What You Need to Know About New Carding Regulations
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What You Need to Know About New Carding Regulations

The new regulations come into effect January 1, 2017.

May photo by Joyita Sengupta.

Earlier this week, Ontario released its final regulations to ban carding, or the random street checks of civilians. In recent years, the controversial practice sparked unresolved tensions between police and marginalized communities, particularly young black men.

The regulations, which are the first of its kind in the province, will come into effect on January 1, 2017.

Here’s everything you need to know about Ontario’s new carding regulations.

What is carding and why is it so controversial?

Carding, otherwise known as “street checks,” is a practice that allows police officers to stop, question, and document their interactions with citizens without arresting them. This can result in having personal information—such as a person’s height, weight, hair, and skin colour—stored in the police database.

Some argue that carding puts certain communities at risk of racial profiling. Media reports have found that those who are black or brown are more likely to be stopped and documented by police. For instance, a Toronto Star analysis of police data from 2008 to mid-2011 discovered that the number of carded young black men was 3.4 times higher than the population of young black men in Toronto.

Another concern about carding is that it violates Charter rights against arbitrary detainment and allows police to ask people for personal information that they are under no legal obligation to provide. Some may not be aware of their choice in the matter, or may feel compelled to stay.

How did Toronto regulate carding?

Over the years, the Toronto Police Services Board issued a series of revisions to its carding policy. In April 2014, the board approved a revised carding policy that required police officers to inform individuals of their rights during interactions and issue a receipt to those individuals.

But some argued that these revisions were ignored. A survey conducted by non-profit consultation organization LogicalOutcomes found that, following the new policy, about two-thirds of those who reported being carded in 31 Division (an area surrounding the intersection of Jane Street and Finch Avenue) said they didn’t believe the officers had a valid reason to stop them. Furthermore, 85 per cent said they didn’t receive a receipt after being stopped and questioned.

Photo by Ronnie Yip, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

The board passed another revised policy a year later, in April 2015. One of the changes required officers to hand out a business card instead of a full receipt to individuals who were questioned. But one of the biggest criticisms of the updated policy was that it was missing many of the citizen protections found in its earlier version. Specifically, it did not include a requirement for officers to inform individuals of their right to leave, and did not include restrictions that allowed officers to card individuals only when they are investigating specific offences or protecting a person.

After being sworn in as the new Toronto police chief in May 2015, Mark Saunders stood by the practice of carding, saying it helps police control issues, such as gang violence, in the city.

Throughout the remainder of 2015, civil liberties groups, the Ontario Ombudsman, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission have called for an end to carding. On October 2015, Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi announced that the Ontario government would put an end to arbitrary and random police stops. Naqvi clarified that the province would not ban the practice, but create new regulations for its carding policy.

Ontario’s police chiefs have expressed concern about the new carding regulations.

Following the Ontario government’s announcement, the Police Association of Ontario (PAO) released a statement, noting that carding regulations “will inevitability lead to less effective policing and higher crime rates.”

Jeff McGuire, president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said he fears that these regulations will “handcuff the police in a manner that meaningful conversations between law-abiding citizens are going to maybe just disappear.”

What are the changes under the new regulations?

  • Race is prohibited from being a police officer’s reason for gathering someone’s personal information.
  • As of January 1, 2017, police officers are required to tell a person they stop that they are not legally required to talk or answer questions. Officers must also explain why they stopped a person.
  • Refusing to co-operate or walking away cannot be used as reasons to compel information.
  • But police officers can still stop a person and gather personal information during routine traffic stops, when someone is being arrested or detained, or when there is a search warrant.
  • Officers must provide their name and badge number to the person, as well as information on how to contact the independent police review director. They must also inform the person that his or her personal information can be requested under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
  • Officers have to submit all personal information they collected to their local police chief within 30 days for review. Police chiefs must conduct a review of a random sample of entries in their databases at least once a year, to ensure all information was collected in compliance with the regulation.
  • Police chiefs must also complete an annual public report with the sex, age, race, and neighbourhood of individuals stopped.

In addition, the government has promised a group of experts to assist the Ontario Police College on the development of new training for officers on racism, bias awareness, and discrimination by January 1.

Some activists say more work needs to be done.

Activists—such as Andray Domise, a former Torontoist contributor—say that carding needs to be banned, not regulated. Domise wrote that the police services board needs to be more committed to creating “a concrete plan to address the underlying issue of racial discrimination that made carding such a controversial topic in the first place.”

Meanwhile, others add that regulations are not enough to address racial bias in the police force. In a column that addressed Ontario’s announcement to regulate carding, former Torontoist staff writer Desmond Cole wrote: “If the expectation in police culture is to treat black residents with greater suspicion and less respect, all officers must fall in line, or must face internal scrutiny for failing to play the game.”