News

1. Street checks

I’ve asked El Jones to write an article about Scot Wortley’s street checks report that was released by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission yesterday. Jones has been quite busy and hasn’t been able to sit down and write; she tells me she’ll write an article this afternoon; in the meanwhile, I have a few quick observations.

First, and this should be top of mind before anyone comments on Wortley’s report, is the report shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place. Being purposefully and needlessly stopped, harassed, and detained by police is Black people’s lived experience, their day-to-day reality. They’ve been telling us about it forever, and yet the broader community has refused to acknowledge that reality, refused to consider how it harms the Black community, refused to listen. That the power structures of our community insisted that they couldn’t listen to that truth being spoken by Black people until a white academic verified it is in itself racist.

Kirk Johnson

And consider the introduction to Wortley’s report:

On April 12th, 1998, Kirk Johnson, a well-known professional boxer and Olympian from North Preston, Nova Scotia, was pursued in his vehicle, on a local highway, by a Constable from the Halifax Regional Police Service. Mr. Johnson was eventually pulled over at a shopping plaza in Dartmouth. The constable asked for proof of insurance and vehicle registration for Johnson’s Ford Mustang and was not satisfied with the documents offered. The officer then ticketed the driver, and ordered the car towed. In fact, Mr. Johnson’s documentation was valid under Texas law. The next day an unidentified police official determined that the seizure and towing of Mr. Johnson’s vehicle had been erroneous and ordered the car released. This case ultimately resulted in Mr. Johnson filing a compliant with the Nova Scotia Human Right’s Commission alleging racial bias and/or racial profiling by the Halifax Regional Police Service (HRP). A Human Rights Tribunal was eventually conducted, and the case was decided in December 2003 (Girard 2003).

One of the remedies suggested in the Tribunal’s decision was that the Halifax Regional Police consider a study of the impact of race on traffic stops:

What I would like is a proposal for how information could be provided on the role of race in traffic stops by the Halifax Regional Police. This may be a proposal for a study to be conducted by an academic and funded by the police, for example. Counsel for the Commission may submit a different or a more detailed proposal if he wishes, but is not required to do so….I envisage that the study would be made public and the results would be given to the consultants conducting the needs assessment (Girard 2003: 41).

It seems that this “traffic stop” study was never conducted.

This is how it goes. Every now and then something happens — a Black man with the resources and gumption to do something about it stands up to the harassment, the results of a CBC Freedom of Information request are published — that make it temporarily impossible for the white power structures to ignore police harassment of Black people. And so the response is “we’ll do something! We’ll write a report, we’ll retrain someone, we’ll do X, and maybe even Y.” And then after the press conference and after the media have moved on to the next story, the police harassment of Black people is again ignored, as are all the promises of action. This has always been how it’s been. And there’s no good reason to think it’ll be any different this time.

As if to demonstrate the point, yesterday’s release of Wortley’s report was highly choreographed. The Human Rights Commission could have simply posted the report on its website a month ago and let it speak for itself. Instead, it was hidden from the public for weeks, apparently so the police commission and police department could prepare PR responses to it. And yesterday’s event was by invitation only, which necessarily limited the possible response. Moreover, the release was explained by a mostly white panel:

“Why a majority white panel discussing street checks and responding to the report?” commented Jones online from the event. “It’s kind of wild that we’re expected to sit here calmly and quietly while white people talk about the spectacle of our pain.”

The report itself has some useful but not surprising information. For example, previous reports said that Black people are three times more likely to be stopped by police than are white people, but Wortley’s detailed analysis of the data doubled that figure; that is, Black people are six times more likely to be stopped by police than are white people.

I’ll let Jones speak more directly to that reality and how it affects the community. It’s really the heart of the matter.

But there’s one more thing I want to talk about. It’s not nearly as important as the lived experience of Black people, but it illustrates how racism is built right into policing culture.

Street checks are a product of the “broken windows” practice of policing. The theory is that crime is higher when the physical characteristics of a neighbourhood produce a community that doesn’t value lawfulness. So, if there are lots of broken windows that aren’t fixed, people think nobody’s really looking out for anyone, there’s no power structure that cares, therefore they can rob and beat up each other.

There’s a lot wrong with this theory. First of all, even if it were true, you could simply fix the windows. But instead, the response is to increase policing. Instead of fixing windows, we sic cops on the people supposedly breaking the windows. “Broken windows” becomes “step up arrests for minor crimes and we’ll get fewer major crimes.” And then that view becomes institutionalized.

“Others [police officers] maintained that the performance evaluations of frontline officers are often predicated on the number of street checks they complete during a given period,” writes Wortley. “Some expressed that there was a perceived quota for street checks, much like there is a perceived quota for traffic tickets.”

The police department insists that there are no quotas, but cops interviewed by Wortley say differently (each paragraph below is a different cop):

I am sure there are in fact street checks entered just because officers are expected to enter them as part of their duties…

I am a Constable with HRP, and have been here since November, but I previously worked for the RCMP in another province. One of my roles there was to review Street Checks, and I spent a lot of my time shaking my head in disbelief at some of the things I was reading. The feedback I got then was that supervisors were giving street check quotas and constables were reprimanded when those weren’t met. As a result, SC’s fell into a quantity over quality category, and they were of no use.

I would like to address Intelligence Led Policing. It was introduced here in Halifax a few years ago, I believe just prior to Chief Blais’ arrival. Part of its implementation is monthly documenting of officers’ performance statistics, not new to policing. Included among those statistics are foot patrols and street checks. Foot patrols are to be in the designated “Hot Spot” as determined by a crime analyst. The “Hot Spots” are where crime and or quality of life issues are trending. The “Hot Spots” are regularly around the Uniacke Square area of Halifax and the surrounding side streets. There is a large Black population in this area and the socioeconomic factors come into play. Foot patrols and street checks are two categories measured monthly in officer performance statistics. With the intelligence-based model came an expectation for front line officers to submit street checks. Quantity was measured, not quality. It would be very easy for one person to have had three or four street checks submitted on them in a week if they were seen by or had personal contact with the police. Street checking the same people who are poverty stricken and addicted to drugs/alcohol and suffering from mental health issues could easily inflate the statistics but serve no real purpose unless the belief was that they were committing crimes to feed their habits.

So at some point in time, someone decided that street checks could provide data that would be useful, and so cops began being assessed in part by how much street check data they produced. In turn, the cops went for the low-hanging fruit — if you stop four white people individually for no reason at all, you’ll likely have hell to pay, but check the same black guy four times in a week and no one will care.

Besides being a completely racist procedure, street checks are simply dumb.

They should be outlawed.

2. Alleged assault

Tim Houston says Zach Churchill assaulted him, reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:

Houston told the House that Churchill confronted him Tuesday when he was in a phone booth in the members area of Province House. The two had a heated conversation and Houston said Churchill grabbed him by the shoulders.

Although he acknowledged the two had “a heated discussion” related to the Yarmouth ferry service, Churchill said the alleged assault “did not happen at all.”

Churchill said the situation started Tuesday with Houston making a comment to him.

“He said, ‘I’ve got you on the ropes. You might be able to save your seat, but the ferry is going to take your government down.’”

Churchill said Houston then told him it was “B.S.” to suggest Houston’s actions related to the ferry have negatively affected the Yarmouth area, the district represented by Churchill.

The minister said he attempted to shake hands with Houston at the end of the exchange and Houston said, “Don’t touch me, get a life.”

While Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MLA Larry Harrison and Public Service Minister Tony Ince both said they heard the exchange — Harrison said he heard Houston say, “Get your hands off me” — neither saw anything.

Premier Stephen McNeil said he believes his minister.

He said the fact no one saw anything and that MLAs have heated conversations all the time meant the issue didn’t need to go to the internal affairs committee, which has not met since 1994.

McNeil questioned why, if “something untoward” happened Tuesday, Houston waited until Wednesday in the legislature to raise the issue.

“This is a change the channel story, as far as I’m concerned.”

Keith Doucette at the Canadian Press relates Houston’s view of the exchange:

Houston told the legislature that Churchill had followed him into a phone booth in the members’ area and grabbed him by the shoulders during the confrontation. He said Churchill also later made “profane, aggressive, and threatening remarks” about Houston’s pending participation in the upcoming meeting of the economic development committee.

Outside the legislature, Houston explained his version of events to reporters.

“He entered the small phone booth, put his hands on my shoulders and had some very heated comments for me. I told him to get his hands off me and get out,” Houston said.

Assault is a serious allegation. It’s a serious allegation to levy, and it’s a serious allegation to ignore. McNeil is wrong to sweep it under the rug. The PCs were right to walk out of the legislature in response to McNeil’s refusal to investigate. The NDP should’ve joined the PCs.

I’m reminded of the response in 2013 when NDP MLA Percy Paris allegedly assaulted Liberal MLA Keith Colwell in the Province House bathroom:

Liberal Keith Colwell told police he was grabbed and shoved against a wall.

“I feel I was assaulted,” he said. “I’ve filed a police report, and I’d just like to leave it at that.”

The dispute continued into the members’ chambers and was witnessed by Progressive Conservative MLA Allan MacMaster.

Paris said he “lost his cool” and insinuated that the altercation was connected to comments about the black community made in the house earlier in the day that “didn’t sit well” with him.

“Usually, I’m a composed individual, and under the circumstances, in the heat of the moment, I lost it briefly,” he said.

Colwell had asked the Speaker to admonish Paris. He later dropped the request and agreed to have the matter sent to the internal affairs committee.

“The point of the motion is that everybody has the right to go to work and feel safe, and be safe, and that’s the point of the motion,” he said.

I don’t think we need Scot Worley to tell us why the police were called on Paris, but Churchill is given the benefit of the doubt.

Although the Paris/Colwell matter was referred to the Internal Affairs Committee, it appears the committee never met to deal with it. Which surprises me for several reasons, not the least of which that MLAs assigned to the committee didn’t clamour to get the per diem for the meeting. Is it really possible that a committee hasn’t met for 24 years?

Besides all that, there are still phone booths in Province House?

3. Holly Bartlett

What Happened to Holly Bartlett premiers tonight at 10pm Atlantic on AMI-tv via your cable provider. The show will be streamable here tomorrow.

4. HMCS Toronto

The HMCS Toronto is one of two NATO ships (the other is the Spanish frigate Santa Maria) calling at the Ukrainian port of Odessa on the Black Sea, reports the Unian news agency:

During their stay in Odesa, the captains of the two ships will meet with the Ukrainian military officials, local authorities, and personnel of the Ukrainian Navy, as well as receive visitors on board their ships during “open hours.”

The frigates will also take part in the PASSEX exercise in the Black Sea together with the Ukrainian Navy warships to enhance interoperability.

The increased NATO presence in the Black Sea appears to be in response to the Russian seizure of Crimea. On my browser, Google Maps still shows the peninsula as part of Ukraine.

5. Jody Wilson-Raybould’s delay on the Glen Assoun file

Glen Assoun. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Now that the Canadian Press is verifying it maybe people will quit questioning my reporting:

Glen Assoun’s lawyer says the wrongfully convicted Halifax man suffered “every single day” as he waited to be exonerated for a murder he didn’t commit — a wait that was prolonged for months as his case sat on former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s desk.

The Halifax Examiner first reported earlier this month that Wilson-Raybould sat for 18 months on the findings of the Justice Department’s criminal conviction review group, which recommended that a new trial be ordered for Assoun. Sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the Assoun case, which may yet be the subject of a public inquiry, have confirmed that report to The Canadian Press.

I got a lot of grief  — called a Trudeau flunky and such — for correctly reporting that Wilson-Raybould sat on the file.

The real issue here, though, is not my reputation but rather the fact that Assoun needlessly suffered while his file sat collecting dust on Wilson-Raybould’s desk. As I wrote earlier this month:

In court, although he didn’t mention her by name, [Assoun’s lawyer Phil] Campbell also offered implied criticism of former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould. “The case proceeded slowly, painstakingly…” Campbell told Chipman, “and the order that initiated today’s proceedings was signed by the Minister yesterday after he had been in office about a month and a half. The registrar thanks him for his swift, decisive action on it.”

Non-lawyers associated with Innocence Canada told me yesterday that the Justice Department lawyers who reviewed Assoun’s case — the Criminal Conviction Review Group — had a recommendation for an order for a new trial on Wilson-Raybould’s desk a year and a half ago, but she took no action on it. By contrast, [David] Lametti moved on the file almost immediately — the “swift, decisive action” Campbell praised.

This is no small matter. Glen Assoun has suffered greatly throughout this ordeal. Besides the anguish of being wrongfully convicted, he suffered two heart attacks in prison, and while living through the legal limbo that was his parole — that is, while waiting for the Justice Minister to act — he suffered a mental health crisis.


Government

City

Thursday

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — as Erica Butler reported Monday, MusGo Rider is looking to start a fixed transit route from Porters Lake to Cole Harbour.

Public Information Meeting – Case 22113 (Thursday, 7pm, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 95, Bedford) —  application by Lin Si requesting to enter into a development agreement for lands at 103 Dartmouth Road, Bedford to allow for a two unit residential dwelling. Details here.

Friday

No public meetings.

Province

No public meetings today or Friday.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Thesis Defence, Microbiology and Immunology (Thursday, 9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Benjamin Johnson defends “Kaposi’s Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus Modulates the Unfolded Protein Response During Lytic Replication.”

2019 ENSL China Student Conference (Thursday, 9:30am, various locations, Mona Campbell Building) — Students will share their perspectives on the relationship of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations with economics. More info here.

Thesis Defence, Applied Science (Thursday, 1:30pm, MA 310, 5269 Morris Street) — Krystin Reid defends “Coordinated Network Management for Platelets in Canada.” The abstract:

The objective of this thesis is to determine whether a simple heuristic policy could be used to reduce the wastage of platelets in a Canadian blood distribution network. The heuristic policy we are investigating is a spoke and hub network in which near outdating units are shipped from spoke sites to a hub. Current regulatory requirements in Canada prevent managed site-to-site transfers. This study looks at the potential value of such a system in terms of wastage and total transportation costs. An optimal transport policy is also applied to the model and used to measure the effectiveness of the heuristic policy. A discrete event simulation of the distribution network is implemented in Microsoft Visual Studio.net and uses transaction level data from Canadian Blood Services to analyze results from a subsection of the blood distribution network in Southwestern Ontario.​

Thesis Defence, Earth Sciences (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 8007, Life Sciences Centre) — Laura-Ann Broom defends “Postglacial Chronology and Geohazards of Pond Inlet and Eclipse Sound, Northeastern Baffin Island, Nunavut.”

The Collapse of Middle Class Wealth in the US… but its Rise (?) in Canada (Thursday, 4pm, Great Hall, University Club) — Edward Wolff from New York University will:

…address developments in household wealth in the US over the years from 1983 to 2016 and provide some comparisons to the Canadian experience. Particular attention will be placed on the period of the Great Recession and its aftermath in the US. During that time asset prices plunged in the US between 2007 and 2010 but then rebounded from 2010 to 2016, with median wealth plummetting by 44% over these years. Canada, in contrast, experienced much less volatility in asset prices over years 2007 to 2010 and as a result median wealth continued to rise and surpassed the US.

Global mapping of protein subcellular location illuminates the function and evolution of apicomplexan cells (Thursday, 4:30pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Ross Waller from the University of Cambridge, UK,  will speak.

Better Than New: The Ecology Action Centre’s Award-winning Office Renovation (Thursday, 7pm, in the auditorium named after a bank, Marion McCain Building) — three former/current staff members of Halifax’s Ecology Action Centre and the consulting architect from Solterre Design will discuss the EAC’s 2017 award-winning office renovation.

Chant, Liturgy, and the “Isidorian Renaissance” (Thursday, 7pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Rebecca Maloy from the University of Colorado, Boulder, will speak.

An Evening of Molière One-acts (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — translated by Justin Blum, directed by Gabrielle Houle. Evenings until Saturday, matinee Saturday at 2pm.

Friday

The Life and Times of the Nova Scotia Cricket League, 1906-1914 (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — John Reid from Saint Mary’s University will speak.

Chamber Music on Both Sides of the Bridge (Friday, 7:30pm, Woodside United Church, Cole Harbour) — the Fountain School’s “brightest and best” singers and instrumentalists perform chamber music by Schumann, Brahms, Smetana, Chausson and Copland. Saturday night’s performance is at First Baptist Church in Halifax.

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

Under the Halifax Public Gardens – The Archaeological Search for a Victorian Ice-Skating Rink (Thursday, 7pm, Burke Theatre A) — Jonathan Fowler will talk about what he and his archaeology students uncovered. More info here.


In the harbour

04:30: CMA CGM Tage, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
06:00: RHL Agilitas, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
11:30: Glorious Leader, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
21:30: RHL Agilitas, container ship, sails for Kingston, Jamaica


Footnotes

Back to reading.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Here is the real sad thing about the abuse of street checks (that is CLEARLY what it is) if you start targeting any specific group and start treating them like criminals, they start acting like they are being treated. Just stop it now! Stop trying to prove otherwise. Street checks are racists and they are harming a particular segment of the community. Shame on the police commission for avoiding the obvious.

  2. Well there’s a surprise. Racism manifest in the police department.

    Police and ALL government agencies should be the vanguard against racism not a bulwark to propagate it.

  3. And so AT LONG LAST, the shocking news has been OFFICIALLY RELEASED. I ain’t even gonna comment. Looking forward to reading your take, El.

    And let us not forget that the Halifax Police would likely still be sitting on the stats that BLACK FOLK HAVE KNOWN FOREVER had it not been for a 2017 CBC Nova Scotia investigation.

    Despite every goddamn “Make Me Wanna Holler Throw Up Both My Hands” scenario (cue: Marvin), Black folk endure. Let’s hope that aspiring young journalists (of all stripes) realize that there remains important work to be done and that they can make a difference.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57Ykv1D0qEE

    1. Read the report.
      There is no breakdown to show HRP checks and RCMP checks. There is no context as to what was happening and what has changed since 2006.
      No information as to how many times an individual or group of individuals was/were checked..
      What type of checks should be banned ?
      Should an officer be banned from writing down what she/he has observed ?
      Who gave the order to meet a quota of checks ?
      Which senior officers knew about the order ?
      Was such information disclosed to the chair of the Police Commission, the Mayor,the CAO ?
      Has everyone forgotten the period of daytime shootings ?

      1. I guess we’ll find out if violent crime goes up or down with no street checks. It’ll be an interesting result either way.

        1. The historical record shows that authoritarian methods work for reducing crime. Broken windows policing works because people who are likely to commit serious crime in the future are locked up for a long time for minor crimes. By the time they are released, they are older and wiser. I’m generally in favor of fact-based governance, which means that every few decades we should try radical proposals like eliminating street checks – but we should be honest about the consequences.

  4. I’m eager to read El Jones’s article on the street checks report. At the end of the day though, Tim is right. This charade was a huge waste of time and money. Street checks are blatantly racist and they should be not just banned, but illegal as a violation of the charter of rights and freedoms – which I think, in theory, applies to black people and other people of colour in Canada too. In theory. Just pretty obviously not in practice yet.

    I have been stopped exactly once in my life by police, and it was for blowing through a stop sign on Creighton street right in front of a police van. Very politely asked for my name, I gave it. No verification required, no documents demanded, just took me at my word. An explanation of why he stopped me and then off I go to work – no fine, nothing. I’m glad about that of course, but what I can’t stop thinking about is the scenario where I am not a white guy. The probabilty of similar treatment is close to zero, and the fact that that is obvious, even to me, is pretty telling about the level of racism in this city, this province and this country. Street checks are just one small manifestation of this problem, but Jesus H. Christ, can we at least just acknowledge the obvious and start with banning this practice as at least one small action to start addressing the much bigger problem that is racism generally in this community?

  5. Street checks 2006 – 8,508
    Street checks 2007 – 15,858
    Street checks 2015 – 9,134
    A street check is quite often an observation.
    So what happenned to cause a massive increase in 2006 ? It was like the wild west.
    My advice to readers is to skip the first 77 page of anecdotes and and tables and get to the real information. Page 82 is an excellent description of the views of police officers and the following pages are a must read.
    I am quite sure I have been street checked on more than one occasion. I am sure I am listed as being arrested at home. In my doorway. Wrongfully arrested. In my bare feet . Handcuffed. Released without an apology.
    It would be nice to have a properly functioning Board of Police Commissioners where all members show up for meetings and stay for the duration of the meeting. It would be nice if the province didn’t appoint a member of the Board who doesn’t show up for over 70% of the meetings. It would be nice if the Board minutes showed a reason for a member not attending instead of just writing ‘Regrets’.

  6. Funny thing is, street checks are already outlawed – by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.