An Open Letter to the Toronto Police Services Board

By Admin Wednesday April 02 2014 in Opinion
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Many people, especially young Black males, are very frequently stopped by Toronto police officers and “carded” (in the sense that information obtained by questioning them is retained by the Toronto Police Service on any or all of cards, memo books, or computer data bases).


The PACER Report prepared by Toronto police asserts that there were 1,104,561 people carded during the period from 2009 to 2011; this is a truly astonishing figure. In some neighbourhoods, the large number of “street checks” creates an atmosphere similar to that of a military occupation. Moreover, there also appear to be very many incidents in which law-abiding people in cars are stopped and carded merely because they are “driving while Black”.


The PACER Report states that about a third of the more than a million stops in 2009 – 2011 were for “general investigation” which, it says, “is a non-specific category used to define the reason for an interaction and may require individual review of the information to determine its inherent value”. That is, even accepting the descriptions provided by the police, there were no specific reasons for more than 300,000 of the stops. The victims of those stops were not suspected of any criminal activity, nor were they thought to have information about any specific crime. Even by the end of the interrogation, in those incidents there was no reason to suspect that those stopped had done anything wrong. The 300,000 victims were just innocent people, going about their lawful business when their lives were interrupted by police officers.


The victims of carding are disproportionately Black people. No wonder so many members of the community have expressed their outrage that this practice continues.


The PACER Report and the draft policy prepared by Frank Addario for the Police Services Board both contain many general principles, such as: officers should receive training in and be required to follow the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Code. Such should have gone without saying. Those two documents are filled with platitudes but do not provide substantial measures to curb this abuse. They suggest more polite approaches by officers but fail to recognize that being stopped by police for no justifiable reason is inherently oppressive.


It is inconceivable that police officers would stop residents of wealthier neighbourhoods for “general investigations”; they should not be allowed to stop residents of poorer neighbourhoods either.


In my view, section 7 of the Charter is violated by such police interference with liberty. Also, both the Human Rights Code and the equality section of the Charter are violated by the disproportionate stopping of Black people. However, to precisely determine the extent to which the practice contravenes the Charter and the Human Rights Code would require hearings by the courts and by the Human Rights Tribunal.


On the other hand, to determine whether the practice should continue merely requires common sense. As opposed to police presence, there is no significant demonstrated benefit of street checks and carding. In fact, the practice has alienated a very large number of people, and such alienation undoubtedly lessens cooperation with the police and therefore frustrates some important investigations.


I strongly urge that you immediately direct the police to eliminate carding and to go back to stopping only those who are suspected of being involved in or having information about a crime. I also urge you to experiment with a friendly police presence that does not include interrogation and documentation of innocent people. A friendly presence is likely to encourage people to voluntarily provide information about criminal activities.


It is reasonable to assume that increased police presence in high-crime areas has the effects of lessening criminal activity and of increasing the apprehension of criminals. However, carding is not a necessary component of increased officer presence and has the effect of alienating innocent people. It is time to end it.



Peter Rosenthal


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