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Moratorium on N.S. street checks to be permanent after independent legal opinion finds practice illegal

Nova Scotia’s temporary moratorium on street checks is set to become permanent after an independent legal opinion written by a former chief justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court found the practice to be illegal. Elizabeth McSheffrey brings us the latest.

Nova Scotia’s temporary moratorium on street checks is set to become permanent after an independent legal opinion written by a former chief justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court found the practice to be illegal.

“The decisions that I’ve come to, based on a number of contributing factors, is that we will move to take the moratorium to a permanent ban on street checks,” said Mark Furey, the province’s justice minister, on Friday.

Furey announced his decision shortly after the 107-page assessment, prepared by former chief justice Michael MacDonald and research lawyer Jennifer Taylor of the law firm Stewart McKelvey, was made public.

MacDonald and Taylor’s assessment, which was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, finds the practice of street checks has no basis in statute or common law and is therefore illegal.

“We have concluded that there is no power for the police to conduct street checks in HRM [Halifax Regional Municipality],” the conclusion of the report reads.
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“In short, street checks are not reasonably necessary for the police to execute their duties, when balanced against the interference with individual liberty, and the disproportionate effects on Black Nova Scotians, that street checks entail.”

READ MORE: Former Chief Justice of N.S. Supreme Court to examine legality of Halifax street checks

The independent assessment was commissioned earlier this year in response to a 180-page report written by Scot Wortley, a professor of criminology at the University of Toronto

The Wortley report was published in March and detailed how African Nova Scotians were five times more likely to be stopped and street-checked by police than the general population.

His report analyzed 12 years data from both the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP, which patrols certain parts of the HRM. The report found that between 2006 and 2017, black people were disproportionately questioned by police.

Halifax police progressing on recommendations in street check report
Halifax police progressing on recommendations in street check report

Wortley concluded that street checks had a “disproportionate and negative” impact on the African Nova Scotia community.

For that reason, the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners had requested an independent legal opinion on the practice.

Those findings are set to be discussed at a board meeting scheduled for Monday, with the police for declining to comment until then.

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What are street checks?

The legal assessment and the Wortley report both define a street check as a record or identifying information about an individual that is collected during an “interaction between the police and a member of the public, or upon observation of a member of the public by the police.”

That means the data captured as street checks doesn’t include all police traffic stops and pedestrian stops and as a result, the number of black people being randomly stopped by police in Halifax could be much higher.

READ MORE: N.S. justice minister suspends police street checks on pedestrians, vehicle passengers

Community activist Quentrel Provo says a ban on street checks will help African-Nova Scotians feel safer in Halifax.
Community activist Quentrel Provo says a ban on street checks will help African-Nova Scotians feel safer in Halifax. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

Quentrel Provo, founder of Stop the Violence, Spread the Love, called the upcoming ban “a win” for his community, but cautioned that more needs to be done to address systemic racism in Nova Scotia. That starts with an apology, he told Global News on Friday afternoon.

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“We still haven’t received an apology, so that’s another thing. You don’t receive an apology, no one is really taking responsibility for the actions.”

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Nova Scotia’s PC Leader Tim Houston said the provincial government had “done the right thing” by making the moratorium on street checks permanent, as did the NDP’s justice critic, Claudia Chender.

“The government has taken leadership on a clear example of discrimination and racism that only alienates communities and damages trust with law enforcement,” said Houston in a press release.

“This is something that many people have been asking for, for over a decade… We feel like the right decision was made today,” Chender told reporters.

The independent legal assessment was prepared within the limited scope of what was requested by Halifax Board of Police Commissioners, advising the commission on how to respond to the Wortley report and helping the public better understand street checks in Halifax.

“Nothing in our opinion should be taken as a basis for imposing liability or making other findings in court proceedings,” MacDonald’s assessment reads.