Halifax police officers 'lost faith' in chief, vote overwhelmingly against him

HALIFAX — The overwhelming non-confidence vote by Halifax's police union against the chief of police is an issue that should be handled internally, a civilian oversight official said Thursday.

As long as the issues raised by the vote aren’t seen to affect police services or community safety, then the civilian oversight board should not get involved, said Lindell Smith, a Halifax municipal councillor and chair of the city's Board of Police Commissioners.

“This is concerning but it is at heart a labour relations issue,” Smith said. “It’s very clear in the Police Act that we don’t have any aspects related to the hiring or firing of the chief.”

Earlier this week, the police union released results of the vote: almost 97 per cent of respondents said they had no confidence in Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella. About 84 per cent of the police union members participated in the vote.

Smith added that any decision on the future of Kinsella, whose resignation is being called for by the union, would be the purview of Halifax Regional Council. He said he wasn’t aware of any move to take up the issue at this point.

“I’d hate to get to a situation where this is dealt with at council when really there should be a collaborative approach between the chief and the union to determine the areas to deal with,” he said.

Sgt. Dean Stienburg, president of the police union — Halifax Police Association — said morale on the force is low because the chief isn’t working to address staff shortages and training deficiencies.

“I think the membership has lost faith in the chief’s ability to run the organization and they want to see the chief move on,” Stienburg said in an interview Thursday.

He said there’s also a belief among union members that Kinsella is too quick to react to controversies that erupt on social media and isn’t supporting officers. “They feel they aren’t going to get a fair shot in telling their side of the story."

The vote of no confidence, Stienburg said, was the only way officers could express their displeasure, adding that the membership had asked for it a year ago but were initially rebuffed by the union.

“The truth of the matter is that after three years of coming to the table and providing suggestions, none of them have been acted on,” Stienburg said.

In an emailed statement, Kinsella said he had previously reached out to Stienburg, asking him to work with management on solutions to the concerns of officers. But Stienberg had instead chosen to “create divisions and spread rhetoric," Kinsella said.

The chief said that since he took over in 2019, he has worked on service delivery and accountability as well as on engagement with diverse communities within the city. He added that he is also trying to be proactive on staffing and member wellness issues.

“At every single step, some in the union leadership and particularly Sgt. Stienburg have been resistant to positive change, attacked my character … spread false information and acted divisively instead of trying to be part of much-needed cultural change,” Kinsella said.

He added that he remains committed to his work and to supporting members of the force.

Meanwhile, Stienburg called Kinsella’s response “unfortunate.”

“The truth of the matter is it will make things a lot worse,” Stienburg said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press