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Police Board Approves Revised Carding Policy

Board removes sections that might perpetuate arbitrary police stops after pressure from activists.

The Toronto Police Services Board has approved a policy intended to regulate interactions between police and civilians and to prevent a resurgence of carding, the previously unregulated practice of stopping civilians and documenting their personal information. The new regulations require that police officers inform civilians of their rights during interactions and limit the collection of personal information to specific circumstances.

The board acknowledged the need for reform after vigorous protest from community and human rights advocates. The Toronto Star‘s “Known to Police” series, which revealed the prevalence of carding and its disproportionate focus on people of African and Caribbean heritage, bolstered residents’ claims of racially biased policing. The board revised the “Community Contacts” policy after advocates warned that some of its provisions were too broad, and could formalize the same arbitrary police stops the board meant to prevent.

Board chair Alok Mukherjee spoke with media after the five-hour meeting, which included an extended recess for board members to incorporate feedback from deputations into the policy. “There has been lack of direction on the proper purpose for [police] contact with community, and proper reasons for retaining information,” Mukherjee said. “I think this project provides clarity and delineates the scope of activity.” Mukherjee also praised media, human rights advocates, and the Toronto Police Service for collaborating to address carding.

Lawyers and human rights advocates condemned a policy provision that allowed police to collect civilian information “relating directly to an identifiable, systemic criminal problem and pursuant to a Service or Division-approved initiative.” Lawyer Peter Rosenthal, Barbara Hall of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and Kingsley Gilliam of the Black Action Defence Committee were among those who demanded this provision be removed.

Rosenthal pointed out that officers in the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) have been responsible for much of the rampant carding of black youth in Toronto. “TAVIS would definitely be within the definition” of appropriate carding, Rosenthal argued. “Either strike that paragraph entirely, or do not pass any policy.” After several others repeated these warnings, the board recessed for over half an hour to revise the policy.

The policy sets out guidelines for police training on the power imbalance at play during police-civilian interactions. It also directs Chief Bill Blair to ensure that “service members are subject to the full range of disciplinary measures … where discipline is justified.” It isn’t clear yet how Blair will monitor officers to identify potential policy violations.

The policy also directs Blair to destroy all carding data collected before July 1, 2013. The chief and the board have yet to determine how they will purge the information from its extensive databases—police estimate they collected 1.3 million contact cards between 2010 and 2012 alone.

Under another key policy provision, TPS will be subject to evaluations of its community contact practices. Blair will report regularly to the board on community satisfaction with police interactions. “Part of the reason we wanted it done today is so that it is in effect come summer,” Mukherjee told us after meeting. He said the board looks forward to collecting “credible data generated by community involvement that can tell us whether we did the right thing or not.”

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