Nova Scotia’s Justice Department is committing to the collection of race-based data by police, in an effort to determine if Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.
The department said Thursday it is accepting all the recommendations by a committee established to review ways of gathering race-based information from police. In a news release, Justice Minister Brad Johns said there is “no place for racism in our justice system.”
“It must be addressed at every level,” Johns said. “These recommendations will guide the development of a data-collection model for police stops that will help ensure police practices and interactions are free from discrimination.”
The provincial government said the data is being collected to determine whether some racial groups are being stopped and questioned more often than others. Gathering race-based data, the province said, can help police improve their interactions with African Nova Scotians and Indigenous Peoples, in particular.
The committee was struck as a result of a provincially commissioned study of random police stops — known as street checks — by criminologist Scott Wortley in March 2019. Wortley’s review found that African Nova Scotians were about six times more likely to be the subjects of random police stops than their representation in the population would predict.
He condemned the practice by the Halifax regional police and by the local RCMP, saying it targeted young Black men and created a “disproportionate and negative” impact on African Nova Scotian communities.
Since 2019, police in Nova Scotia have not been allowed to conduct street checks.
‘The beginning of something’
The committee that recommended the new data-collection policy included representatives from the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, Halifax Regional Police, the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association, Cape Breton Regional Police, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and the provincial Department of Justice, among others.
Vanessa Fells, director of operations at the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, said in a telephone interview the commitment is “the beginning of something.”
However, she said she hoped the data will be released to the communities most affected by street checks and that the new policy will lead to changes in how police behave.
“How they will be transparent and release the data to this community is a very important step,” Fells said.
“If there are issues like racial profiling, then this could help us identify those, and we can identify where it is happening.”
“It should show up in the data. Why are you (a police officer) stopping this person … Are you (police officers) doing this for legal reasons, or are you just doing it just because you saw this person walking in a neighbourhood you didn’t think they should be in?” she said.
The committee defined a “police stop” as a situation during which an officer stops a person — whether the person is on foot or in a vehicle — when the officer believes there is a reasonable suspicion the person has recently engaged in, or will engage in, a crime, or has information relevant to an investigation or that may help prevent crime.
Race-based data collected in these instances is described by the committee as “a mechanism to monitor the equitable delivery of policing services.”
The committee says police stops are not considered situations during which police interact with the public at community meetings or when citizens request police assistance. Traffic checkpoints or situations when police are canvassing an area during an investigation are also not considered police stops.
The government said its next steps in the process include reviewing current data-collection systems used by police agencies and working with communities and police to come up with a way to gather race-based data.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2022.