Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella testifies at Kayla Borden's review board hearing

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella spoke directly to Kayla Borden Thursday saying that her ordeal was not lost on him, but he told the Police Review Board he doesn’t feel systemic racism played a role in her July 2020 arrest.

Kinsella talked about police policy and ongoing efforts to fight racism within the police force during his testimony at the appeal hearing into Borden's dismissed complaint against Halifax Regional Police (HRP) officers.

“When I first put my complaint in I was like, I want to be the last person for this to happen to, but its still happening, so that needs to change,” Borden told reporters prior to a rally before Kinsella’s testimony.

Borden, who is a Black woman, accused HRP of systemic racism after she was followed from Bedford to Burnside in July 2020 and then arrested by over half a dozen mostly white male police officers in the middle of the night.

Police mistook Borden’s car for another one with no licence plate, driven by a white man who took off when police tried to pull him over.

Borden intended for her complaint to apply to all of the officers involved in her arrest. But HRP's internal investigator, Sgt. Jonathan Jefferies, unilaterally decided to limit the complaint to two officers: constables Scott Martin and Jason Meisner. Jefferies' investigation found neither officer at fault.

When asked if anti-Black racism has been “identified as a problem within Halifax Regional Police, historically and at present” Kinsella responded, “Yes.”

Borden’s lawyer, Asaf Rashid, asked what HRP does to combat anti-Black racism within the department.

“Systemic racism exists in all of our institutions. It’s not unique to policing,” said Kinsella.

“We take it very seriously. We have a number of training courses that have been delivered around anti-Black racism, systemic bias, most recently we developed a training course entitled Journey to Change.”

Kinsella said the Journey to Change is facilitated and put on by members of the Black community.

He described the content of the program as “a reflection on the 400 years of trauma that the Black community has experienced.”

“It talks about the beginnings and how we got to where we are," he said.

He said Journey to Change is voluntary for officers but it will “eventually” be made mandatory.

“It’s not lost on me how impactful the interaction was that you had," he said.

"The shock factor. I totally understand that. I also understand that the officers at the scene provided an apology, which is very good to know, and as I understand and I truly believe it came from a sincere place. So I just wanted to mention that.”

Rashid asked Kinsella if any HRP policies address racial profiling specifically.

Kinsella said the code of ethics and oath of office “speak in general terms” and that there is “a very clear expectation internally that there will be no racial profiling.”

“One of my approaches, since I arrived in this position, has been to review every complaint that alleges [racial profiling], to review it in detail, and take appropriate action where required,” said Kinsella.

Kinsella said he was familiar with the Wortley Report and said, “The finding was that [Black people] are exponentially stopped more often than white individuals.”

HRP lawyer Andrew Gough objected, saying matters surrounding the Wortley report did not pertain to the complaint filed against Martin and Meisner.

Rashid responded saying the level of relevance was for the board to determine.

Board chair Jean McKenna then asked Nasha Nijhawan, the lawyer for Meisner and Martin, if she had any comments to offer on the debate.

“I agree with my friend for the HRP that there is a little bit of drift that’s happening in terms of relevance,” said Nijhawan.

She then said she felt stops and street checks were being conflated and said she would like “more careful extensions of the language” from Rashid in his questioning.

“Just to be clear, the Wortley Report did talk about stops and street checks,” said Rashid.

McKenna said that questions about the Wortley Report and its findings were “helpful background” with respect to Martin and Meisner’s working conditions.

“We’d have to be blind to pretend that race is not an issue that is being presented by Ms. Borden. Certainly, it is,” said McKenna.

“It’s something that we can’t ignore, we can’t pretend it’s not on the table because it’s very much on the table.”

Kinsella didn’t say yes or no when asked if HRP has identified why Black people are stopped more often than white people but instead said the department is “working through and with” the Wortley Report, the Justice Department, the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association and the RCMP to try to ensure the appropriate training is in place.

He said there’s “still a lot of work to be done.”

Kinsella said that though systemic racism with HRP is "not new," he doesn’t feel there is a connection to it specific to Borden’s arrest.

When asked if the issues outlined in the Wortley Report are getting better or worse, Kinsella said HRP is “quite committed” to race base data collection but that they “are in the relative embryonic stages of that.”

Kinsella said he’s “responsible for the administration and operation of the Halifax Police service,” and that he is “generally aware of every complaint that comes into the service.”

He said he is aware of the “general circumstances” surrounding Borden’s complaint based on what he’s heard through HRP's professional standards process, the information presented previously at the appeal hearing, and through media reports.

“I wasn’t there that evening, I have no firsthand knowledge of what occurred, I have some hearsay information,” said Kinsella.

Kinsella’s testimony was briefly interrupted when people who participated in the rally could be heard chanting through the halls on their way to the hearing.

“Kinsella should resign, Kinsella needs to quit, and so should every racist cop, we’re sick of all their shit,” they chanted.

When it resumed, Kinsella said that he had not spoken to the officers involved about Borden’s arrest.

Rashid asked Kinsella questions about police procedure when performing a traffic stop.

“I’m happy to give my opinion in a general sense on vehicle stops if that pleases the board, I can’t speak to this incident,” Kinsella said at one point.

Gough objected at one point to Rashid’s line of questioning saying that Kinsella’s opinion on the officer’s actions the night of Borden’s arrest was not relevant to the hearing.

McKenna advised Rashid to ask more general questions.

Kinsella said that HRP officers are trained on stopping vehicles as part of their basic training.

After being hired by HRP he said each officer is assigned a coach officer and continues to be assessed.

Kinsella then spoke at length about various types of scenarios when a police officer makes a decision to stop a vehicle and the general ways that stops take place. He talked about the different things police have to consider when stopping a car or when deciding whether or not to initiate or call off a pursuit when a driver doesn’t stop.

“They’re trained to do it as safely as possible,” said Kinsella.

Rashid asked what are key details that need to be relayed over the police radio in order to identify a suspect vehicle.

In 2021, Const. Stuart McCulley, who saw the initial vehicle, testified that he did not relay the race of the white male driver over the police radio.

Kinsella said that anything to help identify the vehicle and its occupants is helpful but that they’re “not always in a position to get all of the details all of the time.” He said things like the “time of day, location, and other circumstances” can factor into it.

When identifying suspects, Kinsella said the best-case scenario involves being able to identify if someone is male or female, their ethnicity, and how many people are in a vehicle.

Retired pro boxer Kirk Johnson was among those in attendance for Kinsella’s testimony.

Johnson successfully won a lawsuit against HRP for racial profiling after proving former Const. Mike Sanford lied about not having his insurance papers in a 1998 traffic stop in Dartmouth that resulted in Johnson getting his car impounded at his expense.

“The policies on paper always sound good but what happens in real life doesn’t always go according to what the policies say,” Johnson told the Examiner following Kinsella’s testimony. “And that’s the problem that we have.”

Speaking with a group of reporters, Johnson expressed disappointment in seeing someone so much younger than him having to go through a similar situation that he went through.

“I got a son and daughter coming up that’s younger than her and I’m just saying like, ‘Am I going to be saying the same thing that my father said, and going through the same thing my father and mother had to go through seeing their kid going through the same thing that [Borden’s] parents are seeing her [go through]?’” Johnson said.

“When you find out their actions are wrong, and they keep being wrong all the time, there gotta be some sort of harsher step … to let them understand and know that you’re not just gonna do this to these people … if you really want to gain our trust.”

With in-person testimony complete, lawyers are expected to have their written arguments and replies submitted by early March. Decisions from the board are typically released months after those arguments are submitted.

Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner