Toronto Police Haven't Earned the City's Trust on Carding
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Toronto Police Haven’t Earned the City’s Trust on Carding

The public trust in policing shouldn't be unconditional, and more progress needs to be made before a leap of faith.

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To no one’s surprise, yesterday the Toronto Police Services Board voted to preserve its carding information. This move was opposed by many policing activists, who argue that since a lot of the carding information was illegally obtained, and the Police cannot determine what was legally obtained, it should be thrown out. For its part, the Police argued that legally, it’s in its best interest to preserve the data. It may be necessary for future investigations or lawsuits, after all.

John Tory and Police Chief Mark Saunders essentially make the “just trust us” argument in defense of their decision to preserve carding data. In Tory’s statement defending the carding decision, he writes:

I strongly believe our police can do their jobs and can keep our city safe while at the same time protecting the rights of our citizens. The best investigative tool the police have is the trust of the people they serve and protect.

Tory is right that trust is an essential component to effective policing outcomes. However, it is far easier for him to grant that trust than most of the anti-carding advocates; he does not personally bear the burden if that trust proves to be misplaced.

Given the history of the carding file, at what point have Toronto Police earned that trust that the mayor asks citizens to grant them? For years, they denied correlations between carding and and Torontonians of colour. The Police Association even filed a lawsuit against the Toronto Star for billions when the paper analyzed the data and made the connection (it was later thrown out of court). For years they said that it was still a vital policing tool (although they did not provide data to back up the claim), and the Police Association has since drawn dubious connections between the lack of carding and an uptick in crime. They can’t even choose the new colour scheme for police cars without a lack of transparency and accountability. And let’s not get into the regrettable G20 legacy.

To step back now and tell Torontonians “you’ve just got to trust us on this one” is to ask them to ignore the many reasons for skepticism that have piled up over the years. There may well be excellent legal arguments for preserving historic carding data. But to ask the public to blindly trust the Police on this issue is too much; the carding database should go, but the impact of all those interactions will persist.

You can see yesterday’s Police Board meeting here.