2015 Hero: Carding Activists
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2015 Hero: Carding Activists

Nominated for: not giving up on correcting an injustice and building a better city.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Heroes Carding Activists by Evan Munday

Days after Mark Saunders took office as Toronto’s Police Chief, he spoke at the second African Canadian Summit and pledged to continue carding—the dubious practice whereby police stop and question citizens, without cause, and record the encounter. “If we remove the ability of our officers to engage with the community,” Saunders said, avoiding the term “carding,” “all I can tell you is that will put us in a situation where there will be an increase of crime.”

It was a blow to the growing body of anti-carding advocates who hoped the city’s first black Police Chief would end the policy that’s rife with racial bias.

Carding was implemented a decade ago under the pretext of protecting the public. In that time, no evidence has been provided that the practice reduces crime, and activists have denounced it for years. Pressure to abolish carding mounted this April, first when Toronto Police had the chance to reform it (nothing much changed), and again when Toronto Life published a memoir by journalist (and sometimes Torontoist contributor) Desmond Cole recounting his experience as a young black man being routinely stopped and questioned by cops.

The momentum of carding was much bigger than one person or story.

A few weeks later, Black Lives Matter organized a protest outside the Toronto Police headquarters where hundreds of supporters showed up demanding an end to carding. In June, as the wave of activism swelled, Knia Singh, a black law student, launched a Charter lawsuit alleging police aren’t legally allowed to retain information obtained through carding. The following week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission called for Toronto Police to end carding.

Around that time, Mayor Tory, who originally supported Chief Saunders’ pro-carding stance, said he would vie for the “permanent cancellation” of the practice at the next police board meeting.

On October 28, the Ontario government didn’t end carding, but drafted new regulations for it with vague guidelines on how to minimize racial profiling.

Toronto has a ways to go before scrapping carding, but activists—most of whom aren’t household names or get quoted in newspapers—made huge strides towards getting there. The overdue progress over the last few months is a direct response to pressure from community activists and organizations that has been years in the making, and they’re not stopping now. New carding regulations are set to take effect by July 2016. Before then, activists will keep pressing police forces and governments to end the practise—not just regulate it—and wipe the database of profiles groundlessly collected from carding.

If shaping a more just city in the face of overwhelming institutional obstacles isn’t heroic, then we don’t know what is.