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Halifax municipal election candidates answer survey on policing policy reform

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WATCH: The Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group sent the survey out to all of the candidates ahead of the Oct. 17 election. – Oct 8, 2020

A provincial coalition says 74 per cent of all election candidates in the Halifax Regional Municipality responded to a survey on policy reform relating to Halifax Regional Police.

The Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group, including the East Coast Prison Justice Society, Wellness Within, and the Elizabeth Fry Society N.S., created a 13-question survey on policing in the HRM.

Chair of East Coast Prison Justice Harry Critchley says accountability in the upcoming municipal election was a major focus for the PPWG.

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The survey had two goals: to gage perspectives of candidates on reform relating to policing, and to ensure policing was an issue that would be top-of-mind to people as part of the election, said Critchley.

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“I think there’s been a huge explosion of interest and scrutiny of policing, in the last six months to a year especially,” he said. “We’re still of the view that there’s large parts of how the police operate in Halifax that most people are not aware of.”

The objective of the survey, Critchley said, was to ensure candidates were aware of what their roles would be, in terms of being on the police board or a budget committee, “and how they could use those roles to advance police reform.”

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The survey report says 96 per cent of candidates who responded to this question said they would support a more detailed line-by-line accounting of the HRP budget.

It also says 92 per cent of the respondents said they would support “the application of a gender-based lens to arrests, policing services, and the development of policing policy.”

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And, 100 per cent of respondents said they would support holding the HRP and the RCMP accountable for implementing the recommendations of the Wortley Report and the MMIWG Final Report.

“I was very impressed to see… they were in favour of implementing the (MMIWG) and 2 Spirit Peoples’ calls to justice, as well as the Wortley Report, which focused on the criminalization of racialized people in Halifax,” said PPWG member Nicole Blinn.

“Now that we have that data we can hold the elected officials accountable — given that everybody said they were in support.”

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In addition, the survey asked whether candidates would support working with the province to try to reform an aspect of the Municipal Election Act regarding voting rights.

Also known as the Sauvé v Canada decision, the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002 ruled it is unconstitutional to bar people who are imprisoned from voting in federal or municipal elections.

However, a section of the Nova Scotia Municipal Election Act states that people who are in prison or in jail are disenfranchised from voting in the municipal election.

“We’re really concerned about this flaw in that it has a disproportionate effect on African Nova Scotian and Indigenous people in our jails,” PPWG’s Critchley said.

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Nearly 80 per cent of candidates who responded to the question said they would support working to amend this.

“I think it was really positive to see the broad support for those sorts of issues,” Critchley said.

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He said the results of the survey will be used to hold those who are elected on Oct. 17 accountable post-election.

“We also want to use this as a springboard to push for more participatory budgeting in how the HRP budget gets decided each year.”

Currently, the board of the police commissioner plays a role in drafting the budget together with the chief, and the city has the ability to approve or reject that budget.

“We do think that city council should have the opportunity to scrutinize specific line items, to say ‘I’m supportive of the budget in general, but I don’t think the police should be spending a quarter million on polygraph testing annually.’”

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The survey went out to all 82 candidates running for HRM council. The survey report says 61 candidates, or 74 per cent, responded to the survey.

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Not all of them answered every question, however, and none of the mayoral candidates responded.

“We’re a little bit concerned about the lack of mayoral response,” said Critchley.

He told Global News the group received a response from Mayor Mike Savage’s office on Thursday afternoon, and was informed that the survey had not been forwarded to his campaign office in time.

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“We’ll probably give Mayor Savage an opportunity to respond and answer the questions. We want to make sure his perspectives are reflected in our report,” Critchley said.

PPWG had not received a response from the municipality’s youngest mayoral candidate Max Taylor, who has previously maintained support for police reform.

Taylor’s office spokesperson Donna McCarthy said the campaign office had an issue with the email server early on, and as a result missed the survey.

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McCarthy said she hopes PPWG would resend the survey, as Taylor would gladly to solve it.

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The group also did not receive a response from Matt Whitman, who has positioned himself against any defunding of police in his platform.

“In his response to a questionnaire sent out by the Halifax Examiner, Matt Whitman said he did not support defunding the police but defending the police… So I don’t think overall it was a major shame we didn’t get his response,” Critchley said.

Global News has reached out to Whitman and will update this story with his comments.