T rayvone Clayton, DeRico Symonds, Shevy Price and Kate Macdonald have walked out of the Wortley Street Check Action Working Group. Their statement, released Monday, explains: "During the third meeting, we became aware of the intended purpose of the working group," it says. "This information we received counteracted with our beliefs and the communities' beliefs in relation to street checks."
Justice minister Mark Furey convened the Wortley Report Action Planning Working Group with members of the Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, and African Nova Scotian youth after announcing a moratorium on street checks "until further notice," but refused to consider a permanent ban.
The decision followed Wortley's report for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission that found Black men were nine times more likely to be street-checked by police than white men, and a strong recommendation from the Board of Police Commissioners to suspend the practice.
At the third meeting, Trayvonne Clayton told minister Furey and members of the group that people are still being harassed by police since the moratorium on street checks was announced. "The silence in the room, lack of acknowledgement and appreciation by the room was painful to endure," the statement says.
Toronto journalist Desmond Cole was also at the meeting, and held a community workshop two days later at The Bus Stop Theatre where he told supporters that the province presented them a mandate that, instead of gradually banning street checks, would depend on group members to design regulations to continue the practice.
"After all we have been through with the release of the Wortley Report and reaching for a ban on street checks, it is destructive to have yet another story of African Nova Scotian youth being mishandled by individuals who have the power to change the narrative," the group says.
"I'm obviously disappointed that some community members walked away from the conversation," says minister Furey in an emailed statement. "I encourage all members of the working group to continue to engage and have a voice in these important discussions."
At the community workshop, Cole said, "Street checks are too often used on people who are not suspected of a crime. You're stopping somebody who you are not saying is committing a crime, and you're asking for their personal information, or taking it from them without them knowing."
The justice department defines street checks as "an interaction between police and a person so the police can collect and record identifying information for general intelligence purposes."
Activists, advocates and allies attended the community workshop looking for guidance from Cole, who covered the same issue in Toronto. Cole left The Toronto Star after he gained national attention for protesting a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board because they failed to destroy carding data.
"The police will tell you that unless they can surveil innocent people, we are not safe. That is a lie," said Cole. He listed a dozen Canadian cities where statistics on carding exist, including Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. "There is not one city that I just named where Black and Indigenous people are not disproportionately targeted," he said.
Street check records can follow people for years, sometimes preventing work and travel "These non-criminal records actually follow us," said Cole. "That's still a record that can mess with me."
In his statement, minister Furey stands by street checks as a useful tool for police. "The inappropriate use of street checks...has created a sense of fear, intimidation and mistrust for many in the African Nova Scotian community that will take time and informed actions to overcome," he writes. "As I have said before, and I continue to believe, when applied appropriately street checks are an important policing tool. What is needed are strict regulations around how street checks are applied and officer training to mitigate bias and discrimination."
Cole says citizens have to be notified of their rights whenever stopped by police, and if they aren't suspected of a crime they should be informed that they have the right to walk away and that any current database with personal information from street checks has to be destroyed, or at least removed from the hands of police. "You get rid of that, you essentially put an end to this practice," he said. No decisions have been made yet by Halifax Regional Police on what will happen with street check records.
Cole urged the public to contact the board of police commissioners to push for a full ban.
African Nova Scotian youth who walked out of the group couldn't be reached for comment on the release, but signed off with a message to minister Furey and the Halifax Regional Police's incoming police chief, Dan Kinsella. "Ban street checks today. It's time."