Board of police commissioners punt the definition of defunding further forward

The board will create a committee to create a definition to go back to the board to make a decision on defunding. Still following?

click to enlarge CAORA MCKENNA
Caora McKenna
Way back on Monday Halifax's Board of Police Commissioners met for their third virtual meeting since the COVID pandemic shut  down a large chunk of city operations. The global protests in support of Black Lives Matter and against racist police brutality also kicked off while the board was on hiatus.

Since then, it's been slowly working towards addressing calls to defund the police, though marred by technical difficulties and process confusion. Finally, this week, the board got somewhere—but that somewhere means any concrete decision making is still a long ways away.

The board voted to strike a community committee that would look at a crafting definition for defunding the police that builds on the one proposed by someone at HRM—a starting point that was essential for making good, meaningful progress, said board chair Natalie Borden.
Lindell Smith and Tony Mancini voted against the motion, with Smith saying the originally proposed definition was sufficient, and that he wanted to focus on getting down to work to address systemic racism. Whereas Mancini said he thought the motion that was put forward at Tuesday's council meeting by Waye Mason was sufficient, saying "I don't believe the commission should be involved in creating a definition."

Borden responded saying the proposed work is exactly the role of the police commission, adding that "this is absolutely the best example I can think of so far where we do need to make a stand." And it was clarified at Tuesday's council meeting that the proposed motion was in the purview of the board as per the police act:

When Comissioner Carole McDougall brought forward the idea for a community definition, she stressed the huge amount of feedback she and other board members had heard from the community, and the importance of having those voices included in this discussion.

The proposed definition was also tweaked to clarify that "police performing policing functions" meant police doing work in relation to the criminal code and criminal activity—not the more "social" work that's fallen into their realm of responsibility over the past decades.

The board also heard from Martha Paynter, founder of Women's Wellness Within and a registered nurse and nursing PhD candidate at Dalhousie. Paynter spoke about the need for a gendered lens in policing and arrests, highlighting the many ways current policing systems damage and harm families, mothers and children.

Poynter explained five key points that should be considered:
1. Anticipate a trauma response
2. Do not arrest mothers/primary caregivers in the presence of children
3. Allow mothers/caregivers to arrange childcare
4. Never detain a breastfeeding mother, a pregnant person, or a primary caregiver
5. Never charge a person with violation of bail when they have experienced gendered violence

Paynter finished with a push for a breastfeeding policy—which she's been in conversation with chief of police Dan Kinsella about since he started his job but hasn't seen any concrete action on. It would ensure events like what happened to

Deputy mayor and commissioner Lisa Blackburn's motion to get all of HRP's policies and procedures online like the Vancouver police department also passed at the meeting—but chief of police Dan Kinsella pointed out that some 1,700 pages of the policy are currently under review, and the project is a fairly large one, so getting them all online tomorrow is out of the question.

One of the eight core objectives of the board right now is a policy review, so Blackburn's motion was added to that longer-term objective, but that objective doesn't have a commissioner who has taken on point-person responsibility for it, so you could say it's on the back burner for now.

Councillor Smith added to the discussion by asking if HRP could, one day in the future, put complaints against officers online like 12 of the 50 states in the US do.

Smith also succeeded in getting an extension on the street check data deletion date due to Covid-19 and—as he's been saying for months, even before COVID started—poor communication on behalf of the HRP and RCMP in letting citizens know about the opportunity to FOIPOP for their data. To date, only one person has filed a freedom of information request for their data, but hundreds of thousands of records exist. In his report on street checks, Scot Wortley recommended citizens be informed if their right to review the records, saying "this will inform civilians about the types of information the police have collected on them in the past and give them a chance to dispute the accuracy of that information. This gesture will also increase the transparency of the police service and could thus serve as a step towards improving community trust."

You can now track that recommendation and others in from the street check report in a new, easier-to-read PDF. The document doesn't include dates or any info on how the recommendation is completed, but it does make it easier to note that of the 29 recommendations in the report only two have been completed, and 18 haven't even been started yet. 

About The Author

Caora McKenna

Caora is the City Editor at The Coast, where she writes about everything from city hall to police and housing issues. She’s been with The Coast since 2017, when she began as the publication’s Copy Editor.

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