Carding – will the new policy change anything?

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday May 07 2014 in Opinion
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A couple of weeks ago, the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) approved a new policy to govern the Toronto Police Service (TPS) in what they formally call “community contacts”. To its credit, the board has acknowledged the common nomenclature, “carding”. That acceptance, not that they will use “carding” instead, signals that the board appreciates that the term comes with enormous negative baggage. That is a step in the right direction.


Of course, developing a draft policy, as they did, does go further in indicating that it is acknowledging the seriousness of the issue and the breach or potential breach carding may have on the human rights of our citizens and residents.


We do not always acknowledge the number of people in our midst who take the time to ensure that our voice is heard. There were a number of presentations made at the approval meeting of the board, by individuals and groups. These are people who took the time to review the draft policy and come up with very informed reasons to articulate their concerns about parts of the draft.


The result, in part, is that the policy that was approved eliminated a provision on which most of the presentations focused. Presenters zeroed in on “(c)ollecting intelligence relating directly to an identifiable, systemic criminal problem and pursuant to a Service or Division-approved initiative”. This would have been one of the justifications for the “contact” – the kind name given to the carding activity – with members of the community.


My reading of this clause – and, I suspect for the others – would have essentially given the Service almost unlimited clearance to stop anyone – the state of affairs we now have. It says that all the officer has to do is to say that he is collecting intelligence for some made up investigation.


Under the new policy instructions, there will be training involved in which the officers must instruct contacts about the nature and reason for the contact along with the instructions that they can walk away.


This is important. And, it probably requires guts to comply, but the policy instructs that the Supreme Court of Canada does recognize that “detention can be psychological and that restrictive police conduct can create a detention”. In other words, a member of the community may feel that even if the clarity of the contact is made, he or she may feel obliged to stay. So, the instructions, the approach, the manner and language used must leave no doubt that the contact is or isn’t being “detained”.


The thing about policies is that they are essentially guidelines. When it comes to practical application there is always “wiggle room”. Some have loopholes large enough to proverbially drive a Mack truck through, and citing the rule or clause is often a matter of interpretation.


Most often, officers operate in pairs while the contact is perhaps often alone. One often has a witness, the other doesn’t. Hence, using the “I can walk away if I’m not a suspect” guideline has to be carefully applied by the individual.


The policy also provides for the issuance of a “receipt” by the officer(s) stating their name, badge number and the reason for the contact. There are also provisions for the retention of the contacts in a database.


To be fair, there is some recognition of the need to carry out community contacts as part of police work. And that is a fact that is recognized by many of the presenters. Where the system breaks down is that these contacts were being made, and information held, in such a way the names and addresses of a preponderance of young Black people were being held in a database without their knowledge. They were, in fact, being given a record. And, the primary reason for that record appeared to be because they were Black.


So, I am ambivalent about the policy. Yes, it does provide more specific rules and guidelines by which officers may stop members of the community. It puts in place some guidelines which will attempt to mitigate the “known to police” brand on Black youth in particular. In theory, it is designed to improve relations between the police and the Black community. Indeed, I suppose, it is better to have the policy than not.


But, we know, as noted before, policies represent ideal objectives; objectives that may not be reached, partly because implementation at the grassroots level is largely inconsistent and subject to the individuals’ mood at the point of implementation. Corners can be cut, and sometimes are.


And therein lays my element of doubt. Distrust. In the end, will it change anything?

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