Halifax’s Board of Police Commissioners has retained a Toronto law firm to conduct an independent civilian review of the events of Aug. 18, 2021 for $250,000.
Coun. Becky Kent, chair of the board, first said last week that the review would go ahead. When the Halifax Examiner asked about it, she didn’t elaborate.
Kent confirmed the news with a prepared statement following the board’s in camera session during its meeting on Wednesday.
“The Board of Police Commissioners for the Halifax Regional Municipality has commissioned an independent civilian review of the issues relating to the Board’s oversight, governance, and policy responsibilities that arise out of the response by Halifax Regional Police (HRP) to protests on August 18, 2021,” Kent said.
On that day, HRP officers, some with their name tags removed, pepper sprayed and arrested protesters attempting to block the removal of temporary shelters on the grounds of the former Halifax Memorial Library.
“Concerns have been expressed about the role and involvement of Halifax Regional Police in the eviction of unhoused and/or underhoused individuals and in its handling of the related protests,” Kent said.
Law firm has been involved in more than 20 reviews
The board chose Toronto-based firm Cooper, Sandler, Shime & Schwartzentruber LLP, with lawyer Mark Sandler leading the review. The firm has conducted more than 20 inquiries and reviews.
“They were the best fit for what we want to do based on their experience of doing this before,” Kent told reporters after the meeting.
Kent expects the work to begin on June 1, with a final report due by the end of May 2024.
“Following the completion of the report, the Board will examine the systemic findings and recommendations made by the Reviewer and develop a strategic plan to address the issues identified,” Kent said in her statement.
According to the terms of reference, Sandler and his team will examine the board’s and HRP’s policies insofar as they “may relate to the eviction or potential eviction of unhoused and/or underhoused individuals from public spaces or the handling of protests by the HRP.”
Sandler may consider, among other things:
(a) The existing or appropriate interplay between the HRP, the Board and the Halifax Regional Municipality, including communication strategies and decision-making relating to potential evictions of unhoused and/or underhoused individuals from public spaces, and enforcement action related thereto, including ticketing such individuals for trespassing;
(b) The existing or appropriate communication, engagement or consultation strategies of the HRP and/or the Board in relation to community organizations, service providers, other stakeholders and the public, as they relate to relevant policing activities before, during and/or after such activities take place;
(c) The adequacy of existing policies, standards, strategies or practices to ensure that officers involved in policing activities involving the public are identifiable;
(d) The adequacy of existing policies, standards, strategies or practices to ensure that the media’s ability to report on policing activities is preserved, to the fullest extent possible;
(e) The adequacy of existing policies, standards, strategies or practices to de-escalate potentially confrontational situations relevant to this Review, while appropriately addressing public safety, including the safety of those in crisis shelters;
(f) The adequacy of existing policies, standards, strategies or practices to address the use of force (including the use of pepper spray) and/or to prevent any disproportionate use of force in relation to the types of police activities relevant to this Review;
(g) The adequacy of existing transparency and accountability mechanisms to address the types of police activities relevant to this Review; and
(h) The adequacy of existing HRP strategies, programs, and competencies to build and maintain positive relationships with marginalized or vulnerable community members who are unhoused and/or underhoused, recognizing the principle of “intersectionality”, that is, that unhoused and/or underhoused community members may be marginalized or vulnerable for multiple reasons (for example, as members of Indigenous, Black and/or LGBTQ2S+ communities)
The terms of reference state that “the Chief of Police will cooperate fully with the Reviewer in conducting the Review and will instruct all members employed by the HRP to cooperate fully with the Reviewer in conducting the Review.”
Board chair hopes review will rebuild public trust
Sandler “will consult with affected community groups or organizations, stakeholders and community members in a variety of ways that maximize their participation in the process, and that ensure that their participation takes place in a safe environment, with accommodations where appropriate.” The reviewer will set up a website soon to facilitate that engagement, according to Kent’s statement.
Kent said she hopes the review will help to rebuild trust between residents and police.
“I’m not saying it’s going to happen overnight,” Kent said. “But certainly, at the end of the day, it’s doing the right thing. And if the public see that as something they want, then they’ll decide whether or not they trust.”