featured Poverty

Kendall Worth: Complaining about harassment by police and security guards gets you nowhere

Random mall security somewhere in the world.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Regular readers of the Nova Scotia Advocate may remember two stories I wrote about harassment by police and security guards of people with mental health issues. 

This story here, In Halifax police and security guards are harassing poor people with mental health issues,  and this story here, Another story of harassment of poor people with mental health issues by police and security guards.

To summarize, the people in these stories got stopped in their tracks and were spoken to by police and private security guards about fidgeting and staring at people, behaving as if intoxicated (while they had not been drinking), and talking to themselves in public.

You have to ask what the legal grounds are for this when these people were just minding their own business and not causing trouble and not even bothering anyone when this happened.

The income assistance recipients who told me about what happened to them are now scared to go anywhere by themselves in public. Volunteers from the soup kitchens now accompany them when they go out in public to run their check day errands. It has affected their self confidence and now they are scared to set goals to someday getting themselves off income assistance. 

Over these last few months I have occasionally heard about people on income assistance getting spoken to by police and security guards about  inappropriate body language. People I talked with in the community agreed that a safe guess is that this happens to 10%, maybe fewer. That’s still a lot of people!

These here income assistance recipients went to their MLAs, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, and even right to the management of the mall they were in when they were spoken to by the private security guards. They submitted all their complaints in writing.

From the mall administration staff and security supervisor they were told in a very frank manner: We read your complaint and we will advise you that our private security guards received complaints and they were within the authority of their job to approach you and speak to you about these complaints. People in the general public had every right to approach security and complain.

We read your complaint, and we cannot accept this as a human rights complaint, the Human Rights Commission told them. They were warned that a video of the incident might be used against them. 

And as for their complaint against the police officers, submitted with help from their MLA, they received a one sentence response: We read your written complaint and we have to dismiss it, since the police had the authority to approach you and speak to you about a complaint received from the public.

What can be done about this unfair situation remains a mystery.

Kendall Worth is an award-winning anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.

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