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The Professor has landed: Analysis of police check data finally begins

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) has hired Dr. Scot Wortley, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, to analyze the carding data collected by Halifax police over the years. Wortley has done race studies for police departments in Kingston and Ottawa before.

The investigation (as well as an immediate suspension of the practice), was requested by Black community members in early January after a Freedom of Information request filed by the CBC revealed that Black people in HRM are three times more likely to be stopped than white people.

Never did I witness a meeting with more anger and a more acute sense of urgency than the one I attended between the African Nova Scotian community and police chief Blais at the North End library, shortly after the CBC broke the carding story. The consensus at the time was that the practice of carding was racist and must be stopped now. Well, that’s not how things are unfolding.

Dr. Scot Wortley at today’s Board of Police Commisioners. Photo Robert Devet

No timeline yet

The appointment of Dr.Wortley was announced by Christine Hanson, CEO of the NSHRC, at today’s meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners at City Hall. In a fifteen-minute presentation Dr. Wortley presented his initial plan of attack, emphasizing that he was still getting the lay of the land.

Much of the analysis will focus on data. We want to know more about who are included in the street check data, how many of those included have a criminal record, their age, gender, social class, said Dr. Wortley.

Beyond that analysis, Wortley also wants to understand the concerns of both the African Nova Scotian communities and Black youths directly affected by police street checks, as well as the policing perspectives. Community meetings, possibly surveys, the shape of consultations remains to be worked out, Wortley suggested.

Finally, Wortley said, he wants to consider the effectiveness of carding, and balance it against damage done to relationships between law enforcement and the community. Earlier we wrote about one such cost-benefit study that looked at Toronto and concluded that the practice is more harmful than helpful.  

All this will eventually culminate in “a thorough report, with recommendations for further study,” said Wortley, who was unable to commit to specific milestone dates. We will know more in two or three months, he said.

A study Wortley conducted in 2005 determined that Kingston police stopped Black people 3.7 times more often than white people. That study took an entire year and was mostly focused on data collection.

In 2000 Wortley was involved in a study that showed Blacks in Toronto are were denied bail more often than whites, due in large part to negative assessments made by arresting officers, the Toronto Star reported.

Meanwhile. Councillor and member of the Board Waye Mason’s motion asking legal staff to conduct a parallel study of policies and regulations around carding was passed unanimously. Originally the idea was to wait for the results of the NSHRC analysis, but clearly this can happen in parallel.  

Chief Blais: The last ten years we were too busy to look at the data

During his presentation Wortley praised  Halifax for its willingness to look at the data and launch this investigation. Never mind that the police had been collecting the carding data for close to ten years without ever looking at it until a Freedom of Information request issued by the CBC earlier this year generated a lot of commotion.

I asked Halifax Regional Police chief Jean Michel Blais about that ten year delay during a scrum with reporters after Dr. Wortley’s presentation. Turns out police were just plain too busy.

You have to realize when it comes to policing we do many other things, and there are lots of other things I am sure we would like to get to that we haven’t had a chance to do,” said Blais, explaining away ten years of non-action around data that shows that Black people are three times as likely as white people to be subjected to a police street check.

At the same scrum Blais, when asked by a CBC reporter, said that he doesn’t know what systemic racism is. “I believe there is racism in our communities, and in our society. I need to see a good definition of what systemic racism is, before I can ask myself that,” Blais responded.

See also: Robert Wright: In the Black community carding resonates with a history that is traumatic

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