This month, Nova Scotia passed a law banning street checks – but what will change?
Even before Retired Justice Michael MacDonald’s 108-page report concluded that street checking – the practice of stopping of citizens to collect and record their personal information — contravenes freedoms guaranteed by the Charter and at common law, street checking had long been an issue in the Black community.
I went to my first Black community meeting in 1979 to discuss the issue, merely known as “police harassment” at the time. Even before that, my parents along with our cousin Rocky Jones, and others, had met to discuss arbitrary stopping of Black pedestrians and motorists. Suffice to say, for decades, complaints about the practice, to government and police, went unheard.
On Monday, Oct. 21, I attended HRM’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting. This was the Monday after the announcement to ban street checks. Much of what the new Chief said should give us pause.
In referencing racism, the Chief’s focus was, squarely, on individual occurrences. There was no recognition of racism as a system that animates and supports fundamental denial of the rights of Black citizens, such as street checks did.
I heard nothing from the Chief around establishing a culture of transparency and accountability. Similarly, he made no mention of a plan for the Black community’s involvement concerning the care, custody, and control of street check data, remediation of the consequences of those whose lives have been impacted by street checks or how Officers who continue arbitrary stops, or witness them, will be dealt with.
Kinsella mentioned nothing about the regulation and monitoring of Bill C-46, which allows police expanded power to stop motorists without cause and sweeping expansions of police power to conduct roadside drug and alcohol testing without needing reasonable suspicion of impairment.
When you’re detained for an hour, and subjected to a roadside test for no reason, you’ll have little recourse other than to comply (and remember the catch-all, “looking into suspicious activity” will still be used to justify stops because the cops’ POV will be the metric Courts will continue to use.
Finally, at the meeting, the new Chief made the same insulting, “The problem is people don’t know what a street check is!” argument that former Chief Blais made, while denying racism was even a problem, for all of his seven-year tenure as Chief.
In August of this year, I made a Freedom of Information request regarding the search and hiring of our new Police Chief. What I determined was that of 31 applicants, four were Black, Visible Minority (their term), or Indigenous. One Black applicant made the final round.
I made the request to try and determine the level of enquiry the hiring panel made of applicants concerning their perspectives on street checks, specifically, and racism and white privilege, globally and how those questions were weighted. After sifting through several hundred pages of e-mails, notes, and documents, I can tell you, although redacted, I found no evidence these issues were addressed.
While the final candidates were given a psychometric assessment, administered by Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette, given my familiarity with the one they use, I suspect it is, merely, a vanilla, run-of- the-mill aptitude and personality test. Other than that, there were the usual meaningless and vague statements around valuing “diversity” and “inclusion” on the Ideal Candidate Profile Knightsbridge advertised, as you’d see with any job on offer at large organizations today, but that appears to be it.
So, is there reason for optimism? Not so much. We’re a long way from the type of sea-change required to bring Halifax policing into the 21st century.
Connor Smithers-Mapp is an Activist and recovering lawyer in Halifax.