News / Halifax

Double-checking Halifax street checks: no stats on how many residents, what ethnicity, stopped by police

Halifax police say their street checks are not the same as carding

Deputy Chief Bill Moore

Jeff Haper/Metro

Deputy Chief Bill Moore

Halifax police say they have oversight in place for street checks, but one privacy lawyer contends the procedure leaves room for intimidation.

Last week, The Globe and Mail ran a piece on police carding or “street checks” in Canada, which has been controversial in Toronto, where it’s been found to particularly target black residents.

In Halifax, The Globe reported there were 6,798 street checks in 2014, amounting to 1.7 per cent of the population being stopped – but Halifax Regional Police Deputy Chief Bill Moore said that’s not accurate.

“Some of these street checks may not have any interaction whatsoever between the police and the individual,” Moore said Monday.

There are also many duplicates, Moore said, since it could be the same person many times or two different officers could take note of a known criminal on the same shift.

“Right now I can’t say if that 6,700 is made up of 100 different people or 5,000 different people,” Moore said.

Moore said street checks could be anything from notes on when a known criminal is spotted in an area, an officer asking someone why they’re walking through, say, Burnside at 4 a.m., to stopping a car with one headlight or seeing multiple teens in a car carrying hammers early in the morning.

The Halifax Regional Police policy states street checks are field interviews submitted when an officer “observes a person or vehicle in a location, at a time and/or under circumstances that suggest would be of significant to future investigation,” but the person or vehicle “does not have to be stopped or occupants interviewed.”

However, Moore said the officer needs to have a legitimate reason for checks, which are all reviewed by a sergeant the same day.

“If that (street check) rationale is only based on your ethnicity … that’s wrong,” Moore said.

Moore said officer's are supposed to record someone’s age and ethnicity as part of their street check, but had no numbers on how many people stopped were black, aboriginal or white as they would have to search through each entry to add them up.

For David Fraser, Halifax privacy lawyer, the fact we don’t have specific numbers for people stopped or always track ethnicity “raises even more questions.”

"The more information we know about what’s going on, the better," he said Monday.

Right now, Moore said residents aren’t told they can walk away from a street check if they feel they don’t need to say anything, which Fraser said should always be made clear.

“It’s intimidating - a police officer stops you on the sidewalk and says ‘what’s going on?’ Fraser said.

“If you’re a member of a racial or ethnic minority, you’re going to think you were targeted for that reason.”

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