Update: see previous post – 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
Toronto police chief Mark Saunders says he will order his officers to comply with a rights-based carding policy that his predecessor refused to implement.
The Toronto Police Services Board took a province-wide lead on carding reform Thursday by resurrecting a progressive policy that many in the community regarded as an important step forward in eliminating arbitrary stops of citizens and storing of their details in a police database.
No, it is not an outright end to a practice many see as offensive and illegal. Some left a police board meeting at a packed auditorium at police headquarters feeling deeply disappointed.
“I feel blindsided,” said Bev Salmon, one of more than a dozen speakers to address the civilian board. “We came here with the hope that carding would be ended.”
But Saunders signalled during and after the meeting — which also saw the resignation of long-term chair Alok Mukherjee — that he is willing to follow the wishes of the civilian oversight board on the issue.
And, that is something.
The board passed the progressive policy — and rescinded watered-down rules written by former chief Bill Blair — ahead of promised province-wide carding reforms, which are due in the fall. Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi announced Tuesday that the government plans to review the practice, often called “street checks.”
Regulations are on the way, following summer consultations, which will set out clear rules for police services across Ontario who now engage in a form of street checks or intend to do so.
“This is interim,” Saunders told reporters after the morning meeting. “At the end of the day, the ministry has made it very loud and clear that they are going to set up regulations.
“So what we do is going to be interim until the ministry comes out with the solid rules of engagement on what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Blair, now a candidate for the federal Liberals, refused to write rules for the new policy, which was originally passed in April 2014.
Board members voted unanimously to readopt that rights-based policy, which if fully implemented, has the potential to make the Toronto board one of the leaders in police and community engagement reform in North America.
The move was a departure from Mayor John Tory’s announcement just a day before that he planned to call for an end of the controversial police practice until after the provincial review.
“Simply to suspend carding, and not have any sort of accountability or paper trail, meant there really was no guidance” in terms of the interaction between police and community members, said Councillor Shelley Carroll, a board member, after the meeting. “And summer’s coming. There will be plenty of interaction.”
“People want to know what their rights are,” continued Carroll. “The policy we adopted in 2014 is what we know will protect us.”
That policy, which Chief Mark Saunders says he is prepared to fully implement, may mean the end of the old “carding,” a term that has become synonymous — and vilified — for arbitrary stopping and documenting of hundred of thousands of citizens in non-criminal encounters.
Mukherjee, on his penultimate board meeting as chair, called the issue of carding “dear to me,” and read aloud some comments he shared, “as an individual” and resident of the city, with Saunders about the practice.
He said he told the chief he felt the old practice was inconsistent with the Police Services Act and not about engaging and documenting people involved in crime. The others, who are not suspected of a crime, have the “right to not answer” or to leave.
Carding has been suspended in Toronto since the beginning of the year.
Saunders has said he supports “carding” when done legally and involves people who are criminals. But the practice over the years has netted much more than that. The term itself has become radioactive.
Critics have argued that there is a power imbalance in such stops and that they contravene the Charter and Human Rights Code, when done for arbitrary reasons.
An internal police report, authored by Saunders in 2012, found that fewer than one in 10 of the carding interactions were the result of intelligence-led policing.
A series of Toronto Star investigations has shown that black people and, to a lesser extent, brown-skinned people are disproportionately stopped and documented in carding encounters. The Star also found that black people were more likely than white people to be carded in each of the city’s 70-plus patrol zones.
Under the new policy, officers will only be allowed to stop and document people when there is a public safety purpose that includes investigating or preventing specific offences or to ensure someone’s safety, according to the original policy which was passed unanimously by the board.
Police will also be required to tell citizens as much as possible in the circumstances about their right to leave and the reason for the contact.
Carroll said there had been a “tremendous amount of misinformation” — within the police service in particular — about what the now restored April 2014 policy actually asked of officers.
“I believed misinformation myself,” Carroll said before endorsing the policy, “that this policy was far too overpowering and belligerent, (that) police officers couldn’t possibly inform everyone of their rights. And it wasn’t until I’d been here a couple of months that I realized that that wasn’t what it asked for.”
Carroll added that all police officers should want to be guardians of citizen rights.
“I’m really proud of this policy,” she said.
But the adoption of the 2014 policy was a compromise for many of the reformists who have shown up at the police board for years and advocated for an end to the stops, period.
The continued ability for officers to use safety as a reason to stop and document a citizen is “a huge problem in that anybody in certain neighbourhoods could be considered to be at risk,” said Anthony Morgan, a lawyer with the African Canadian Legal Clinic.
“We’re not looking to have officers stop talking to the community, but what we are trying to do is make sure that individuals are not arbitrarily stopped, and they don’t have their information warehoused in a database,” said Morgan. “That’s something totally different from saying, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Is everything all right?’ You should know that you have the right to leave if you want to leave.”
Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, said he doesn’t believe in “random” stops, but he is committed to intelligence-led policing.
“I still feel intelligence-led policing is lawful, and obtaining that information, storing that information and sharing that information is necessary to proactive policing,” he said.
The association is expected to have input on implementation of any new procedures as well as provincial reform, and McCormack said his officers are ready for the chief to give “direction to the membership in an operational way.
“My concern is that I don’t want any officer to go afoul of any policy or procedure,” said McCormack.
It was Blair’s defiance of the board’s original 2014 policy, which he refused to implement, that led to mediation with former Chief Justice Warren Winkler and the adoption of a watered-down policy by the board a year later.
That move, along with an account by journalist and activist Demond Cole of his 50 interactions with police, led to widespread dissatisfaction with carding, including a group of 50-plus prominent citizens and city builders calling for an end to the practice.
Audrey Campbell, civilian co-chair of the Police and Community Engagement Review, said she was happy with the outcome of Thursday’s police board meeting, but frustrated at the same time.
“Why did we go on this merry-go-round in the first place?” said Campbell Thursday. “Why didn’t they heed our warnings at the April (2014) board meeting when we said, ‘Leave the (policy) alone. Leave the 2014 policy in place’.”
PACER members, who have now been meeting for a year and a half, may not have had success under Blair, but they could turn out to be the expert body — along with the board — that can aid the Liberal government with Ontario-wide reform.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission, which left the group because of Blair’s intractability, is now considering a return.
Campbell said the PACER committee, which meets again Wednesday, will have input into Saunders’ new procedures.
The chief will have to address the issue of receipts, proactive rights-based policing and how to protect a database that has the details of hundreds of thousands of individuals, information largely collected in the types of non-criminal encounters that will no longer be allowed.
Saunders said that carding information is in the process of being taken “off the grid” and he’s “not holding information because I want to hold information.”
Saunders stressed that there were serious “implications” of destroying the information.
Campbell said that community members on the PACER committee are ready to move ahead.
“We’re willing to work with this chief to achieve the outcome that the community — that all of us expect. This is a new day,” said Campbell. “He doesn’t really have a choice any more. What they put up with from the outgoing chief, they’re not going to put up with the incoming chief.”