A board-commissioned survey suggests officers are ignoring the new policy on stopping and questioning civilians.
Police Chief Bill Blair has rejected a report that suggests officers in northwest Toronto are ignoring a new policy on carding, the controversial practice of stopping civilians for non-investigative reasons and documenting their personal information. At yesterday’s Toronto Police Services Board meeting, Blair dismissed the report’s findings and scolded board chair Alok Mukherjee for speaking publicly about it before its release.
“There are many facts that contradict the conclusions of this report,” said Blair following a presentation by the report’s author, Neil Price of the research group LogicalOutcomes. In the board-commissioned Community Assessment of Police Practices survey, residents reported that police in 31 Division of the Toronto Police Service have stopped them without reason, prolonged interactions in order to extract personal information, and failed to provide receipts of interactions, which police have been required to do since July 2013. Addressing Mukherjee, Blair said “I’m a little bit concerned … by the comments you’ve made, more or less confirming [the report’s] findings without any facts.”
Blair spoke with the media outside the boardroom a few minutes later: “I am very concerned, quite frankly, with some of the rather reckless comments and conclusions reached by certain individuals with respect to the information in that report, in the absence of facts. I think that some of the chair’s remarks were inflammatory and reckless.” Mukherjee told the Toronto Star on Thursday that the results of the survey were “extremely disturbing and problematic,” and added that when it comes to policing in Toronto, residents are facing a “crisis of confidence.”
The LogicalOutcomes report surveyed more than 400 residents in the northwest corner of the city patrolled by 31 Division. It suggests police have failed to follow the new carding policy approved by the board in April. Ninety-three per cent of survey participants said they were unaware of the new policy; of survey participants who had been carded, nearly half said police had spoken to them disrespectfully; a third of respondents said police told them they fit the description of a criminal suspect; one quarter of those carded said they feel as if the police are constantly watching them; and one quarter said they avoid going out at certain times because of police.
The TPSB commissioned the report after approving the new policy. Board members wanted to know if residents were seeing changes in their interactions with police. Blair defended the conduct of 31 Division officers, and argued that carding in the area surveyed has declined substantially. “Over a three month period this past summer, the officers in 31 Division submitted a total of 83 community safety notes,” said Blair, noting that more than 120,000 people live in the area.
Torontoist asked Blair if police issued receipts for each of those 83 interactions; Blair replied, “I can only confirm to you that we’ve looked at the number of contact cards submitted.” The LogicalOutcomes report notes that in September researchers asked 31 Division to provide data on carding and criminal activity, but that no data was made available in time for the report’s publication.
Eighty-five per cent of survey respondents who had been carded since June said they did not receive a receipt from police. According to the Police and Community Engagement Report (PACER), frontline officers have said issuing receipts is too time consuming and “encourages impulsive public complaints” even when officers are acting professionally.
At yesterday’s meeting, community members and legal advocates demanded that the TPS and TPSB improve police accountability on carding. Some, including Toronto Police Accountability Coalition member John Sewell, argued that if the practice cannot be reformed, it should be scrapped altogether. “We think the appropriate course of action is simply to prohibit stops by officers, unless the individual is suspected to be involved in criminal activity,” Sewell said. “The idea that you can stop someone because they look suspicious—which is what carding is all about—is wrong.” Howard Morton of the Law Union of Ontario described attempts at collaboration between the civilian board and the police service on carding as “a complete and utter failure.”
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association also spoke of the troubling relationship between the board and the service as it relates to carding. “When the police chief is calling into question the facts of that report as if it’s fiction … this is community research done by a researcher selected by the board. I don’t think we can discredit the report simply because it’s come from ‘one side,'” Mendelsohn Aviv said. She called for drastic reform of the police accountability structure. “What we need is an auditor that has the capacity and the authority, and access to police records … to find out if there’s any reason for a person to be stopped and questioned and have their privacy and dignity and liberty violated.”
The board did not address the findings of the report during the meeting; members said they had received it only on Thursday morning. Instead, the board deferred discussion of the findings to a special meeting on November 26.
Read the full Community Assessment of Police Practices Community Satisfaction Survey below.