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Mental health conference removes Halifax police chief as speaker in wake of street check report

Chief Jean-Michel Blais of the Halifax Regional Police has been removed as a keynote speaker at a mental health conference set to take place in Halifax.
Chief Jean-Michel Blais of the Halifax Regional Police has been removed as a keynote speaker at a mental health conference set to take place in Halifax. The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

A mental health conference that was set to have Halifax police Chief Jean-Michel Blais as a keynote speaker has removed him from its program in the wake of an independent report that found black people were street-checked at a rate six times higher than white people in the municipality.

The Worth Living Mental Health conference is set for May 31 in Halifax.

Keith Anderson, founder of Worth Living, was the one who made the decision to remove Blais.

“We want to maintain the focus on our message of hope, healing, health and happiness,” said Anderson in a press release.

“We feel that given current circumstances, we wanted to ensure there will be no distractions from the mission of engaging the community in meaningful conversations on mental health. Worth Living is an all-inclusive organization.”

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Halifax Regional Police say that this is not a police matter — Blais is set to retire from his post on April 12 and will not be a police employee when the conference takes place — so they would not be commenting on the issue.

Anderson, who was a “lawyer with depression for years,” will now serve as the keynote speaker at the conference.

READ MORE: Report recommends Halifax police’s street checks program be limited or banned

A press release from Worth Living announcing the removal of Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais as a keynote speaker.
A press release from Worth Living announcing the removal of Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais as a keynote speaker. Worth Living

The report, released last month, 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 the province.

Street checks refer to the police technique of stopping people when no specific offence is being investigated, questioning them and recording their information.

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The 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.

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.

WATCH (March 28, 2019): N.S. justice minister orders police to end street checks

N.S. justice minister orders police to end street checks
N.S. justice minister orders police to end street checks

Nova Scotia’s justice minister has directed police forces across the province to cease using street checks — but only for “quota” or data purposes.

Blais became a public figure for first responders suffering from PTSD after he decided to come forward and speak about how the disorder has affected him.

He developed PTSD after serving three UN tours in Haiti.

Blais is set to retire on April 12, and he has served as police chief for the Halifax police since Oct. 11, 2012.

Deputy Chief Robin McNeil will then take over as acting chief until a new permanent chief is selected.

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