Apologies, action plans: Halifax police promise positive change post-street checks – Global News

Apologies, action plans: Halifax police promise positive change post-street checks - Global News
Woman frustrated at being shut out of police review into her rape case
Legislators, legal experts and Halifax police were put in the hot seat on Monday during an impassioned community conversation about justice for African Nova Scotians.

The panel discussion held at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library attempted to chart a path forward for relations between the community and law enforcement after decades of discrimination through the controversial use of street checks.

Monday's conversation will feature Minister of African Nova Scotia Affairs Tony Ince, Police Chief Dan Kinsella, police board chair Natalie Borden and Kimberly Franklin, a legal advisor for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Street checks, the police practice of stopping an individual and collecting and recording their personal information, was banned in Nova Scotia last month after an independent legal opinion found it to be illegal.

The conversation comes on the heels of last month's decision from the justice minister to permanently ban street checks that followed the release of an independent legal opinion that street checks are illegal. 

A report preceding that opinion found that black people are six times more likely to be street-checked than white people in Halifax, with black men being nine times more likely.

The forum is being presented through a partnernship between Halifax Public Libraries and 902 Man Up, a community organization created to help make a positive difference in the African Nova Scotia community.

“Certainly this was not only a speaking exercise for me, but certainly a listening exercise,” Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella told reporters.

“It has confirmed and reaffirmed that more work needs to be done, more dialogue needs to occur and we really need to listen to the community, take in what they have to say and together, come up with a plan.”

READ MORE: Moratorium on N.S. street checks to become permanent after independent legal opinion finds practice illegal

But community members challenged panelists on how they plan to address systemic racism in Nova Scotia, offer recourse to individuals who have been wrongfully street-checked in the past, and ensure that biased and racist policing is eliminated in Nova Scotia.

“Street checks are banned, OK, but police can still act the way they want to act just because they have a badge and a gun,” Clayton said outside the police commision meeting. “Especially because of our skin colour, (police) can still act however they want to act against us. When they approach a white, you can tell that the tone in their voices and their attitudes are different. When they approach a black, it’s with multiple people and they come at us strong.”

Panelists included Kinsella; Natalie Borden, chair of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners; Kimberly Franklin, senior legal advisor for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission; and provincial African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Tony Ince.

At the same meeting, the opinion was shared that street checks are illegal, a legal opinion delivered a week earlier by Michael MacDonald, former chief justice of Nova Scotia. That legal opinion convinced provincial Justice Minister Mark Furey to extend to a permanent ban his  April 17 directive to suspend street checks of pedestrians and passengers in motor vehicles. Furey also said later that an apology from the province is forthcoming.

When it comes to addressing systemic obstacles for black people in Nova Scotia, Ince implored community members to make their voices heard, particularly by running for office.

“Yes, there has been some damage done and this is all going to be a part of the healing for the African Nova Scotia community and abroad because that is the opportunity that is presented. This has been an issue right across the nation. We have the opportunity to work with law enforcement as well as our government officials and agencies as community in moving those conversations forward.” 

Some audience members were troubled by that suggestion, referencing trauma and the onus it places on them, rather than the perpetrators, but Ince stood by it.

The format will feature four panelists or speakers — Tony Ince, the provincial minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs; Halifax Police Chief Dan Kinsella; Natalie Borden, chairwoman of the Halifax police commission; and Kimberly Franklin, a senior lawyer with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

“If we don’t see ourselves at the table, all the screaming in the community doesn’t get you much,” he told reporters afterward.

“It gets you a little bit of movement, it gets you reaction. I think we need to be at the table making concrete decisions, being part of those decisions, the policies, all of it.”

Franklin explained at the police commission meeting that the MacDonald opinion first provided a definition of street checks as an interaction or observation without interaction whereby personal and/or identifying information is collected by an officer and entered into a database.

Ince said he’s confident the province will apologize for street checks, but he’s not sure when that apology is coming. He also said the Justice Department is working on an African Nova Scotian justice plan that will include community members.

“We all would agree that law enforcement is needed but I think also most officers know that they are remembered in the community for the community engagement work that they do,” said Marcus James, co-founder and president of the group. 

For his part, Kinsella committed his personal attention to any complaints of racist or biased policing brought before him. He said accountability, including disciplinary action for offending officers, and intensive training that takes place more than once a year are all in the cards.

The police chief also acknowledged that a sweeping apology is the first step, and that it must be followed up by members of the force engaging the community after-hours, not in uniform, but as residents and human beings.

At a police commission meeting four weeks ago, Kinsella promised that an apology to the African Nova Scotia community is pending and reassured that Halifax Regional Police have abandoned the practice of street checks. 

Data from historical street checks remains in the system, he added, but the ability to enter new data has been disabled. Identities will also be erased from the database in December 2020, and Kinsella encouraged anyone wishing to access their personal records to do so soon using freedom of information legislation.

That’s what 902 ManUp, a group of African Nova Scotia men dedicated to promoting a safe community, want to talk about in a meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Halifax North library on Gottingen Street. 

He also asked anyone who believes they were criminally charged solely on the basis of a street check to come forward, so their case may be re-examined.

Vanessa Fells of the Nova Scotia Decade for People of African Descent Coalition said she remains cautiously optimistic.

“However, this is just the beginning of our journey,” James said. “Having a complete ban allows us to sit at the table, all on the same page.” 

“It is a process and is a matter of, as we said, doing what we say we’re going to do,” she explained.

“Saying that not only are we going to have an apology, but we’re going to have actions, we’re going to stick to those actions, and then we have to make sure that there’s accountability.”

“Street checks is not community engagement. It never was. It was used as a tool to gather data, gather information on marginalized communities.” 

A woman who is challenging the way police complaints are handled in Nova Scotia says she's frustrated she was unable to give her version of events during an internal police review of her sexual assault case.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella ordered the review in September, a day after Carrie Low went public in a CBC story about the confusion and delays that plagued a police investigation after she reported she'd been raped in May 2018.

“In terms of street checks, before me it was my father, before my father, his father,” James said. 

Her lawyer, Jessica Rose, said Monday she asked Kinsella whether Low would be invited to be part of the review, and his "response was no, which was disappointing."

"Part of the main problem that we see with this whole process is how little Carrie's voice has been included," said Rose. "So the fact that an internal review is taking place but without there being an opportunity for Carrie to voice her perspective about where everything went wrong, is troubling."

"I also wanted the opportunity just to sit down with Dan Kinsella and just talk to him one on one, and he hasn't been open to that discussion either. So it has been very frustrating," she said.

Low said she was kidnapped and violently raped by two men after she suspects her drink was spiked at a Darmouth, N.S., bar. She reported it to police almost immediately, but said officers took 10 days to pick up her clothes, did not visit the scene of the crime and failed to process her toxicology paperwork for months.

On Monday, Kinsella told reporters outside a board of police commissioners meeting that he has received the results of the review, but he would not say specifically what they were.

"I have looked at them, but I have to have some further consultation in regards to where do we go and how do we move forward," he said.

"There have been some learnings from that particular review, but those consultations have to happen with the investigators and with the supervision within the [sexual assault investigation team] unit."

Low is also challenging a decision by the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner to reject her complaint against Halifax Regional Police because she filed it outside of the six-month statute of limitations.

In September, Low and a team at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia went to court to try to force the commissioner to investigate her complaint.

On Monday, Low's case was in court before Justice Kevin Coady to set dates. There will be two separate court processes next year to address Low's concerns.

"One has to do specifically with Carrie's case and how it was dealt with," said Rose. "The other has to do with the constitutionality of the regulation more generally."

If Low is successful at the first date in March her complaint against the police will be reheard. Regardless of what happens in March, Low's team will appear in court again in June.

"If we are successful at the June dates, then the regulation that contains the six-month limitation period will be struck down entirely," Rose said. "It'll be a broader systemic change." 

Lawyer Sheldon Choo appeared on behalf of the Attorney General of Nova Scotia and the police complaints commissioner, but declined to comment.

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: [email protected]

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