HRP, province dragging heels on Know Your Rights campaign

Too broad injunction allows police to overstep Charter rights

Board of Police Commissioners, May 17, 2021

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

The Know Your Rights campaign the HRP was tasked to create by the Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) on June 17, 2019 is still being worked on. 

This initiative came up during the last BOPC meeting, when Commissioner Smith asked for an update since it had been a while since he’d heard anything about it. At that meeting Chief Kinsella said since the Department of Justice was tasked with it the HRP was waiting for the province to respond. (Committee Trawler also tried to find out what the delay was but was stonewalled)

As a reminder the motion from June 17, 2019 reads: 

THAT the Board of Police Commissioners request that the Chief of Police prepare a community communication strategy that clearly and straightforwardly communicates what a citizen’s rights are in situations where Police interact with residents and community by; 

1. Creating an easy to read “know your rights” information pamphlet or guide that outlines an Officers and citizens obligations when conducting a stop, interaction, or investigation. This information will also be available on HRM and HRP’s website. 

2. Create community engagement strategies delivered by officers and community members that educates the public on their rights, and the roles and responsibilities of an officer. 

3. Engage with the minority communities in partnership with the Board of Police Commissioners to hold scheduled Town Halls in community, in order for the Board and Police service to understand community needs in order to enhance the effectiveness of the police service. 

4. Having all officers communicate – in accordance with the Minister of Justice direction regarding street checks – when coming in contact with the public adhere to all practices within the HRP Code of Ethics.

In today’s meeting, Kinsella had more information for the board, saying that the delays were largely due to COVID cancelling their focus grouping, and they are waiting for the province to define for them ‘suspicious activity.’ However, this doesn’t really make sense, as people’s rights don’t change with whether or not a police officer thinks they are doing ‘suspicious activity.’ Committee Trawler reached out to some defence lawyers for clarification as to why this would be holding up the process, like if there was some sort of high level legal argument that we just might not be aware of. 

(Usual disclaimer here, I’m not a lawyer, I’m explaining what lawyers have said to me. If you are a lawyer and I’ve gotten this wrong please reach out so I can correct this)

Someone’s rights don’t change when interacting with police. What does change, is how the police can interact with you and what rights are applicable to the situation at hand. If the police believe someone is, or has, committed a crime, they are allowed to limit that person’s right to freedom and bring them in for questioning. They are not allowed, at any point, to violate your right to silence (if you watch a lot of American court/police stuff, this is like when people plead the fifth). 

Where this could be an issue for police is that someone’s right to silence, and right not to have their car searched, can appear to be super suspicious to cops. Simply exercising your rights can appear suspicious to police. A white male lawyer might feel comfortable and be safe exercising their rights during a routine traffic stop, but would everyone? But that’s a policing issue. It’s not a rights issue or communicating people’s rights issue. Because just imagine what that pamphlet would look like: ‘You’re allowed to say no to our officers if they try and infringe your rights, but if they’re having a bad day they might just arrest you anyways, good luck!’

There’s no clear reason why defining ‘suspicious activity’ would delay the creation of a Know Your Rights pamphlet or guide. One of the lawyers Committee Trawler spoke with, Mike Scott, said it would take him about 10 hours to complete a Know Your Rights pamphlet, if he wanted to do a good job. He also said Charter rights are pretty easy to understand, if they’re properly taught. It’s possible the police aren’t especially motivated to do this motion because people not understanding their Charter rights is a fundamental part of their investigative process.   

As part of this meeting, Commissioner Smith also lamented the inability of the Board of Police Commissioners to easily find and keep track of motions that give direction to the police. Smith said they’ll be working with the clerk to create a system to make it easier to index, find, and keep track of motions, so they can better follow up.  

Commissioner Smith also asked for clarification on the provincial injunction on “illegal public gatherings” and what powers it has given the Halifax Regional Police. Kinsella said his understanding of it was that it applied to all gatherings, not just the anti-mask rally. City lawyer Marty Ward said the province asked for a broad injunction, like when they go against labour, so they don’t need to go back to court to identify each specific group. If someone wanted to have a protest they’d need to call Dr. Strang’s office, as his office is responsible for the public health orders. Ward said this injunction confirms that there has to be obedience to all public health orders.  

The board also received all of its usual updates, it’s motorcycle safety month! 

Who said what (paraphrased): 

McDougall: I have a question about the minutes, page 5. The portion about having outside legal council, it says Martin Ward clarified that the HRM had no independent police oversight and that it’s a committee of council. I was under the impression we aren’t a committee of council and are independent? 

Ward: I see the reason for the need for clarification, the model of police commission that we have is different than in most parts of Canada. Most places police report to the police commission who report to the council. But here HRM is responsible for police, ultimately. In other places the police commission carries out business on behalf of council, and it’s a statutory body under their police act and independent of council in that sense. Does that make sense? 

McDougall: Can there be something to indicate that to clarify it in the minutes, not for us, but for the future? So we don’t need to continuously explain it in the future. 

Smith: Can we defer approval of the minutes so Ward can make corrections? 

Clerk: We can also just approve as amended but it’s easier to not wordsmith in the middle of a meeting? 

Ward: I think you can approve the minutes subject to that change, and then the clerk can make the amendments and approve it next meeting. I think McDougall would like is clarification in the public record? 

McDougall: That’s correct. 

Clerk: Works for us.

Smith: Deferring the minute approval to the next meeting. 

Clerk: Can you do a vote to do that though? 

M/S/CVoteAyeUnanimousDeferring minutes approved

Smith: The only thing that I’ll mention, I’ve had a few requests for organizations to present to the commission, clerks, if people want to present, how do they do that?

Clerk: Request it through us, the clerks. If you get a request, send it to us, and we’ll sort it out. (Contact info for the clerks: Email: [email protected], Fax: 902-490-4208, Phone: 902-490-4210 (Voicemail only, but calls will be returned))

Smith: Wortley Report update on the update.

Kinsella: We have a committee about collecting race-based data, and the committee is reviewing a presentation and should have more information in the June meeting. Street check ban is still on. We’re preparing and presenting a two year Wortley Report, and we (Kinsella and Gray) decided to bring that forward this summer. 

Smith: We’ll be reaching out to the Department of Justice, to make sure we’re aligning our timelines. I think it’s important to reach out to the Human Rights Commission and DPAD (Decade for People of African Descent) too. (People are speaking faster than normal at this meeting? I’m slow? Not sure, either way I’m not keeping up like normal, sorry in advance!) We’re aiming for July though to pull this all together. 

Blackburn: Is there any sort of public component to the two year report? A public event like the apology? 

Kinsella: The report and update will be public, if you want more, that’s the purview of the board.

Smith: It’ll be presented to us but if we want it broader, we can do that too. 

Blackburn: I’m not sure what form it would take but I think it’s worth having the discussion. 

Gray: I spoke to Kinsella so I’m happy with July, we’re on the same page there.

Smith: On to update on Know Your Rights (we tried to get more information on this last time the board met).

Kinsella: Did you have a question? 

Smith: The update to the Know Your Rights campaign. 

Kinsella: I have to give a little bit of context on how this came about. The Wortley Report suggested the possibility of the Know Your Rights campaign, but not specifically that. It also talked about training too. In June 2019 a motion was brought to BOPC, and I started in July. We consulted with the African Nova Scotian community, it was seen as necessary, and we reached out to the province and they were interested in it being a provincial thing. We were organizing focus groups in 2020, the province was anyways, and COVID shut it down. I can’t speak to all the delays but COVID played a role. There has been some discussion about the definition of suspicious activity and police interaction. We have to decide whether or not to do an HRM Know Your Rights campaign (as they were explicitly requested to do by the BOPC), we can also reach out to the feds. My recommendation is that we wait for the work about the definition of suspicious activity to come out of the province. I’ll leave it there, happy to take questions. 

Kent: I don’t know if we’ve done this before but it’s one of the things we talked about in the training I did. It’s important for board members to be part of the community consultation, can the board members be folded into the community engagement?

Kinsella: I think fundamentally board participation is important and exceedingly relevant. We’ve had a number of engagement from board members, they’ve assisted in recruiting, attended town halls. We can involve the board as we go forward.    

Smith: This came from us, and one of the things we realized is that we don’t have an easy way to look back on motions and keep track of what was passed. Know Your Rights was part of it but there were a bunch of things in that motion. We’re going to look at a way to make sure it’s easier for us to reference things that happened in the past, we need to make sure we’re following the motions and you’re doing what you asked. We don’t want it to seem like the police aren’t doing what we’ve asked (because they’re not doing what was requested by the motion) 

McDougall: Having a record that’s easily accessible is critical and it’s very easy for the documents and decision to end up in some file. It would be so good if we had a similar kind of record that council does. (Yes, please make what I’m doing here unnecessary!

Gray: Initially the RCMP participated in good faith thinking it was going to be a provincial program because there are implications for our others partners in policing. If the HRM wants to do an HRM specific one, we’d need to do a provincial one anyways. 

Smith: The Committee on Defining Defunding Police, we had a meeting between the last BOPC meeting and now. We’ve had some scheduling and logistics discussions to sort that out. Resources need to hold the meetings are being sorted. We’re just waiting for Jones to confirm the final details. We’re waiting to see if the timelines, I believe it’s July, will be met. On to Management and Employee Relations Committee. The meeting was held on April 13, there were a few items to discuss. The one I can speak to today, officers keep getting their vaccines as they’ve been added to the list of essential workers. The question I want to bring to the board, sorry I got the date of the last meeting wrong, a lot of what is being spoken about at the meeting is very operational and personnel and so it can’t be shared at these meetings. Do we feel it’s beneficial to have these updates, since there’s not much we can update publicly? Or do we only want updates when there’s something we can share at these meetings? Because it’s a recurring agenda item, should we make it on an as needed basis? 

McDougall: I’d leave it to the head of that committee to bring us information if it’s relevant to the board. You’re right, it’s pretty operational, sometimes it’s about the weight of vests and where people put their notepads. But it’s related to how members of the force operate day to day and doesn’t seem relevant to us. You might be able to make those kinds of decisions and we can take it off as a standing item? Maybe have it be a written report if there’s anything to it? 

Blackburn: I tend to agree with McDougall, it seems like a subcommittee of BOPC. We can leave the judgement up to the member who attends those meetings. 

Smith: Let’s remove this from a recurring item, and just to correct, the last meeting was May 5, but if there’s something to be discussed I’ll bring it to the next meeting. No issues with that? Okay. Up next, Kent’s police governance summit

Kent: I was able to get into some of the sessions, not all, unfortunately. The main focus of the day was about board interactions with the operations of the police. Board operation, effectiveness. We had representations from Ontario, Calgary, Ottawa, York, different types of cities with different challenges. The main thing I got out of it was the relationship between the board and the chief, in our case chiefs. It’s critical. In this case our community is our public, who are we doing our job for? Our community. If the BOPC is the architect, the chief is the builder. There was a good section on pandemic policing, and clarification of roles. The role of the chief and the board. The information about COVID I took away, other cities have forums where police chiefs and board members can have more organic conversations instead of formal meetings like these (hells yeah, bring on the fireside chats, the most useless form of communication in the Navy). Board evaluation and measurable outcomes and expectations, what we expect them to do and what they expect from us. I didn’t take a lot of notes but I still have access to all of the presentations, but the board effectiveness should and could be available to the board. It might be worth it to check if we have access to copies to share with the rest of the board. I didn’t know I’d be giving a presentation so I didn’t take a whole lot of notes (also my reaction when my dungeon master asks me to do the recap of our last D&D session). 

McDougall: I have a meeting tomorrow and I’ll confirm that we can share the links, but we should be able to, we had 10 slots. I think we should just sign up everyone next session since we have 10 slots. 

Kent: I think that’s a great idea because we all have a lot of commitments, so it means more people can attend instead of just one or two of us trying to cover everything. 

Smith: If we can share it, we’ll get copies for sure. On to chiefs’ updates.

Kinsella: With the COVID spike we’re enforcing public safety orders on a case by case basis. The additional enforcement injunction has allowed us more power to enforce public health orders and we’ll use all our tools to do so. But even with increased messaging and education people are still willing to bend and break the rules (see also; why anti-bias police training isn’t effective). This month’s safety theme is motorcycle safety. As always call 911 if you see a dangerous or drunk driver on the roads. 

Blackburn: Appreciate the press releases that follow the enforcement blitzes to show how many people you’re pulling over. How many HRP members are off sick with exposure to COVID? Are you in a tight spot? 

Kinsella: We’ve experienced occasions where we’ve had to take action, where some people have to take some time off work. We’ll continue to respond appropriately as needed. 

Smith: Do we have an idea of what percentage of the force has been vaccinated? 

Kinsella: I can’t tell you that, we’re doing very well. It’s predetermined, preorganized, but I don’t have the exact numbers. Front line first, and then support teams (which is dumb because COVID spreads in offices which is usually not front line). 

Smith: The injunction was for the anti-mask group, but it also at the end had a line for all public gatherings, not just the one type of rally? 

Kinsella: My interpretation of the injunction is that it applies to any gathering that may occur anywhere in the province and it’s not strictly related to the one event. 

Smith: If someone’s looking to do a rally or protest, because of these orders, how does that work? If someone wants to organize a protest. 

Kinsella: The police do not give permission for rallies, protests or demonstrations, we make sure people can do it safely. The public health orders aren’t overridden by the city of the police and we go by the orders. There were changes to the orders and the injunction. 

Ward: The instigation for the injunction was for the one rally but it has a larger implication because the province didn’t want to come back on a case by case basis (restricting Charter rights out of lazy policymaking. Cool cool). There’s no application process as such but if a group wants to know if they’ll be in violation of these orders, they should contact Strang’s office. 

Smith: Are there dates to these injunctions? 

Ward: There’s an exception when it’s urgent, when they did it on Friday. My impression from the news is that they (the idiots) weren’t planning to challenge it.

Smith: The other party isn’t planning to challenge it? The province vs who? 

Ward: The application would be directed against groups they could identify and then any larger groups, like when they’re going against labour. So they don’t need to go in again and again to identify new groups. Strictly speaking, if you’re in violation of the injunction, you’re in contempt of court. 

Smith: As we move forward, since we have the right to peaceful protest, if someone wants to exercise that right, how do they do that with that injunction?

Ward: The injunction doesn’t change anything, it just confirms that there has to be obedience to existing public health orders (in theory, this means you could call the cops on your workplace if they’re violating public health rules). But otherwise, you’d have to request an exception. 

Smith: On to RCMP.

Gray: It’s road safety week. There will be enforcement this week using our CompStat data, we’re going to enforce on high traffic areas. Most of our officers have gotten their first shot. Most of our public health tickets come from public calls.    

Blackburn: How are RCMP members doing? Do you have a lot of members out or down? With COVID? 

Gray: We’re using PPE and have been fortunate with a low number of infections. We’re fluid with our resources to transfer people to front line duties if needed. (Noticeably, no numbers here. There are rumours flying around about the number of RCMP members on sick leave, but we’ll have to wait for the Portapique inquiry to see if there’s any truth to these rumours.

*Brief conversation about how to narc on your neighbours*

Smith: When it comes to items for future consideration, how do items get in here? 

Clerk: It’s similar to information items for future consideration.

Smith: Now we’re going to move in-camera, should we do the in-camera minutes first? 

M/S/CVoteAyeUnanimousApproving in-camera minutes 

*Going in-camera for “a matter pertaining to personnel conduct”*

*Meeting returns from in-camera and is adjourned*


Commissioner Lindell Smith, Chair (Councillor, District 8)

Commissioner Carole McDougall, Vice Chair

Commissioner Becky Kent (Councillor, District 3)

Commissioner Lisa Blackburn (Councillor, District 14)

Commissioner Anthony Thomas


Commissioner Carlos Beals



Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

Previous meeting

Current agenda

A former Naval Officer turned journalist, Matt Stickland is committed to empowering his community to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to make their city a better place.

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