Police Chief's Carding Rules Ignore Board Demands
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Police Chief’s Carding Rules Ignore Board Demands

We look at the civilian police board's requested carding reforms, and what the police have actually delivered.

In perhaps his final major announcement as Toronto’s police chief, Bill Blair unveiled a draft of new procedures on police carding on Friday. The trouble is, those procedures simply don’t match the requests of the police’s oversight board.

Nearly a year ago, the Toronto Police Services Board asked Blair to regulate and restrict the controversial practice of stopping and documenting civilians who are not suspected of a crime. The new rules fail to address board demands for transparency and proactive education by police; requests that police issue receipts for carding interactions, and destroy unnecessary public information already stored in a massive police database, are totally absent from the new procedures. The definition of an officer’s “public safety purpose” for carding a civilian is far broader than the board recommended. We’ve compared the board’s requests with Blair’s procedures to identify gaps and omissions.

A “public safety purpose” to justify carding interactions

The board policy directs police to “identify the circumstances in which it is appropriate to initiate a Community Engagement or create a CER [Community Engagement Report].” The policy further instructs police to “only initiate and record community engagements that serve a valid public safety purpose.” The board drafted these demands after residents, lawyers, community workers, and human rights groups reported that the police’s carding activity has frequently been arbitrary, unnecessary, and disproportionately directed at black residents, particularly young black men. Residents who participated in a board-commissioned study of carding said that police regularly stop them without providing a reason, and prolong interactions to collect personal information. When the board finalized its policy last April, board chair Alok Mukherjee noted that “there has been lack of direction on the proper purpose for [police] contact with community.”

The police’s draft procedures define public safety purpose as:

  • Preserving the peace,
  • Preventing crimes or other offences, and/or
  • The performance of common law duties, including the duty to protect life and property.
  • This definition is so broad and vague that it can encompass many of the same interactions the board and public have been concerned about. Police are required to record the purpose for carding a civilian in their notes, but are not required to inform the civilian of the reason. While the new procedures encourage police to “openly communicate the reasons for initiating an interaction,” it lists this activity as “consideration for most interactions” rather than a hard requirement.

    Furthermore, the board policy emphasizes “a proactive rights-based approach to the way in which members of the Toronto Police Service interact with members of the public.” In other words, police were asked to inform civilians when an interaction is voluntary, and that they have the legal right to walk away from such an interaction. The police procedures do not require police to inform civilians of their rights.

    The carding database

    In recent years, the practice of carding has yielded millions of contact cards documenting civilians’ personal information. The cards police fill out include fields to record a person’s name age, height, weight, and other physical characteristics. It also allows police to identify a civilian as a “gang member” or “associate,” as well as the civilian’s previous country of origin. The card even includes a field to indicate whether or not the parents of a young person being carded are divorced or separated. Police have been documenting this information from civilians who are not suspected of any crime.

    The board policy directs the police chief to develop a procedure that would “only lead to the retention, use, or disclosure of material personal information.” The board adds that “personal information collected during Community Engagements that is not in compliance with this policy is not retained, used, or disclosed for any investigative purpose,” and that this expectation extends to all new information police collect. Oddly, the board policy seems to leave the door open for police to keep the carding data they have already collected, as long as it is not used in investigations.

    The police procedure assures that carding is not to be used to evaluate an officer’s performance. In other words, the police will not set quotas for collecting cards. The Toronto Star has reported that police were using informal carding quotas to evaluate officers. Beyond the issue of quotas, the new police procedures are silent on the future of the carding database.

    Carding receipts

    In July of 2013, Blair ordered his officers to begin issuing receipts for carding interactions. In the months following this order, carding rates decreased by over 75 per cent. However, police complained that the receipts were too time-consuming, and exposed officers to unnecessary complaints. Police then stopped issuing receipts altogether in favour of handing out business cards.

    The subsequent board policy did not list receipts as a requirement for carding, and the new procedures also approve the exchange of business cards as a sufficient record of an interaction. Despite their apparent effectiveness in reducing carding activity, receipts seem to have been abandoned by both the board and police force.


    The board policy insists that police be trained to conduct carding without infringing on a person’s charter rights, and that they operate “in a manner that maximizes effective policing and enhances community trust.” The policy also requires that “all Service members are familiar with the neighbourhood and the community to which they are assigned and receive support, training, and resources necessary to familiarize themselves with a new assignment.” Police procedures have adopted this language in full.