Police Under Fire for Incomplete Policy on Carding Practice
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Police Under Fire for Incomplete Policy on Carding Practice

Draft policy fails to define the public safety rationale for controversial police stops.

Advocates at last night’s police services board meeting say a draft policy on police carding—the controversial practice of stopping civilians to collect and store their personal information—is designed to uphold the divisive and potentially unlawful practice.

Residents were invited to police headquarters at 40 College Street to discuss a draft policy on carding prepared by criminal lawyer Frank Addario for the civilian board. Addario acknowledged that in recent years, Toronto police have been engaging in carding with no guidelines or purpose. “A great deal of unnecessary information was collected because there were no established limits on the collection of contact data,” said Addario.

Advocates argue that the practice of carding, as it exists in Toronto, is a violation of rights under both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Ontario Human Rights Code. Specifically, they cite the Charter right under section 8, which guarantees “the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure,” and the OHRC provisions against racial discrimination and harassment.

The draft policy seems to support the continuation of carding, but fails to define the limits of police discretion in dealing with civilians. The document cites “ensuring public safety” as a principle of police-civilian interactions, but does not define public safety. Addario told the dozens gathered in the auditorium that police have yet to provide him with that crucial definition.

Jamil Jivani, a lawyer and the founder of the Policing Literacy Initiative, criticized what he called an “incomplete” policy. “We just had a three-hour meeting on a policy whose implications we’re not certain about yet,” Jivani said.

The board heard deputations from about 20 community members and human rights advocates. Nearly all deputants said arbitrary police stops target racialized Torontonians, and destroy trust between police and residents. Barbara Hall, the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, told board members that “until clear and lawful criteria are developed, and assessed against the Human Rights Code and the Charter … the [carding] practice must be stopped.”

Hall added that the board must define serious penalties for police officers who engage in arbitrary stops or racial profiling, “up to and including dismissal.” Under the Police Services Act, only the police chief can determine such penalties for police misconduct.

Labour activist June Veecock challenged board members to consider the harm carding has caused in racialized communities: “Just try to imagine being stopped not because you have committed a crime, or are suspected of any criminal behaviour or unlawful conduct, nor have any information about a crime, but simply because of the colour of your skin, how you look, and where you live. That’s the reality for black men, sometimes the daily reality.”

The Toronto Star‘s “Known to Police” investigations have revealed that police carding disproportionately targets racialized people, particularly young men of African and Caribbean descent. The Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER) indicated that between 2009 and 2011, over 350,000 civilians were stopped for “General Investigation,” which may not have been related to any criminal investigation.

Lawyer Peter Rosenthal questioned the merit of such general stops. “Maybe there is some inherent value,” Rosenthal said, “but certainly there is some inherent terrible consequence of those stops, antagonism that you bred in the community by people who are annoyed at being stopped on their way to school, on their way home, on their way to the store.” Rosenthal vowed to press on with legal and human rights challenges if the board approves a policy that allows arbitrary stops to continue.

Some critics also condemned a provision in the draft policy that police inform civilians of their rights—including the right not to answer any police questions—during an interaction. Kingsley Gilliam of the Black Action Defense Committee called the measure a “mockery” of policing. “The policy … proposes that the police should be respectful, polite, and nice to citizens when they trample on their rights,” Gilliam said.

The police board plans to finalize the carding policy at its April 24 meeting; however, many questions remain unanswered. It is unclear, for example, whether police still intend to issue receipts for carding interactions. Although carding dropped by about 85 per cent after the implementation of receipts, police suggest that providing them is too onerous and time-consuming.

It is also unclear whether police plan to destroy the records that capture the details of millions of interactions related to carding. Knia Singh, who was born in Toronto, told the board that he discovered through a freedom of information request that police had, in various carding interactions, erroneously classified him as Jamaican, Caribbean, Black North American, and Brown East Indian. Singh said officers had even noted that he was unfriendly to police and that he believed he was being racially profiled.

“After I get my law degree, if I were to pursue a job in the police force, the false information contained in my community contact database would prevent me from getting a job according to the police screening practices,” Singh said.

Vilko Zbogar, a lawyer with the Law Union of Ontario, said the board should end carding altogether, but suggested a suspension of the practice until police can more clearly define and justify it. “The community can’t put up with another summer of harassment via carding,” Zbogar said.