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Halifax to end use of polygraph tests in police department hiring

Polygraphs have been used to screen applicants for any job with Halifax Regional Police

2 min read
caption Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street in Halifax, in a file photo taken on Feb. 1.
Josh Neufeldt

Polygraph testing in Halifax will be eliminated by Sep. 30, after a motion to do away with the practice passed unanimously in Halifax Regional Council Tuesday morning.

“I just don’t think it really is doing the job that we want it to do. I think there are other ways that we can screen applicants for these positions,” said Halifax regional council member Lisa Blackburn.

Back in June 2021, Blackburn and the rest of the council members voted unanimously to request a staff report looking into alternative ways of pre-screening applicants in the hiring process.

Polygraph testing has already been banned in Ontario and New Brunswick, and various studies have shown that polygraphs may not be as accurate as they were once thought to be.

One study from the American psychological association said: “There is no evidence that any pattern of physiological reactions is unique to deception. An honest person may be nervous when answering truthfully and a dishonest person may be non-anxious,” in reference to polygraphs.

Also, each polygraph test can cost from $300 to $600, according to the staff report.

The push to do away with polygraphs comes as Halifax and other cities are examining how police operate within communities.

“We’re all relooking at policing and the powers of police and, we’re having those discussions about what tools police need to do their job, and certainly I see this as one part of that process,” said Blackburn.

Last Monday, during a board of police commissioners special meeting, former MLA Lisa Roberts advocated for the removal of polygraph testing.

She cited a particular case in which a man was applying for a custodian position with the Halifax Regional Police and ended up incriminating himself facing charges that were subsequently dropped.

“He was made extremely vulnerable and, in fact, that family’s life really exploded as a result,” Roberts said when describing the case to the council.

During Tuesday’s meeting, councillors asked why it would take nearly eight months for the practice to be removed. 

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella said polygraph testing in the hiring process has been in place since 1976 and it will take time to establish alternative tests that ensure the same levels of quality and integrity.

“I just don’t see the need, or the reasoning behind putting somebody through a polygraph test as part of a job application,” said Blackburn.

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