Halifax Regional Police officers have renewed a commitment to crack down on racism in their communities as part of an annual proclamation and prayer service tied to the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The service, which was held on Sunday morning, was attended by Mayor Mike Savage and other councillors.
A moment of silence was held for the Barho family, who lost seven family members in a fatal fire last month, as well as the 50 victims of the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand and the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
The annual service began eight years ago in an effort to ease tensions between African Nova Scotians and Halifax police officers.
The city and its police force’s history of racism and discrimination cast a long shadow, especially during ceremonies like the one on Sunday.
“It takes a deliberateness to overcome centuries of history of excluding non-white peoples,” said Rhonda Britton, pastor for the New Horizons Baptist Church.
Police chief Jean-Michel Blais says the police service hopes to play its part in deconstructing those systems.
“A lot of the messaging that the pastor spoke about was the issues of compassion and dignity and being able to respect people for who they are and what they do as opposed to what they may seem to appear to be as people,” said Blais.
“I think these are very good lessons for all of us here and for our members who are in attendance as well.”
But that resolve to do better is tempered with the knowledge that a report on a controversial police practice is due later this month.
Scot Wortley, a University of Toronto criminology professor and researcher on race and crime, is the man writing the report, which examines the crime-fighting potential of police street checks and weighs it against the practice’s possible negative impact on racialized communities.
In Halifax, street checks, also known as carding, refers to the police technique of stopping people when no specific offence is being investigated, questioning them and recording their information. It can also include observations made at a distance.
Wortley was hired in 2017 after data showed that in Halifax, black men were three times more likely than their white counterparts to be subjected to the controversial practice. A new review conducted by CBC found “black people were four times more likely to be street checked than white people in 2017 and 2018.”
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It’s an act on which Blais says the force continues to work.
“It’s our hope that we’re going to be able to understand better what exactly a street check is. And secondly, to be able to have recommendations that can go forward and will allow the police service as well as the community, in general, to be able to interact better and to be able to understand everything,” said Blais.
The people at the service are hopeful that the report will lead to changes.