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One of Wortley’s most crucial recommendations has fallen out of view

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Wortley report was never just about street checks, because racism pervades everything police does.

A community meeting held by Dr. Wortley in Lucasville was to a large extent about unreasonable traffic stops and rude cops. Similarly, a meeting in the Halifax North End was mostly about overbearing and aggressive policing, no matter what the context or pretext. 

As the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners struggles relatively publicly with the fallout of the Wortley report on street checks, one of the report’s most important and far reaching recommendations has fallen out of view.

That would be Recommendation 3.2 in the Wortley report, “that police record information on all stops of civilians, including the race of the person involved, and whether the stop was consensual.”

“This data system should record information on both traffic stops and stops involving pedestrians. The information to be collected on each stop should include: the date of the stop, the time of the stop, the location of the stop, the reason for the stop and the outcome of the stop (no action, warning, ticket, summons, arrest, etc.),” Wortley writes.

After all, we need hard data in order to determine whether cops are still engaging in racial profiling. 

I have written about this earlier, as a spreadsheet maintained by the Commission indicated that work on this specific recommendation had not yet started. 

At the last Police Commissioners meeting councillor Lindell Smith inquired as to its status and was told by Halifax police chief Dan Kinsella that the Department of Justice was dealing with this particular recommendation.

But who in particular is considering what exactly, and when will they be done, I wondered. So I asked the department of Justice.

“In response to recommendation 3.1 of the Wortley Report, the department established a research committee in September 2020 to look at data collection models in use by other jurisdictions for gathering information, including race-based data, on police stops. Based on this research, the committee will provide recommendations that will help guide the collection of this data in Nova Scotia.” writes Heather Fairbairn, media relations advisor for the department.   

“The committee is composed of representatives from African Nova Scotian organizations and communities across the province, police, African Nova Scotian Affairs, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, and the Department of Justice.” 

“Work on the report and recommendations is expected to be complete this spring. In line with recommendation 3.5 of the Wortley Report, reports documenting the results of all data collection and research activities will be released to the public on an annual or bi-annual basis,” writes Fairbairn.

It’s good that work is happening. It’s also good that this is seen as a provincial issue, not just something that pertains to Halifax. Nonetheless, many questions remain. Who exactly is at the table? Many African Nova Scotian organizations and youths have withdrawn from working with the department, and have not returned as far as I know.

It’s four years ago almost to the day that the CBC revealed how statistics released after a Freedom of Information request showed that Black people are three times more likely to be street checked by Halifax police than white people. Closer scrutiny showed it to be six times more likely. Next the entire act of conducting a street check turned out to have been illegal and in contravention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms all along.

This is serious stuff. You’d think we deserve better than a committee going about its business without transparency, accountability or urgency.

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