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Changes to police complaints system ‘not the answer’ to systemic racism, advocate says

Nova Scotia says timeframe to file complaints against police will be extended to one year

2 min read
caption The public will have 12 months to file complaints against police officers.
Leslie Amminson

The Nova Scotia government may be extending the time period for filing complaints against police officers, but an advocate in the community is concerned the change is a Band-Aid solution to a much deeper problem.

The change in the complaints process — which will come into effect Jan. 15, 2021 — means members of the public will have one year instead of six months to file formal complaints against police.

“We know that sometimes people, and often victims, require more time to decide if they want to bring a concern forward. This timeframe offers people greater flexibility,” Justice Minister Mark Furey said in a news release Wednesday.

Furey said the change to the complaints system comes as a direct response to a need identified in Scot Wortley’s 2019 Halifax street checks report. It also refers to the experience of a recent sexual assault victim with the complaints process.

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Rubin (Rocky) Coward is concerned the change in policy doesn’t do enough to address systemic racism in Nova Scotia. He’s an advocate who has spoken out about racism in the province and in Canadian institutions.

Coward served in the Canadian Armed Forces and says he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the systemic racism and discrimination he encountered there. His experience led him to sue the Canadian Armed Forces in 2016.

In an interview, Coward said policies like this new one fail to tackle the heart of the issue.

“Extending the time is not the answer,” he said. “The answer is having a police chief that is empathetic, compassionate, that has cultural sensitivity, that is in tune with diversity and inclusivity, and that is not racist.”

Coward referred to Santina Rao’s arrest, which occurred in a Walmart store in Halifax on Jan. 15. He and other advocates say Rao’s arrest was the result of racial profiling.

Coward said incidents like that one point to a flaw in leadership, particularly because the charges laid against Rao have not been dismissed.

“What message is Kinsella sending to his police officers, and more importantly to the black community?” he asked.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella issued a formal apology to the African Nova Scotian community on Nov. 29. The apology recognized the systemic racism that caused the black community to be disproportionately targeted by street checks.

Coward said the fight against systemic racism has to be supported by political and institutional leaders.

“All we’ve done is put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” he said.

Claudia Chender, the NDP’s justice spokesperson and MLA for Dartmouth South, said she’s happy with the change, but she’s concerned it will take too long to come into effect.

“Unfortunately, the Liberal government is dragging their heels on implementing these changes, which will not take effect until 2021,” she said in a news release.

“Given the disproportionate impact on vulnerable women and victims of racial profiling, more timely action is required.”

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