HALIFAX — Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is renewing his call for a ban on all random police street checks, saying the practice — sometimes known as carding — is a form of systemic racism.
"People are being stopped because of the colour of their skin," he told an outdoor news conference, held in a park that is in a predominantly black neighbourhood in Halifax's north end.
"That's not good policing. That's not good for building a vibrant society .... When you're stopped in your community for no reason, it makes you feel like you have no worth."
Singh said he was detained by police for no reason multiple times when he was younger, and it continued to happen when he was a law student in Toronto.
The leader, elected to lead the federal NDP last October, has said police have stopped him 11 times over the years, with the first incident of what he describes as racial profiling happening when he was 17.
"This is an issue that impacts folks across Canada," he said. "Being stopped in your own community ... for no other reason than the way you look is something that sends a message that ... there's something wrong with just being who you are."
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Last September, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission hired an independent expert to review street checks in Halifax after police data showed black men were three times more likely than whites to be subjected to the controversial practice.
Advocates of street checks say it helps law enforcement gather intelligence and improve public safety, while opponents say it targets visible minorities and violates human rights.
Halifax police have said street checks are used to record suspicious activity. Although police stop and question people, the checks can also be "passive," with information recorded based on observations rather than interactions.
Last year, Ontario banned police checks. The regulation prohibits police from arbitrarily collecting identifying information based on a person's race or presence in a high-crime area.
Nova Scotia NDP justice critic blasts 'insidious' practice
Flanked by local activists and Nova Scotia NDP justice critic Claudia Chender, Singh said police must use proper investigative procedure and have reasonable grounds before they attempt to detain anyone.
Chender said Nova Scotia's opposition New Democrats were poised to table proposed legislation Friday that would impose an immediate moratorium on street checks, which she described as an unlawful form of detention.
"We've heard evidence for years and years from our African Nova Scotian community and other racialized communities that this practice is insidious and commonplace," she said. "And our position is that it's not necessary for good policing."
As well, Chender said people should be concerned by the personal data that is collected through street checks and later stored in police databases.
Community activist El Jones, who lives in the neighbourhood, said police have stopped her before. She said many of her young, black neighbours are too afraid to speak out about the practice, which she described as traumatic, humiliating, threatening and harmful.
Singh wants mandatory minimum sentences scrapped
"I'm scared," she said. "I don't know what will happen to my family and my kids if I speak out against the police. That's not to cast aspersions on the police, but there is a relationship of fear."
Singh also called on the federal government to scrap the mandatory minimum sentencing rules introduced by the former Conservative government, saying the legislation has not reduced crime and has had a disproportionate impact on racialized communities.