Street checks should be strictly limited – or banned outright, N.S. report says

Nova Scotia Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard said she supports stopping the practice of street checks

Street checks by Halifax-area police have had a disproportionate and negative impact on the African Nova Scotia community, according to a new report that recommends banning or strictly regulating the controversial practice.

The independent human rights report released Wednesday found street check rates in Halifax were among the highest in Canada, second only to Toronto, with black males the most likely to be stopped by police.

“Street checks have contributed to the criminalization of black youth, eroded trust in law enforcement and undermined the perceived legitimacy of the entire criminal justice system,” said Scot Wortley, the report’s author and a University of Toronto criminology professor.

Wortley’s report, commissioned by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, comes more than two years after data showed black people were three times more likely than whites to be subjected to the controversial practice in the city.

Nova Scotia Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard said she supports stopping the practice of street checks.

“The rest of Canada will be watching what happens here,” she told an audience gathered at the Halifax Central Library, where the report was unveiled.

The report recommends banning or strongly regulating police street checks in the province. Ontario banned police carding in specific situations in 2017 — a controversial practice that is similar to street checks.

In community consultations and surveys, Wortley says black Nova Scotians spoke of being treated rudely or with disrespect by police, and felt intimidated or afraid of police in their community.

The 180-page report includes an analysis of street check data, an examination of potential racial bias and recommendations to improve or curb the practice.

READ MORE: Groups want probe into Vancouver police carding

The report found that in Halifax, the odds of being stopped for a street check were highest for black men, followed by Arab males and black females.

Across Canada, the report found the average annual street check rate was highest in Toronto, with Halifax in second place.

Despite an overall reduction in street checks in Halifax in recent years, Wortley says the over-representation of minorities has remained constant.

Wortley also held a dozen consultation meetings with police, who said street checks — when conducted properly — can solve crimes and increase public safety.

But some officers said many street checks are of questionable quality, the result of a performance evaluation system and efforts to “get their numbers up.”

In response to why black people are over-represented in street check statistics, police said the data reflect the reality that black people in Halifax are over-represented in serious, violent crime — including gun and gang activity.

The report found that of 142,456 street checks conducted in Halifax between 2006 and 2017, 32.8 per cent involved an individual who had not been charged with a crime, while 58 per cent had been charged at least once.

Wortley was hired after a report from the Halifax RCMP in January 2017 found that in the first 10 months of 2016, 41 per cent of 1,246 street checks involved African-Nova Scotians.

Halifax Regional Police figures showed that of the roughly 37,000 people checked between 2005 and 2016, almost 4,100 were black — about 11 per cent of checks — despite making up only 3.59 per cent of the city’s population, according to the 2011 census.

Wortley told a board of police commissioners meeting in the fall of 2017 that the crime-fighting potential of police street checks must be weighed against the possible negative impact.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais has argued in the past that the valid street checks performed by police officers in Halifax differ from the random stops or carding practices that are now restricted in Ontario.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

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