Photo: Halifax Examiner

Our question for today: why is it so hard for the people in charge of policing in Nova Scotia to say, I’m sorry?

Last week…

  • nearly three weeks after a damning 180-page report by an independent outside consultant confirmed that black males are nine times more likely than whites to be stopped in “random” police street checks, that such street checks “criminalize” young black men and that stopping people for no reason beyond the colour of their skin has had a “disproportionate and negative” impact on African Nova Scotians;
  • two-and-a-half years after a United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent reported: “There is clear evidence that racial profiling is endemic in the strategies and practices used by law enforcement[in Nova Scotia]. Arbitrary use of “carding” or street checks disproportionately affects people of African descent;”
  • 14 years after police started collecting data on street checks it didn’t even bother to analyze for racial profiling until the CBC filed a freedom of information request for the data in 2016;
  • and 16 years after a human rights inquiry ordered Halifax Regional Police to pay boxer Kirk Johnson $10,000 in damages over a racially motivated street check…

… Justice Minister Mark Furey finally, finally, finally ordered a provincewide moratorium on street checks.

But he didn’t ban them permanently. That’s because Furey, a former police officer, appears to believe randomly stopping, say, nine random black people for every random white can still be a “valuable policing tool” if used with discretion. Rather than ban carding now and forever, Furey decided to simply press pause on street checks while a “stakeholder committee” comes up with ways to regulate the practice so it doesn’t look as racist as it is. How long will that take? Who knows?

Furey also refused to apologize, even for the “disproportionate and negative” impact police checks have had on Nova Scotia’s black community.

“I can stand here and apologize,” Furey offered blandly. “Is that going to change anything?”

Well, not nearly as much as if he had announced an actual ban on street checks but, in the obvious absence of that, an apology for the harm it’s created might be one small step for the people in charge.

But Furey was far from alone in losing the “sorry” word from his vocabulary last week.

Furey’s boss, Premier Stephen McNeil, as usual, claimed he’d already done the right thing. “We believe the street-check approach needs to change,” he told reporters. “That’s what we did.” He forgot to mention it had taken his justice minister three full weeks to half-do the right thing.

An apology? “Not something that I’ve considered,” opined the unconsidered premier.

McNeil — also hardly unusual — did punt the idea of an apology down the chain of command. “That’s a good question for the police department,” he declared.

Don’t hold your breath.

“Organizational apologies…” mused Halifax Regional Police Supt. Jim Perrin. “That’s a very complex, sensitive matter and right now we’re committed to addressing the ministerial directive and having those ongoing and respectful conversations with our communities.”

Translation: No.

Isn’t it interesting that everyone in charge seems to want to have “ongoing and respectful conversations with our communities…” “conversations with a variety of stakeholders” and blah blah blah.

But no one in authority seems to have listened to what those same communities have been saying. For years.

Interesting? Yes. Surprising? Not at all.

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. He has ordered a moratorium on the random stopping of pedestrians and also ordered police to stop asking questions of a passenger in stopped vehicle, except when a peace officer has reasonable and probable grounds to stop a pedestrian or if the peace officer has reasonable and probable grounds to ask questions of a passenger in a vehicle.
    A peace officerr has always had a wide degree of independence based on the premise that a peace officer will be best able to assess any situation she/he comes upon.
    I have no doubt new regulations will be very similar to what he has announced.
    I hope the premier and Mayor Savage make their way to North Preston and apologise to the black community for the improper use of pedestrian and vehicle stops.

    Simple explanation of police powers :

  2. They just don’t get it. I’m not sure why. Tone deaf? Don’t believe what Black Nova Scotians and other peoples of colour and various professionals and activists have been telling them? So little has changed in terms of human rights on all fronts – policing, housing, education, employment. Grrr.