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Opinion Editorial: Political will needed to end carding

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May 23, 2015

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Mr. Andrew Phillips
The Toronto Star
One Yonge Street, 
Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E6

Via email:

This week Mark Saunders was sworn in as Chief of the Toronto Police Service. He arrived amid a controversy that marred his predecessor’s final days and one that refuses to go away – the police procedure commonly known as “carding.” As Chief Saunders starts down this new road he has a choice – to hear the voices of the community and work to end racial profiling or to allow a deeply troubling practice to continue.

The impact of the Toronto Police procedure has been to stop people disproportionately in part because of their skin colour. This practice is corrosive and demeaning – in our opinion, it amounts to racial profiling and is illegal.

Statistics show that Black and Brown men are asked to identify themselves to police far more often than any other group in Toronto. Shockingly, the number of young Black males aged 15 to 24 who were documented at least once in the police patrol zone where they live exceeded the total young Black male population for all of Toronto. The great majority were innocent of any crime. In each of the city’s patrol zones, Black people were stopped more often – and were much more likely than White persons to face stops that resulted in no arrest or charges being laid.

Writer Desmond Cole has talked of being personally stopped 50 times, although some of his stops happened outside Toronto. Analysis by the Toronto Star shows that from July to October of 2013, the chances of being carded in some Toronto neighbourhoods were as much as 17 times higher for Black people.

Chief Saunders says that “community engagements” are critical for intelligence gathering. He suggests that “if we remove the ability of our officers to engage with the community … [it] will put us in a situation where there will be an increase of crime.” However, neither he nor his predecessor has produced any evidence to show that “carding” has any impact on the ability to solve or reduce crime.

Of course, no one is suggesting police should not engage with the community, or collect the information it needs to make sure the community is safe. However, the way police gather this information can have a very detrimental effect on the community’s trust – as we have seen with carding.

We have made several suggestions about how the police can address Human Rights Code (Code) and Charter of Rights and Freedoms violations. These recommendations from the OHRC, legal experts and members of the community have been ignored. One such recommendation is for police to tell people they have a right to leave when stopped in situations where they are not being investigated.

To build the public trust he says is important to him, Chief Saunders must recognize that the “collateral damage” and “social cost” of carding are simply not acceptable. Effective policing is much harder without the trust of all of the communities he serves, including the Black and Brown communities. It becomes harder still when the communities that are consulted feel the end results do not reflect what they had to say.

New York City Police had defended their practice known as “Stop and Frisk” for years; they claimed it was “an essential tool,” even though there was no evidence to support it. When he took office last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio made good on his pledge to end the practice. It took political will to stop this form of racial profiling. That’s the kind of solution we need in Toronto.

While we await Chief Saunders’ and the Board’s action on this issue, we are looking at the options open to us with our powers under the Code – but more needs to be done. Ending carding will take the political will of Toronto’s new mayor, its even newer Chief of Police, and Toronto City Council.

It’s time to say enough, and end an insidious practice that contravenes the Code and has no place in modern Canadian society.

Ruth Goba, Hon. BA, LLB
Interim Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission