Police unions are not opposed to doing away with carding, but want to hold onto the ability to stop and question people – even if they are not the subjects of a criminal investigation
Knia Singh was for many years the poster boy of carding and random stops by Toronto police. As he found out through Freedom of Information requests, he had been stopped and carded more than 30 times, mostly for “driving while Black.” Singh is a lawyer and a strong campaigner for an end to carding, a practice that has long been viewed as arbitrary – and now has been determined to be fundamentally useless.
On January 4, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch released his review of Ontario government’s regulation on street checks and carding. According to Tulloch, the social costs associated with carding have far outweighed any benefits for policing. In fact, for Tulloch, the practice has done harm to the ability of frontline police officers to develop trust with the public and to engage in genuine neighbourhood policing. He recommends the practice be ended.
Tulloch believes that street checks do have a place in policing, but only if the reasons for its use are very clearly and tightly defined.
Tulloch’s report is strongly supported by Singh, who calls its recommendations groundbreaking. He particularly supports Tulloch’s call for police to be trained to request information in a civil manner and make it clear to people they stop that they are not obliged to volunteer information, and that police notify people of their rights upfront.
Question is, will the Ford government buy it? Tulloch was appointed by the former Liberal government to conduct this review in response to public criticism that the regulation on carding enacted in March 2016 did not go far enough and had loopholes.
One insider tells me that Tulloch is optimistic that his recommendations will be implemented. Sylvia Jones, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, has promised that the Tulloch recommendations will “inform” her government’s work on police reform and that the “new police legislation will reflect a simple principle: racism and discrimination have no place in policing.” She has provided no time frame, while promising “legislation that works for our police and for the people of Ontario.”
Jones’s assurances don’t square with the Ford government’s tilt toward police interests since taking office.
Premier Doug Ford has already suspended implementation of Bill 175, the legislation to strengthen police oversight, passed by the Wynne government based on an earlier independent review by Tulloch.
The government has also decided that additional resources promised in the legislation to oversight agencies like the Office of the Independent Police Review Director will not continue after March 31. As a result, as head of OIPRD Gerry McNeilly acknowledged to me, the agency may no longer be able to undertake the kind of critical systemic reviews that it carried out of the Thunder Bay police, for example.
How would their implementation be consistent with Ford’s commitment to police?
Perhaps there is a clue in the response of police associations to the report. They are not opposed to doing away with carding but do want to hang onto their ability to stop and question people even if they are not the subject of a criminal investigation.
On January 8, Tom Stamatakis, a Vancouver cop, president of the Canadian Police Association and close ally of Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack, tweeted that “Justice Tulloch found [it] important for police to interact with citizens including ‘checking’ when reason to.”
This position is consistent with that of police chiefs like Toronto’s Mark Saunders who have called street checks a valuable investigative tool.
These responses may well point to the kind of “balancing” that will be palatable to the Ford government and its policing allies: end carding but allow street checks. If so, how will the purpose and reasons for random checks be defined – strictly and narrowly or in an open-ended way that the police don’t find “onerous”?
It may be a while before the public sees the government’s answer in the promised new legislation. But there is much that police boards and chiefs of police can do without waiting for direction from the province.
For example, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) and the Ontario Association of Police Services Board (OAPSB) could consider if any of Tulloch’s recommendations can be acted on by them without regulatory or legislative changes.
Jeff McGuire, OACP executive director and a former chief of Niagara Region police, told me that his organization “has been involved in the consultation process throughout Justice Tulloch’s review and supported the effort that has been put into it.”
While their answers were largely supportive of Tulloch, they plan to wait for the government to make the first move.
The response from OAPSB executive director Fred Kaustinen is in much the same vein.
Kaustinen told me he “fully expects” that his organization “will be following up Justice Tulloch’s report with OAPSB members and the ministry, as we did with previous reports of similarly strategic insight.”
Kaustinen says Tulloch’s report “will certainly influence” the development of a “provincially funded robust police governance education and training program” for police boards, which was his association’s “number-one priority.”
A day before Tulloch released his report to the public, the Toronto Police Services Board issued an unusually lengthy statement different in tone than its reaction to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s interim report on anti-Black racism and discrimination in Toronto police some weeks earlier.
“We are in the process of reviewing the significant report by Justice Tulloch,” the statement says, describing his recommendations as “important.”
The statement goes on to say that the board “has been demonstrating its commitment and leadership in this area over the last several years” and listed the steps it had already taken. It claims that “many of Justice Tulloch’s recommendations have already been implemented or are being considered in the Toronto context.”
So, what the public is left with is a wait-and-see attitude from the main players. Meanwhile, Justice Tulloch’s call for truly bias-free, community-based policing seems headed for more extended consultation.
Alok Mukherjee is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University and co-author with Tim Harper of Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight To Reform City Policing. He served as chair of the Toronto Police Services Board from 2005-2015.