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The future of Africville and policing in HRM: Here's what Halifax regional council discussed Tuesday

A pair of RCMP  ERT members follow a Halifax Regional Police canine officer and his dog, in front of an Anderson Road home near Upper Hammonds Plains, NS Wednesday May 13, 2020. According to the RCMP release: At approximately 10:30 a.m., Halifax Regional Police attempted to stop a vehicle near the intersection of  Amin Street and Christie Court in Bedford.
The vehicle did not stop for police, and the pursuit was called off in the interest of safety. : The vehicle was located with the assistance of Halifax District RCMP on Anderson Road in Hammonds Plains. A man was taken into custody by police. The investigation is ongoing." 

TIM KROCHAK/ The Chronicle Herald
A pair of RCMP ERT members follow a Halifax Regional Police canine officer and his dog in front of an Anderson Road home near Upper Hammonds Plains on May 13, 2020. Halifax Regional Municipality is looking at reviewing the efficiencies of having the two polices forces. - Tim Krochak / File

Halifax regional council flew through the first half of its agenda on Tuesday, but councillors couldn’t wait to unmute themselves when it came to discussing a review of the two police forces in Halifax Regional Municipality, illegal dumping and playing a part “in supporting the future of Africville.” 
Aside from lots of tartan screen backgrounds, here’s what you missed from the hours-long virtual council meeting.

Reviewing policing services

If you live in downtown Halifax, you’re policed by Halifax Regional Police. But if you live in Lower Sackville, you’re policed by the RCMP. 

HRM is the only municipality in Canada to split police duties between a municipal force and the RCMP.

And as HRM grows, Coun. Tony Mancini (Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East) wonders if the decision made at the time of amalgamation 25 years ago still suits the municipality. 

On Tuesday, the District 6 councillor moved to have the municipality’s chief administrative officer prepare a request for proposal to evaluate and make recommendations on the integrated model

“I want to be clear. My motion is not an anti-RCMP motion,” Mancini said. 

“My motion is a simple question: Is this the right policing model for the municipality we have today?” 

Replay: Halifax regional council's virtual meeting on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.

Some councillors noted Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP don’t operate alongside one another as the model intends. 

“To be honest, I don’t think we have a truly integrated police force now,” said Coun. Lisa Blackburn (Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville), who is also one of the three councillors on the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners.  

Coun. Becky Kent (Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage) said HRM should be providing Halifax Regional Police and RCMP with “all the tools they need to really make this work,” while Coun. Pam Lovelace (Hammonds Plain-St. Margarets) suggested the forces should train together. 

Not only are there jurisdictional differences, but the role the police board plays is different for each force as well and should be taken into consideration, said Coun. Sam Austin (Dartmouth Centre).

“This is not a knock against our people, but it is not encouraging that the RCMP cannot even manage three simple words, ‘I am sorry,” for the street checks issue,” Austin said. 

And while some were concerned a report may lead to removing RCMP from policing HRM, Coun. David Hendsbee (Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore) said it may suggest the opposite and have the national police service take over the municipality.

Council unanimously voted in favour of Mancini’s motion, however, a request for proposal will be issued and come back with costs associated before the report moves ahead, if it does at all.

Jacques Dubé, chief administrative officer of HRM, said council will then vote on whether it wants to budget money to have the report done.

Some questioned the point of looking at the integrated model now, but Dube said now is better than ever with groups such as the police board’s defunding committee continuing to look at policing.

“The time is now … given the fact that it’s been 25-plus years, and this will ask all the questions at once and be done with it,” Dubé said. 

Former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children site

The owner of the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored children site hopes to transform the property into a “mix of economic and social opportunities that would benefit African Nova Scotians and the general community.” 

The former home, which was the first orphanage to accept Black children in Nova Scotia, was also a place where children suffered silently through years of abuse

Coun. Trish Purdy (Cole Harbour-Westphal-Lake Loon-Cherry Brook) acknowledged the former orphanage has a “long history in our community” and moved that a proposal for the site be reviewed. 

Akoma Holdings Inc., which currently owns the site, has been recently proposed refurbishing the site into “community gathering spaces,” Purdy noted. 

This includes a café, hair salon, gym space for seniors and office space, as well as other development plans including senior housing, low income housing and market value housing, among other things.

Council passed the first reading of proposed amendments to several planning strategies and bylaws to make way for Akoma Holdings Inc. to continue planning for the future of the former home building, as well as the property in Westphal. 

A public hearing on Akoma’s proposal will be held in the near future. 

Africville visioning process

As Coun. Lindell Smith (Halifax Peninsula North) put it, the story of Africville is “not a new one,” but it’s “a story of racial injustice and institutional lies and racism, but also one of perseverance, resilience and legacy.” 

Highlighting the fact that Africville was a “thriving community” before it was razed by the City of Halifax and its residents were forcibly relocated in the 1960s, Smith said it’s time for the municipality to address some of the ongoing issues related to Africville.

His motion to request a staff report that will look into developing an “Africville Visioning Process” passed unanimously. 

Smith noted the process would include “a co-operative working partnership” between HRM and community partners and organizations that are working on behalf of the interest of former Africville residents and descendants, as well as a review of the 2010 Africville Agreement. 

The Africville Museum, bottom left, on the historic Africville lands in Halifax’s north end is seen in this file photo. - Eric Wynne / File
The Africville Museum, bottom left, on the historic Africville lands in Halifax’s north end is seen in this file photo. - Eric Wynne / File

It would also examine the possibility of addressing the ongoing class-action lawsuit against HRM and working with claimants and Africville descendants “to address their concerns outside of the court system,” he added. 

“Looking at the future of what this motion and this process can be, we know that the government has played a piece in causing the issues of the past and we can now play a piece of supporting the future of Africville,” Smith said.

Several councillors chimed in to voice their support for the motion. 

“I think that history has shown clearly that what the City of Halifax and the predecessors did at that time was wrong and the motivations were poor,” said Coun. Waye Mason (Halifax South Downtown) of the history of Africville.

“I'm glad this is here, it will be hard and I look forward to that hard work and I thank everyone for bringing it forward today and councillor Smith for bringing it forward today.”  


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