The provincial government says it won’t heed an NDP call to “immediately” force police services in Nova Scotia to end street checks.
The controversial practice disproportionately affects African Nova Scotians. According to numbers released in January by the Halifax Regional Police force, black people are three times more likely than white people to be stopped for a street check.
Street checks are when police record information following an interaction with a person or an observation from a distance.
Chief Jean-Michel Blais says 45 per cent of street checks don’t involve a direct interaction with police — for example, recording a licence plate. He said the remaining 55 per cent cover direct interactions between residents and police.
Those cases often involve police asking for someone’s ID or other personal information. It’s colloquially referred to as “carding,” but Blais said in policing terms, “carding” refers to a street check that happens in a pre-defined geographic area and he says that type of street check doesn’t happen in Halifax.
Blais argues that street checks are an important part of policing but there’s no data to back up that claim. A study commissioned in September will examine whether street checks help solve or prevent crimes.
Initially, Blais said changes to the street-check policy would come this fall, but he said that’s no longer the case.
“If we’re going to make a change that’s going to affect the way that we do our policing, then it has to be done in a systematic approach and it will unfortunately, have to take some time,” he said.
The final report from criminologist Scot Wortley will be delivered in fall 2018.
The New Democrats say that’s too long a wait.
Last week, the party called on Attorney General and Justice Minister Mark Furey to “direct police forces in Nova Scotia to end the practice of street checks immediately.”
But in a statement attributed to Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Gillis, the government rejected the request and said it will wait for Wortley’s report.
“We look forward to the outcome of the review,” Gillis said in an email.
People aren’t required to provide any information if police approach them for a street check — but Halifax Regional Police aren’t required to inform individuals about that part of the law.
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NDP MLA Claudia Chender says the practice has “serious detrimental effects” on African Nova Scotians and other racialized communities.
“You could have someone who’s had 20 interactions with police, none of those interactions could have been precipitated by anything that person did — but the optics are bad,” Chender said.
“We know that in certain cases, that ends up with people not able to get a job or not able to pass a criminal records check.”
Speaking to the Board of Police Commissioners on Monday, chair Steve Craig said the study “should have happened decades ago.”
When asked about the statement afterward, Craig said the comment was made out of “frustration” because African Nova Scotians “have been dealing with this for a long time.”
However, he said he would withhold judgment about street checks until the report is released next fall.