The Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group (NS PPWG) strongly condemns the actions of the Halifax Regional Police yesterday in evicting people living in local parks.
Some of the policing incidents that the Halifax Examiner (and here), CTV, Global News, and CBC have reported, particularly at the old library grounds on Spring Garden Road, include:
● demanding that journalists move away from the areas where they were covering the police response, and threatening them with arrest if they did not;
● physically interfering with at least one journalist trying to film the events; ● using disproportionate and excessive force with protesters;
● some police officers removing name tags;
● deploying pepper spray indiscriminately in a busy downtown area without clearing the streets first, injuring children as well as adults; and
● unnecessarily escalating tensions (putting on riot gear, as one example).
Some members of the NS PPWG themselves experienced (or witnessed) physical violence by the police, including police officers pushing on people’s breasts.
What happened yesterday is a reflection of longstanding and systemic issues with policing in HRM, including the Municipality’s reliance on police to address complex social needs; excessive force by police; and the militarization of the police.
This violence happened because people were being forcibly removed from their homes, with no viable plan in place to provide them with safe housing elsewhere. It represents a policy failure at multiple levels. Housing is a human right, and the NS PPWG defers to the expertise of the local organizations working tirelessly on this issue – noting that many possible solutions are discussed in a recent report of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, called Keys to a housing secure future for all Nova Scotians.
Over the past year, the NS PPWG has focused on the role of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners (Board) in overseeing the Halifax Regional Police (some members of the NS
PPWG are involved with the Board-appointed Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police). The Board has a role to play following yesterday’s events as well, pursuant to its statutory duty to ensure policing services are delivered in accordance with community values.
In particular, the NS PPWG calls on the Board to launch a full and independent investigation into the Halifax Regional Police response to the evictions of August 18, 2021. The process could be similar to the Independent Civil Review commissioned by the Toronto Police Services Board to investigate the police response to the G20 Summit protests in Toronto in 2010, led by the Honourable John W. Morden and culminating in the Morden Report from June 2012.
The NS PPWG believes it would be within the Board’s scope of authority under section 55 of the Nova Scotia Police Act to order a similar review, and hopes to see this on the agenda for the Board’s next meeting.
The NS PPWG is a subcommittee of the East Coast Prison Justice Society, concerned with advancing legislative and policy reform relevant to policing in the province.