featured Racism

Who’s policing the police in Halifax?

The current Halifax Board of Police Commissioners. Photo Halifax

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Over two years ago CBC investigative journalists Phlis McGregor and Angela MacIvor submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Halifax police. They wanted to know whether perhaps Black people were subjected to police street checks more often than whites.

The rest is history, as they say. In early 2017 there was the CBC report that revealed racial bias among the police, and now two years later the Scot Wortley report.

The numbers once again confirm what members of the Black community have been telling us over and over and over. No matter how you look at it, Black people get street  checked way more than white folks, and anecdotal evidence of rude over the top cop behaviour is so overwhelming it can no longer be ignored.

See also: For seven years retiring Halifax police chief Blais denied that racism in the force even existed

One question that bothers me is how come we had to wait for journalists to get the ball rolling?

Don’t we have a Board of Police Commissioners, whose members (a couple of councillors, some police types, and some ordinary folks) are tasked with overseeing the police? How come nobody on that Board ever asked this really quite elementary question? Isn’t that exactly their job? Why is it always journalists who seek these answers?

A couple of things should have given them clues.

There was the widespread knowledge within the Black community that something was wrong with policing in Halifax. They were quite vocal about it. You cannot be a member of the Board and not know that.

And there was the famous Kirk Johnson human rights tribunal in 2003. It found widespread racial profiling within the police department, and it strongly suggested that Halifax Regional Police (HRP) collect the racial stats that now everybody is talking about.

By the way, it also told HRP to publish these stats, and to study them, but those aren’t the only recommendations from that tribunal the department just shrugged off.  

It’s hard to believe that members of the Board of Police Commissioners would not know that these stats existed. So why didn’t they ask for them a long time ago?

I am going out on a limb here. I think the commissioners don’t like to rock the boat, but mostly I believe they’re worried it will expose how powerless they really are.

The reason I say this is also in the Scot Wortley report.

Wortley recommends either a complete ban of street checks, or a moratorium while we figure out how to better regulate the racist practice.  Wortley then goes on to discuss the pros and cons of such an approach.

Believe it or not, one of the cons is that the cops may do it anyway…

“There is a possibility that, even with a formal ban on street checks, the police will continue to stop, question and search minority citizens at disproportionately high rates. There is also a concern that the police could rebrand or relabel street checks and continue to collect the personal information of civilians for intelligence purposes,” writes Wortley.

“A ban on street checks could cause police stop, question and search practices to go further “underground” and eliminate any meaningful paper trail,” Wortley concludes.

It’s the same reason Justice Minister Mark Furey offers up  for not ordering a province-wide moratorium on street checks.

“I believe the immediate response in a moratorium or a ban could in fact allow the practice to continue,” Furey ( a former cop) told  Taryn Grant of the Star. Like Wortley, Furey worries about driving the practice “underground,” making it harder to identify and remedy, Grant wrote.

Can you imagine any other minister saying of his department that “we cannot change this regulation, because our civil servants would do it anyway”?

I worked in the provincial civil service for 30 years or so. Sometimes  a Minister would order a change in how we did things. We might not like it, but to simply refuse to do it would not occur to us.

We need a Police Board with teeth, and we need cops who do what they’re told. Apparently that’s a lot to ask for in Halifax.

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