Update: see previous posts – June 18, 2015 Toronto Police Board Votes to Maintain Carding; Not Ending It, June 16, 2015 Ontario Supports Carding of Citizens by Police And Promises to Regulate It, June 12, 2015 Peel Police Engage in Practice Similar to Toronto Carding
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services did not request ‘street checks’ data from the province’s police forces, information that could demonstrate the efficacy of the controversial practice currently under review by the province.
Despite launching a comprehensive review of street checks, the province did not request data from Ontario’s police services that could demonstrate the efficacy of the controversial practice.
But while some Ontario police forces say they would voluntarily provide information demonstrating how street checks reduce crime, others say it is logistically difficult to track every instance of the tool leading to arrests, charges, the discovery of drugs or weapons, and more.
The lack of statistics to back up the police claim that street checks — commonly known as “carding” — solve crime and keep communities safe has become a central issue in the impassioned debate, which rages as the provincial government undertakes a review to establish new regulations.
At a public meeting in downtown Toronto earlier this week, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi and Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders were asked how they can call the practice effective and necessary without statistics to back it up.
Naqvi said one of the challenges of the review had been that, legally, the province could not compel police services to hand over carding data. Part of their review now includes determining ways to require police to provide such information.
But the ministry did not ask any police force to voluntarily provide data on street checks to help inform the current review. Jonathan Rose, Naqvi’s director of communications, said that the ministry did not need the information to know that changes must be made to how street checks are conducted in Ontario.
“Based on the countless negative personal experiences, the community’s concerns over such arbitrary and random stops, and the publicly available police statistics and reports . . . it wasn’t necessary to request and wait for additional data to know that this was an issue that required the province’s intervention,” Rose said in an email.
“Our focus was on taking action to ensure people’s rights were protected,” he said.
Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government announced in June that it would conduct a review of carding, which involves police stopping, questioning and documenting people who are not suspected of a crime. The practice has been criticized as discriminatory — as racial profiling by another name — for years in Toronto. A series of Star investigations has shown carding disproportionately affects black, and to a lesser extent, brown men.
Anger about the practice is shared in other cities across Ontario, with critics airing their concerns at recent public meetings in London, Ottawa and Peel. Naqvi has Frepeatedly said he is working to eradicate arbitrary, random stops “that do not have a clear policing purpose, and which are done solely for the purpose of collecting personal information.”
At Toronto’s meeting, freelance journalist and carding critic Desmond Cole expressed exasperation at not knowing whether carding was worth the pain and frustration it causes the many people who feel targeted and arbitrarily stopped by police. Referring to wording in the province’s discussion document online, Cole said that carding as a necessary and valuable tool “sounds really nice.”
“(But) where is the data? Where is the evidence that this is a necessary tool?” he said.
The Star asked GTA police services if they would voluntarily provide carding data to the province. Forces in cities where the province held public meetings on street checks this summer — London, Ont., Brampton, Thunder Bay and Ottawa — were also polled.
Mark Pugash, spokesperson for Toronto police, would not directly answer whether the force would hand over data to prove the efficacy of the practice, but said he has been told the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police “will ensure the ministry has an understanding of the value of the practice.”
Police services in Halton and Thunder Bay said they would provide information requested by the province, though Thunder Bay, where a public consultation was held late last month, does not practice street checks.
“As far as any consultation with the ministry, we always co-operate and provide input to any consultation when asked,” said Chris Adams, an executive officer with the Thunder Bay Police Service.
“We are always willing to support the province’s efforts as they will aid in enhancing the framework surrounding this issue,” said Sgt. Chantal Corner, spokesperson for Halton Regional Police Service, which has conducted street checks for decades.
Ottawa police responded to the Star’s questions saying they provided the province with its first report on carding, completed in July. While the report highlighted examples of street checks that led to arrests and charges, it did not calculate the percentage of stops that ultimately played a part in solving crime.
Several of the police forces polled by the Star pointed to the difficulties involved in tracking and gathering data to show the efficacy of carding. Peel Regional Police said it would “welcome any opportunity” to share successful examples of street checks, but that it does not routinely track statistical data to link street checks to a specific arrest.
London, Ont., police Chief John Pare said officers make use of a function in police records management system to record information about a person, vehicle or location “that may be of interest for law enforcement purposes and public safety.”
“While the information is stored in our record management system, it is not organized or tracked in such a manner” that would simply translate into data, Pare said. “The information is used by investigators on a case-by-case basis,” he said, including homicides, sexual assaults, drugs, robberies, property offences and frauds.
York Regional Police does not engage in carding, according to spokesperson Const. Andy Pattenden. But York officers do use a function of the force’s records management system, Pattenden said, to gather information and intelligence by documenting interactions such as traffic stops where only warnings are issued, calls regarding suspicious people or vehicles, or noise complaints where no charge is laid.
In those circumstances, the information is recorded but not tracked in a way that would allow police to link the information to arrests or charges, Pattenden said.