By PAT WATSON
The near unanimous message to the Toronto Police Service Board (TPSB) from ordinary citizens, activist groups, organizations, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the African Canadian Legal Clinic, lawyers and law students at a public meeting at City Hall Monday evening was that the practice by Toronto police of street checks, or carding, and racial profiling must cease immediately.
The packed meeting, which was also attended by Deputy Police Chief Peter Sloly and other police brass, came on the same day the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) announced the launch of a $65-million class action lawsuit on racial profiling against the board and Toronto Police Service.
Kingsley Gilliam, speaking on behalf of BADC, told the board: “When I arrived in Canada 45 years ago it was a country governed by rule of law. Carding, or whatever euphemism you use, does not fit into the Charter of Rights. If BADC members who have passed on, like Dudley Laws and Charles Roach, were here today they would shudder to see that this is like apartheid South Africa. Under no circumstances will we tolerate this practice and that is why we are carrying out the class action suit.”
Gilliam and other speakers warned that antagonistic confrontations by police, especially of Black youth, in the carding process is “cultivating a future of police haters and there will not be (a large) enough police budget to correct this problem”.
A constant theme among the 23 individuals deputized to make presentations to the board was that the practice of stopping individuals and questioning them, what police now term “community engagement”, outside the realm of a police investigation is against Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Dianne Carter, Executive Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, also addressed the question of the legitimacy of carding, which she said is only practiced by Toronto police, saying there are concerns. Carter said these police stops should end.
In a statement by the board, the point was also made that the practice “does not serve any useful public safety purpose … (and) may undermine that purpose by sowing the seeds of distrust towards the police in large segments of the community”.
Toronto police officials have argued to the contrary basing the legitimacy of the practice on the opinion of three jurists, whose names they had chosen to withhold until demands from civil liberty lawyers, Peter Rosenthal and Paul Copeland, among others making presentations at the meeting. Those jurists are Donald McLeod, Murray Segal and civil liberties lawyer Alan Gold.
Copeland also recommended that TPSB seek advice on the question of the legitimacy of carding from jurists who had not been hired by TPS, to at least not be seen as merely rubber-stamping TPS policy.
One key aspect that did not arise during the meeting was the fact that the numbers of stops officers make serve as incentives for career advancement. The effect has been that despite earlier policy and training efforts to influence the behaviour of officers in the field, the number of stops have gone up exponentially, showing an increase over the four-year period up to 2012. Last year, police filled out 400,000 cards, a 62 per cent increase compared to 2005. Yet, as lawyer Kris Langenfeld said: “For every 10,000 people you stop, you may get one piece of (useful) information. So why collect this info on so many people?”
Former Metro councillor Bev Salmon noted that more than one million people have been stopped and carded. Another figure quoted was 1.8 million.
“This is an acceleration of stop and search. I see no way of tweaking (the policy) to make it better,” Salmon said.
In its own attempt to make modifications to carding, TPS had released the Police and Community Engagement Report (PACER), for which Sloly was responsible, but those speaking to the board argued that many aspects of that report attempt to continue carding without much change. Objections were raised to keeping for seven years data gathered on people who have committed no crime, a compromise on holding them for a much longer period. PACER also responded to the TPSB recommendation of giving receipts to persons stopped by offering receipts redesigned in a business card format.
Howard Morton, a former chair of the Special Investigation Unit, said that police should be bound to inform persons they stop that individuals have the legal right to not answer any questions or to be detained.
At the conclusion of the 3.5-hour long meeting, TPSB Vice-Chair Michael Thompson spoke of the urgency to come up with a decision on carding.
“Every time this subject comes forward it keeps getting worse and worse and worse, it doesn’t get better. We have this great imbalance and we’re being asked to float it and make it work, and it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. For me, it keeps getting uglier, even though I’m in the business of making rules to improve this situation.”
TPSB chair Alok Mukerjee added: “All things (thus far) implemented are to curb behaviour, yet we hear that behaviour is persisting. Short of a very strong intervention, anything less may not be okay. I think we will continue to struggle with the two poles, one side a straight out ban and those who want to see reforms. There’s obviously skepticism about reforms and we don’t want behaviour to go underground either.”
The board agreed to come up with a conclusive policy statement in December, which will be made public.