News / Halifax

'Groundbreaking:' Toronto professor to examine Halifax street check data

Scot Wortley says the study will be unique since there's little data analysis on racial bias in the justice system.

Halifax Regional Police officers stand outside Metro Turning Point, an emergency homeless shelter, on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Halifax Regional Police officers stand outside Metro Turning Point, an emergency homeless shelter, on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013

An independent expert tasked with looking at how Halifax police use street checks is describing the data study as “ground-breaking.”

University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley has been hired by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to research the issue.

Data released in January showed black people in the municipality are three times more likely to be street checked than white people.

During Monday’s meeting of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners, Wortley was introduced as the expert who’ll undertake the data analysis.

“It’s probably one of the most contentious, controversial issues in law enforcement. It’s not an easy topic to research or to discuss,” Wortley told those at the meeting.

Wortley said his goal is to undertake “as broad a project as possible,” considering all sides of the issue.

Scot Wortley

Metro file

Scot Wortley

He told the board his first step is to thoroughly review international and Canadian literature on racially biased policing.

“That’ll help us identify how the issue has been examined in other jurisdictions and the potential for analyzing the data here in the Halifax region. This will also help us put Halifax in the context of the international policing community,” he said.

“I think my preliminary hypothesis is that what this is going to underscore is that this is by no means a problem that is isolated to the Halifax community.”

Wortley said he’ll then explore existing street check data and identify limits and gaps. He said equally important is publicly meeting with and discussing the concerns of the broader community, including African Nova Scotians.

He told members of the board he’ll need to work with the data for a couple of weeks before he can provide any timeline for a final report, but expects to be able to give a date within two months.

“There has been a large degree of resistance to data collection on issues of race and crime and racial bias in the justice system, the treatment of different racial groups in the justice system,” he said.

“This study will be one of only a handful of studies that directly look at this data across Canada, so in many ways it is a ground-breaking endeavour.”

Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais said he expects new street check policies to be in place this fall.

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