A grassroots coalition has been created in Nova Scotia to advocate for changes to police services that they feel will better serve communities that have faced disproportionate instances of violence and injustice at the hands of police.
“This violence continues to unfold. We heard about the two recent killings of Indigenous people here in this region,” said Tari Ajadi, a political science PhD student at Dalhousie University and member of the Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group.
“This is something that has been happening and continues to happen, and it’s time for us to really start to make change and start to reflect on why we’ve decided that community safety looks this way.”
Ajadi referenced two recent instances that resulted in police killing an Indigenous woman and man in New Brunswick.
Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi were shot by police officers in separate incidents this month. Both of their deaths have led to calls for a public inquiry into systemic racism in New Brunswick’s justice and policing systems.
The Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group (PPWG) says it’s time to reconsider how police resources are used and whether funds can be reallocated to better protect and serve different communities. Particularly, Black and Indigenous communities.
“The idea is you would take the resources that we’re currently devoting to policing and invest them in other forms of public safety that meets the needs of communities where they are, proactively. It’s the idea that fundamentally, we’re using the police as one tool to fix a whole bunch of problems that policing isn’t actually set out to do,” Ajadi said.
Across Nova Scotia and North America, Black Lives Matter rallies have amplified public concern over incidents of police brutality against Black and Indigenous communities. Particularly, during events where a mental health crisis is involved.
Harry Critchley says the Nova Scotia PPWG is hoping to harness the momentum created by the solidarity movement to create opportunities in Nova Scotia for people to hold police to account and advocate for reform where deemed necessary.
“We’re hoping that we can kind of ride this wave of interest and attention on policing issues and the need for policing reform,” Critchley said, the vice-chair of the East Coast Prison Justice Society and member of the Nova Scotia PPWG.
Critchley says another focal point of the group will be determining what areas of policing could be better served if they were put in the hands of trained civilians, such as wellness checks being guided by social workers instead of armed police officers.
Also, having the Liquor Control Act changed to limit the arresting powers of police when it comes to dealing with publicly intoxicated people who may be struggling with mental health and substance use disorders.
Critchley has long advocated for drunk tanks to be replaced with sobering centres in Nova Scotia.
“Where people who are publicly intoxicated aren’t placed into a concrete cell, but instead taken to a shelter-type setting with medical staff on hand to supervise them,” he said.
Critchley says he also wants to see the use of spit hoods banned, after 41-year-old Corey Rogers died while in police custody in June 2016.
Rogers suffocated in the police cell he was held in after being arrested for public intoxication. Two special constables were found guilty of criminal negligence in his death.
The working group presented an action letter to the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners, calling for procedural changes to be made to allow for increased public participation in the meetings.
The board meets once a month to provide civilian oversight for police services. It is made up of councillors and volunteers and is open to the public but the NS PPWG feels the format of the meetings needs to change to simplify the process for public concerns to be heard.
“We also really want the board to create more opportunities for public input outside of the formal meetings and we’d also like to see the board move its meeting to the evening to improve their accessibility,” Critchley said.
Police board chair, Natalie Borden, says some of the working group suggestions align with the working plan the board has in place for 2020, including an objective to increase public participation.
Borden says she has received the letter from the PPWG and that their request will be added to their agenda for discussion and review.