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A step forward on police street checks

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June 19, 2015

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The decision by the Toronto Police Services Board to return to its April 2014 policy on Community Contacts is a step forward - here’s why.

The OHRC has had longstanding concerns about racial profiling.  We launched an inquiry into the practice more than a decade ago.  It’s been clear for some time that police street checks in Toronto were too often arbitrary and excessive. In the majority of cases, Toronto Police Service officers stopped civilians and asked for, recorded and stored their personal information and circumstances with no more justification than “general investigation”. The practice became known as “carding” since police officers recorded the information they received on a card and added the information to a police database.

Carding aggravates 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.

The 2014 TPSB Policy addressed this directly and called on the Toronto Police Service to ensure that policing “fully respects and implements obligations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“the Charter”) and the Ontario Human Rights Code (“the Code”).”

The Policy marked an important advance and was generally supported by community groups.  Toronto Police were told to develop a Procedure to implement the Board’s policy that brought a “proactive rights-based approach to the way in which members of the Toronto Police Service interact with members of the public.” However, that Procedure – which was to include training, officer accountability, strict data collection and retention rules, and would provide for telling people that were stopped that they did not have to answer questions – was never implemented.

Returning to the 2014 Policy should ensure that the TPS only stops people for  street checks  when there is a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to do so. The Policy is far from perfect but it reflects a great deal of work by members of the community, advocates, organizations and the Board and Service to work towards ending racial profiling.

In the coming months the OHRC will begin work on a full Policy on Preventing Racial Profiling that will help organizations meet their responsibilities under the Human Rights Code. This Policy, alongside plans by the Government of Ontario to standardize street checks across Ontario, should help protect vulnerable people in our community and meet the goal of promoting “legitimacy of policing as well as public trust and confidence in it.”

We are ready to assist the Board and look forward to continued work with the Service through the PACER Advisory Committee to develop a procedure and other measures that are fully consistent with the policy.  We will also continue to work with affected communities on this critical issue.  

Click here for information on other OHRC work on Racial Profiling.