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Canadian Police 'End Up Wearing' U.S. Policing Conflicts: Halifax Police Chief

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Halifax's police chief says law enforcement in this country is inevitably challenged by police-civilian conflicts in the United States, but Canadians need to know things are different on this side of the border.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais said Canadian police often "end up wearing" U.S. law enforcement issues, particularly as a result of highly charged incidents in places such as Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and North Carolina.

"One of the biggest challenges is dealing with those perceptions, both public and individual, that very often have no basis in fact," Blais told a business audience Friday. "Unfortunately these perceptions have a direct link to public trust."

He said the growing linkage that occurs through social media has led him to devise his own definition of the so-called Ferguson effect, named for the Missouri city that became a flashpoint for civilian protests after a 2014 police shooting.

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Police stand guard as demonstrators, marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

"Whereas in the U.S. the term Ferguson effect refers to the reticence that some police officers may have in dealing with certain citizens for fear of being labelled a racist, for me the Ferguson effect essentially means what happens there, matters here."

Blais said people need to know that there are many differences in how police operate on both sides of the border.

He said unlike Canada, the majority of police in the U.S. have no civilian oversight and don't have the ongoing training that is a priority here. He said surplus military hardware does not go to Canadian police, and police and other justice officials are not elected as some sheriffs and judges are in the U.S.

Blais said Canadian police don't get revenue from tickets, something he said has led to "repression" in the U.S. and has directly contributed to problems in places like Ferguson.

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Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais in his office in Halifax on April 5. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"Ticketing goes directly to the police service, whereas here it is a shared responsibility of the province and municipality as it should be," he said. "I dare say that Ferguson and the issues that followed . . . have been more a question of classicism than racism."

Blais said to combat perceptions and to deal with real problems, police have to involve themselves in more community engagement in order to keep a level of trust.

"We want to be intelligence-led, problem-solving community contributors. We do that by getting to know our communities and people in them and having them get to know us especially.''

Following the speech, Blais said he didn't mean to suggest that there aren't problems in Canadian policing, particularly in regards to dealing with racial issues.

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Police officers hold their line during protests on Sept. 21, 2016 in Charlotte, NC. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

"The scope and the dimensions and context are very different though than what they are in the States," said Blais. "In some regards they are comparable, but one thing's for certain, we still have a lot of work to do in our own backyard."

Quentrel Provo, of the Halifax group Stop the Violence Spread the Love, said Blais speech hit many of the right notes in terms of what police need to do in minority communities.

He said in Halifax at least, police are trying to reach out, although even more can be done.

"Police can get involved in the community outside of work," said Provo. "They should come to events outside of the uniform so they get to know you as a person."

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