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Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill sports a smile at a campaign stop in Halifax on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia’s NDP Leader Gary Burrill spent Saturday campaigning in the largely African Nova Scotian riding of Preston where he promised, if elected next month, an end to street checks to curb racial profiling.

The province’s Liberal government has said it would ban the practice in 2019 after the release of a report from the provincial Human Rights Commission found street checks disproportionately affect Black Nova Scotians.

But despite its promise to do away with it, Black people in the province continue to experience unfair interactions with the police, Burrill told reporters.

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“I think a lot of people in Nova Scotia have the idea that street checks now are gone, that when that decision was made by the Department of Justice that was going to be the end of it,” he said. “But we know better.”

He added that his party is also promising to do away with the “suspicious activity” exception for the checks, calling the practice “highly problematic.”

Burrill was joined by the NDP candidate for Preston, Colter Simmonds, who shared several of his own personal experiences dealing with police and the lack of accountability when complaints are made.

“The general public is getting to see the discrepancies and the unfair treatment that definitely has to change,” said Simmonds. “Enough is enough.”

To make that kind of change, Burrill said his government would lean on the report, in which laid out several recommendations about the street check practice, including the eventual de-identification of historical street check data and ordering officers to stop recording information for “street check purposes.”

Preston, which is east of Halifax, was restored to its position as a protected riding in 2019, along with three other largely Acadian ridings, after being eliminated in 2012 when the then NDP government decided there were too few voters in each.

Now, along with Simmonds, the other two major parties also have Black candidates in the riding, including Archy Beals for the Progressive Conservatives and Angela Simmonds for the Nova Scotia Liberals.

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Beals said in an interview Saturday the newly reinstated riding holds a level of cultural significance to its large Black population.

“The area has some specific relevant cultural issues that need to be addressed,” Beals said, including systemic issues in education, business development and employment.”

He called the upcoming provincial election a “historic” moment for the community with the three major parties putting up about 10 Black candidates.

Velma Morgan, the chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, said the restoration of the Preston riding works toward diversifying the legislature.

But, she added, getting multiple Black members in the legislature ensures a wider representation of the community.

“Having one protected seat is great because it guarantees that there’s going to be a Black person,” Morgan said.

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“We want to make sure that there are more than one (Black) candidate because we’re not a monolithic community.”

The 41st general election in Nova Scotia is scheduled for Aug. 17.

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