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Freeze funding to Halifax police in light of Walmart arrest, urges activist El Jones

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella talks about Santina Rao’s case at Halifax city hall on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020.
Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella talks about Santina Rao’s case at Halifax city hall on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. - Andrew Rankin
HALIFAX, N.S. —

Black activist El Jones is urging Halifax Regional Police's oversight committee to freeze funding to an increasingly 'militarized' police force until it can prove it is no longer racially profiling African Nova Scotians.

Jones made her plea to Halifax Regional Municipality’s police commission on Monday, five days after a 23-year-old black mother, Santina Rao, ended up with serious injuries in a violent exchange with police officers at a Walmart outlet in the city.

The force is seeking roughly a $1 million increase to its budget. Jones said Chief Dan Kinsella hasn’t provided concrete evidence that police have ended street checks, more than a month

Activist El Jones: "What happened to Santina (Rao) was in fact a street check.” - MSVU
Activist El Jones: "What happened to Santina (Rao) was in fact a street check.” - MSVU

and a half after the province banned the discriminating practice and the chief offered a public apology for the force’s historical mistreatment of the black community.

In backing up her claim, Jones referenced Rao’s case and another December incident involving a black man who was Tasered by police on Quinpool Road.

“Freeze the police budget if it’s going to engage in these kinds of actions before we see any kind of accountability,” said Jones. “This indicates that the police have not changed their practices despite this so-called ban; what happened to Santina was in fact a street check.”

Jones also recommended that the black community receive double the amount of funding HRP receives. That money should go toward social programs and community prevention programs, she said. The activist also presented data showing that the escalating HRP operational budget follows a national trend of overfunded police forces across the country at the expense of social programs.

The mandate of the board is to provide oversight of the police and make recommendations to the regional council. Jones called on black members of the board to hold the force accountable.

Kinsella attended Monday’s meeting and defended the forces' funding requests that he said address important policing needs.

Police response

"My message has been clear. We need to work on public trust. It takes a lifetime to build and a moment to lose."

- Dan Kinsella, chief, Halifax Regional Police

Dan Kinsella, chief, Halifax Regional Police. - Ryan Taplin
Dan Kinsella, chief, Halifax Regional Police. - Ryan Taplin

“I presented a budget that I believe is commensurate with an opportunity within the organization to fill some gaps that exist,” said Kinsella. “I have brought this to the board of commissioners and it will be brought to council to see their input and approval.”

It was also the first time the chief publicly commented on the Rao case. His force has come under a firestorm of criticism from the black community, arguing that the woman was racially profiled by the officers who responded to a call that Rao was in the process of shoplifting from the Mumford Road Walmart.

Kinsella said it was premature to comment on the conduct of the officers involved in Rao’s arrest. But he said, “De-escalation is first and foremost in all police officers' deployment method.

'The last thing we want to happen is what happened last week and we have to see what were the precipitating factors.'

Rao was charged with resisting arrest, disturbing the peace and assaulting a police officer and her case is due in provincial court Feb. 19. Jones is among several supporters of Rao campaigning for those charges to be dropped. The chief said only the Crown has the authority to drop the charges.

Kinsella said that none of the officers have been suspended and that an internal investigation into the incident is underway. Kinsella called the incident unfortunate. He said he understood why the public is concerned.

“What we need to do is look at these matters in their totality,' said Kinsella. “Can we do better? Sure and we are committed to doing that. But we do need to respect the process, get all of the information and then make the appropriate change. My message has been clear. We need to work on public trust. It takes a lifetime to build and a moment to lose.'

Commission chairwoman Natalie Borden wouldn’t comment on Rao’s case because it’s under investigation.

Kinsella told the board that street checks have stopped, a comment that sparked laughter from some in the audience. Afterward, Kinsella admitted he is getting complaints that the practice is still happening.

“When I hear that I approach the individual to try to get more information to tell me when, where and how.”

Kinsella said he reported the Walmart incident to the province’s police watchdog, SIRT, on Thursday. The agency has yet to decide whether the case fits the criteria for a full investigation. Its interim director Pat Curran said a decision on whether to investigate will likely be made on Tuesday.

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