By Gerald V. Paul
Carding will be suspended “until further notice” outgoing Police Chief Bill Blair said Tuesday.
He is expected to provide an update on carding at the police board meeting in February. This is a major policy change for Blair whose term as chief ends in April.
Carding allows police to stop people on the street and collect information such as height, weight, hair and skin colour.
Blair is on record as saying about the practice, “we are not racist; we are all human” which has muddied the issue. And Deputy Chief Peter Sloly has said carding can be “disenfranchising” but claims it is also an effective policing tool.
This has confused many members of the community who have called on the police board to end the practice, saying that carding policies generally tends to discriminate against visible minorities.
“The real problem is that the new carding data reveals that the Toronto Police Service is increasingly operating like some Torontonians can be treated as if they are less human than others,” said Anthony Morgan, policy and research lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC).
“This is a clear violation of Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Until this is fixed, the carding practices of the police leave the impression that being Black is a crime.”
Morgan challenged Blair’s position on carding when the latter stated the disproportions in carding can be explained by the fact that crime occurs at higher rates in communities with increased levels of poverty and unemployment. In other words, socio-economic inequalities are to blame for the overrepresentation of African Canadian and brown people in carding statistics, Morgan suggested.
He noted no statistics was offered showing that carding leads to less crime or more crimes being solved.
Morgan noted Blair’s reference to socio-economic disparities suggests Toronto Police Service is not ready to own responsibility for anti-Black policing in Toronto.
A new policy implemented last April and supported by Blair allows police to card civilians for the purpose of investigating or preventing a specific offence or series of offences. “But,” Morgan said, “ it also allows carding for the purpose of ensuring that an individual is not ‘at risk.’ At risk to whom? At risk of what?
“For added transparency and accountability of the Toronto Police Service, Chief Blair should state how officers will interpret this part of the policy.”
Additionally, the policy only requires officers to give “as much (information) as possible in the circumstances” when carding civilians. Therefore, police will not be required to tell civilians why they are being carded or what their rights are in specific circumstances, such as the right to be silent and to walk away.”
Morgan said the policy does not require officers to give civilians an exact carbon copy of the form they fill out in a contact. While a receipt is a good measure, he argues, a carbon copy should be standard. If carbon copies can be issued for parking tickets, there is no reason why the same cannot be done for contact cards.
The Law Union of Ontario (LUO) in a submission to the TPSB last year said, “The Toronto Police Service engaged in the general intelligence-gathering practice known as “carding” for many years without any policy direction from the Board. This practice was a systematic violation of the rights of people in our communities, and especially of racialized youth, and it undermined the public’s trust and confidence in the police service and thereby impaired public safety.”
Calling carding divisive, unlawful and unethical, “the Law Union of Ontario respectfully asks the board to direct Chief Blair to immediately suspend the practice of carding on street checks.”