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Thousands sign petition calling on Nova Scotia government to end street checks

Vanessa Fells pictured at the Black Loyalist Heritage Society where she works as a Programming and Outreach Coordinator.
Vanessa Fells pictured at the Black Loyalist Heritage Society in this file photo, says African Nova Scotians continue to be the target of random street checks. - File

NDP tables document containing 6,000 signatures

The NDP tabled a 6,000-signature petition at the legislature on Thursday that calls for an immediate end to street checks in Nova Scotia but Justice Minister Mark Furey remains convinced they are a valuable policing tool.

“When used appropriately, street checks are a valuable tool in providing public safety," Furey told reporters on Thursday. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

But Vanessa Fells, program co-ordinator of the Nova Scotia Decade for People of African Descent, said black Nova Scotians continue to be the target of random police checks, though Furey announced a moratorium on random carding in the province in April.

“It’s not just happening in our community but the larger Nova Scotia community believes this is a problem,” said Fells.  “We have asked the Department of Justice to define exactly what the moratorium means because people continue to be stopped.” 

NDP African Nova Scotian Affairs critic Susan Leblanc tabled the petition on behalf of the group. It comes a day before Michael MacDonald, the former chief justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, may rule on the legality of street checks on behalf of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.  His imminent report follows a 180-page report submitted to the commission in March that found the practice of random street checks has a disproportionate and negative impact on the black community, leading to the criminalization of black youth.

Furey said he would examine MacDonald’s decision but wouldn’t say whether he would ban the practice if MacDonald determines it’s illegal.

Furey also said he has consulted with police departments across the province and found that there’s been a reduction in street checks since he announced the ban. But the minister was not able to provide any data supporting his claim.

The minister said he’s spoken to African Nova Scotian youth who are concerned about street checks.  While he said he's taking those concerns seriously he maintained an outright ban on street checks would result in the practise going underground “without any accountability.”

But Leblanc isn't buying it. She also proposed legislation on Thursday for the province to create an African Nova Scotia Justice Institute that would address systemic racism in the province. 

The proposed institute would help address barriers many African Nova Scotians encounter in the province’s justice system and would include legal services, restorative justice services and youth mental health programming under one roof, she said. 

The proposal is endorsed and created in consultation with the black Nova Scotia community, said Leblanc. 

“We are answering the call for this institute and are hoping that the government will move forward with it," said Leblanc. 

Fells's group was instrumental in developing the proposal and believes it's long overdue. 

“There currently is no organization that addresses issues of black Nova Scotians in the justice system,” said Fells. “There are no supports at all. We need an institution that is going to address those issues.” 

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