The surprise announcement that Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has suspended documentation of street checks, commonly referred to as “carding”, by patrol officers would seem to be a welcome one.
We would like to think that this decision by the Chief is finally a response to the tremendous community push for change in this matter that has left a significant segment of the Black community angry and traumatized.
Many groups representing the concerns of this community over racial profiling have strongly denounced the police practice of carding and called on the Toronto Police Services Board to put an end to it.
But, what exactly did the Chief suspend? Certainly it wasn’t police street checks. If we are to understand what is really happening, the over policing of Black men in particular has not ended; all that has ended is the paperwork that is usually involved.
The issue at the root of this offensive policing strategy is that it leans heavily on racial profiling. Policing can be dangerous work. But police officers seem to see young Black men as a much bigger threat than any other sector of society.
The frequency, the aggressiveness and the disrespectful nature of these encounters on the part of police officers have left the youth of this community feeling that they are under constant surveillance and under siege. Beyond suspending carding, that is what has to stop.
Police officers engage in community building activities, basketball games and other similar activities to build trust with younger children. But something seems to change in that relationship once those children move into their teen years. They are viewed differently by the police. Why? Aren’t these the same young people police tried to reach out to in their early years?
Therefore, the suspension of carding could mean any number of things. It could be an attempt to cool down the conversation on this matter for a while, following the result of a survey funded by the Toronto Police Service Board (TPSB) that found reforms to carding were not being carried out in 31 Division. Some respondents to the survey reported, for example, that they were stopped and questioned but did not receive the recommended receipt as evidence.
Therefore, it appears what is happening now is that the issuing of receipts is what has really been suspended and not the harassing of the target population. That kind of ploy is disrespectful to say the least. It suggests that police officers can now keep up the tactics they employed as before but do so without documenting it. That is no one’s idea of progress.
It is completely unacceptable that an organization paid for with public monies should function as an organ to oppress racialized members of the population. Lawyers and other advocates fighting against racial profiling and the tool of carding have already clearly stated that the practice is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet, to the contrary, police top brass state they have been advised that is not the case.
The numbers make it clear that Black people are being targeted for street checks at a much higher rate than the general population, as much as 12 times higher. So, it is not just the practice of documenting every encounter with Black people and other people of colour that must end.
What is really called for is policing reform.
There is absolutely no evidence that people of colour commit more crimes than any other group in society. The rate of criminal activity across this society is in the range of five per cent. Yet, the level of surveillance of Black people far exceeds the occurrence of criminal activity.
We know this police chief has worked to address the matter of racism and racial profiling. But he has not gone far enough. The fact that under his watch, carding increased is evidence of that. Whoever is selected next to fill the post will have to be committed to making sweeping reforms.