Fewer street checks in Halifax but black people still more likely to be stopped

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Halifax Regional Police are performing fewer street checks but new numbers released by the force show that visible minorities, especially black people, are still more likely to be stopped by an officer.

The data shows street checks dropped by 28 per cent between 2017 and 2018, part of a continuous decline since 2012.

Despite that decrease, a CBC News analysis of the data found black people were four times more likely to be street checked than white people in 2017 and 2018. 

People identified by police as Arab or West Asian were nearly three times more likely to be street checked.

The figures « are alarming in the sense that they’re very high, » said Michael Kempa, chair of criminology at the University of Ottawa.

« It’s not a morally good thing. But they’re consistent with the numbers right across the country. »

In Halifax, police checks can take one of two forms: a face-to-face interaction between police and an individual or group, or observations made at a distance. The figures released by police don’t differentiate between the two. 

Checks are recorded with details such as age, gender, location, reason and ethnicity.

CBC’s analysis was based on 4,579 people who were street checked a single time by police between Jan. 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2018. 

Kempa said similar studies from other Canadian cities have shown visible minorities are street checked at three to four times the rate of whites. ​

« Looking at [CBC’s] statistical analysis, you made conservative assumptions in your data, » he said. « So if anything, you’re underestimating slightly. »

‘Still the target’

Ashley Taylor, who’s black and works as a support worker for African-Nova Scotian high school students, said street checks make him feel like « an enemy. »

He said he believes he draws police attention attention because he’s black, wears his hair in dreadlocks and drives a Mercedes Coupe. His job as a social worker often takes him to higher-crime areas of the city.

Ashley Taylor is an African-Nova Scotian student support worker in Dartmouth. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

CBC News interviewed Taylor in January 2017 when a different CBC analysis showed black people were 3.2 times more likely to be street checked than whites between 2005 and 2016.

At that time, Taylor said he was being street checked approximately three times a year. Since then, Taylor said he’s been street checked maybe once.

« The frequency [of street checks] might have changed, but the stats are still the same, » he said. « I guess we’re still the target. » 

Following CBC’s street check coverage in 2017, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission hired criminologist Scot Wortley from the University of Toronto to study how street checks impact visible minority populations in Halifax. 

His study is scheduled for release on March 27. 

The Halifax Regional Police said it would not grant any interviews before the report’s release.

« Out of respect for Dr. Wortley’s process, we are not commenting on issues related to street checks, » said spokesperson Const. John MacLeod. 

Fear of complaints

Kempa attributes the overall decline in street checks to a number of factors.

« Street checks … have really leapt into the public consciousness. People have become sensitized to it and aware that there’s something not quite right going on there. They’re more adamant about pushing their rights with police officers, » he said. 

Michael Kempa is the chair of criminology at the University of Ottawa. (CBC)

Individual officers may be less likely to stop and question citizens because they’re worried about complaints being filed against them, said Kempa.

« They’re tending to pull back a little bit in engaging the public at all, most especially with a formal street check. »

Taylor’s experiences with street checks have left him hyper-vigilant when he’s behind the wheel. He said he switched from driving a white car to a black one to « blend in and stay under the radar. »

If he notices a police car around, Taylor assumes he’s being followed. 

« Is that me thinking, that I guess, I’m losing my mind? » he said.

« It’s not. It’s just something that, you know, your sixth sense takes over, and those are the things that you feel while you’re driving … It just feels like it’s very tough sometimes to be who you just want to be. »

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Community and police must co-operate, says judge in charge of report on street checks

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Five days after the New Year’s Eve ball drop of a 300-plus page review of carding and police street checks in Ontario, Justice Michael Tulloch and his team met with reporters and the public to talk about the results and recommendations at a downtown Toronto hotel that is a brisk 10-minute walk away from the politics of Queen’s Park.

What will come of Tulloch’s street check report is dependent upon political will and the majority provincial Progressive Conservative government, led by Premier Doug Ford.

It was one of four, highly critical major reports into policing released within the past month, including a review of Thunder Bay Police Service by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and an interim report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in its ongoing inquiry into racial profiling and discrimination by the Toronto Police Service.

The common thread to all of them is that none of the findings were news to Black and Indigenous communities in Toronto and the province.

On Friday, before a conference room at the Chelsea Hotel packed with rights advocates, the public and police brass from several Ontario police services, Tulloch stressed the importance of police maintaining the trust of the communities they serve.

Tulloch, an Ontario Court of Appeal justice, and his team consulted with more than 2,200 people, including representatives from 34 police services, and received more than 100 written submissions.

He soon learned the scope of the issue, and how it disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and racialized groups.

Tulloch’s street checks report stresses the importance of training and making it clear to police what is expected of them in street check encounters, where “carding” — the complete randomness in choosing who to stop, question and document, and creating “a database for general intelligence purposes” — has no place.

Many of the recommendations made are aimed at tweaking and adding language to existing provincially-mandated street check regulations enacted in 2017. Of the 103 recommendations, several aim to clarify, suggesting the regulations should:

  • Expressly state that they do not apply to “attempts to confirm the identity of an individual who matches the description of a missing person, human trafficking victim or other victim of crime” or to “interactions that have a community-building purpose, meaning on-duty police contact with members of the community meant to foster positive relationships and/or assist members of the public without gathering identifying information for an investigative or intelligence purpose.”
  • Define “suspicious activity” to mean an activity where, under all of the circumstances, there are objective, credible grounds to request identifying information.
  • Direct and train officers who have identified suspicious activity and if it is “feasible to do so, a police officer should first make inquiries of an individual to confirm or dispel the officer’s suspicion without requesting identifying information.”

Shortly after coming to power, the Progressive Conservative government hit the pause button on a police reform bill that included wide-ranging changes, including enhancements to the province’s civilian Special Investigation Unit, a law brought in by the previous Liberal government in response to another of Tulloch’s reports on police oversight. The Conservatives are reviewing the bill, and intend to introduce a bill of their own.

In reaction to the report, Sylvia Jones, the minister who oversees policing, said this week that the government will review Tulloch’s street check report. Jones said “new police legislation will reflect a simple principle: racism and discrimination have no place in policing. Justice Tulloch’s report will inform our work as we fix Ontario’s policing legislation.”

Between 2010 and 2014, repeated Toronto Star analysis of Toronto police street check and carding data, obtained through freedom of information requests, has shown that Black people were more likely in each of the city’s 70-plus patrol zones to be stopped, questioned and documented than white people, and more so in predominantly white areas of the city.

While Black and, to a lesser extent, brown-skinned people were subject to higher rates of street checks, compared to what they represent in Toronto’s population, people with white skin colour represented the largest skin colour group, by sheer volume, in street check data examined by the Star.

Similar patterns emerged in other Ontario police jurisdictions, leading to the enactment of the province-wide regulations.

Toronto police suspended street checks involving the inputting of personal details into a database in 2015.

Jim Rankin is a reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @Jleerankin

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Saskatoon reviewing proposal to require criminal record checks for taxi, ride-hailing drivers – Saskatoon

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Taxis will soon be sharing the road with the likes of Uber and Lyft after Saskatchewan gave its approval to ride-hailing services just over a week ago.

However, municipalities get to determine how and when these ride-hailing services begin.

Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa have both taxis and ride-hailing services that bring passengers where they need to go, and each city sets its own rules for drivers.


READ MORE:
Saskatchewan rideshare rules take effect Dec. 14, pending municipal bylaws

Saskatoon city council will be reviewing bylaws on Monday that could dictate who will be allowed on the roads.

Mayor Charlie Clark posted on Facebook that council will be looking at fees, minimum fares and vehicle inspections for the ride-hailing services.

But it’s the proposal of a criminal record check for drivers that has the Canadian Civil Liberties Association raising its voice.


READ MORE:
Insurance pit stops still exist on road to Sask. ride sharing

Abby Deshman, director of the criminal justice program with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says a vulnerable sector check shouldn’t be applied to drivers.

“The truth is predicting what someone will do in the future is almost impossible. You can’t tell based on a criminal record if someone is going to go out and commit a violent offence,” Deshman said.

“You can’t tell based on what they have done in the past what they will do in the future.”


READ MORE:
Saskatoon city committee debates ride-sharing regulations

She added that there need to be more jobs available to those with previous criminal convictions.

“When businesses do use them and exclude people from employment, we’re really undermining community safety,” Deshman said.

“We need people to have stable jobs when they’ve had prior justice involvement. We need people to have an income to be able to find a place to live.”


READ MORE:
“We just want it to be fair and safe” – taxis, municipalities prepare for ride sharing in Saskatchewan

Provincial rules for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft went into effect last Friday.

Companies will need to hold at least $1 million in liability coverage for all drivers and vehicles.

However, it will be up to municipalities to determine their own local ride-hailing bylaws.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Mistrial declared in Dennis Oland’s murder retrial over ‘improper’ background checks on jurors

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A Court of Queen’s Bench judge has declared a mistrial in Dennis Oland’s murder retrial after the Crown became aware of « improprieties » related to the jury selection process.

The jury has been dismissed and the Oland’s retrial for the murder of his father will continue by judge alone. 

The body of Richard Oland, 69, was discovered face down in a pool of blood in his Saint John office the morning of July 7, 2011. He had suffered 45 sharp- and blunt-force blows to his head, neck and hands.

A jury found his only son, Dennis, guilty in December 2015, but the New Brunswick Court of Appeal overturned the conviction in October 2016 and ordered a new trial, citing an error in the trial judge’s instructions to the jury.

The defence asked last year that the retrial be heard by a judge alone, but the Crown refused to give the required consent and Morrison denied the application.

More to come.

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