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It’s official! Police Act gives Halifax Board of Police Commissioners power to make real changes

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax)  – Members of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners frequently point to the Marshall Inquiry and the resulting changes to the Police Act when challenged on their reluctance to tell Halifax Regional Police how to do their job. 

Donald Marshall Jr. was a young Cape Breton Mi’kmaq wrongfully convicted of murder in 1972, who spent many years in prison until he was  acquitted and released in 1982. The subsequent Royal Commission, better known as the Marshall Inquiry, found that racism, police incompetence and political interference played a significant role at every step of the process.

However, ending political interference and providing oversight and direction are not mutually exclusive, regardless of what for instance former Police Board member Waye Mason appears to think.

Mason’s tweet was in the context of the HRP decision to cut Community Resource Officers (CROs) when asked to identify savings. CROs are very popular with the councillors, so popular that in order to save these CROs councillors reduced the extent of the budget cut demanded of HRP.

Why not tell them to find savings elsewhere instead, was the question posed to Mason. Can’t do, Mason replied.

It was timely that at today’s budget meeting one of the councilors, I believe it was David Hendsbee, raised exactly that question during the discussion about rescinding the horrible decision to buy a tank. Are we allowed to ask HRP to propose a policy around the use of that tank, Hendsbee wanted to know. 

City legal council Martin Ward responded that indeed, such a demand is very much in the Commission’s purview in terms of the Police Act.

Ward essentially said that, yes, section 55(1)e of the Police Act prohibits interference with the actual day-to-day direction of the police department.

However, that constraint is balanced by sections 55(3)d and f, which suggest that the Board shall “ensure that community needs and values are reflected in policing priorities, objectives, goals, programs and strategies”, and  “recommend policies, administrative and organizational direction for the effective management of the police department.”

In other words, it seems, the Board of Police Commissioners has a bit more power than its members think. 

That’s important, and I just wanted to put it on the record.   

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