Since the widely publicized death of George Floyd at the hands of MPD officer Derek Chauvin (what some commentators have called a “televised lynching”), calls for police accountability and even abolition have been growing, with protestors taking to the street in cities across North America, including Halifax. These calls are beginning to be heard and responded to by municipal leaders in some cities, including Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
Here in Nova Scotia, we are no stranger to anti-Black and anti-Indigenous police violence, as evidenced recently by the finding of the Wortley Report that African Nova Scotians are more than six times as likely to be subjected to street checks (a practice the former Chief Justice of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal said definitively was illegal) and the brutal beating Santina Rao sustained in front of her young children at Wal-mart after being wrongfully accused of shoplifting.
The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) council had originally proposed $5.5 million in cuts to the Halifax Regional Police Department (HRPD) budget, accounting for a little over 6% of the department’s total budget — an amount that Chief Dan Kinsella said was workable operationally.
Halifax is the only major city in Canada where police services are split between a municipal police force and the RCMP. Because the contract is actually between the province and the RCMP, despite the fact that the HRM picks up the tab, there are currently no plans to make cuts to the RCMP coverage in HRM.
However, when the HRM Budget Committee revisited this proposed cut on May 26, it voted to reduce it from $5.5 to 3.5 million, as seen in this video:
The video is remarkable for many reasons, not least of all because, from the time Councillor Tony Mancini introduced the motion, it took less than six minutes for the Budget Committee to decide to amend the cut by over $2 million. Additionally, many of the councillors seem to vie with one another to see who can be more in favour of the police, with for example, Councillor Steve Adams noting at one point that under normal circumstances he would never support a cut to the police budget.
To put things in perspective, Caora McKenna has noted in The Coast that, since the onset of the pandemic, the Halifax Public Libraries (which is also facing a 5% cut) has made significant changes to its service delivery model in order to better meet people’s needs, including by:
- reorganizing its website to prioritize virtual services and bringing whole programs online through the Virtual Library;
- providing snack packs for families at Chebucto Connections in Spryfield, Dartmouth North Community Food Centre, Family SOS, Freedom Kitchen in Sackville, and North Preston’s Future (many children relied on libraries for healthy, free, after school snacks);
- loaning community organizations and shelters Wi-Fi hotspots and Chromebooks, as well as lending books and games to a children’s service provider; and
- setting up portable toilets at Halifax Central Library to ensure everyone in our community has access to washrooms
Meanwhile, according to data compiled by the Policing the Pandemic initiative, during this time HRP has handed out hundreds of tickets for social distancing violation — tickets which many have said have come down disproportionately on people in marginalized situations.
Moreover, in the early hours of March 30, HRP officers responded to a call about a 28-year-old Dartmouth man who was engaging in self-harm. After the police intervened in an attempt to prevent him further self-harming, he became “uncooperative,” at which time an officer Tasered the man “in an attempt to stop him.” The man was taken to hospital where he died from his injuries.
Hopefully it goes without saying, but neither the recommendations from the Hyde Inquiry nor the Nova Scotia Guidelines on Conducted Energy Weapons permit the use of tasers as a means of responding to mental health crises generally, or as a way of preventing someone from self-harming more specifically.
Calls to defund the police are not new — even in Halifax. In fact, in January of this year, El Jones gave a presentation to the Board of Police Commissioners where she identified the worrying trend of rising police budgets around Canada. She called for a freeze to the police budget until such time as the recommendations from the Wortley report were fully implemented and the HRP could demonstrate that it has ended practices of racial profiling.
Dr. Leah Genge and I also presented at the same meeting on diverting the police budget to community health and harm reduction initiatives in light of the 2016 death of Corey Rogers in the Halifax drunk tank. In response to Jones’s presentation, Councillor Tony Mancini (yes, the same one from before) asked her “whether she had anything nice to say about the police,” then proceeded to ask the chief for the latest stats on gun and gang violence.
Despite these calls growing louder everyday, they don’t seem to have made their way yet to the HRM Budget Committee’s otherwise hilariously disjointed video meetings. And, at this point, it’s starting to look like they never will.
The Budget Committee is set to vote of the finalized budget this Tuesday, June 9 and, through this whole process, there hasn’t been a mechanism in place for public input. When I asked several councillors why they couldn’t facilitate having community members share their thoughts and perspectives over video, they said that they hadn’t been able to figure out how to do so on Microsoft Teams (yes, really).
So, before you go and like Mayor Savage’s tweet calling anti-Black racism #inexcusable, or that picture of him kneeling at Monday’s protest, remember that neither he nor the rest of the city council thought twice before adding $2 million back into the HRP’s budget during the single largest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Now more than ever, we should demand more of our elected representatives.
Harry Critchley is the Vice-Chair of the East Coast Prison Justice Society and the Chair of the Advocacy Committee for the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia.
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” Halifax is the only major city in Canada where police services are split between a municipal police force and the RCMP.”
Incorrect. HRM is not ‘a major city’. The city of Halifax has always been served by HRP. The city of Dartmouth was served by Dartmouth Police and the town of Bedford was policed by its own police service. The County of Halifax was serviced by the RCMP. Upon amalgamation and the formation of a corporate entity known as HRM the residents of the county wanted to retain the RCMP because the cost is mostly covered by the federal and provincial governments.
Healthcare, housing and social services are the responsibility of the province.
We all had a chance to speak at budget deliberations at Committee of the Whole prior to COVID. A speaker is given 5 minutes, which denotes how much Mayor Savage and members of council value your input.
It’s good that the mayor acknowledges that nobody die with a knee on their neck. Well, nobody should die with a bag tied over their head either, but I don’t recall him expressing concern over that. Racism is real, and without doubt it is racialized communities who suffer most, but do not lose sight of the fact that it is a lack of accountability that allows all of these abuses to occur, and that what is needed is structural change, not just more promises of cultural sensitivity training as in the response to the Wortley report.