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Don't blame the end of carding for an increase in gun violence

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February 4, 2016

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By: Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane

Like most people that call this city home, I am deeply troubled by Sunday's shooting deaths in Toronto's Chinatown and the eight other gun-related deaths the city saw in January. This is obviously unacceptable, and police must be supported in their efforts to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these horrific crimes.

That being said, most people would be hesitant to draw any clear conclusions about why we have seen a high number of gun crimes over the past month. Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, the union that represents police officers, feels differently.

Speaking to the press, he argued that it is the end of street checks, or "carding," that has led to increased violence in Toronto. He added that this has impaired the ability of police to investigate incidents like the Chinatown shooting "like we used to."

(While McCormack echoed former Police Chief Blair in noting that carding has ended, provincial regulations to limit carding have not yet been finalized, and it is not at all clear that discriminatory police stops and questioning have ended. But that is a debate for another day.)

The real problem with McCormack's argument is that it is meaningless without data. It has become commonplace in the debate surrounding carding for the police to point to anecdotal evidence to justify carding as an important intelligence tool or, in McCormack's case, to suggest that there is a correlation between carding and crime-solving.

Yet, despite the Ontario Human Rights Commission's requests for data to support these claims, we have received nothing that shows that carding solves or prevents crime, or even reduces violence.

In fact, research from the United States and Britain shows the exact opposite — 99 per cent of the time, carding yields no evidence of criminal activity. What we also know is that homicides in Toronto have declined by approximately 35 per cent since 2009, and that gun violence is also declining, all this while Toronto Police have been placing less and less reliance on carding as part of their intelligence gathering activities.

Data aside, a central goal of human rights laws and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is to strike the right balance between security, on the one hand, and privacy, non-discrimination and dignity on the other.

In this case, that balancing requires that police cease arbitrarily stopping racialized individuals and asking for, recording and storing their personal information in an intelligence database. There is never room for racial profiling in finding this balance.

While Mr. McCormack may believe that this makes policing more difficult, it is simply what the law requires. These are the types of complex challenges police officers face every day on the job.

In the wake of the Forcillo verdict, the Toronto Star noted a rapid drop in public trust in the Toronto Police Service. Statements like Mr. McCormack's can only cause further damage to racialized communities and further erode their trust in police.

Without that trust, police will be further behind in meeting their goals of proactive, intelligence-based policing. Indeed, research shows that people are less likely to cooperate with police investigations and provide testimony in court if they have negative perceptions of police. This lack of trust has profound consequences for the functioning of our justice system and has a negative impact on public safety for everyone.

Perhaps this is why we have recently seen other major police forces, like the RCMP and the OPP, publicly acknowledge racism amongst their ranks and commit to addressing it. We need more of this, and less of Mr. McCormack's fear-mongering.

Indeed, in a case in which we are currently intervening before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Roberts v. Toronto Police Services Board, we are asking the police to collect race-based data for all stops of civilians and incidents of use of force to identify, monitor and address patterns of officer behaviour that are consistent with racial profiling. It is unfortunate that the OHRC has to resort to litigation to seek data that would be so clearly in the public interest.

Let's not be distracted by Mr. McCormack's comments. Discriminatory police street checks and other forms of racial profiling have to stop.

Read Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane’s Op-Ed, published in the Huffington Post: