Will banning street checks be enough? Concerns heard as Halifax community meetings get underway
At the first of three community meetings on the Halifax street check report, the study’s author reiterated his concern that an outright ban on the controversial practice may not be enough to solve concerns raised by the African Nova Scotian community about systemic racial discrimination.
Roughly a dozen people attended the meeting at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S., on Tuesday, where Scot Wortley took questions on the findings in his 180-page report — first released in March.
Wortley, a professor of criminology at the University of Toronto, analyzed 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.
The end result is a policy that Wortley found to have had a “disproportionate and negative” impact on the African Nova Scotia community.
But as Wortley stressed in his report and at the meeting on Tuesday, the statistics are just the “tip of the iceberg.”
Street checks don’t include all police traffic stops and pedestrians stops, said Wortley, meaning that the number of black people being randomly stopped by police in Halifax could be much higher.
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At the heart of that disparity is how police forces and the larger community define street checks.
“Most community members believe that street checks refer to all incidents in which civilians are stopped and questioned by the police,” reads Wortley’s report.
But police forces describe street checks as the formal documentation of (non-criminal) police-civilian encounters for the purpose of police intelligence.
It’s that issue that caused Wortley to say he didn’t believe that an outright ban on the controversial practice would solve the larger concerns around the systemic discrimination and racial profiling of the African Nova Scotian community.
Instead, he voiced a concern that a ban would allow police forces to stop issuing a paper trail and allow the discrimination to continue without a formal method of tracking it — likely causing outrage from a community that would see no change in how they experience policing.
Wortley’s report says that if a complete ban is not forthcoming, the monitoring and regulation of streetchecks must be enhanced.
Although the province’s justice minister has formally instituted a moratorium on street checks, both police forces have said they will not “formally apologise” for the practice at this time.
The Halifax Board of Police Commissioners has asked the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to seek an opinion on the legality of street checks
Two more community meetings will be held later this week.
On Wednesday, a meeting will be held at the Wallace Lucas Community Centre in Lucasville, N.S., and on Thursday a meeting will be held at the YMCA on Gottingen Street in Halifax.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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