Black Residents Call Carding Proposal "Terrorism" Against Community
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Black Residents Call Carding Proposal “Terrorism” Against Community

The proposal would allow police to document residents personal information without telling them why.

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Valerie Scott (left), and Knia Singh at a carding press conference on Tuesday April 14. Photo by Desmond Cole.

Organizations that represent black Torontonians are warning the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) that a proposal to formalize carding—the police practice of stopping citizens who are not suspected of a crime and documenting their personal information—is a direct assault against dark-skinned residents. They urged the board to strike down this practice, through which Toronto police have disproportionately documented the personal information of black residents, regardless of criminal history.

This afternoon the TPSB will consider a set of carding procedures it negotiated with outgoing police chief Bill Blair. The procedures, which Blair and TPS drafted, fail to address several major reforms the board prescribed in an April 2014 policy to curb carding. Black residents are outraged that the board seems prepared to endorse the weakened rules.

“The entire board should resign if this policy is passed,” said Valerie Steele, President of the Jamaica Diaspora Canada Foundation, at a community-led press conference on Tuesday. “We can simply call this state-sanctioned terrorism against the black community.”

Police data obtained by the Toronto Star shows that black residents were 17 times more likely than white residents to be stopped and carded in the heart of downtown Toronto in late 2013. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of innocent residents have had their information collected and stored in a database annually, even if police do not suspect them of a crime.

Under the proposed rules, police would be empowered to stop and document civilians without providing a reason, would not be required to tell citizens that the interaction is voluntary and that the citizen may freely leave at any time, and would not be required to issue a receipt for such interactions.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Law Union of Ontario, and dozens of community-based organizations have been urging the board to reject Blair’s carding rules since their release in late March. Either the police should proactively inform civilians of their Charter rights during a carding interaction and issue receipts or the the practice should be scrapped altogether, they say.

Knia Singh, an organizer of Tuesday’s press conference and the founder of Osgoode Society Against Institutional Injustice, said he’s worked with a young man whose non-criminal carding interactions appeared during a criminal background check and jeopardized his education. “He had such an extensive record…when he got into college and tried to get a placement as a child and youth worker, he was blocked and kicked out of school,” Singh said.

He added that OSAII asked Toronto Police to supress the student’s carding record and have him reinstated in school. “But that’s one case of probably ten thousand, a hundred thousand, who knows?” said Singh.

Mayor John Tory has praised the carding proposal as “an important landmark in advancing bias-free policing.” Tory has avoided questions about the gaps between his own board’s policy and the chief’s proposed rules. Torontoist made repeated attempts to reach Tory to explain these discrepancies—his press secretary said he would not be available for comment before today’s meeting.

In an interview with Torontoist on Wednesday, Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East), who was appointed to the board in late 2014, expressed frustration that the proposed rules put the onus on residents to ask police whether on not they are being detained. “I’m not happy about that, it’s not ideal,” Carroll said.

Carroll said Blair’s decision to delay the submission of carding procedures beyond a September 2014 board deadline put the civilian oversight body in a difficult position. “They had to decide, are we going to charge the chief with insubordination, at the sunset of his career, or are we going to try and negotiate something from him.” Carroll added that the decision to negotiate “is not going well.”

At a special meeting earlier this month, the board signalled a desire to implement the proposed rules and review them in six months. Law Union of Ontario spokesperson Vilko Zbogar said on Tuesday that his group will pursue legal action against the board if it approves the proposal.

“There’s also a human rights application in the works, and a number of other legal avenues that are also being seriously considered,” Zbogar said. Blair and the board are also facing a $65 million class action lawsuit for damages caused to residents through carding.

The Toronto Police Services Board meets today at 12:30 p.m. at police headquarters, 40 College Street.