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Lost in the shuffle: What is and isn’t in the Wortley report

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Ever since the Wortley report came out almost all the discussion has focused on street checks and whether to ban or regulate them.  

Some other things that were in the report aren’t getting nearly as much attention, though they should. And then there are some things that aren’t in the report, but that really would be good to include in the discussion.

Right in the report, but seemingly lost in the aftermath of its publication, are the over the top and racist police interactions reported by many African Nova Scotians at the community meetings Wortley organized in HRM’s Black communities.

See also: Racist police not just an urban phenomenon, Lucasville community meeting tells Dr. Wortley

Not in the report, because it wasn’t in Wortley’s scope, are police interactions with very poor and homeless people, people living with mental health issues and invisible disabilities, sex workers, trans people, and low income people altogether.  

Wortley’s report is rightly all about race, but that doesn’t mean classism, ableism, misogyny, and sexism don’t occur within the force. Actually, these things frequently go hand in hand, and many people on the receiving end will tell you that yes, these are real problems in Nova Scotia.

Somebody really should ask the question now, so that we don’t end up with another Wortley report, and more councillors agonizing that they had no idea, some years down the road.   

And then there are the solutions.

Wortley’s remedies to tackle racism seem sort of tired and old. We’ve seen it all before. It’s all about screening for racial bias among applicants, mandatory cultural training (with some kind of test at the end), promotion of Black and minority officers, more neighborhood cops, play more sports with the kids, and so on.

If the list sounds familiar, it’s because it’s recommended each time a crisis of this type occurs. Why would any of this work this time?

It’s time to change the topic. It’s time for Nova Scotia to have a conversation about what activities we tend to criminalize and why. We must talk about trauma and crime, mental health and crime, poverty and crime, race and crime, and how we can find our way to empowering communities to deal with these things in radically different ways.

And yes, that means we need to talk about the role of the police, and to what extent we need them. If ever there was a time, this is it.

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