Halifax police chief acknowledges 'shock' Black woman felt when wrongly arrested

Halifax's police chief acknowledged Thursday that a Black woman whose car was mistakenly stopped by police late at night experienced a "shock factor" as she was arrested and handcuffed.

Chief Dan Kinsella made the comments while testifying at a Police Review Board hearing into Kayla Borden's complaint of racial profiling in connection with her arrest on July 28, 2020.

Borden was driving home at about 1 a.m. when she was stopped by multiple patrol cars, arrested and handcuffed before being released when an officer came to the scene and clarified that they had the wrong car and person.

Kinsella was describing his force's anti-Black racism program to the review board when he paused and directly addressed Borden, saying, "It's not lost on me how impactful the interaction was, the shock factor." He added that he believed the officers' apology at the scene "came from a sincere place."

Outside the hearing, Borden said she didn't feel at the time that the officers' apology sufficed, adding that unless there are disciplinary sanctions, Black citizens will continue to be unnecessarily targeted.

"It was just of kind of like, 'It was our mistake, whatever, you can go on your way,'" she said.

"Once I was able to get out of the car they just arrested me and didn't read me my rights. How is that conforming with the policies and procedures of arresting people?" said the 35-year-old woman, who is a musician, owner of a video firm and community advocate.

Borden said the arresting officers should have checked with colleagues for more information about "who they were actually looking for" before they pulled her over.

She said she was surrounded by police cruisers at a traffic light, instructed to open her door and handcuffed before she was read her Charter rights or told why the arrest was taking place.

Last year, two officers involved in the arrest — Const. Jason Meisner and Const. Scott Martin — testified before the review board that Borden's car was close to the description of a dark-coloured Pontiac that had fled a traffic stop in the city's west end.

However, Borden's lawyer, Asaf Rashid, said outside the hearing Thursday that other officers involved in the initial response had broadcast over police radio that the suspect was male and wearing a baseball cap. Rashid said the officers did not say the suspect was Black.

In 2019, Kinsella made a high-profile apology to the province's Black community for excessive street checks of Black citizens compared to the white population, and for a 400-year history of mistreatment.

He testified Thursday that he recognized that racism persists and said he personally reviews all allegations of racial profiling levelled against personnel in his police force.

However, he said based on the information he's heard about the Borden case, "I don't see any nexus to the systemic (racism) issues that we're facing."

The chief cited his force's anti-racism training program, which was created in consultation with the Black community, as evidence Halifax police are making progress against systemic racism. He said the course, which aims to eliminate racial bias in policing, is not yet mandatory — but he added it will be made mandatory if all officers don't volunteer to take it.

Kinsella also testified that officers can be extremely wary when they are stopping a vehicle in a case where a suspect has fled a prior police stop. "If you believe the vehicle has fled, you're going to take precautions," he said, answering a question from police union lawyer Nasha Njihawan.

The chief was the final witness to give in-person testimony. The board set dates for final, written submissions in the case, with all parties expected to provide them by the end of February.

The review board initially makes findings on alleged breaches of the police code of conduct, and then, if breaches are found, receives submissions for potential disciplinary actions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2023.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press