Black advocates say they are happy Halifax police forces have committed to keeping street-check data for now, but are calling for a real plan to safeguard the records for years to come.
The heads of both Halifax Regional Police (HRP) and Halifax RCMP spoke to the city’s Board of Police Commissioners Wednesday about concerns that years of street-check data would be purged by the end of December.
“We’re content as HRP to hang onto the data and make sure that we do the appropriate disposition of it at the appropriate time based on the … participation of the board and of the community,” Chief Dan Kinsella said during the meeting.
Chief Supt. Jeffrey Christie, the new officer in charge of Halifax RCMP, said although the Mounties must follow federal privacy legislation around purging records after certain time frames, the HRP is currently holding their data for them.
“These street checks are right now protected and can’t be purged,” Christie said.
The board heard the HRP has about 106,000 street check files and Halifax RCMP has roughly 28,000.
A 2019 report by Scott Wortley for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission revealed Black people were six times more likely
to be street checked than white people between 2006-2017. The province has since banned the practice, and recently agreed to mandate the collection of race-based police data.
Vanessa Fells, director of operations with the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent (ANSDPAD) Coalition, said she was relieved to hear the promises from police.
“The data … reminds us all of the history of exactly what happened,” Fells said outside the meeting.
“It gives validity to the voices of the Black community that have been for many years discredited when they talked about negative interactions with police and racial profiling. That data is the proof.”
El Jones gave a presentation to the board on behalf of ANSDPAD, reminding them what experts like Wortley have suggested should happen with the data. That includes making the records anonymous, then having an independent third party review and eventually house the data for future research.
Jones said she was glad to see the board pass a motion from commissioner Harry Critchley urging both HRP and RCMP to preserve the data. But, she added, it’s “exhausting” for the Black community and groups like ANSDPAD to keep issues like this on the public radar.
“You multiply that by the thousands of issues that we have to deal with … and then you wonder why Black people are tired, and why Black people are frustrated,” Jones said in an interview.