A red card for carding

By Michael Lashley

Whether it is based on class, race, dress, place of origin, age, colour, ethnic origin, gender identity or gender expression, carding is unacceptable because it is unethical, illegal and, more specifically, unconstitutional.

Carding, often soft-toned as “community contacts”, is a negative form of community engagement: it involves stopping individuals in public places, questioning them and recording on a set of “cards” the information collected by the police officers from their contact with those individuals, without arresting them.

One would expect that the term community engagement would be used by the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and its board to describe their efforts to develop a positive relationship with the various communities, to develop a relationship that results in harmonious interaction and constructive co-operation.

But, surprisingly, that is not the case. Why would the Chair of the TPS Board (Dr. Alok Mukherjee), the outgoing Chief of the TPS (Bill Blair) and the Mayor of Toronto ( John Tory) publicly claim that their – is that yours , Mr. Mayor? – “revised policy” on “community engagement” is just what our city needs?

Do these three gentlemen genuinely believe it is absolutely necessary to break the law of the land and to negatively profile sizeable segments of our multi-faced society in order to make Toronto a safe and secure place for all law-abiding residents? Do these three gentlemen think it is necessary to trample on the basic human rights of some to protect the basic human rights of the majority?

Let me rephrase those questions. Have our authorities become so desperate in their crime prevention and crime solving efforts that they lose any sense of balance in their cost / benefit analysis of carding as a policy? Do they think carding is necessary because, in this case, the end justifies the means? Is carding a legitimate tool in intelligence-gathering?

In response to all those questions, our authorities have been providing us with a disturbing lack of arguments, evidence and data to justify the principle of carding and especially the revised policy on carding that the TPS Board approved last week.

On the other hand, I don’t need to repeat all the reasoned arguments against carding and against the latest revised policy because same are readily available. I recommend for the public’s information the letter dated April 14, 2015, which the Ontario Human Rights Commission has addressed to Chief Blair. Among the many submissions presented by the Law Union of Ontario, I recommend its Submission to Toronto Police Board Re: The Capp Report on Police Carding dated Dec.15, 2014.

For my part, as a strong defender of the principles enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I am concerned about the threats posed by carding under the revised policy.

I see threats to freedom of movement and to privacy rights. I see threats to the principle of equal treatment for all, especially for racialized youth in general and young Black males in particular. I see total silence on the need to destroy all the data and data bases already collected through carding in the months and years before the revised policy came into effect. I see a lack of the accountability and civilian oversight which the TPS Board is supposed to provide under its mandate to shield the public and the public interest from police excesses.

Those threats, in my view, undermine the public’s trust and confidence in the Toronto Police Service. How legal and ethical is it for persons to be profiled and “carded” by police officers who are under no obligation to assure these persons that they are not bound to agree to the questioning? Should these persons not be immediately entitled to receive from the officers a full and authentic copy of the information recorded by the officers during and at the end of the questioning?

I cry foul! I issue a red card to all those responsible for the policy and the practice of carding.

Michael Lashley
Michael Lashley