HALIFAX — The RCMP says there will be no formal apology to Halifax’s Black communities for its heavy use of street checks, despite the Halifax regional police having done so almost two years ago.
Street checks, which are now banned in Nova Scotia, are defined as police randomly stopping citizens on the streets, recording personal information and storing it electronically — a practice sometimes referred to as “carding” elsewhere in Canada.
A provincially commissioned study of street checks released by criminologist Scot Wortley in March 2019 condemned the practice by the Halifax regional police and the local RCMP — which polices the city’s suburbs — as targeting young Black men and creating a “disproportionate and negative” impact on African Nova Scotian communities.
Those findings led to a public apology before several hundred people by Halifax Police Chief Dan Kinsella on Nov. 29, 2019 for street checks and historical mistreatment of the Black community.
The Mounties attended but didn’t participate in the apology, saying they were awaiting the results of a national study on street checks prepared by the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. After several delays, that report was published earlier this summer.
In an email to The Canadian Press sent Aug. 27, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Marshall said the agency “acknowledges the disproportionate harm that street checks have caused to marginalized communities, particularly African Nova Scotians.”
“However, we are also part of the broader RCMP, and RCMP national policy still supports the use of street checks as a policing tool,” he added.
The commission’s report didn’t recommend banning street checks but set out a number of recommendations to change RCMP national policy, including a requirement that officers obtain citizens’ “informed consent” before checks are carried out. Marshall said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has accepted this and other findings.
He said the findings of the Civilian Complaints and Review Commission along with “many consultations with a number of stakeholders and community members factored into consideration of a formal apology.”
“Regardless of national policies and procedures, the Nova Scotia RCMP continues to adhere to the provincial ban on street checks. We are focused on rebuilding our relationship and trust with marginalized Nova Scotians, which goes beyond ending the practice of street checks.”
The justice working group for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition — which has advocated for reform of policing to reduce racial bias — provided a written response saying it’s dissatisfied with the RCMP response.
“The coalition … expresses our disappointment in the RCMP’s lacklustre response to the trauma and harm being caused to the African Nova Scotian and African Canadian communities over the continued use of the illegal street checks in some parts of Canada,” wrote program director Vanessa Fells, on behalf of the committee, on Tuesday.
“The failure of the RCMP to listen to the collective voices of the communities’ experiences and make adequate policy changes to address this ongoing trauma, as well as their refusal to apologize and take responsibility for their role in this trauma, speaks to the deep-seated roots of systemic racism within all policing agencies and the immediate need for collaborative changes.”
Wortley, the University of Toronto criminologist who studied Halifax’s street checks, said in a recent interview the RCMP “has a strong reputation for not issuing apologies …It’s consistent with their stances on policing of Indigenous or minority populations.”
He said RCMP officers police several Halifax-area communities with large Black populations and their involvement in street checks was similar to that of the regional police. His research found that Black people in the Halifax area were six times more likely to be street checked by police than white people.
Wortley said it is worth noting that the RCMP is acknowledging the harm caused and is indicating it wishes to change.
In addition, he said it was encouraging to hear that the RCMP — in jurisdictions where street checks aren’t banned — will follow the recommendation to read prepared statements seeking consent before a street check. The criminologist said that in jurisdictions where this occurs, street checks have fallen drastically.
Marshall said the RCMP has made progress on some of the Wortley report’s recommendations, including developing an orientation package for Halifax employees that will include meetings between officers and people living in the African Nova Scotian communities.
The force is also planning to drop street check data from its data management system by the end of 2022.
In addition, Marshall said the RCMP is forming a community consultation group based in Preston, which has a large Black population, to improve relationships between police and the community.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2021.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press