The chair of Halifax’s police board suggested this week that a review of the events of Aug. 18, 2021 is moving ahead, but wouldn’t provide any details.

Aug. 18, 2021 is the day Halifax Regional Police arrested and pepper sprayed protesters outside the former Halifax Memorial Library. The police were helping city workers clear temporary shelters and tents from municipal parks. Apparently unprepared for the protest that met them at the old library, police lost control of the situation. Some with no name tags indiscriminately pepper sprayed into crowds.

Chief Dan Kinsella first said officers “responded appropriately,” but later promised an internal review of the officers’ conduct. That’s an opaque process and it’s unclear what, if any, discipline arose.

The East Coast Prison Justice Society brought a petition calling for an independent review to the Board of Police Commissioners in October 2021 with 4,000 signatures. Municipal lawyer Marty Ward argued the board didn’t have the authority to conduct such a review, and the board asked for an independent opinion.

The last public vote at the board about the review was in June 2022, as the Examiner reported at the time. Lawyer Dennis James provided the board an independent opinion, clearing the way for a review as long as it doesn’t look into individual officer conduct or operational matters. The board voted to “prepare a draft of a mandate and terms of reference for an independent civilian review of the oversight, governance, and policy aspects of the HRP’s handling of the protests on August 18, 2021, which mandate and terms of reference will be received and reviewed by the Board at a future meeting.”

Kent suggests review is moving ahead

Neither the mandate nor the terms of reference has come back to the board, at least not in public. It’s possible the board and/or council has taken to discussing the review in camera.

Coun. Becky Kent, chair of the Board of Police Commissioners, spoke during council’s committee of the whole meeting about the new Policing Transformation Study on Tuesday. Kent listed off ways council is supporting the board’s work.

“The resourcing piece, there is no question that the Board of Police Commissioners need the resourcing,” Kent said.

“This council has been supportive more recently. We’ve had an annual allocation, very minimal, but more recently, and Josh is here today, Josh Bates, is our policy advisor, that’s supported by funding, that’s new to the board right now. Independent legal advisory resources is now in place, as well as an independent review of August 18, 2021.”

The Examiner asked the municipality to explain Kent’s comment. Spokesperson Ryan Nearing pointed to the original vote from the board in favour of an independent review in 2021. He said any further communication on the matter will come from the board.

Kent said the board has approved a motion to pursue the review.

“No further information is available at this time,” Kent wrote in an email.

The Dartmouth South–Eastern Passage councillor said she meant that the board, not council, has approved funding for the review.

Kent didn’t respond to questions about when funding was approved, in what amount, who is conducting the review, what the terms of reference are, and when and how were they developed.

There’s nothing about a review on the public agenda for the board’s meeting next week. There are two in camera items: one “pertaining to security of police operations” and another to “contract negotiations and legal advice.”

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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