‘Carding’ by any other name…

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday November 20 2013 in Opinion
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Alok Mukherjee is the Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board. He has come up with a number of suggestions for the Board to consider imposing on the Toronto Police Service (TPS) to curtail the impact of racial profiling, particularly around the “carding” issue as it affects Black and other racialized persons. On Monday night, at a special meeting of the Board, called to hear deputations from the public on the matter, the Board got an earful.


The meeting was called partly to get the public’s response to Chief Bill Blair’s report: The Police and Community Engagement Review (the PACER Report). This was presented to the Board in October as the Service’s plan to reorganize and re-tool how it engages with the community.


In his background discussion to support his position, Chairman Mukherjee referenced the Toronto Star articles published in September. Mukherjee writes: In those articles “… there has been a significant increase in the magnitude of contact card activity since 2007. It found, further, that young Black Torontonians and, to a lesser extent, young brown and poor White residents were given more contact cards than the rest of the population.”


Mukherjee also suggests that “bona fide criteria” – legitimate reasons for the “collection and retention of contact information” be established.


The question which Mukherjee appears to be asking, and one that I am asking is: How in the world do these observations not telegraph to the Chief that there is racial profiling activity happening here?


Almost unanimously, the deputants told the board that the practice of carding should cease and desist immediately. Some cited its violations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, others talked about the dehumanizing effect it has on the psyche of young African Canadians.


Can you imagine a young Black male who has been stopped by police for no apparent reason, refusing to provide his name and answer other questions? To refuse to answer could be taken as having something to hide and refusing to cooperate with the police. Yet, it is the right of any individual to refuse to answer.


Presenters at Monday night’s meeting included the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Human Rights Commission, the Law Union of Canada, the African Canadian Legal Clinic and, of course, the Black Action Defense Committee which has just filed a class-action lawsuit against the police over the same issue.


In case you missed it, the Toronto Star, in a series of articles, have brought to light a practise by the TPS of issuing contact cards to young people whom the police have stopped and questioned. The articles point out that these contacts are kept in a database at the disposal of the TPS. What the Star found was that, by far, Black youth were disproportionately “carded” more than any other community.


Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, who spearheaded a review of the practice for Chief Bill Blair, met with members of the editorial staff of Share in an effort to sanitize the concept of carding – claiming that it was a legitimate police investigative tool which has unfortunately acquired some unintended consequences.


There is a bit of history here that is related. In 2002, the Star published articles along the same lines, noting that Blacks in the Toronto area were overwhelmingly more likely to be stopped by police than any other racial group. Additionally, they were likely to receive harsher penalties in the justice system. The information, let me hasten to add, was not new. Many studies and reports have brought this information to light long before. The Star’s investigative reports added some specifics and figures to the claim.


In the debates that followed, only one police service in Ontario decided to test the claim. The Kingston Police Service decided to have the stops made by its officers recorded by race and the reason for the stops. The study confirmed the suspicion that a Black person was three times more likely to be stopped than a White person.


While the Kingston police chief, at the time, was lauded by the racialized community and human rights advocates for his courage to undertake this study, his colleagues were not so happy. They had resisted doing similar studies.


Now, this is pure speculation on my part, but it seems to me that the TPS saw an opportunity to use this method but with the intent of collecting information on all young Black persons, and creating a database particularly of those who have no previous record of contact with the police.


The Committee of the Board which is reviewing this issue is planning to meet in December to finalize its position on carding and make a recommendation to the Board.


It is worth noting that Councillor Michael Thompson, a member of the Board, and who some years ago seemed to support the practice of the “spot checks”, appeared to be very much on side with ending this practice. Using an incident that happened to him earlier on Monday on which he did not elaborate, he indicated just how frightening it could be for a young African Canadian to be confronted by the police.


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