While the Police Services Board didn't end carding, yesterday it took its first meaningful steps towards reform this term.
At its first meeting since the mayor vowed to end carding, the Toronto Police Services Board voted unanimously to re-implement its April 2014 carding policy on Thursday, taking the first steps to reform the controversial police practice.
The motion, passed after increased community outcry over carding over the past two months, acts as an interim measure until the Province acts on its plans to place further regulations on street encounters between civilians and police.
“This motion was meant to give some life to the idea that we have to go away from the process of incremental mediated changes, I described it, and that we had to embark on a policy that said this practice of carding was over,” said Tory.
He went on to say why he supported an amendment to his motion.
“I’m never afraid to say that I’m influenced by what I hear them say, by them I mean my colleagues on this board and city council,” Tory said. “That’s the way the world is supposed to work.”
Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) told reporters after the meeting why she felt that going back to the older policy was better than what they had in place or going forward with Tory’s original idea.
“To simply suspend carding and not leave any kind of accountability or paper trail meant that there really was no guidance to officers in their interaction and Summer is coming, there’ll be plenty of interaction,” said the North York councillor.
The 2014 policy is based on the PACER report that came out in 2013. Recommendations from the report include requiring police officers to notify members of the public that they have the right to walk away at any point when being carded, and to issue a physical receipt of the encounter when they do so. However, informing the person being stopped of their rights is not mandatory and is left to the discretion of the officer involved.
How the policy will be implemented is now left up to Chief Mark Saunders and the rest of the force. He says that there already was a huge improvement since the PACER report.
“To look for a magic word or a magic policy that’s going to make everything better that’s not going to be the case, it simply won’t be,” said Saunders after the meeting.
“How it translates with our actions, with our interactions with the community. Are people treated with dignity and respect? I think those are key with the fair and impartial training we have for our officers and we’re not done yet.”
The recently installed police chief went on to claim that he never said that he supports carding but that if things are done properly, the practice enhances community safety.
While the 2014 policy is seen as an improvement on the policy that was currently in place, Anthony Morgan, a policy and research lawyer with the African Canadian Legal Clinic, argued that it still falls short.
He says that according to the new policy, “Citizens have to be given as much information as possible under the circumstances. What does that even mean?” said Morgan. “That’s so broad and undefined.”
Another part of the policy that Morgan found troubling was the term “at-risk,” which is the criteria given for how an officer may decide whether or not to engage in an interaction and pose questions to someone they stop on the street.
He went on to say, “What needs to happen is at minimum, citizens need to be told why they are being stopped, that they have the right to walk away from the interaction and they don’t have to answer any questions. Right now it says if the officer were to determine that it was not possible to give that information then they don’t. There are no safeguards, there are no limitations, there are no conditions on that provision.”
He also said that he is concerned with the receipts, which he does see is a positive change, but because those receipts are not a carbon copy, the person issued one wouldn’t know exactly was written about them.
Before the motion was moved, much of the meeting was spent listening to members of the community, many of whom gave heartfelt deputations.
One that seemed to leave a lasting impression on the board—Tory went on to quote him— was Knia Singh’s account of what it feels like to be targeted by police.
“When you as a human being feel that when you walk through the streets that anytime you see a white car, your heart rate increases,” said Singh. “And anytime you see people you’re supposed to go to for protection when something goes wrong and you feel like those are the people that have the authority do the most harm to you.”
Knia Singh is a law student at Osgoode Hall who filed a Charter challenge against the practice of carding, stating that it violates our fundamental rights.
Also at the meeting, TPS Board Chair Alok Mukherjee announced that he will be stepping down from his position as of August 1. In one of his closing statements for that portion of the meeting, he explained why carding was an issue that was close to him, through comments he said he made to Chief Saunders a week ago.
“I was offering some comments to him not as chair or any professional capacity but as an individual, resident of this city, a non-white person who knows what people of colour are talking about and a grandfather who doesn’t want this practice to go on when his four and two-year-old grandchildren are teenagers.”
Photos by Joyita Sengupta.