Halifax Regional Council sets out on the long road to police reform

Approving a motion that could see HRM outline a process to ask its citizens what they want and need from policing, and go from there.

click to enlarge Councillor Waye Mason's motion wants HRM to take a long, hard look at policing in Halifax. - THE COAST
The Coast
Councillor Waye Mason's motion wants HRM to take a long, hard look at policing in Halifax.
Halifax Regional Council took its first step towards any kind of police reform this week, passing councillor Waye Mason's motion to get the ball rolling on a review of police services in the municipality.

Mason's motion kicks off what could become a very long process, but one that Mason and other councillors insist HRM needs to do. "It's not gonna be easy," says Mason, "It's gonna be as painful as the Wortley report—it's gonna be more painful, in a lot of ways. We're gonna go deep in the deep issues and I think we need to."

The motion asks staff to come back with a plan for a review of enforcement delivery and role of police agencies in HRM, suggesting the review could "examine the potential for shifting or creating programs for civilian delivery of non-core police functions."

Mason's motion outlines some specific areas for review from civilian mobile mental health crisis intervention teams, using special constables for traffic enforcement, technology upgrades that could help with traffic, turning non-criminal police responsibilities into civilian roles and hopes the review will provide clarity on the role of police—and heavily consider what it is civilians in Halifax want.

A few outgoing councillors scoffed at the mountain of work that lay ahead, raising doubts that HRM would be able to have any say over the RCMP—or even get to the end of which will no doubt be a long process.

But both Mason and HRM's solicitor John Traves explained that HRP and the RCMP are obliged to respond to the needs of the community and that Halifax Regional Council has a role in figuring out what those needs are.

Traves reminded councillors as well that though HRM doesn't have direct authority over the RCMP budget, "the RCMP is a contracted police service and the terms of that contract are at some point for renewal."

Traves added: "My understanding is they are as willing as any to be a participant in a broader review such as suggested by councillor Mason, which essentially looks at a much bigger picture to which they are only a small component."

Mason backed up his motion saying he saw some knee-jerk action taking place after Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the world (and still continue), and he wanted to ensure that what happened in Halifax was thorough and done right.

A requirement for thorough detail can often be the kiss of death to a policy change. But, if you've been in the comment sections on Halifax social media these past months, you know Mason is not wrong as a politician in his desire to ensure both sides of the ACAB debate feel heard.

And while Mason's motion is a far cry from abolition, it sets up the possibility of finding potential fiscal savings, which councillors who've winced under recent budget cuts (that will only get worse) could end up embracing.

Many councillors also insisted that the provincial government sits at whatever discussion table this report could end up at–both because it's in charge of the police act, and because funding for some of the programs that come up as a means for reallocation usually comes from the province's budget. (Think housing, mental health care, addictions treatment and more).

Many of the services police in Halifax have taken on, as councillor Tim Outhit pointed out, came into the purview of police unintentionally. "Why do you think police do so many of these things that are 'non-core'," says Outhit. "Well they do them because no one else is doing them."

He added that though it would be "very complex, very complicated, very controversial...It's the right thing to do." And responding to some of that so-called controversy Mason assured that this motion "is not an attack on police."

"We've all heard the last four chiefs of HRP police speak about how they have become a dumping ground for programs and social problems, without resources and without training that divert police from their core mission," says Mason.

As Mason said: "We can no longer deny there is systemic racism in policing in Halifax. That is a fact is real." And, systemic change is already supposed to be under way thanks to the Wortley report on street checks which confirmed this fact and made sweeping recommendations.

But while that report dealt with one racist element of policing (that'd be street checks), resulted in its end, and made recommendations on how interactions with cops could be less racist in the future—this review would call in to question the entire notion of police in Halifax: From the dual-force model of HRP and RCMP to the myriad services they provide and whether or not they're the best people for those jobs.

To see what else happened at Halifax Regional council this week, and more snippets from this debate see the Instagram-live reporting on our Instagram page or watch it on Youtube here.

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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