Province in discussions over controversial exemption to police street checks

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Robert Wright is a social worker and Black activist in Halifax. (CBC - image credit)
Robert Wright is a social worker and Black activist in Halifax. (CBC - image credit)

The executive director of the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition was blunt with a provincial government committee Tuesday.

Robert Wright's stand on police street checks got straight to the point.

"We have, yet again, a police practice that is supported by government, directed in fact by government, that we believe is illegal and is doubling down on the racist practices of policing," Wright told members of the Standing Committee on Community Services.

Wright was one of six people called to testify before the committee. Committee members wanted to hear from them about over-representation of Black and Indigenous people in the justice system.

Continued opposition

Wright spoke of his group's continued opposition to allowing police to stop people and ask for their identification.

Although Mark Furey, the former minister of justice, directed police to end the practice in October 2019, officers were also instructed they could continue to intercede if they deemed the person might be involved in "suspicious activity."

Wright called the exemption "illegal and problematic."

He used it as one example of the way government policy continues to perpetuate the racism endured by Black people in Nova Scotia.

Candace Thomas is the deputy minister of the Department of Justice.
Candace Thomas is the deputy minister of the Department of Justice.(Department of Justice)

Candace Thomas, the deputy minister of justice, didn't shy away from the criticism, acknowledging in her opening and closing statements that, "Nova Scotia has a long and extremely painful history of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism."

When asked by NDP MLA Kendra Coombes whether the province was looking at revisiting the exemption, Thomas said her department was speaking with the coalition "about this particular issue right now."

"I don't know if it would be appropriate for us to say what those discussions look like currently," said Thomas, before inviting coalition co-ordinator Venessa Fells to also respond.

"We're currently trying to look at that," said Fells. "It does cause great concern because we see this definition of suspicious activity in the directive as really a grey area for allowing street checks to continue.

"We have raised this with the [Nova Scotia] Human Rights Commission as well as the Department of Justice and we are currently trying to work through that, hopefully, to figure something out in the near future."

Emma Halpern is the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia
Emma Halpern is the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia(Elizabeth Fry Society)

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia also testified, calling on the government to do more to help women who are incarcerated, particularly those who need support after they are released.

Emma Halpern the society's executive director, talked about what she called the "child-welfare-to-corrections pipeline" where young people, particularly those who are Black or Indigenous, end up before the courts because they don't get the supports they need.

"More and more young people who have been in group homes and in care [end] up in our correctional facilities as they age out," said Halpern.

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