Community overwhelmingly wants the controversial police practice abolished, not regulated.
Ellie Adekur has a chance to address elected officials face-to-face—and she’s keen to take it. Last evening’s consultation on “street checks” was wrapping up, but there was still an opportunity for attendees to discuss the practice during an open mic segment. Along with a dozen others, the University of Toronto student took the stage and instinctively reached for the microphone when it was her turn to speak. Then, the meeting’s third-party moderator, Karyn Dumble, jumped in, directing the speaker not to touch the mic; an older white man named Dave would hold it for her. It was a moment of lost agency, and the irony was not lost on Adekur. “I am deeply offended that any equity group has to have a consultation to determine if we deserve a fundamental human right,” she said. “And… I can’t even hold my own microphone!” The crowd of about 150 cheered wildly.
Adekur’s sentiment—one of frustration, impatience and anger—sums up the emotion felt throughout the night. Hosted by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and Minister Yasir Naqvi (Liberal, Ottawa Centre) on Wednesday night at the Reference Library, the consultation was meant to offer an open forum for discussion on the controversial police practice. “Street checks,” or carding, involves the stopping, questioning and documentation of persons not suspect of committing crime. Data has found that black and brown men are disproportionately affected by the policy, although police officials have consistently denied a racial bias.
The meeting was the last of five consultations across the province, held to inform the ministry’s legislation on the regulation of carding; the only Toronto stop was tacked on to the tour last minute, a product of community outcry. But the rigid format imposed on the crowd instead ignited tempers and caused angry outbursts—a majority of which called for the elimination, not regulation, of carding.
Attendees were encouraged to share their thoughts on the police practice on large sticky notes provided and post them on question sheets surrounding the room. They could later speak more broadly about their experiences during a 30-minute open mic period. Dumble insisted at the top of the evening that the structure of the consultation would allow for respectful discussion, but many attendees found it lacking. “This is not a productive process. This format is not conducive,” one sticky note read. “This is offensive,” read another.
The criticism was not restricted to Post-it notes. Just 10 minutes into the meeting, attendee Cecil Peter jumped up and shouted “end carding!” singling out Police Chief Mark Saunders, who sat at his table. Peter clutched a photo of Andrew Loku, a Toronto man who was shot dead by police in July. The interruption led to a media swarm around the table, leaving Dumble unable to control the raucous crowd.
During a scrum after the outburst, Saunders noted the importance of “listening to the emotion” of those attending the meeting. Naqvi echoed Saunders’ sentiments. “We have heard that street checks by definition are arbitrary and discriminatory, and therefore cannot be regulated. They must simply be ended,” he told media. “The province agrees that these types of stops must end.”
In June, Naqvi and the Wynne government promised to standardize Ontario’s carding policy, spurring public consultation meetings this month. Naqvi said he would not eliminate carding, but would push for its regulation. “Street checks are one of those fundamental issues that requires a single, clear standard throughout all the province,” he told CBC in June.
For most in attendance, however, the regulation of carding was out of the question. Critics argue there is no evidence to support the value in the practice. Moreover, they say, it undermines the agency of people of colour. “We want our people to be able to walk with dignity and pride, and feel that they are served and protected by police regardless of the colour of their skin,” said Black Action Defense Committee’s Kingsley Gilliam during the consultation’s open mic segment. On the walls around him, sticky notes called to abolish carding. Throughout the night, the crowd continuously heckled speakers, like Minister Naqvi, shouting “end carding.”
The frustration that permeated the consultation comes after years of advocacy against the practice. In 2013, the Black Action Defense Committee launched a lawsuit against the Toronto Police. The organization also filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal in 2014, alleging systemic racial profiling, and calling for $100 million in damages. The issue has been documented for decades, coming to a head in the 1980s, when BADC was established.
Navqi says the province expects to enact new regulations by this fall. Until then, the community will continue advocating against the practice. Speaking on behalf of the community, Adekur told the crowd: “We don’t want to sit around a table and write on sticky notes anymore.”