Before he was hired as Halifax’s chief of police, Dan Kinsella served as Deputy Chief of Operations for the Hamilton Police Service. Photo: Hamilton Police Service

Since his arrival in Halifax and swearing in this summer, Halifax police chief Dan Kinsella has been making the rounds, meeting with police and community members. As the legislature returns for the fall session, questions will resume about street checks, and how the government and police intend to address the issues raised by the Wortley report.

The Black community continues to demand a ban on the practice.

I spoke with sources within Hamilton’s activist and Black communities who raised concerns about the culture of policing that produced Kinsella. Critics of the Hamilton police culture cite issues with racial profiling, poor relationships with marginalized communities, surveillance and criminalization of left-wing activists, and the growth of white nationalist and far right organizing in Hamilton.

Kinsella has so far received the benefit of the doubt in Halifax. Communities largely seem to be giving him a chance to prove himself as chief. But a review of policing in Hamilton suggests that we should be concerned about Kinsella’s training within a troubling police culture and the priorities he may bring to policing in Halifax.

Hamilton Pride and the Police

These issues with the police culture in Hamilton gained national attention this summer, when violent far right protesters disrupted the Pride festival and attacked counter-protesters. While Kinsella had been hired as Halifax chief before the incident at Pride, the episode is worth reviewing for what it reveals about systemic approaches within the force to surveillance and the criminalization of activists.

The police force is now under fire for its slow response, and its failure to stop the attacks. A complaint against the Hamilton police alleges that the police ignored reports of violence, and refused to intervene:

[Caitlin] Edwards said she was walking through Gage Park with her 11-year-old son when she saw protesters with homophobic signs clashing with Pride supporters.

Edwards quickly moved away from the altercation, she said, and approached two uniformed police officers.

Edwards said she told a female officer that a fight was happening behind a large black cloth barrier, which counter-protesters had set up around the protest group.

“Before I could get out all the words, she interrupted me and she spat out in a very irritated tone, ‘Don’t you remember that we weren’t invited to Pride?’” said Edwards in an interview with CBC News.

The police, needless to say, are not supposed to protect and serve only those members of the public who invite them, while revenging themselves on marginalized communities who distrust the police due to long histories of brutality.

In the aftermath of the protest, the LGBTQ2S community held a meeting about the police response. Activist Cedar Hopperton spoke at the meeting, protesting the police presence at the meeting, and arguing for the need for the queer community to defend themselves.

Hopperton had previously been arrested in relation to the Locke Street anti-gentrification protest, a march through a wealthy neighbourhood that resulted in property damage. Hopperton was convicted for handing out flyers advertising the march. Four other protesters were also convicted.

After the meeting at City Hall convened to discuss police actions at the Pride march, police reported Hopperton’s remarks at that meeting, and Hopperton’s parole was revoked. The police initially claimed that Hopperton, who was on parole conditions for the Locke Street protest, was present at the Pride march, information which was proven to be false. Hopperton spent a month in jail.

The incarceration of Hopperton for words spoken in a meeting, and the debacle of the police response focused attention on the Hamilton Police. But the targeting of left-wing protestors, and the lack of intervention into far right and white nationalist activity is nothing new for the force.

Hate Crimes and the Hamilton Police

This summer, CBC reported that Hamilton is, yet again, the hate crimes capital of Canada. While the national average of hate crimes in Canada reported per 100,000 people is 4.9, in Hamilton reported hate crimes reached 17.1 incidents per 100,000 people. Hate crimes have risen every year in Hamilton since 2014.

One might think that the Hamilton police and city officials would be focused on investigating white supremacist groups. Instead, in 2018, the City of Hamilton was busy declaring the anarchy symbol “hate material” similar to the swastika.

City officials claimed they took direction on the matter from the Hamilton police. City spokesperson Marie Fitzpatrick told CBC that the Hamilton police hate crimes unit provides the city with a list of hate symbols. Police denied that they classify the anarchy symbol as “problematic,” although they did label it as a symbol of the “extreme left.”

It seems unlikely that city officials would lie about the role of the police in this case. And as the police response to the Pride attacks demonstrated, the Hamilton Police have a long history of ignoring far right organizing, while focusing their efforts on left wing groups.

Every year, the Hamilton police release a hate/bias crime report. In 2008 and 2009, among hate incidents recorded against Black, Jewish, and the LGBTQ communities, the police also included “incidents targeting law enforcement.”

That’s right, the Hamilton police listed the Hamilton police as one of the primary targets of hate crimes. It should be noted here that according to the police’s own report, hate crimes must be motivated by bias against the victim’s “race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability group, age or gender.” The police do not fall into any of these categories.

The report did not go into detail about what the three “hate incidents” recorded against the police were, but it does cited examples of “anti-police graffiti”:

According to the Hamilton Police then, “not loving the police” is equivalent to attacks on Black people or displaying a swastika.

In this preoccupation with graffiti, you might recall Halifax’s graffiti cop and his crusade against “hip hop graffiti” which led to him harassing and intimidating children in their homes and surveilling their instagrams. Philip Moscovich quotes Constable Gerry Murney on the dangers of Black people  hip hop culture:

“Legal graffiti is as intrusive and as bad as illegal graffiti,” he says. “It desensitizes the public to what they’re looking at, and it promotes the person [who painted it].” Cities like Montreal promoting graffiti baffle him. He says he thinks that providing places to paint legally is wrong-headed in that it promotes a culture inextricably tied up with drugs, alcohol, vandalism, and even suicide.

The 2008 Hamilton hate crime report went on to identify future events that have the “potential to impact hate-bias related crime incidents.”

These include the 2010 Olympics, the 2010 G8 Summit, the anarchist movement and the current economic climate. 

Every single concern listed by the police related to left-wing protests. The police recommended spying on activists (“retaining its current position with the Intelligence community”) and combatting graffiti. “Local native land reclamation issues” were also listed as a potential danger. Nowhere in the report was any concern raised about far-right organizing.

Among the police targets for surveillance in both the 2008 and 2009 report was an event planned for 2010 in Winnipeg, a “religious counter-summit”  to the G10 Summit featuring Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Yes, the Hamilton police were more concerned about spying on the Dalai Lama than tracking far-right terrorism.

“Boycotting of sponsors” of the 2015 Pan Am games was listed as a potential hate crime in the 2009 report.

If we wonder why in 2019 far right organizing proceeds unimpeded in Hamilton, this history of the police department dedicating all its resources to surveilling anarchists gives us the answer.

While the police department no longer list themselves as a prominent target of hate crimes like unloving graffiti in its most recent reports, the 2018 report on hate crimes (signed by Kinsella as Deputy Chief) ends with this graphic:

At the height of Black resistance to street checks, at a community meeting in Halifax in 2017, Chief Blais notoriously asked “what do you mean by institutional racism?” Likewise, if “colourblindness” is the Hamilton Police’s solution to racism, homophobia, and violent hate, then it’s hard to have confidence that Kinsella understands systemic racism.

Why is this history of the Hamilton Police culture of using the hate crimes unit to surveil, arrest, and prosecute left wing activists so important? In response to racist incidents such as the nail gun shooting of Nhlanhla Dlamini and the attack on Professor Isaac Saney on Halifax Transit, Black communities in Nova Scotia have been calling for strengthening hate crimes legislation, prosecuting these incidents as hate crimes, and having a dedicated hate crimes unit within the police.

But with Kinsella in charge, will the Halifax Police put their energies into preventing racist attacks, or, as we saw in Hamilton, will these resources be used to spy on Indigenous people and people involved in anti-capitalist organizing, position the police as victims (thus leading to increased police budgets for surveillance and weapons), and to criminalize left-wing protestors while standing back and allowing far right organizers to commit violence?

Surveillance and Data

Kinsella served as the security lead for the 2015 Pan Am Games. The security apparatus for the games featured extended surveillance, CCTV cameras and electronic surveillance, as well as covert intelligence operations. From the CBC article at the link:

Former Peel Regional Police officer Henri Berube says it’s likely that the little-known Communications Security Establishment Canada (or CSE) is involved in monitoring for the games. But if they are, they aren’t telling.

“CSE does not comment on operations,” spokesperson Lauri Sullivan told CBC Hamilton in an email. “CSE is a foreign signals intelligence and cyber defence agency that serves to protect Canada and Canadians, both at home and around the world.”

Sullivan would say little else, except that “CSE is prohibited by law from directing its activities at Canadians or anyone in Canada, and we fully respect the law.” The CSE is an ultra-secret version of the NSA in the U.S., Berube says, and only reports back to the Canadian government. “They’re probably even more secretive than CSIS,” he said. “You’re dealing with a very covert world of people.”

The 2008 and 2009 Hamiltion “hate crime/bias” reports made it clear that the planned targets of this expanded surveillance apparatus were left wing organizers.

Kinsella’s involvement in a vast surveillance operation should be alarming to Black residents of Halifax. Last week, the police board called for the police to gather race-based data at traffic stops, a recommendation from the Wortley report.

However, while data can reveal racist policing practices, involving the police in gathering and retaining data raises questions about the “intelligence” uses of this data.

Researchers have raised alarms at “predictive policing” practices, where algorithms are used to “mine insights from data collected by the police.” Experts caution that these algorithms risk discriminating against “protected characteristics such as race, sexuality, and age.”

Researchers at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), commissioned by the government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, focused on predictive crime mapping and individual risk assessment and found algorithms that are trained on police data may replicate — and in some cases amplify — the existing biases inherent in the data set, such as over- or under-policing of certain communities.

“The effects of a biased sample could be amplified by algorithmic predictions via a feedback loop, whereby future policing is predicted, not future crime,” the authors said.

Critics of the practice have also raised concerns about the way that even small violations, such as tickets for jaywalking and littering, are fed into the model, and how this data can be used to criminalize communities.

The police use of facial recognition technologies, stingray devices, expanded camera surveillance, and other forms of monitoring are serious risks to civil liberties.

Kinsella’s bio with the Hamilton Police indicates that he “graduated from the Police Leadership Program at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto and the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia.”

Critics of the militarization of the police have detailed how U.S. law enforcement shapes international policing, including training police in anti-terrorism tactics and intelligence gathering. These programs are documented to offer training by Israeli police and security forces. “The ‘Israeli method’,” critics note, “blends together state security policing with that of other crimes.” It is alarming that U.S.-style policing, which leads to the U.S. holding 25% of the world’s prisoner population from disproportionately Black communities, is transmitted to Canadian police.

The Police Leadership Program at the University of Toronto ($12, 500 for three weeks) on the other hand, focuses on applying business and management techniques to policing. It is largely delivered by business faculty along with “industry experts.” In this year’s schedule, the first week focuses heavily on budgets.

The Police Culture in Hamilton

One person in Hamilton raising concerns about what to expect from Kinsella’s term as Halifax police chief is Matthew Green. Green, the first Black Hamilton city councillor, was stopped and racially profiled by the police. The lawyer for the officer accused Green as having an “insufferable ego” and lamented the impact of the hearing on the officer and his family.

As a councillor, Green consistently challenged the growing police budget in Hamilton. He identifies the priorities we can expect to see from Kinsella if the trends in policing and policing culture in Hamilton are transferred to Halifax:

What we have seen is the soaring costs of policing, and militarization of policing. We’ve seen the use of increased fear as a tactic for increasing police budgets, so then you have to look at the use of statistics and the way they are presented particular to our community. And I’m concerned about facial recognition technologies which have been shown to misidentify Black people. 

And then there’s the degree to which Hamilton has a complete and utter lack of cultural competence. You look at what happened with Pride, and the comments of the police chief. 

In what culture was Kinsella raised? What culture will he introduce? Will he bring with him the ballooning budgets of policing and buying every paramilitary product under the sun?

In 2015, the former police chief of Hamilton, Glenn De Caire, was revealed to have “forwarded an email to front-line officers from a citizen who said it’s ‘time for these black kids to stop blaming the police.’”

De Caire, who was reportedly mentored by Toronto police chief Bill Blair (now Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction) also introduced TAVIS-style policing to Hamilton. The “Action” squad, as it was called in Hamilton, targeted racialized and low-income neighbourhoods.

In 2015, at least five officers from the squad were arrested for issuing fake tickets. Another Hamilton police officer, Constable Craig Ruthowsky, was charged in connection with a gang raid.

Despite repeated evidence of racially motivated stops, De Caire denied that the Hamilton police engaged in racial profiling and argued they were in fact engaged in “criminal profiling,” rhetoric an academic paper by Heston Tobias and Ameil Joseph identified as “gaslighting“:

Despite the widespread coverage that the Hamilton Police Service received as a result of being linked to systemic racist practices, a year later, the Hamilton Police Service was able to avoid being implicated in deliberately conducting racial profiling through strategic tactics in the discourse they relied upon and presented in the media. Through an analysis of 27 local news media articles on the topic of street checks, it is argued that the Police Services and local media discourse enact gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse that is used to manipulate object(s) in order to deceive and undermine the credibility of the target.

De Caire is now the head of security at McMaster University.

There is no record I can find that Kinsella objected to these policing practices during his time in Hamilton.

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger, who was forced to walk back his statements that the anarchist symbol is a “terrorist” symbol, was named the head of the police oversight board in 2018.

Along with his concerns about the police culture Kinsella brings to Halifax, Green also points to the ballooning costs of policing in Hamilton. In 2016, the Hamilton police asked for a $4.2 million budget increase while also arguing that they should retain the $3.7 million surplus from the Pan Am Games. People I spoke with in Hamilton allege that the police hid the surplus while arguing for an increase in the budget.

Among police requests in Hamilton were more weaponry, surveillance equipment, and new centralized buildings. Green warns that if Kinsella holds true to these priorities, we can expect to see more procurements like the recent half-a-millon dollar armoured vehicle.

Beyond Street Checks

I have argued before that the response to street checks has become increasingly bureaucratic, focused on consultations and meetings rather than on recognizing and fighting state violence and how it takes place through policing, surveillance, and incarceration. When the issue of street checks is cordoned off, and we believe that the response is simply more diverse officers, or better data management, or better communication strategies with communities, we lose the ability to connect police profiling to the broader context of how Black people and communities are disciplined and controlled.

If we take one thing away from the issues of surveillance, intelligence gathering, and expanding technological monitoring of dissenters raised by Kinsella’s tenure in Hamilton, it should be that the police certainly understand the need to suppress and criminalize our communities. It is why the Ontario Association of Police Chiefs has resisted at every point every effort to dismantle racial profiling. Our response to these policing techniques should not be negotiating our seat at the table. It should be on resisting at every turn the encroachment of police into our communities, the violation of our civil liberties, and the growth of a culture that treats boycotting sponsors with more urgency than violence against our communities. Kinsella’s hiring is unlikely to be the dawning of a new era. It is likely it should be our wake up call.

El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. This is an excellent in-depth investigation into Hamilton police and what’s in store for Halifax — the lack of serious oversight of police is not well enough known. El’s article should be a must read for all criminology students, political science and sociology students.