Halifax Regional Council has put its weight behind a review of how policing works in this municipality, saying it wants to specifically look at HRM’s two police forces—Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP—and the relationship between the two.
But wait, you may say, “I thought HRM was already doing a big review into how policing works, maybe even more than one.” And that is true. With approval of this one, the total number of reviews and reports about policing underway in HRM comes up to four.
Not to mention the plethora of reports already completed: The Wortley Street Check report, the independent commission on the legality of street checks, even the donald Marshall Jr. Decision, among others.
The motion for the newest review, brought forward by councillor Tony Manicini and passed at council's Tuesday, April 6 meeting, officially says to prepare a report “based on a review of the current model of delivering policing services in Halifax Regional Municipality, to provide an evaluation of and make recommendations with respect to the effectiveness along with community safety standards of the current division of policing responsibilities in HRM between the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP in their capacity as Nova Scotia Provincial Police.”
This request comes on top of a review councillor Waye Mason kicked off back in August, in the midst of sweeping support for critical reconsideration of policing in Halifax and around the world. His request asked staff to “outline a process and timeline for a broad review of policing and public safety, which shall examine the potential for shifting or creating programs for civilian delivery of non-core police functions. This review shall include but not limited to traffic enforcement, public safety, community standards, mental health, and municipal enforcement functions, and will include a plan for engaging with the public, stakeholders, subject matter experts and, subject to their agreement, participation of the Board of Police Commissioners.”
Which came on top of a request from the Board of Police Commissioners to figure out a definition for defunding the police and police resource reallocation.
Which came months after a service standards report that council asked for back in January of 2020.
Whether or not having so many reviews underway at once will help or hurt any chances at real progress remains unknown. CAO Jacques Dubé told councillors at the meeting “one could argue, rightly or wrongly, that if you’re going to do that work”—referring to the reports that were already underway—“you’re going to look at the structure at the same time.”
Most councillors said it was important that the work of examining the co-operative policing model between the HRP and the RCMP be done by someone independent, who “doesn’t have a dog in the race,” said councillor Lisa Blackburn.
The notion that the result of Mancini’s report could suggest getting rid of one of the two forces, led councillors David Hendsbee and Becky Kent to hesitate about going down this road. Hendsbee hypothesized that it would be an “emotional, gut-wrenching process,” due to the long and beloved relationship with the RCMP in Halifax that dates back to before 1996’s amalgamation that created the Halifax Regional Municipality. Kent spoke of her support for both forces: “It’s no surprise I’m a big fan of the RCMP, but I’m also a big fan of HRP.”
HRM’s more urban councillors—less preoccupied with the palace intrigue of cop jobs, perhaps—supported the motion on the grounds that if shifts in what policing even means in Halifax are to come, understanding what HRM can ask the RCMP to do will become really important.
Dartmouth councillor Sam Austin said he’s hoping the report can explain whether or not the governance model of the RCMP limits HRM from pursuing police reform. “This is not a knock against our local people,” said Austin, “but it is not encouraging when the RCMP cannot even manage three simple words ‘I am sorry’ for the street checks issues that we face. It doesn’t fill one with optimism that, because they are so nationally controlled, that we will be able to implement changes to policing if we decide to go down that road with the RCMP as a partner.”
At least four reports in the hopper, with many more completed in recent years, surely signals that something needs to change—or at the least, be reconsidered. But could four reports at one time simply be a tactic to make it look like change is coming, only to never have it arrive?