Police carding: racist, anti-black, and useless

Anti-Black Racism Network asks why evidence-obsessed Mayor John Tory supports a practice as empirically harmful and ineffectual as carding

A new coalition called the Anti-Black Racism Network (ABRN) held a press conference at the Ryerson Student Centre Wednesday morning to blast police carding and the civic leaders who support it — namely, Mayor John Tory, Toronto Police Services Board Chair Alok Mukherjee, and new Police Chief Mark Saunders.

Carding, if you’ve somehow missed it, is the police practice of arbitrarily stopping, questioning, and documenting a person — then entering their information into a database — to which young black men are disproportionately subjected.

The ABRN argues that the exercise is racist not only in practice but in theory. Especially in the absence of any evidence to support carding’s ostensible public safety objective, it can only be viewed as the latest manifestation of a centuries-old legacy of colonial efforts to put black people in their place.

Below, we’ve transcribed (and edited and condensed) excerpts from the statements delivered by each of the press conference’s five participants.


Dr. Akua Benjamin, professor, Ryerson University School of Social Work

By continuing the practice of carding in the absence of conclusive evidence of its efficacy in addressing crime, the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Services Board have clearly declared black communities a threat to the public’s safety. We stand before you today to vehemently condemn such a position.

We demand that the chief of police, Mark Saunders, and the mayor, John Tory, be as accountable to black communities as they are to non-black communities. We maintain that to continue carding in any fashion is to target the black community unlawfully and to mark the black community as not part of broader social life in Toronto.

We want to make clear that if this is the age of information, as is so often declared, then policy must be guided by clear evidence. In the case of carding, there is no such evidence. Therefore the Anti-Black Racism Network will be issuing reports, statements, and other communications on a range of policy and political issues affecting black people’s lives in the future. As scholars, activists, professionals, and community members, we believe it is our duty to provide the evidence necessary for making informed and reliable public policy. 

We seek to name acts of white supremacy and state and police violence directed against black communities, and we publicly demand that elected officials and state representatives urgently respond to the needs of the black communities. 


Dr. Rinaldo Walcott, associate professor and director, University of Toronto Women & Gender Studies Institute

We are repeatedly told that we live in the information age. We are told that city spaces like Toronto are hubs of innovation and creativity and information that shape national economies and global trends. These assertions, we are told, are evidence-based.

Therefore, we are dismayed that when it comes to the lives of black people in the City of Toronto, that information is only selectively used — to make those lives more difficult and not better or more livable.

We have yet to be provided evidence that carding impacts crime in any shape or fashion. We have yet to be provided evidence that the database developed from carding impacts crime and its resolution in any way. Instead, we have been offered anecdotes from a police perspective. We have been offered fear. We believe that by ignoring the available evidence, that the mayor, the Toronto Police Service, and its board have clearly declared black communities collectively a public safety threat. The only way to think of such a declaration is to call it anti-black racism. 

This morning, I listened to Mayor Tory on CBC wax eloquently about all of the studies and reports that he was drawing on to make his decision about not tearing the east Gardiner down. I have yet to hear him cite one report or one piece of evidence in relationship to carding. So I want to impress upon you as journalists that when you interview him, to ask him what is the evidence that he’s using to support his decision on carding.

When social and public policy negatively impacts a specific community solely, we begin to witness the thin edge of segregation and apartheid.

There’s no doubt about it: carding belongs to the long history of travel passes, slave-master permission slips, pass laws, and passbooks. Those kinds of practices span the colonial Americas and the colonization of Africa. Those practices were best exemplified by the Apartheid-era South African passbook laws. Those kinds of practices are based on the assumption that black people are always out of place and do not belong. Indeed, such practices devalue black citizenship and render it no citizenship at all.

Indeed, to ignore the history from which carding as a modern practice emerges is to suggest that we have somehow solved anti-black racism, when the evidence shows the reverse is the case. Again, we say to you that the black community will no longer tolerate the cherry-picking of the history and the available evidence to justify our continued abuse at the hands of the state, in this case the Toronto Police Service.

In the recent selection of the new police chief of Toronto, the mayor and the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board clearly chose someone who perpetuates significant limits on black Torontonians’ citizenship. Both the mayor and the chair voted recently to continue carding as a practice in Toronto, and it is clear that they chose a chief who would support and continue such a practice. We see the tactic clearly.

By supporting carding, the three are supporting the history of anti-black racism. Today, we call on Mayor Tory, Chair Mukherjee, and Chief Saunders to do the ethical and moral, and indeed political thing, and to immediately abolish carding. By supporting carding, Mayor Tory, Chair Mukherjee, and Chief Saunders make themselves members of a long list of people who have supported anti-black racist measures and limited black life possibilities. 

Let me repeat that: carding has a racist anti-black history. Its present deployment is also racist and anti-black, and it serves no discernible function in a society struggling to end anti-black racism. Anything less is to make clear a contempt for black lives and black citizenship.

We call on all three of them today to be accountable to the black community in the same manner that they are accountable to other communities. If they are unable to do so, then we can only understand their refusal in light of the long history of anti-black racist practices meant to segregate and collectively punish black people.

This is unacceptable, and we will respond to it as necessary.


Chris Williams, Toronto Police Accountability Coalition

The Toronto Police Service, with a budget of $1 billion per year, has never earmarked a tiny fraction of that budget for the task of producing a detailed statistical report which would explore whether carding has a direct and verifiable positive impact on public safety nor have they provided a list of the presumably hundreds of concluded court cases that resulted in convictions due in part to evidence in the form of contact cards. I suspect they’ll do neither, because in the first case, the results would not be in their favour, and in the second case, the list of concluded cases would be pathetically miniscule. 

The document I’m holding in my right hand was produced in connection with a traffic stop in April 2010, at which time I was carded by two police officers from 33 Division as far as I could tell, they were living testaments to the fact that the Toronto Police Service is a grossly over-resourced organization staffed with officers who devote their excess energy to the time-honoured tradition of targeting people on purely racial grounds.

Since any healthy democracy is founded on distrust of heavily armed agents of the state, I decided to file an access request, which enabled me to secure my contact card information. Under the heading “Nature of Contact,” we find the words “general investigation,” which means there was no specific investigation, which means I was carded on arbitrary grounds, an experience shared by hundreds of thousands of other people.

Additionally, they listed my date of birth, sex, skin colour, eye colour, hair colour, height, weight, address, and clothing. And in the interest of public safety, they also provided a “facial hair description” and characterized me as “clean shaven.”

I assume, therefore, that public safety will be undermined if I grow a beard and they fail to update my file.


Pascale Diverlus, vice-president of United Black Students at Ryerson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, and third-year journalism student

I first got involved in my university doing feminist organizing through the Centre for Women and Trans People at Ryerson. But even while we were talking about feminism, it was always one-dimensional, only about white women and their experiences. Even in feminist spaces and progressive spaces, the experiences of racialized women were neglected. All the while, black organizing spaces focus mainly on black men. There seems to be no sense of urgency when it comes to black women and black trans women, who are also targeted by police.

There is no sense of urgency for Rekia Boyd, who was gunned down by [Chicago] police while in a park. Or 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, who was shot by [Detroit] police while sleeping on her grandmother’s couch. 

In considering that the first chapter of Black Lives Matter was created by three queer black women, that’s what the organizing looks like in these spaces. It is the queer black folks, the black trans people, and the black women who are taking the lead in fighting for our rights. Because while we have the most to gain, we also have the most to lose. It is important that the people more affected by the issues are the ones guiding towards a solution.

Often, we hear the myth that this violence doesn’t happen here in Canada. However, racism in Canada is a lot more subtle, and because of that, it is silenced whenever conversations regarding the topic come up. Racism in Canada is much more nuanced, harder to label, but permeates every aspect of life. According to Special Investigations Unit reports, there is one major case of police brutality reported in Ontario per day on average. This does not account for the bodies that are not listed or reported. 

Police practices such as carding serve as a precursor to other forms of violence. In a broader context, violence isn’t just always physical. Sometimes the most aggressive form of violence comes out of politics of exclusion. 


Anthony Morgan, policy and research lawyer, African Canadian Legal Clinic

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the coming into effect of the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. However, instead of it being a time of celebration, the feeling within many African-Canadian communities is actually one of great frustration, because black people are still finding that we do not enjoy equal protection and equal benefit of the law.

We are not secure against unreasonable search and seizure. And we are routinely subject to arbitrary detention. In other words, fundamental rights that are integral to Canadians’ civic and public life, and which are supposed to be constitutionally protected for all, continue to be denied systematically to black Torontonians. 

Now, all the kinds of systemic, anti-black practices in policing are often excused as being undertaken for the purposes of maintaining public safety. However, for many black residents of our city, the greatest threat to public safety that they can imagine is actually the Toronto Police Service. Where you might have, for instance, gangs and guns on the streets, they have to face the full force and effect of the state. But when it comes to police violence, there’s a different standard and those actions often go unpunished.

To catch a tiny minority of black people involved in criminal activity, Toronto’s black community of overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens has come under heightened surveillance, monitoring, control, and subject to constant over-policing. This has left a disproportionately high number of African Canadians with non-conviction records [that come up in background checks for employment, educational placements, and volunteer positions]. 

At no time in the history of our city has a mayor of Toronto, a chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, or a Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services ever pointed to a modicum of conclusive evidence to demonstrate that over-policing of black communities actually decreases or prevents crime. If such evidence exists, we call on Mayor Tory, Chief Saunders, Chair Mukherjee, and Minister Yasir Naqvi to present such evidence to be tested by the public that they’ve been sworn to serve.

Instead of preventing crime, anti-black police practices seem only to be effective at mass criminalization and incarceration of the African-Canadian community.

We come together as an Anti-Black Racism Network to say we are going to lead this change, whether it be through litigation, whether it be through research, whether it be through activism on the streets. We are going to continue to lead and we are going to continue to push, and there’s no way to avoid this. And we call on communities across the city and across Ontario to join with us in solidarity.

This is our moment. Let’s make it happen.

7 ABRN demands on carding as explained by Anthony Morgan of the African Canadian Legal Clinic

• The Toronto Police Service abolish carding. Full stop.

• The Ontario government immediately undertake a thorough review into the merits of adopting anti-racial-profiling legislation.

• The Ontario government immediately move to adopt legislation forbidding the release of non-conviction records.

• The Ontario government immediately move to adopt legislation requiring police and all justice services agencies to collect race-based disaggregated data.

• Under Mayor Tory’s leadership, the Toronto Police Services Board commit to hosting a mandatory human rights review of policing that has the African-Canadian community not play a marginal role or a role that is merely consultative, but a critical role in shaping the dialogue and the policies moving forward.

• Premier Kathleen Wynne undertake an immediate review of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, to explore how it can be enhanced so as to decrease the deficit that we see in police accountability affecting our province.

• Premier Wynne establish the long-overdue Anti-Racism Secretariat, which is already outlined in our Ontario Human Rights Code.

jonathang@nowtoronto.com | @goldsbie

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