Tuesday meeting that the municipality stop using the tests as of September 30.

Coun. Shawn Cleary, who asked for the report with a motion last year, questioned why it would take so long to phase them out.

“We have been doing pre-employment polygraphs for a very long time with HRP, probably over 30 years at this point,” Nolan said. “So it’s going to take us a little bit of time to transition away and ensure that any gaps with removing a polygraph are going to be replaced with another tool.”

Chief Dan Kinsella said Halifax police have been using the tests since 1976.

“By no means are polygraph tests alone ever considered to be a sufficient basis for decision making,” Kinsella said.

“They’ve been part of a multi-effort, multi review, multi-check program that has been going on for years.”

Officers and employees have access to sensitive information about the public, Kinsella said, so they need to screen new hires. He suggested tests may be phased out sooner for some positions, but made no guarantees.

“It’s essential that our police pre-employment screening methods are thorough and effective, and we have to ensure the highest standards of honesty and integrity. The polygraph has been one part of that,” he said.

“We’re going to need some time to review all of the jobs, review all of the access that they’re required to have for their various jobs, and what is required to screen them from that. We need a replacement mechanism for the polygraphs and it will be a series of interviews and checks with family and friends, and those kind of things.”

Kinsella said one of two employees now working in the polygraph unit will move to the background check unit, and that’s why the removal of pre-employment polygraphs won’t lower the police budget, which contained $265,400 for polygraphs in 2021-2022.

Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace asked whether HRP would continue to use the tests for investigations. Kinsella said those tests would continue, and that’s a different discussion.

“When we use it investigatively [sic], it’s used in quite a different manner,” Kinsella said. “Currently, that is still in use.”

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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. They don’t need to use the polygraph any more. An employer just has to look at the social media accounts of an applicant to check of they are telling the truth about past behaviour.

  2. Thirty years of using a tool that was ruled inadmissible as evidence *before” they started using it, but they just have to keep using it for another seven months of tests that prove absolutely nothing.

    Tell me again why HRP just has to have yet more money?