Ontario moves to curb arbitrary carding practices
Liberal government plans to announce Tuesday that it will standardize procedures for the controversial stops.
June 15, 2015
By Robert Benzie and Richard J. Brennan
Ontario is introducing regulations around the controversial police practice of carding, wading into a legally questionable procedure that involves the stopping, questioning and documenting of citizens in encounters that typically involve no arrest or charge.
Amid building pressure from critics of the practice in Toronto - including an about-face on the issue from Toronto Mayor John Tory and a review of similar procedures in Peel Region - the Ontario Liberal government is to announce changes Tuesday morning at Queen’s Park.
The regulations will require standardized procedures for carding encounters, sources with knowledge of the announcement confirm to the Star.
But it remains to be seen whether the province will come close to matching a now-abandoned 2014 Toronto Police Services Board policy that demanded police inform citizens of their rights in such stops and issue detailed receipts.
Also unclear is which particular stakeholders the province intends to engage in defining the new regulations.
“It would be wrong to suggest we’re banning carding,” a government official told the Star Monday.
But the government hopes standardized guidelines wiill stop any abuse of the controversial practice.
To that end, Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi will announce Tuesday that he is beginning consultations over the summer with community groups, police departments, civil liberties organizations and other stakeholders to determine how best to proceed.
No timeline has been set, but one source suggested regulations may be in place by the fall, and will balance police operational needs against civil liberties.
Many, including a group of prominent Liberals and Toronto city-builders, have recently called for abolishing carding, a practice not unique to Toronto police that morphed from the documenting of “suspects” in the 1950s to detailing encounters with hundreds of thousands of individuals a year, very few of whom were charged.
A years-long Star investigation has found that officers stop and document black and brown people far more often than they do whites. Critics chalk up the disparity to racial profiling.
Between 2008 and the end of 2013, Toronto police filled out contact cards on more than a million individuals.
Toronto police, according to their own internal analysis, determined that fewer than one in 10 cards were filled out for intelligence-led reasons.
The provincial reforms may deliver some breathing room for newly minted Toronto police chief Mark Saunders, who inherited a mess that cut short his honeymoon as the first black officer to become the city’s top cop. Carding is on the agenda at this week’s Toronto Police Services Board meeting, and Saunders has been a staunch defender of carding, when done legally.
He has vowed to end “random” stops, but the message has been lost in growing outrage over the scope of a procedure that had young visible-minority men complaining of being stopped, needlessly, on their way to school and in their neighbourhoods.
The Toronto Police Association has said carding is a valuable investigative tool that allows investigators to search a database for potential connections, witnesses and timelines, in crimes that are committed after the fact.
Peel police Chief Jennifer Evans told the Star last week that her force engages in similar policing techniques.
“I want my officers to be talking to people on the street engaging them, finding out what’s going on,” she said. “Yes, if the officer feels that there’s something that they think OK that warrants it to be documented, then they would do it.”
After defending police on the issue for months, John Tory recently announced his opposition to carding in an emotional press conference, saying it had “eroded the public trust.”
A Charter challenge was recently launched in Toronto, and proposed class action lawsuits are also pending in several jurisdictions, alleging racial bias.
Carding, at least in Toronto, may never be the same as it was. The practice plummeted following Star stories and, in mid-2013, a requirement that police issue receipts. The practice is currently suspended and the issuing of receipts is in question.