Nova Scotia social justice advocates want police street checks suspended

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Nova Scotia social justice advocates want police street checks suspended
Group calls for the province's Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) to investigate Halifax Regional Police's use of street checks. – Jan 19, 2017

A group of black Nova Scotia social justice advocates are taking a stand against Halifax Regional Police’s use of street checks.

“The street check statistics released by the police authority come as no surprise to black people in this province.  We live this experience everyday,” Shawna Hoyte, a Halifax-based lawyer with the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, said.

Hoyte, along with social workers Robert Wright and Lanna MacLean, wrote a three-page letter addressed to the province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) and Human Rights Commission, outlining their concerns with the ethics behind street checks.

“Street checks do disproportionately affect African Nova Scotians and as a practice that is questionable at best,” said Wright in an interview with Global News Thursday. “It should be thoroughly investigated and perhaps stopped until a thorough investigation into the practice can be made.”

Street check statistics released by Halifax Regional Police revealed black people in Nova Scotia are three times more likely to be stopped than white people.

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READ MORE: Police-check numbers have ‘startled’ Nova Scotians, premier says

The statistics included 11 years of checks between 2005 and 2016.

During that time, 18 per cent of the roughly 36,700 people involved were part of a visible minority.

According to those statistics, black people were stopped the most, coming in at 11 percent.

The next highest demographic was Arab or west Asian at 3.38 per cent.

Statistics Canada conducted a national household survey in 2011 and found that only 3.6 percent of Halifax’s entire population is black.

That small percentage is disproportionately represented in the check statistics.

READ MORE: How racist are we, really? The case for quantifying systemic bias

Police say checks are primarily conducted based on prior interaction with officers.

“It doesn’t mean that there’s any criminality, it normally is location or time-of-day specific and that really is what it is,” Deputy Chief Bill Moore said in an interview with Global News on Jan. 9.

Police say any information collected in a check is used to “prevent, detect and solve crime” in the community.

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The letter calls for an independent review of the practice and wants the practice to be suspended in the meantime.

Administration members of Nova Scotia’s department of justice were also included in the letter.

“We understand that SiRT and the Human Rights Commission are planning to talk with the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner,” Sarah Gillis, a spokesperson with the justice department, said in an email. “Those agencies have strong expertise in appropriate police policy. We look forward to the outcome of their discussions.”

The letter says the statistics reveal decades of segregation and marginalization of African Nova Scotians.


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