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Police open to reviewing historic cases of criminalization arising from street checks

Police open to reviewing historic cases of criminalization arising from street checks
WATCH: Halifax Regional Police have committed to reviewing cases of criminalization arising from street checks that would be considered unlawful today. Elizabeth McSheffrey has more.

Halifax Regional Police have committed to reviewing cases of criminalization arising from street checks that would be considered unlawful today.

It’s one of several promises of redress made at a panel discussion held Monday night, aimed at renewing relations between the African Nova Scotian community and law enforcement in the wake of a provincial street checks ban.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella said the department doesn’t have the capacity to comb through the database in search of such cases, and is asking anyone who believes it happened to them to come forward with their concerns.

READ MORE: Apologies, action plans: Halifax police promise positive change post-street checks

“If there’s instances that precipitated some sort of criminal behaviour that followed, that’s something that we’re interested in and we’ll have to have a look at that task,” he told reporters. “It’s a very difficult task, it isn’t something that’s easy, that’s why I coupled it with my plea to the community.”

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He confirmed that the department would look at the data in a general sense to see if any cases jump out, and that any complaints from the public will spur an internal investigation.

Kinsella wasn’t available on Tuesday to provide additional explanation of the commitment, but it’s already raising some eyebrows within the community about how it might be delivered.

READ MORE: Halifax Police Chief says apology for street checks will be made next week

“My concern would be, who is the ‘we’ that is going to review the case? The same people who were ardent supporters of street checks for the last 20 years?” social worker Robert Wright told Global News.

“I would have more confidence if there were some kind of review commission established for that work that included individuals who are experts, who have long held the view that street checks are illegal.”

Robert Wright of the Nova Scotia Decade for People of African Descent Coalition says he’s more concerned with reparations for the community than he is with reprimanding police officers for historical street checks. He’s seen here in his Halifax office on Nov. 19, 2019.
Robert Wright of the Nova Scotia Decade for People of African Descent Coalition says he’s more concerned with reparations for the community than he is with reprimanding police officers for historical street checks. He’s seen here in his Halifax office on Nov. 19, 2019. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

Marcus James, co-founder of 902 ManUp, which hosted the Monday panel, was concerned the announcement appeared to have been made without community input. He also noted that if the commitment were to go forward, it would involve street checks data that police promised to scrub by December 2020.

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“They weren’t able to go into detail right in terms of how things are going to look and shape up and function and those are the specifics that community is looking for,” James explained.

“You seen last night there’s still some conversation taking place without community engagement, and as long as that continues, people are going to – especially the African Nova Scotian community – they’re going to question the process.”

Even the provincial Justice Department, which may need to co-operate in some capacity with street checks case reviews, was surprised by Kinsella’s announcement. In an emailed statement, spokesperson Lynette Macleod said it would be premature to comment on the topic because, “This is the first time we have heard this suggestion and have not had any direct conversations with municipal police forces, the RCMP or community stakeholders on this.”

READ MORE: Moratorium on N.S. street checks to become permanent after independent legal opinion finds practice illegal

The broad conversation last night included repeated commitments to training and education to eliminate biased and racist policing, along with provincial programming to reduce social and political inclusion barriers for African Nova Scotians.

The Justice Department confirmed Tuesday that the development of an African Nova Scotian Justice Plan is underway in collaboration with the community, but the plan is still in the “preliminary stages.”

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DeRico Symonds, a community advocate, said he was encouraged by the positive message and willingness to work together, but thought there ought to be more focus on reparation for those impacted by street checks.

“I think there maybe needed to be some more discussion around how the repair to community and mental health is going to happen,” he told Global News on Tuesday. “I mean I’m satisfied, but I’m trying to look forward in terms of what’s going to happen.”

Amid some calls at the discussion for police reprimand, Wright agreed that the focus needs to be on the community.

“If that has resulted in their criminalization and marginalization, we should probably look at those folks and say, ‘What do we need to do to make things right with them?'” he said.

“So I’m less concerned about penalizing police officers than I am about repairing the harms that have been done to black folk.”

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If anyone were to face consequences for illegal street checks conducted in years past, he added, it ought to be a figure in power or authority, rather than beat cops carrying out what was considered “standard practice” at the time.

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

Accessing your personal street check record

Kinsella confirmed on Monday that the ability to enter new street checks data into the police database has been disabled, and that the identities of anyone in the system will be scrubbed in December 2020.

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Anyone wishing to access their personal records can do so using freedom of information legislation. A form, and instruction on how to file a freedom of information request can be found online here. There is no application fee on a request for personal records, and forms can be submitted by mail or in person at police headquarters on Gottingen Street.

Kinsella said at the community discussion he intends to ramp up education efforts on accessing personal records in the months to come, so that no one who wants their own information misses the deadline at the end of next year.

Wright said that while everyone’s healing journey is unique, some individuals may find it useful to have their street checks data on hand.

“I think it may be useful again if those individuals who seek their record had the opportunity to speak with experts who can sit with them and help them to use that information in their journey of healing and repair,” he explained.

“I don’t think giving anyone that raw data is helpful, it’s kind of like an individual who’s had a traumatic history who wants to sit with their medical records and figure out what kind of treatments they had as a kid… that person should really sit with a medical professional who can explain what happened to them and answer their questions in real time about what happened to them.”

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Halifax Police have confirmed they will apologize for historic unjust treatment toward African Nova Scotians on Nov. 29.

On Tuesday, Nova Scotia RCMP told Global News via email that it’s still considering an apology, and those considerations must extend beyond the Halifax area and province, because it’s part of a national organization. It added that’s making internal changes to address recommendations from the Wortley Report published in March, which revealed the discriminatory way street checks have been used against people of colour.

“We are having conversations with our employees, our external Black and Racially Visible Advisory Council, various community members, our policing partners and Department of Justice to make changes,” wrote Cpl. Lisa Croteau.

“Addressing the recommendations in the Wortley Report is an important step for the RCMP toward better serving African Nova Scotians and all community members.”