The RCMP’s ‘no apology’ speaks louder than words

What the Mounties are saying is simply this: Yes, street checks do disproportionately affect African Nova Scotians. But no, that’s not our fault. If you get street checked because you’re Black, well…  that’s your problem. You’re Black. And so it goes.

Photo: Halifax Examiner

So, on the one hand, the RCMP “acknowledges the disproportionate harm that street checks have caused to marginalized communities, particularly African Nova Scotians.” But then, sticking its other ceremonial boot firmly and deeply down its throat, an official Mounties’ statement of August 27 went on add: “However, we are also part of the broader RCMP, and RCMP national policy still supports the use of street checks as a policing tool.”

Therefore, no apology to Nova Scotia’s Black community.

Let’s see if we can paraphrase what is being said here.

The policy of police street checks — randomly stopping “citizens” on the street for no legally definable reason, then recording and storing their personal information for potential future use against them — has caused disproportionate harm to Black Nova Scotians.

We know this, not only because the RCMP admitted the obvious last month but also because — more importantly — a data-driven, provincially commissioned study in 2019 found that the police in Halifax street-check Black citizens at six times the rate they stop white people.

Dan Kinsella

That 180-page report, prepared by University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley, concluded those street checks not only infringed on individual liberty and contributed to the criminalization of Black youth but also fostered a sense of fear among members of the Black community, who “feel targeted by police, and they are treated rudely and aggressively.”

As a result of that report and a legal opinion co-authored by a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia that concluded that street checks are not “reasonably necessary” for legitimate policing and are, indeed, illegal, Nova Scotia’s justice minister announced a permanent ban on street checks in October 2019.

A month later, Halifax Police Chief Dan Kinsella responded with a public apology in front of several hundred members of the Black community at the Halifax Central Library.

On behalf of the Halifax regional police, I am sorry. I am sorry for our actions that have caused you pain. I am sorry for all of the times you were mistreated, victimized and revictimized. While decades of injustices cannot be undone, we are committed to doing better moving forward.

RCMP officials attended that event but remained silent.

Until now. Nearly two years after the justice minister’s ban and the city police chief’s apology.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Marshall — notably not RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki — delivered the no-apology news in an email to Canadian Press. He claimed the finding of the force’s own Civilian Complaints and Review Commission, as well as “many consultations with a number of stakeholders and community members factored into consideration of a formal apology.”

One wonders how many members of Nova Scotia’s African Nova Scotian community were among the “stakeholders and community members” the force consulted?

It seems clear — based on my colleague Matthew Byard’s reporting — that the RCMP didn’t bother to consult either with Halifax city councillors, who contract for RCMP policing services in the suburban and rural areas of HRM.

The Mounties apparently don’t just enforce the law; they act as if they are the law. And above it whenever it’s convenient.

And what they’re saying here is simply this: Yes, street checks do disproportionately affect African Nova Scotians. But no, that’s not our fault. If you get street checked because you’re Black, well…  that’s your problem. You’re Black.

In other words — to steal a line from an infamous Supreme Court of Nova Scotia appeal case involving the wrongful murder conviction of Donald Marshall, Junior — Black people are the authors of their own misfortune… because they’re Black.

A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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