Police-civilian interactions need to be clearer, less invasive, says report prepared for the Toronto Police Services Board.
The Toronto Police Services Board wants to reform the controversial practice of “carding”—stopping civilians and collecting their personal information for inclusion in an internal database. At a meeting yesterday, board members approved a draft policy on “community contacts”—and called for a better definition of police-civilian interactions.
Lawyer Frank Addario, whom the board retained to draft the policy, said police should curb but not eliminate the discretion officers have to stop people and collect their personal information. “The community has told us that the balance is wrong,” Addario said to board members and the dozens of observers and media packed into the police headquarters auditorium at 40 College Street.
The policy’s preamble acknowledges that “the manner in which some contacts have been conducted and recorded has had a demonstrated negative impact on public trust.” The Toronto Star‘s “Known to Police” investigations have revealed shocking levels of police documentation during non-criminal encounters with civilians, particularly among people of African and Caribbean heritage.
Addario said the police have already taken steps to restrict unnecessary carding. The Star reported in November that the practice had decreased by more than 75 per cent after Chief Bill Blair issued narrower data collection guidelines and introduced mandatory receipts for carding interactions. “The board policy should cement those gains,” said Addario.
The draft policy instructs police to inform civilians of the reasons for an interaction and of their right to leave. It also recommends training to ensure that police engagement relates to public safety, and is not merely a pretext for detention.
Jamil Jivani of the Policing Literacy Initiative said in a deputation that the board should aim for more positive and informed interactions with people they stop. “A phrase or two to remind them of their rights and their freedom to disengage from an interaction is very important,” Jivani said.
Others told the board the practice of carding leads to racial profiling and is unlawful. “Carding, as is it carried out on the streets of Toronto today…is a violation of both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Ontario Human Rights Code,” said Howard Morton of the Law Union of Ontario.
Civil rights lawyer Peter Rosenthal said the board should simply ban carding and find less invasive forms of community engagement. “This policy allows police officers, encourages them, to stop people just for general investigation…you shouldn’t be interfering in people’s lives for no good reason,” Rosenthal said.
In November, the Black Action Defence Committee filed a lawsuit against Toronto Police for alleged racial profiling related to carding; the BADC filed a similar grievance with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in February. The Campaign to Stop Police Carding, in association with the Law Union of Ontario, is also pursuing a human rights complaint.
Board chair Alok Mukherjee announced there will be a public meeting about the draft policy on April 8 at police headquarters on 40 College Street. The board is planning to approve the final policy on April 10, but Mukherjee said the deadline could be extended if necessary. Residents can also contact the TPSB to file written submissions.