New recommendations coming from the Toronto Police Service Board (TPSB) suggest their aim is to slowly wean police off the practice of street stops or carding with an incremental approach. At least, it looks that way from the latest proposal to reform the practice.
“Community engagement” and “community safety” are the terms used by Toronto Police Service (TPS) to describe the practice, but targets of police questioning instead regard it as traumatizing and humiliating harassment and racial profiling.
Street stops, the practice of gathering and storing vital data on individuals by questioning them while they are going about their daily business – usually without any commission of crime or even the suspicion of the commission of crime – has been in place since 2000.
A series of investigations by the Toronto Star confirms the complaints often reaching us here at Share that the police practice amasses data that disproportionately represent men of colour, particularly Black men, in this city.
Far too many young Black men are being targeted for ‘living while Black’ and in such numbers that they actually exceed the Black youth population in Toronto, in part because individuals, whether in so-called priority neighbourhoods or not, are the targets of repeated stops.
Moreover, police officials have admitted that officers recording higher numbers of these street checks are rewarded for doing so when promotions are being considered, which we believe makes this practice even more repugnant.
Public protest placed the matter on the table at the TPSB and chair Alok Mukherjee promised reform, despite strong public condemnation of the practice and the call for it to be entirely abolished, a call we support.
After all, this is not the first attempt at reform. TPSB had last year directed field officers to give receipts to the persons they stop, but police balked at this change since they felt it was a means of policing their patterns of data gathering. That alone says something was rotten with the practice.
While TPSB has taken yet more steps to address this matter by appointing criminal and Charter Rights lawyer Frank Addario to advise them, a $200-million class action suit filed by the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) on behalf of those who have been targeted through this policy aims to redress this injustice. Among those named in the suit are TPS, Police Chief Bill Blair and the Board. Toronto is the only Canadian city that practices this type of police intelligence gathering policy.
Addario’s recommendations, meant to further rein in carding, include having police officers inform individuals who are stopped and are not involved in an investigation that they have the right to walk away.
As well-meaning as it would be to direct officers to advise persons of their right to walk away, does anyone really believe that a young Black man attempting to exercise his rights by walking away would not be exposing himself to a lot more grief?
Among Addario’s recommendations is that police use “respectful language, tone and demeanor” during these encounters. It is disturbing that this has to actually be recommended.
The proposal also includes expunging after five years, rather than seven years, information gathered on those who have not committed any criminal act, as well as keeping such information on a separate list for non-criminals. But what justification is there for keeping data on people with no criminal connection in the first place?
The other important recommendation is to end the rewarding of officers based on the number of stops they record, while also reviewing data to determine any patterns of racially biased stops by individual officers.
Lawyer Peter Rosenthal, part of the team managing the BADC class action suit, has pointed out this practice even with the proposed TPSB reforms would not be acceptable in middle class neighbourhoods, so why should it be more acceptable in low-income neighbourhoods?
Notwithstanding Addario’s reputation as a Charter and policing expert, this is yet another attempt by TPSB to compromise on the backs of people who must continue to coexist in their neighbourhoods with what appears to be an occupying force.
Simply put, carding must end.