Halifax police, RCMP say they wont issue a formal apology over street checks – The Globe and Mail

Halifax police, RCMP say they won\t issue a formal apology over street checks - The Globe and Mail
Halifax police, RCMP say they wont offer formal apology for street checks
Both Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP have confirmed in written responses they wont be taking the step at this time.

The Halifax Board of Police Commissioners had asked the two forces to prepare a joint statement formally apologizing for the policy at its last meeting on April 15.

“The answer to that is to some extent you have to separate the notion of a street check from the notion of discriminatory conduct. If the street check is conducted and the basis for that street check is any one of the prohibited grounds under the Human Rights Act, then it’s illegal. That much is clear. I can’t imagine anyone getting a legal opinion that would disagree with that.

Both police services have indicated not at this time, and I respect that, board chair Steve Craig said Monday.

“Police participants were quick to note that most traffic stops, and other police interactions, do not result in a street check. Technically, street checks are only supposed to be filled out if an officer believes that the information gathered during an interaction with a civilian or observed by police officers on patrol, could have some intelligence value.”

I think its an improvement over not at all. I think they need some time to think about it and certainly the police commission will encourage them to give it all the consideration that it does deserve and hopefully we will have an apology at some point.

“Depending on how you define a street check, you can make it legal or illegal,” Ward said. “If a street check is nothing more than engaging someone in conversation willingly, then you are OK. If you are engaged with someone on the basis of stereotyping them, we know that that’s illegal.”

The police board had also asked the two services to suspend street checks – in which pedestrians or drivers are stopped without cause and asked for identification and other information – but a wider moratorium was imposed within days by the provincial government.

A person familiar with the workings of the Halifax Regional Police said defining street checks as the police practice of stopping pedestrians or drivers without cause and asking for identification and other information leaves an erroneous impression, an impression that most of the public probably holds to.

The requests followed the release of a report by University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley, who found African Nova Scotians in the Halifax area were more than five times more likely to be stopped by police. The street checks were found to have had a disproportionate and negative impact on the black community.

“I just worry that an opinion would trump the several different community engagements and several different community evaluations that were conducted with the report. You have a report that shows explicitly the biases of this policy.”

But in letters posted on the municipalitys website ahead of Mondays board meeting, both forces said they woudnt be taking the formal step.

“While community members generally defined street checks as being stopped, questioned and sometimes searched by police, all police participants defined street checks as a specific intelligence tool,” Wortley concluded.

RCMP Insp. Robert Doyle said while he appreciates the sentiments in the boards request, an apology would appear disingenuous at this time and would disrupt efforts to create lasting change.

Police gather information on suspects and persons of interest with an expectation that officers add names and vehicle information to the database of persons who are suspected of being involved in crime or associated to criminals.

The Wortley report … has shone a brighter light on the need for improved trust and accountability in policing. We are taking action as a result of the Wortley report, but these actions have and will extend beyond street checks as do trust and accountability.

Acting Halifax police chief Robin McNeil wrote that issues related to organizational apologies are very complex and sensitive. He added the street check data presents only a partial portrait of the situation, because traffic stops, police complaints and the treatment of people during these interactions were not included.

Our focus is to work collaboratively with our staff, the various community representatives, the Board of Police Commissioners and the Department of Justice on what action we need to take regarding the Wortley recommendations, McNeil said. This will not be addressed overnight and we recognize that as a police service we have a significant role in supporting the community in making this better.

“It’s taken about a year to do a (Wortley) report to figure out the impact of street checks and now we are going to ask for a legal opinion,” Beals said incredulously.

Supt. Jim Perrin told reporters the Halifax regional force remains open to considering a future apology. He added the move hasnt been ruled out by incoming chief Dan Kinsella, who will take over July 1.

Certainly right now our commitment is to continue to work with communities and the other stakeholders including our officers, and move forward with this issue, Perrin said. Whats important now is our ongoing commitment to improve as an organization.

Martin Ward, legal counsel for the Halifax Regional Municipality, told the commission meeting that an independent legal opinion would not negate Wortley’s work.

Doyle didnt speak following the meeting, but he told the board of commissioners the RCMP is doing whatever we can to improve relationships with the provinces African Nova Scotian community and other minority groups.

The Halifax police commission passed a motion Monday to recommend that the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission seek an independent legal opinion about street checks.

Board member Lindell Smith said police had an opportunity to give the black community a signal that there is an understanding of the hurt and trauma the street check policy has inflicted.

There wasnt a hard no, so being the optimist I hope in the future we do see some true ownership, said Smith, who is the only African Nova Scotian member of Halifax Regional Council.

The person who did not want to be identified said that the vast majority of street checks are entered without the knowledge of the individual checked.

The board also passed a resolution Monday asking the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to seek an opinion on the legality of street checks.

There is a province-wide moratorium on street checks but what exactly is a street check and which side of the legal boundary does a street check fall?

Last month, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey ordered a provincewide moratorium on police street checks, saying it was the best remedy for damage done to relations between the black community and peace officers.

Wortley’s report found that black people were almost six times more likely to be street checked in Halifax than white people.

HALIFAX — A formal police apology for street checks isnt in the immediate offing for Halifaxs black community, despite a request from the citys civilian police oversight body.

Carlos Beals, a member of the commission and a lifelong resident of Dartmouth North, was the lone dissenting voice on the motion.

Both Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP have confirmed in written responses they wont be taking the step "at this time."

The Halifax Board of Police Commissioners had asked the two forces to prepare a joint statement formally apologizing for the policy at its last meeting on April 15.

"Both police services have indicated not at this time, and I respect that," board chair Steve Craig said Monday.

"I think its an improvement over not at all. I think they need some time to think about it and certainly the police commission will encourage them to give it all the consideration that it does deserve and hopefully we will have an apology at some point."

The police board had also asked the two services to suspend street checks — in which pedestrians or drivers are stopped without cause and asked for identification and other information — but a wider moratorium was imposed within days by the provincial government.

The requests followed the release of a report by University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley, who found African Nova Scotians in the Halifax area were more than five times more likely to be stopped by police. The street checks were found to have had a "disproportionate and negative" impact on the black community.

But in letters posted on the municipalitys website ahead of Mondays board meeting, both forces said they woudnt be taking the formal step.

RCMP Insp. Robert Doyle said while he appreciates the sentiments in the boards request, an apology "would appear disingenuous at this time" and would "disrupt efforts to create lasting change."

"The Wortley report … has shone a brighter light on the need for improved trust and accountability in policing. We are taking action as a result of the Wortley report, but these actions have and will extend beyond street checks as do trust and accountability."

Acting Halifax police chief Robin McNeil wrote that issues related to organizational apologies are "very complex and sensitive." He added the street check data presents only a partial portrait of the situation, because traffic stops, police complaints and the treatment of people during these interactions were not included.

"Our focus is to work collaboratively with our staff, the various community representatives, the Board of Police Commissioners and the Department of Justice on what action we need to take regarding the Wortley recommendations," McNeil said. "This will not be addressed overnight and we recognize that as a police service we have a significant role in supporting the community in making this better."

Supt. Jim Perrin told reporters the Halifax regional force remains open to considering a future apology. He added the move hasnt been ruled out by incoming chief Dan Kinsella, who will take over July 1.

"Certainly right now our commitment is to continue to work with communities and the other stakeholders including our officers, and move forward with this issue," Perrin said. "Whats important now is our ongoing commitment to improve as an organization."

Doyle didnt speak following the meeting, but he told the board of commissioners the RCMP is doing "whatever we can" to improve relationships with the provinces African Nova Scotian community and other minority groups.

Board member Lindell Smith said police had an opportunity to give the black community a signal that there is an understanding of the hurt and trauma the street check policy has inflicted.

"There wasnt a hard no, so being the optimist I hope in the future we do see some true ownership," said Smith, who is the only African Nova Scotian member of Halifax Regional Council.

The board also passed a resolution Monday asking the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to seek an opinion on the legality of street checks.

Last month, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey ordered a provincewide moratorium on police street checks, saying it was the best remedy for damage done to relations between the black community and peace officers.

A report found black people are six times more likely than white people to be stopped by police in Halifax.