Alex Clarke knows how to spot a troubled situation.
“You can tell a lot by facial expressions, body posture, things like that. There are certain signs that can be seen before it happens,” says Clarke, a former security guard at a downtown Halifax bar.
Before being hired, Clarke had no formal training. As bar security, Clarke was not required to hold a security guard license. The Nova Scotia Department of Justice wants that to change.
The Department of Justice is pursuing legislation to make licensing mandatory for security personnel. The legislation, known as the Security Services and Investigative Services Act, would include mandatory training for bar security and would be more stringent in its inclusion of who counts as security.
It is expected to come into force in May.
According to Dan Harrison, a communications advisor at the provincial Department of Justice, the act will outline a curriculum on which security would need to be trained.
“There’s a broad group of security professionals out there, so we want to make sure we get all of this right so when it starts, it’s as effective as it can be,” says Harrison.
But as a result of a recent investigation by the Gazette, the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, a Halifax organization that provides services for victims of sexually violent crimes, wants to see sexual assault training on the table as part of the training regimen before the regulations come into effect.
Irene Smith, executive director of the centre, says regulating private security is a small piece of a larger issue.
“There are a lack of programs and services for sexual violence in Nova Scotia,” says Smith.
For example, Nova Scotia does not have a 24/7 sexual assault crisis line, Smith points out.
Smith says the Avalon centre is in the process of contacting policymakers who are developing the regulations and wants to engage in dialogue about what the updated act will entail.
“I think it’s way broader than the legislation. Legislation is just one piece of a larger social problem.”
Right now there is no regulated training for bar security, let alone sexual assault training.
“It would increase their professionalism and ability to respond effectively,” says Gaye Wishart, chair of the board of directors at Avalon. “There’s no training now, so anything would be helpful.”
Wishart is also an advisor at the Human Rights, Equity & Harassment Prevention office at Dalhousie. She believes licensing legislation, including sexual assault training, could help bar security choose an appropriate response when faced with a sexually violent incident.
“They may be the first line of reporting sexual assaults in the bars downtown, where we know a lot of these incidents are occurring,” says Wishart.
Clarke believes sexual assault training would be a useful tool for security guards to have in their arsenal.
“It should be mandatory when applying for that job position,” he says.
However, Clarke says even though he was not trained to specifically deal with sexual assaults, a lot of it is common sense.
“There have been girls who have come up to me and say, ‘That guy grabbed my ass.’ Anything like that and I kick them out immediately,” says Clarke.
“But sometimes it’s hard to use common sense in certain situations,” he adds.
Halifax is a hotbed for sexually violent crimes. According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia reported 683 sexual assaults in 2010, the most in Atlantic Canada. Only New Brunswick exceeded Halifax in sexual assaults per capita, with 77.82 per 100,00 population. However, as many as 84 per cent of sexually violent crimes go unreported.
“We encourage all people who are sexually assaulted to report these incidents,” says Harrison.
By reporting incidents and openly talking about sexual assault, Wishart believes education, awareness and behaviour can change the societal norms of victim blaming, trivialization and normalization.
“It’s important for us to keep the conversation going,” says Wishart.