Halifax Board of Police Commissioners to seek opinion on legality of street checks

Halifax's two police forces say they will not “formally apologize” to the African Nova Scotian community over the policy of street checks.

The Halifax Board of Police Commissioners will seek an opinion on the legality of street checks even as the municipality’s two police forces say they will not issue an apology for the controversial practice.

On Monday, board chair Steve Craig introduced the motion to ask the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to seek a legal opinion on street checks, in which pedestrians or drivers are stopped without cause and asked for identification and other information.

READ MORE: There will be no apologies from Halifax police, RCMP over street checks

It was approved by every member of the board except Carlos Beals, who was concerned about how the legal opinion might impact actions on street checks currently underway.

“From my point of view, this is a question that has repeatedly been asked by [Decade for People of African Descent], by other people, and actually [University of Toronto criminology professor Scot] Wortley requested it. He had the recommendation that we ought to seek an outside legal opinion on that,” said Craig.

“There are some portions of the bureaucracy and the orders of government that are moving relatively slow I think, some that are moving relatively quick, and the board of police commissioners I think is looking at the appropriate responses and the timing.”

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The decisions by the board are in response to a report by Wortley, who found African Nova Scotian men in the Halifax area were nine times more likely to be stopped by police than the general population. Wortley found that street checks have had a “disproportionate and negative” impact on the black community.

WATCH: Questions linger following street check announcement

Questions linger following street check announcement
Questions linger following street check announcement

Despite the findings, both the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP confirmed in written responses to the board that they won’t be taking the step of apologizing for the policy of street checks “at this time.”

“Both police services have indicated not at this time, and I respect that,” said Craig.

“I think it’s an improvement over not at all. I think they need some time to think about it and certainly the police commission will encourage them to give it all the consideration that it does deserve and hopefully we will have an apology at some point.”

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The police board had asked the two services on April 15 to suspend street checks but a wider moratorium was imposed within days by the provincial government.

READ MORE: Rally to end street checks held in Halifax following release of damning report

Board member Lindell Smith said police had an opportunity to give the black community a signal that there is an understanding of the hurt and trauma the street check policy has inflicted.

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“There wasn’t a hard no, so being the optimist I hope in the future we do see some true ownership,” said Smith, who is the only African Nova Scotian member of Halifax Regional Council.

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With files from The Canadian Press