Update: see previous posts – September 27, 2013 Toronto: Police Carding on Rise – Have Stopped and Carded 1.8 People, August 18, 2013 Police Carding: Opponents Find Hope in New York Ruling Against Stop-and-Frisk, August 13, 2013 New York: Judge Rejects New York’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy, July 31, 2013 Toronto: Police to Start Recording/Cataloging Warnings to Motorists, June 21, 2013 Toronto: Police Board Delays Carding Review a Day after Auditor General Stalls Independent Study, May 28, 2013 Toronto: Community Groups to Challenge the Constitutionality of Toronto Police “Carding” Citizens, April 26, 2013 Toronto: Police To Issue “Contact Receipts” When They Stop and Question Citizens Beginning in July, 2013, January 23, 2013 Toronto Police: Does Carding and Issuing Receipts Violate Charter and Human Rights Legislation?, November 15, 2012 Toronto Police Rename Practice of “Carding” into “Street Checks” – Board Reviews Receipts
A proposed class-action lawsuit seeks $65 million in damages and other remedies from Toronto police for alleged racial profiling practices and documenting of citizens.
The suit, filed Friday by the Black Action Defence Committee, comes in advance of a special Toronto Police Services Board meeting to be held Monday on the controversial police practice of carding — encounters where police question citizens and document personal details in stops that typically involve no arrest or charge.
Police Chief Bill Blair and the civilian police services board are named as defendants in the suit, which alleges police and the board have failed to adequately address a problem that has impacted blacks and other minority groups for decades.
The committee seeks to have the suit certified as a class action, and have itself named as the representative plaintiff, but it estimates there are hundreds and “perhaps thousands” of citizens who would fit into the class.
“The Plaintiff believes the only way to litigate and seek remedies to uproot the acknowledged scourge of racial profiling and carding is a frontal attack” like a class-action suit, reads the statement of claim. “There is no other effective way.”
The suit alleges police and the board “have failed to prevent the violation of the equality rights of African-Canadian residents of Toronto and Ontario,” resulting in discrimination under the Charter.
Police have not had a chance to respond to the proposed suit. They defend the practice of carding citizens as a valuable investigative tool that allows investigators to make links between people and places, and say they target areas where violent crime is taking place.
But they also have acknowledged carding interactions with citizens can harm their relationship with the public.
There has been talk of a class-action lawsuit on the issue for decades, said Toronto lawyer Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, who filed the suit on behalf of the committee and spoke on its behalf.
After many reports by academics, the media and court decisions, the police and board “haven’t done anything to address this at all,” so the committee is hoping a class-action lawsuit will allow for a “holistic comprehensive judicial remedy” to carding and racial profiling.
“The black community has now reached a point where talking has been going on, not much has been happening, so it’s time for action,” said Hamalengwa.
In addition to monetary damages, the action, which has not been certified or proven in court, seeks remedies that include:
A declaration that police have breached the Charter and an order requiring them to “desist from engaging in and condoning racial profiling” of blacks and other “colourful” minorities.
A declaration that racial profiling is a criminal offence.
A written police apology to the committee and “all African-Canadians for their being targets and victims of racial profiling and carding.”
Mandatory reading for officers, including books on racial profiling, the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s 2003 report “Paying the price: The human cost of racial profiling,” the 1995 report of the Ontario Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, and several Toronto Star series on carding, including 2003 report “Paying the price: The human cost of racial profiling,” published in September.
Class-action lawsuits in Canada can be expensive and lengthy and orders difficult to come by, but as Toronto lawyer Murray Klippenstein recently told the Star in a story about carding, they can prompt change.
“By declaring a practice to be illegal and awarding a significant amount of money to a group of people as compensation, the incentive or pressure to change the practice becomes pretty substantial,” he said.
The Star has published four series — in 2002, 2010, 2012 and 2013 — that examined Toronto police arrest and stop data and found patterns that shown disproportionate treatment for blacks, and to a lesser extent, “brown”-skinned people.
Between 2008 and 2012, police filled out 1.8 million contact cards, involving over a million individuals, and entered their personal details into a database.
A Star analysis showed that blacks over that period were more likely than whites to be stopped, questioned and documented in each of the city’s 70-plus police patrol zones. The likelihood increased in areas that were predominantly white.
On Monday, the special public police services board meeting on carding, scheduled to be held at city hall, will address recommendations from both the police and board chair Alok Mukherjee to change the way police card and interact with the public. Mukherjee has said the Star’s latest findings on contact cards “devastating” and “unacceptable.”
While there has been an acknowledgement by Blair and the board that profiling exists and that carding is problematic, the lawsuit alleges little has changed to deal with it.
Although no individuals are named as plaintiffs, Hamalengwa expects many will come forward and take part.