A formal police apology for street checks isn’t in the immediate offing for Halifax’s black community, despite a request from the city’s civilian police oversight body.
Both Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP have confirmed in written responses they won’t 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 it’s 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 municipality’s website ahead of Monday’s board meeting, both forces said they woudn’t be taking the formal step.
RCMP Insp. Robert Doyle said while he appreciates the sentiments in the board’s 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 hasn’t 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. “What’s important now is our ongoing commitment to improve as an organization.”
Doyle didn’t speak following the meeting, but he told the board of commissioners the RCMP is doing “whatever we can” to improve relationships with the province’s 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 wasn’t 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.