Advocates say police attempts to rein in the controversial practice of "carding" aren't good enough.
At a meeting on Wednesday, the Toronto Police Services Board decided to hold off on instituting a new system for giving receipts to people who have been “carded”—which is what the police call it when they stop someone on the street and collect their personal information for inclusion in an internal database. Lawyers and community groups allege that carding is rampant, particularly among officers of the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Service (TAVIS), who patrol neighbourhoods with higher crime rates.
The Toronto Police Service announced that it would start issuing carding receipts in November as a way of promoting accountability among its ranks. But outside advocates say the receipts, as currently conceived, won’t be useful.
The board voted unanimously to defer a decision on receipts until at least March so that the police service can seek legal counsel on carding and review submissions from several concerned stakeholders.
Part of the reason carding is under so much scrutiny is that it’s incredibly prevalent in Toronto. In the last three years alone, police have amassed about 1.2 million “contact cards,” which detail everything from a person’s name, age, and race, to the marital status of their parents and their country of origin.
On Wednesday, civil advocacy groups and concerned community members roundly condemned carding during deputations to the board. They repeated longstanding concerns that the practice violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and facilitates racial profiling. They also cited concerns about the capture and storage of personal information in situations where no police investigation is taking place.
Former mayor John Sewell, who now heads the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, criticized “the intrusive nature of carding” and recommended that police “cease carding activities that involve random stops where there is no evidence of illegal activity.” Visibly frustrated, he dismissed the police service’s proposed receipt design as “crazy” and a “mockery.” The proposed receipts, he told us, reflect only a small portion of the information on the cards themselves. (The receipts capture the identity of the civilian and police officers, the time and date of the interaction, and the reason police are collecting information. A sample copy of one is below.)
“He’s got a lot to learn if he thinks this is community engagement,” Sewell said of Police Chief Bill Blair. “I want a receipt that actually says why the stops are taking place so we can show that they’re not legal.”
“If somebody had done this database about people in general, as opposed to basically black and brown kids, I think people would be shocked,” Sewell added.
Board Chair Alok Mukherjee reflected upon the deputations after they were over. “From what we have heard from the deputants,” he said, “there’s some serious thinking that the board needs to engage in.” Mukherjee opposes racial profiling, but appreciates the need for police stops. “We don’t also want to tie the hands of police in doing the work they need to, in keeping the community safe,” he said. Mukherjee promised a “thoughtful approach” as the board reviews community concerns and awaits a police report on the massive data collection scheme.
Deputy Chief Mark Saunders said police are “trying to get a proper control sample” to analyze the 1.2 million contact cards they’ve collected over past three years. He also denied claims from community members and a Toronto Star series called “Known to Police” that police use contact cards to stop the same people repeatedly. “When you take a hard look at the numbers…90 per cent of people were only stopped once over a three-year period,” Saunders said. “So it’s not an issue of us continuously stopping the same person over and over and over again.” If true, Saunders’s assertion would mean that over a million unique individuals have been stopped and carded in the last three years alone—which is incredible, considering the fact that Toronto’s population as estimated in the 2011 census is just over 2.6 million people.
Roger Love, who represents the community group “Black is Not a Crime,” expressed frustration with the board. “They have not said that police officers should stop the practice of carding,” he said. “The unfair practice of racial profiling continues.”