We were encouraged this week to hear Ontario’s Solicitor General and Minister for Community Safety and Correctional Services announce plans to regulate police street checks across Ontario.
The Minister was clear about what he wants: “to prevent unjustifiable police stops for no reason or without cause”. HOW to do this will be the difficult part – but ending “unjustifiable police stops” that amount to racial profiling is our goal.
The announcement follows Mayor Tory’s important step towards respecting the human rights of Toronto’s Black and other racialized communities, and restoring trust.
There is no doubt, as Chief Saunders has suggested, that there are different views on what constitutes “carding.” The OHRC understands carding to mean what the Solicitor General says he wants to end: the police practice of stopping and questioning a person and recording information about them unconnected to any specific traffic violation, criminal investigation or specific suspect description.
Arbitrary police street checks aggravate the larger, well-identified problem of racial profiling. Racial profiling happens in a variety of police interactions, whether or not a “Community Safety Note” or “card” is created or entered into a database.
As we have said before, in our view, to eliminate racial profiling in police street checks, the Board and the Service must:
- Guide and limit officer discretion to stop and question people
- Require that officers tell the people they stop about their right to leave and not answer questions, as much as possible in the circumstances
- Demonstrate effective monitoring and accountability including race-based data collection for the purpose of identifying racial bias not for intelligence purposes
- Provide transparency through receipts; and
- Immediately purge carding intelligence data, already collected, that lacks a non-discriminatory explanation.
Mayor Tory has said “we have to go right back to the beginning” and start with a “blank slate.” In the OHRC’s opinion this is not necessary. A lot of good work has already been done by members of the Board, community and advocacy groups towards identifying issues that will eliminate carding in policing.
Moving forward, it is time to capitalize on that critical work and focus on ending racial profiling.
What is needed now is a comprehensive and transparent strategy that includes:
- Creating and putting into action a clear Board policy and Service procedure specific to racial profiling in all police activities and which provides sufficient guidance
- Effective training that clearly reinforces this Board policy and service procedure
- Partnerships with community groups
- Race-based data collection related to all relevant police activities to monitor for individual and systemic racial bias, and
- Accountability mechanisms that include penalties, up to and including dismissal, when officer behaviour is consistent with racial profiling.
The Toronto Police Services Board must set the framework by creating a specific racial profiling policy that builds on the work of the past. It is clear, however, that, ultimately, the responsibility on the ground for protecting Charter and Code rights belongs to the Toronto Police Service.
Minister Naqvi has announced his plans to address arbitrary police checks province wide, but the Toronto Police Service and Police Services Board must not wait.
The community has spoken with one voice. Racial profiling in policing must end now.