Yet another committee to review a set of recommendations on defunding the police will have to wait for a staff report.

Halifax regional council voted on Tuesday to ask for a staff report on a motion from the Board of Police Commissioners on Dr. El Jones’ Defunding the Police: Defining the Way Forward for HRM. The board voted earlier this month, as the Halifax Examiner reported, to recommend council create a committee to implement that report’s 36 recommendations.

The committee was to 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.

Municipal clerk Iain MacLean told councillors they shouldn’t move right to a committee. He said they should, based on their procedure, first ask for a staff report. In writing the report, staff will canvass councillors’ interest in joining the committee.

The front steps of the warm and welcoming red brick building that is the Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street in June 2021.
Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street in June 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé said the staff report will come back to council in February. That will mark a full year since Jones released the report.

The motion for a staff report passed unanimously.

Included as an attachment to the recommendation to council on Tuesday is a 19-page chart written by the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners Working Group, comprising councillors Lisa Blackburn and Becky Kent and Commissioner Yemi Akindoju.

The three commissioners spent months categorizing the defunding report recommendations based on which committee or level of government is responsible for each one.

Working group wonky on recommendations

Blackburn said it was a “huge volume of work” to filter the recommendations.

But that work was mostly unnecessary; each recommendation in the report clearly stated the responsible group.

For example, Recommendation #4: “The Police Board should [emphasis added] 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.”

The working group examined that recommendation. It came to the conclusion that the police board is the “right partner to take lead in accomplishing the recommendation.”

In other cases, the working group dismissed recommendations.

Recommendation #8 states, “The Police Board must exercise its policy-making authority to implement policies that govern HRP, not just the Board itself, in keeping with the Board’s powers and statutory duties under section 55 of the Police Act.”

The board has this power, but has never created a policy for the police.

But the working group wrote: “Standard practice as governed by the Police Act. The Working Group recommends that no action is required.”

The working group also dismissed Recommendation #12, “The Police Board should reject any additional funding requests in relation to body-worn cameras from the HRP or RCMP.”

“The Working Group recommends not proceeding with this recommendation as body worn cameras are now standard to provide evidence for court.”

Issues with body worn cameras are in fact well documented. That’s why the board shut down the last Halifax Regional Police attempt to implement them.

The working group wrote off a series of recommendations calling for the board and council to advocate for changes to provincial legislation, writing “This is an area of Provincial government jurisdiction.”

In all, the working group dismissed about a third of the recommendations.

Councillors support board recommendation

Councillors were mostly in favour of the bureaucratic method proposed, with some qualms.

Coun. Paul Russell wanted to change the wording of the motion because he doesn’t like the terms defunding or detasking. He suggested calling it “reimagining.”

Coun. Tim Outhit questioned why the board would pass off this work.

“Probably the most important thing that the police commission should be doing right now is this actual task right here,” Outhit said.

“I don’t think we should accept this. I think this is the task that they should be leading. Everybody on that police commission should be on this committee, enhanced by HRM resources.”

Blackburn said council has more power to bring other groups, like the province and the RCMP, into the process.

“We can only do so much as the Board of Police Commissioners,” Blackburn said.

“To fix this is going to take a community, and I think just to punt it back to the Board of Police Commissioners is not going to yield the results I think that we all want to see as a council when it comes to reimagining what public safety and policing looks like in HRM.”

Coun. Waye Mason said he was always skeptical of the board commissioning the report on its own because it wouldn’t be able to implement the recommendations.

“I think this joint process, we’ve actually come to a place that makes sense,” Mason said.

Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board, pointed out that several recommendations are directly addressed to council.

“Many of them are actually within council’s purview, outside of the board’s powers,” he said.

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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