Nova Scotia’s justice minister has directed police forces across the province to immediately cease using street checks — but only for “quota” or data purposes.
Mark Furey unveiled the decision on Thursday, a day after the release of an independent report found that African Nova Scotian males are nine times more likely to be stopped by police in Halifax than the general population.
The report, prepared by University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley, had recommended that street checks be limited or outright banned.
“The findings of this report are alarming and the findings are unacceptable,” said Mr. Furey.
The direction from the Justice Department, however, comes with a caveat — that police cease using “street checks as part of a quota system or performance measurement tool.”
“I’m not aware of any formal policy, but the informal expectations of front-line officers, and I talk to them. I come from that environment. I know exactly what they’re experiencing. There is an expectation of performance and there has always been,” Furey said.
WATCH: The long-awaited report on street checks in Halifax was made public on Wednesday.
The report was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 2017 after a United Nations working group raised serious concerns regarding systemic discrimination and racial profiling in police street checks in Nova Scotia.
Street checks, also known as carding, refer to the police technique of stopping people when no specific offence is being investigated, questioning them and recording their information.
Wednesday’s 180-page report found street check rates in Halifax were among the highest in Canada, second only to Toronto. Ontario banned police carding in specific situations in 2017 — a controversial practice that is similar to street checks.
“Street checks have contributed to the criminalization of black youth, eroded trust in law enforcement and undermined the perceived legitimacy of the entire criminal justice system,” said Wortley.
WATCH: Halifax officials and African Nova Scotians come together even with street check report on the horizon
The report examined data from both the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP, which patrols certain parts of the Halifax Regional Municipality, between 2006 and 2017.
Over the 12-year period, the report found that black people were disproportionately questioned by police.
For example, although African Nova Scotians make up only 3.6 per cent of the population, they were subjected to 19.2 per cent of street checks – making it five times more likely they would be stopped by police.
A closer look at that figure reveals that while black women were three times more likely to be stopped, black men were 9.2 times more likely to appear in Halifax street check statistics.
Wortley said the staggering statistics are just the “tip of the iceberg,” noting that the figures do not include all police traffic stops and pedestrian stops.
“Street checks capture only a small fraction of all police stops,” he said, suggesting the number of black people being randomly stopped by police in Halifax could be much higher.”
Critics wonder how Furey’s measures will prevent police from targeting people of colour.
“Basically we put a ban that is not going to stop the racial profiling. It’s not going to stop officers from pulling people over because they’re black,” said local advocate Quentrel Provo.
“How do we keep statistics? How do we know that we’re not getting pulled over for a quota or performance?”
Provo believes these measures are only a temporary fix.
“They’re trying to put a Band-Aid on right now, and you can’t put a Band-Aid on an open wound,” said Provo. “The only way is to stitch it up.”
Police in Nova Scotia to undergo ‘mandatory training’
Furey says that the province will invest in “mandatory training” for the more than 1,900 police officers across Nova Scotia.
“Training will focus on the findings of the report and reinforce with officers the fundamentals of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, their missions, vision and values and policing codes of ethics,” read the press release accompanying the announcement.
Furey says the Department of Justice and the Department of African Nova Scotian Affairs will immediately begin working with the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to develop short, medium and long-term actions to address the issue of street checks.
A plan will reportedly be developed by mid-May.
“These measures are an important first step in rebuilding trust in the community. I am looking forward to working hand-in-hand with members of the community to effect meaningful change,” said Furey.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Elizabeth McSheffrey