A North Preston couple wants answers after they say they were pulled over at gunpoint by RCMP officers this month, according to a statement they released through the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition.
The RCMP are responding by saying the incident in question came during an unfolding event, and the tactics officers used were in line with its policy and training.
Dean Simmonds, a 20-year-veteran of the Halifax Regional Police, and Angela Simmonds, a lawyer who was acclaimed this week as the provincial Liberal candidate for Preston, say the incident, which they refer to as “driving while Black,” happened in their community of North Preston at about 12:30 p.m. on July 4.
Angela Simmonds, reached by telephone, declined further comment but said she and her husband stand by the details they provided in a news release Friday from the coalition.
The coalition quotes the couple as saying when they were stopped, one of the Mounties ordered the 45-year-old police superintendent, who was wearing plain clothes, out of the vehicle with his hands up, while the other officer pointed a carbine rifle in his direction.
In Friday’s statement, Dean and his wife Angela are quoted as saying they were headed from their home in North Preston to get groceries when they were pulled over by two RCMP vehicles.
“I have been dedicated and committed to addressing the mistrust between the Black Community and police. I truly believed that my core values, leadership and respect for my community, my job and fellow officers would contribute to positive changes within community policing,” said Simmonds in his statement.
He said that after he explained who he was the officers told them there has been a report of a shooting in North Preston, but did not explain if the couple fit a description of the alleged perpetrators.
“The interaction with RCMP police officers provides yet another example of the way Black people continue to be subjected to inhumane treatment and are regarded as dangerous, dishonest, guilty, criminals,” said Angela in the statement.
The couple asked Vanessa Fells, director of operations for the coalition, to further speak to the media on their behalf about what happened.
Fells said the couple is traumatized, angry and disappointed, and spending their time with friends and family as they try to move forward from what happened.
At the same time, Fells said they decided to release the statement in the hopes of calling attention to the fact that change is needed.
“There have been repeated calls for change in how law enforcement interacts due to racial profiling for decades, and this is just another incident of the community being racially profiled and traumatized,” said Fells in an interview with Global.
Fells said the issue in itself that RCMP needs to address is systematic racism, and look at the actual policies, practices and the accountability they have in place to truly change things internally.
“I think what (Dean and Angela) really want is for the RCMP to commit to fundamental change, to the way that they interact with African Nova Scotians, which is nothing that hasn’t been called upon by members of the community for decades and decades,” she said.
“RCMP has said that they are working on changing things, but this has been going on for years and years. And so the community is saying having the RCMP say ‘we’re working on it’ is long past unacceptable.”
The Simmonds’ intend to file a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission and want a full investigation into the incident.
The RCMP responded late Friday afternoon to the allegation. In a statement, they say the police stop came during an unfolding event – a shooting where the alleged fleeing vehicle of the suspect was reported to be a white SUV, with an out of province license plate and tinted windows.
“The high risk traffic stop involved a vehicle that matched the suspect vehicle description, with an out of province licence plate, that was coming from the direction of the nearby community,” the RCMP statement says.
The RCMP say they have examined the officers’ actions and stand by how it was handled.
“From the information we have gathered, the traffic stop and the tactics employed by our members were in line with RCMP policy and training,” the statement says. “Additionally, our members ensured a safe outcome to a very stressful situation, through a professional and measured response.
“We can confirm a gun was drawn but not pointed at anyone during the traffic stop,” the statement goes on to say. “We have received a complaint related to the traffic stop, which we take very seriously. The complaint has been provided to our Professional Responsibilities Unit and a public complaint file has been opened for thorough investigation. Should new information come to light through this investigation, we will take any and all appropriate actions.”
Dan Kinsella, chief of Halifax Regional Police, issued a statement about the allegations Friday afternoon.
“Every citizen – regardless of their position or role – has the right to bring forward their concern if they believe they have been dealt with in an inappropriate way by police, regardless of the agency or where an interaction takes place. In every instance, it is important to let the appropriate processes unfold,” the statement by Kinsella reads.
“Out of respect for the process, HRP will not be commenting further at this time.”
The RCMP, which polices the suburbs of Halifax, was part of a study by criminologist Scot Wortley released in March 2019 that condemned the practice of street checks as creating a “disproportionate and negative” impact on the Black community. The study found Black citizens in the Halifax region were five times more likely to be street-checked than white citizens. Street checks are the police practice of randomly stopping people, collecting personal information and storing it.
On Nov. 29, 2019, Kinsella issued an apology before several hundred members of the Black community, but the RCMP has yet to issue a similar apology on the street checks issue.
The phrase “driving while Black” became well known in the province after a 2003 decision of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in the case of boxer Kirk Johnson, who was repeatedly pulled over by police and once had his car seized. Johnson was pursued and his car was towed after the officer wasn’t satisfied by the documents offered. A board of inquiry ruled in 2003 that Johnson’s treatment was a violation of his human rights.
-With files from the Canadian Press