Matt, from Toronto, describes the carding experience in Crisis of Distrust
For years the practice of police "carding" has provided a counterargument to the idea of Toronto the good.
The police practice of stopping people in public and documenting their personal information is one way race and background continue to define life in the city that fancies itself the "most multicultural in the world."
According to a Toronto Star investigation, between 2008 and 2012 the police issued 1.8 million contact cards to 1 million people. The vast majority of cases did not involve a crime, and black residents were stopped more than others.
A new documentary called Crisis of Distrust: Police and Community in Toronto tells the stories of people affected by the practice, but also interviews high-ranking Toronto police officers, at least one of whom has experience with racism. (You can watch the documentary below).
The short film was produced by a recently formed group called the Policing Literacy Initiative and was funded by a $7,500 Indiegogo campaign. PLI has already screened the documentary twice and plans a third viewing June 5 at the Carlton St. offices of Social Planning Toronto.
NOW spoke with PLI founder Jamil Jivani about the project. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: One of the young men interviewed in this movie says this about carding: "In the eyes of somebody watching on the outside, it's disturbing... but in our eyes it's normal." What does it do to an individual, to a community, to have that kind of interaction with the police normalized?
Jivani: It attaches to your body. You're a person on the street who, because of how you look, because of how you dress, because of your skin colour you are being marked as suspicious. That shapes people's minds in how they assume other people are going to see them.
If these cops see me that way why wouldn't an employer see me that way? Why wouldn't a politician? Why wouldn't a teacher? Now you're starting to have a much more limited imagination about what your future can look like.
Why did you feel it was important to include interviews with police in the film?
There are some genuinely progressive, community-minded, responsible voices in Toronto Police Services. And I think the people we have included, particularly the team headed by Deputy Chief [Peter] Sloly that looks at the Police and Community Engagement Review, their purpose is to look at issues like this and figure out what needs to change.
It's important when you want to look at social change to say, you've got these institutions, who are the people on the inside that are going to be able to lead this? Because it can't all just happen from the outside.
Deputy Chief Sloly admits on camera that although it's not policy, racial profiling does happen on the Toronto police force. Were you surprised to hear that?
It wasn't surprising, the reason being that once Chief [Bill] Blair took over from [former chief Julian Fantino] that was one of the first things that he admitted.
They've been pretty open with admitting that the flaws that you see in society also exist in their organization and if racism is a reality of society then they will inevitably have that problem in their own organization.
There have been so many negative incidents with the Toronto police in the last little while: the G20, Sammy Yatim, the ongoing carding. Is the relationship between cops and Toronto communities at a low point?
There's certainly a lot of information available to suggest this tension, or as we put it in the film the "crisis of distrust" is decades old. And you can hear stories from black and brown residents of Toronto who are now in their 40s, 50s, 60s, who experienced this when they were in their 20s.
So I don't know if it's worse now, but I think there's something really powerful happening where we have almost an unprecedented access to information, so every little thing that our institutions do that might be offensive or wrong, now we can really easily document and observe that. Video is the reason why we know what happened to Sammy Yatim and it's not a he said, she said situation.
Last month the police board adopted a new policy that bans carding except for public safety reasons or as part of a specific investigation. Will that improve the situation?
I'm a person who's always wary of policy. I went to law school and I learned a lot about what laws and policies look like on paper, but I know that it's people on the ground who are going to decide whether those policies matter or not.
When I look at the policy I see a genuine effort to make carding more fair, more equitable, to create the ability to hold police accountable. We'll see on the ground level whether it's having the impact it should have, and that should be the test of the policy.
Some police officers attended the screenings of Crisis of Distrust. What was their reaction?
We've gotten very positive feedback. I think they're glad that we told a well-rounded, comprehensive story.
I would hope that this would be used as training material for officers. Whether they agree with everything or not, it's important that they know that this is a perspective that a lot of people in the neighbourhoods that they police the most have.