Canadian Laws and Street Checks: Know Your Rights

Nova Scotia’s AG and Minister of Justice mark Furey has directed the province’s police force to stop using street checks as a quota system or performance measurement tool. His decision was in direct response to a Street Checks Report done for Nova Scotia found that Black Canadians were more likely to be stopped for such a check.

Furey said that the findings were “alarming and unacceptable.”

Yet, even those in government have experienced the alleged racism by police.

“I personally know what it’s like to have been stopped multiple times by officers, questioned while walking within and beyond the neighbourhood I grew up in, followed and stopped by police cruisers while driving, all which gave me the feeling of humiliation and being racially profiled,” Councillor for District 8 Halifax Peninsula North, Lindell Smith wrote on his website.

Rights during a street check

In light of this, Wayne MacKay from Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law has discussed the rights of people during a street check.

Can police randomly stop you?

Unless it is a traffic stop, police do not have the authority to randomly stop people. They can, however, stop you if you are in a vehicle or on a bike and you will need to show them your licence, insurance, etc.

There is no rule against the police randomly stopping you. However, they are only permitted to do what laws allow and there is no where in the common law or Police Act that gives them the power to randomly stop people.

If police stop you for a street check, what are your rights?

While you have the right to inquire why they are conducting a street check, you need to do so carefully. It is within your rights to ask them why they have stopped you, do they plan to arrest you. Yet, there is a potential you may be seen as provoking the police or resisting their action, which can lead to bigger problems.

The reality is that police have a lot of leeway in their jobs and they may interpret your behaviour in a negative way. This is why it is important to be cautious how you act and speak to them in this situation.

In the report there was an example of a man being asked to open his car truck so the police could ensure he was not a suspect in a robbery. Is it a good idea to consent to a search like this?

In that case, I would say it is wise not to do that. Even though people may believe they have nothing to hide and may seem suspicious if they decline to cooperate, allowing a search like that can be risky. These requests often happen during traffic stops or street checks and if you agree to the search the police may find something there that you don’t intend. For example, someone may have put something there.

You are within your rights to decline such a search, but again, do so politely. Legally speaking, police should not assume you are guilty if you decline.

What should you do if you think the police are violating your rights?

There are a variety of actions you can take if you feel the police have violated your rights. It depends on the circumstances around the incident. You can file a Human Rights Compliant or you can go through the complaint process of the Police Commission. There is also court where you can claim a Charter rights violation or that police have abused their authority.

Training for NS police

The Department of Justice has said they will also be looking into mandatory training for police officers around the province.

Furey has requested action suggestions from the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, the Human Rights Commission and the policing community.

The report was authored by Dr. Scot Wortley of the University of Toronto. It was prepared for the NS Human Rights Commission.

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