Photo: Halifax Examiner

Halifax created a new page on its website Wednesday morning, posting all of its contracts with public sector unions — including, for the first time, police.

The addition follows two requests from the Halifax Examiner for the contract between the municipality and the Halifax Regional Police Association (HRPA), the union representing Halifax Regional Police officers and employees.

Last week, police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod told the Halifax Examiner to contact the force’s access to information office. Patti McKelvey, an administrator in the access to information office, told the Halifax Examiner to file a freedom-of-information request to get the document. It’s in the mail.

The collective agreement released Wednesday, in effect from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2020, was imposed by an arbitration board in 2017. It covers around 500 sworn officers and more than 100 civilian employees, and gave those members annual raises of 2.75% for each of the five years.

That wage increase drove corresponding increases to the police budget — and the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency budget, where wages are tied to police — over the last few years, especially as the municipality had to pay out retroactive raises in a lump sum.

Police unions and their collective agreements have been identified as a barrier to reform amid the conversations sparked by police violence in the U.S. and in Canada in recent weeks.

The police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis — the case that launched the protests across the world — is an example itself, notes an opinion piece published in the Boston Globe this week, arguing in favour of abolishing police unions:

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, is a textbook illustration of how unionized police departments shelter cops known to be incompetent or dangerous. Chauvin had been the subject of at least 18 complaints of misconduct over the years, without ever facing any serious discipline. That was typical for Minneapolis; according to The Wall Street Journal, of 2,600 misconduct complaints filed since 2012 with the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review, only 12 have resulted in discipline.

Here are some of the protections for employees built into the Halifax Regional Police Association collective agreement:

Warnings, criticism and reprimands only on file for three years

Article 35 of the collective agreement, titled Confidential Information about Employee, gives HRPA members the right to access their personnel file.

“All employees shall be entitled to see all documentation and information on their personnel file by appointment during office hours, and be permitted to have a copy of all information on their personnel file, other than information gathered in the recruiting process,” reads the first section of the article.

The second section of the article means some disciplinary records are only kept on file for three years — or until an employee successfully applies for them to be removed.

“Letters of warning, criticism, or reprimand will not be relied upon by the Employer after thirty-six (36) months, provided no additional adverse reports are written within the thirty-six (36) month period. The employee may also request removal of such items from the employee’s file in those circumstances.”

When cops are accused or sued, citizens pay the legal fees

Article 23 of the collective agreement focuses on “Legal Aid Protection.” It says the municipality “shall pay for legal expenses incurred by an employee in the defence of a Criminal or Judicial Inquiry,” provided “The member is charged criminally, subpoenaed to, or is the subject matter of an inquiry;” “The act, purported act, or failure to act was within the member’s scope of duties;” “Legal counsel chosen has been selected from a list agreed upon by the Region and the Union;” and “The Region has the right to apply for a review of the legal costs to the taxing master.”

Employees are also permitted “to retain additional counsel of his own choice at his own expense.”

If the Crown appeals a not guilty verdict, the municipality pays again. If the verdict is guilty, “the Chief of Police shall review the possibility of appeal with the member and defence counsel, and the Region shall pay the cost of the appeal if the Chief of Police so recommends.”

If the employee decides to pursue an appeal on their own and they’re successful, the municipality has to reimburse their legal costs.

Likewise, if an HRPA member is named in a lawsuit, “provided the act, purported act, or failure to act was within the scope of his duties,” the municipality must provide legal counsel.

The municipality “has the right to settle civil proceedings and has the sole discretion as to whether a decision shall be appealed. A settlement does not constitute an admission of fault by a member.”

For public complaints under the Police Act, the municipality pays up to $75,000 annually for legal costs. Like in civil cases, the municipality has the right to settle.

Internal complaints under the Police Act “shall not prejudice any right of the member to benefit under this article in relation to court proceedings and complaints arising out of the same fact situation, but the Region has no obligation to provide the employee with counsel or indemnification in relation to the internal discipline proceedings.”

Additionally, a separate section of the collective agreement, Article 17 on Court Time, appears to say that officers are also paid for their court time in these situations:

“Any or all court time that occurs as a result of action taken by an employee in the exercise of their police duties or as a result of their involvement as a police officer, whether during regular hours of work or otherwise, shall be paid under the provisions of this Article.”

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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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  1. There is nothing outrageous in that contract. I worked for Edmonton Transit for 30+ years and that looks very similar to the most recent contract, except I think they negotiated the 36 months down to 30.
    Do not blame the Union for fighting for every member, blame the legislation. Unions are required by law to fight for every member regardless of whether they want to or not. Perhaps some changes to the legislation make more sense than throwing out the whole idea of a Union. There are still asshole supervisors and bosses that people need collective protection from. The Union keeps Management from running roughshod over all members of society.

  2. If any individual sues HRM police for failing to protect the victim rights of a vulnerable child attacked by wortman, they can take comfort that their tax dollars will pay to defend the errant – while their own costs in the civil suit will be paid by themselves…