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Ontario should ban police carding rather than regulate it, critics say

Ontario's Liberal government will bring in rules to standardize police street checks, a controversial tactic known in Toronto as carding, but opponents of the practice say that's not enough.
June 16, 2015
By Richard J. Brennan and Rob Ferguson

Critics say Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government should scrap police carding rather than regulate it after consultations with police and human rights groups over the summer.

“If you’re stopping someone arbitrarily, if you’re asking questions without any reason, without any reasonable grounds, then that’s unacceptable, that violates the Charter,” said New Democrat MPP Jagmeet Singh, a Brampton lawyer who has been stopped by police on the street for no reason.

“This is not a practice that can be regulated. It needs to be banned completely,” he said after Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi announced new rules for street checks are coming this fall.

The Star has revealed in numerous stories that it is mostly people of colour who are arbitrarily stopped by police and asked to identify themselves, with information they provide going on police databases.

Naqvi, who acknowledged people stopped for no reason by police are “free to walk away” if they are not under arrest, said the plan is to introduce clear rules that officers across the province will have to follow.

“Our aim for this regulation is to prevent unjustifiable police stops for no reason or without cause,” added Naqvi, whose move comes just over a week after Toronto Mayor John Tory reversed his support of carding.

The minister said while stories are legion of “racialized communities going about their business having done nothing wrong and stopped for no reason,” police should still have the power to stop people for questioning when warranted.

The Police Association of Ontario said it supports the review but is worried “the value of police check procedures as depicted in the media will become a casualty of politics.”

New rules “must not impede an officer’s ability to conduct investigations that can lead to arrest,” association president Bruce Chapman said in a statement.

He cited the example of police in an area with unsolved sexual assaults or break-ins, where officers may approach people who are not suspects but “could be a witness or know something that can lead to an arrest.”

Desmond Cole, a freelance journalist and activist who has been carded by Toronto police, said the government’s approach shows people in power won’t “come right out and say that police have been abusing their authority and have been engaging in rampant racial profiling.”

“That particular practice cannot be reformed, it must be eliminated,” Cole told reporters, adding some people are afraid to walk away from officers “because police have authority.”

Naqvi said the government will consult with police, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, civil rights advocates and others to come up with regulations that protect the public but don’t get in the way of proper policing methods.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders’ honeymoon in the job was short-lived because of his refusal to end carding.

Earlier in Cambridge, Ont., Wynne said that carding is not isolated to Toronto and defended the summer consultations as necessary to understand what different police forces do in terms of street checks.

“Make no mistake, I am in no way supportive of a practice that would discriminate against people based on their skin colour, based on their age, based on their background and so we will work to make sure that whatever we put in place guards against that.”

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay applauded restrictions on carding, saying that by giving police “carte blanche” to stop anyone without cause “the harm outweighs the value that brings to an investigation.”