Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella told a packed Police Review Board hearing Thursday that systemic racism exists in policing and his department is working to root it out.
But Kinsella said he doesn't believe systemic racism played any role in the Kayla Borden case before the board.
"We continue to work on the challenge [of systemic racism]," Kinsella said. "But I don't see it in any of the evidence that's presented in this particular case."
Borden is a Black woman who says police racially profiled her when they pulled her over while driving and arrested her in July 2020.
A group of officers arrested her at a Dartmouth intersection. They had been searching for a car that fled from police. Within a few moments of Borden's arrest, police realized they had stopped the wrong car and released her.
After Borden filed a complaint, an internal investigation by the police examined the actions of two of those officers, Const. Jason Meisner and Const. Scott Martin.
The investigation found the officers committed no wrongdoing. Borden is appealing that finding to the Police Review Board.
Meisner and Martin both testified before the review board last November.
Borden and her lawyer, Asif Rashid, called Kinsella as a witness in order to ask him questions about police procedures and training for officers on racial profiling.
Kinsella addresses Borden
Kinsella said the police department has a number of mandatory training courses on systemic racism, as well as a course called Journey to Change developed specifically to combat anti-Black racism but is not yet mandatory.
During his testimony, Kinsella addressed Borden directly, telling her it was not lost on him that what happened was "impactful."
"The shock factor, I totally understand that. And I also understand that the officers at the scene provided an apology, which is very good to know, and as I understand and I believe, it truly came from a sincere place," he said.
However, Kinsella testified that he was not present during Borden's arrest and he hasn't spoken to the officers involved about the case.
He said he's aware of the case through the police's professional standards process and media reporting.
Kinsella also told the board he's generally aware of every complaint that comes in to the service, and he personally reviews complaints about racial profiling. He wasn't able to give specifics when a board member asked how many complaints are received by his department per year, or what percentage would involve racial bias, but Kinsella said those numbers are "not high."
Kinsella's words did not satisfy Borden or her lawyer.
"Of course it was shocking," said Asif Rashid, Kayla Borden's lawyer. "That's not enough, to recognize it was shocking. There needs to be some actual finding of wrongdoing and then from that there needs to be some action."
"I didn't feel anything really," Borden said when asked about Kinsella addressing her directly in his testimony. "I felt like it was just kind of an, 'on-the-record' thing."
Borden said before heading into Thursday's session she does believe her case can make a difference.
"A difference, not just for me, but for the community," she said. "For those that it has happened to them before and may even happen to them coming up."
Borden's supporters filled the hearing room and rallied outside the Dartmouth hotel where the hearing was held.
The history of police stops
Borden's case is hardly the first to allege racial profiling of a Black driver in the Halifax-Dartmouth area.
Twenty years ago, professional boxer Kirk Johnson won a five-year battle to have a police stop acknowledged as wrongful and discriminatory. Johnson went through the same police complaint process as Borden, and he came to her hearing to show his support.
"This is what we're doing again? We're still here?" he said. "I can't help but think about my kids. I've got a 17-year-old and I've got a 12-year-old, and I'm saying, 'Wow. What can we do so that can't happen [again]?'"
Johnson competed for Canada at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and his landmark case made national news.
A Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission decision in December 2003 found the police discriminated against Mr. Johnson and his friend Earl Fraser, who was also in the car.
The decision called for a public report from outside experts on steps the Halifax Regional Police should take on anti-racism education and diversity, and suggested an apology to Johnson and Fraser while also awarding them general damages.
In watching Borden's case, Johnson said he believes the police need to take faster action on anti-racism issues.
"The change that I thought was going to happen — [Kayla Borden] is evidence that the change didn't happen as rapidly as I wanted to happen or as I thought was going to happen," he said.
Lawyers for all parties will make final written submissions before March 7 after which the Police Review Board will make its decision.
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