Carding Catch-22

Editor's Note: This afternoon at 2 pm at police headquarters, the Toronto Police Services Board meets to consider the new.

Editor’s Note: This afternoon at 2 pm at police headquarters, the Toronto Police Services Board meets to consider the new carding guidelines, aka “Community Engagements” policy, announced last Friday. But critics charge that the new rules of engagement are worse than the so-called “Community Contacts” policy developed by the Board a year ago. The new policy will not require police to issue a detailed receipt to people they stop, or inform citizens they have the right to walk away. Those requirements were included in the Community Contacts policy developed by the Board a year ago in response to statistics suggesting carding amounts to little more than racial profiling. But that policy was never fully implemented because of push back from the force. Here, longtime defence lawyer and policing reformer Paul Copeland argues in an edited and condensed presentation he plans to make to the Board, that while the old carding policy led to a disproportionate number of black youth being stopped, the new one requiring no record of contacts by police, opens the door to more racial abuse and secrecy. How do we now check what’s actually happening on the street if we have no access to statistics to tell us?

The issue of carding of young black men by Toronto police came to the attention of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB), the civilian overseers of police, and the public as a result of very extensive work done by reporters Jim Rankin and Patty Winsa of the Toronto Star on March 10, 2012.

Their article indicated that black people in the city were 3.2 times more likely to be “carded by police than white people. According to the article, between 2008 and mid-2011, 1.25 million people were stopped and documented by Toronto Police.

Since the Star article, the TPSB have done a great deal of work on the issue. The work has included: an analysis of the Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER), a detailed report prepared for the Toronto Police Service (TPS) by lawyer Frank Addario preparation and presentation of a new Community Contacts policy public information meetings and numerous board meetings where deputations were heard and now the new Community Engagements policy released last week.

Throughout the process, the majority of people and groups who made presentations to the Board have called for the end to carding. Many argue that the practice violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Act.

But the Board and Police Service have been, in my view, less than forthright in providing information that might allow the public to understand the need for and the value of documenting police interactions with the public.

The TPS and the TPSB have not released the TPS request for legal opinions sent to lawyers Alan Gold, Murray Segal and Don McLeod, or the legal opinions obtained from those lawyers. The refusal to provide the TPS request and those opinions is on appeal before the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

The Community Contacts policy released by the Board April 24, 2014 contained two important provisions.

Section 5(f) which states that police complete and offer a receipt to the subject of the Contact identifying the Service member by name and badge number and reason for the Contact, at a minimum.”

And Section 14 which says that: The Chief will ensure that Service members at all levels, as appropriate, receive the training necessary to conduct Contacts in accordance with the law and Board policy. This training was to include instructions about the importance of telling an individual that they are free to leave if they are not detained or arrested.

The “Context” section of the Community Engagements policy says that the Board “recognizes the way in which some conversations have been conducted and recorded has adversely affected individuals and communities and has a demonstrated negative impact on public trust.

It continues: Public trust in the police is essential to effective policing” And that “creating a policy that governs interactions between Service and community members will enhance public trust and cooperation with the police.

The new Community Engagements policy released last week does not contain these provisions.

I would respectfully suggest that a situation in which the police stop a young black man, or a group of young black men, and start asking them questions will have a very different impact on those men than if the police approach them, tell them they would like to have a conversation and that they are free to leave if they do not want to have the conversation.

While I advocate the abolition of carding, if police officers are going to approach members of the public to ask them questions, Service members must be required to inform them that they are free to leave. I would submit that such an approach might improve police relations with young racial minority youth.

It appears from the new Community Engagements policy that no receipts will be given, and there will be no forms filled out by the police. The information will end up in the police computers as intelligence. Any information obtained during stops will be recorded in an officer’s notebook and then transferred to police computers.

With no cards, there will be no data on the race (or at least the skin colour) of the people stopped.

In my view the apparent racial profiling of a disproportionate number of people of colour in stops for questioning will continue. But it will be impossible for an Access to Information request to ascertain the skin colour of those questioned. It is essential that such statistics be available to the public and to the Board if we are to ensure abuses don’t continue. | @nowtoronto

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