The RCMP are further delaying a decision on whether to offer an apology to Halifax’s Black community for their use of street checks, as some Black Nova Scotian leaders say the force’s silence is damaging trust.
Rev. Lennett Anderson, the past moderator of the African United Baptist Association, disagrees with the Mounties’ view that they must await the completion of a national review of the practice.
Street checks, which are now banned in Nova Scotia, are defined as police randomly stopping citizens, recording information and storing it electronically.
The delay “wasn’t acceptable last year, nor is it acceptable now … The silence is deafening,” Rev. Anderson said in an interview.
He was among the prominent Black citizens who participated in a provincially commissioned study of street checks released last year that found Black residents were five times more likely to be subjected to the practice than whites.
“It’s dehumanizing. It’s a traumatic thing,” Rev. Anderson said. “And they don’t need to wait for a national report to address the local damage.”
RCMP Corporal Jennifer Clarke wrote in a recent e-mail the force first needs to see a report on the topic being prepared by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.
“With the Nova Scotia RCMP being the provincial police and part of a national organization, our work extends beyond the municipality, and thus our considerations regarding an apology do as well,” she said.
The RCMP, which polices the suburbs of Halifax, was part of a study by criminologist Scot Wortley released in March, 2019, that condemned the practice as targeting young Black men and creating a “disproportionate and negative” impact on the Black community.
Last October, retired jurist Michael MacDonald released a legal analysis concluding the practice contravenes basic constitutional and common-law rights.
Attorney-General Mark Furey immediately announced a ban on street checks, and on Nov. 29, Halifax police Chief Dan Kinsella issued an apology before several hundred members of the Black community.
Meanwhile, in an interview last fall, RCMP Chief Superintendent Janis Gray said the Nova Scotia division would await the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission study, which began in April, 2018 and had been expected in March of this year.
However, the commission said last week it has delayed the release of that report until the fall. Cpl. Clarke said in an email the force will await the report “and determine the way forward from there.”
She wrote the Mounties are “committed to strengthening the relationship between the RCMP and our African Nova Scotian communities.”
Rev. Anderson said the latest slowdown is harming the force’s relationship with the province’s Black communities. He noted a public apology must be followed up with concrete measures but said an apology “is a step in the right direction.”
Vanessa Fells, the program co-ordinator of the African Nova Scotia Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, said at a time of global discussion on police mistreatment of Black citizens, the silence of the RCMP has become a growing concern for her group.
“At some point they need to stop stalling and step up and take responsibility,” she said in an interview.
Mr. Wortley, the criminologist, noted that calls for a study of street checks go back to a 2003 decision of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in the case of boxer Kirk Johnson, who was repeatedly pulled over by police and once had his car seized.
The Black community “waited over 16 years since that Johnson decision before the study on street checks was complete. You can understand if the community is wary about the implications of delay,” he said in an interview.
He also said it may be understandable for the RCMP, as a national organization, to await findings that are going to be national in scope before it acts.
“If the RCMP is going to address the issue, it would be better it be a nationwide strategy than something only affecting the Halifax region … It’s been brought up by Black and Indigenous groups across the country.”
Mr. Wortley’s final report noted that it was important to set up a system to record data about police stops of all kinds – including traffic stops – by age, gender and race in order to identify patterns of unfair treatment.
He also called for periodic surveys of the general public about their experiences of contact with the police, and suggested these results be given to the public on a regular basis.
The RCMP didn’t provide an update on what items from the report had been acted upon by its regional division.
A spokesman for the Halifax police said the force has made “good progress” on several items in the Wortley report since the public apology, but added that COVID-19 has slowed the pace in some areas.
Constable John MacLeod cited improvements in education and training of officers. He said Mr. Wortley’s recommendation on data collection requires other police agencies and the province to participate.
Jill McKenzie, a spokeswoman for the provincial Justice Department, said the province is working to create a committee with representatives from the Black community, police, government and academia to recommend “a race-based data collection model.”
Ms. Fells said that while she is still looking for the Wortley report to be fully implemented by the Halifax police, it appears the public apology has started a process of change and dialogue.
“I’ve heard from [Chief Kinsella] on his renewed commitment. We’ve heard nothing from the RCMP, nothing at all,” she said.
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