City Hall -- On the evening of November 18, while CNN, NBC, CBC, et al camped outside the mayor’s office, across the hall in committee room #1 citizens met together about an issue that has been highly divisive in this city and will be around well after R.F.: police carding. This is the practice, known by the innocuous official name of “community safety notes”, whereby police can stop any citizen and ask them questions, though cooperation is voluntary.


Unfortunately, an investigation by the Toronto Star has shown that the practice has a clear racial bias: more black men have been carded in Toronto than there are black men in Toronto. There have been over 1.2 million instances of carding in the last two years, in a city of 2.6 million people. The police claim that it has proven to be the deciding factor in solving 110 cases.  


The Police Services Board, a civilian (read: non-police) group that sets police policy, called this meeting due to their own concerns about the practice. Members of the Police force were in attendance. Chief Bill Blair was notably absent. This meeting comes just three days after the Toronto Police force and the Board was sued by the Black Action Defence Committee for $65M over racial profiling. A Toronto Star story alleges that blacks in Toronto are stopped and documented to a higher degree than blacks who were stopped and frisked by New York City police under a policy there that has led to successful lawsuits and settlements.

Numerous citizens spoke to the deterious effect of the practice and called for its immediate suspension. The Ontario Law Union’s representative called the practice unconstitutional and claimed that the police were themselves violating the law. The Canadian Civil Liberties Union argued that police should be required to disclose right away that under your rights the questioning is voluntary and that you can just say no and walk away; currently no such provisio is offered. Representatives of the Ontario Human Rights Commission spoke against the practice, noting that it has never been checked against the charter, as did the legal unions of U of T law school and York. A lawyer who often represents black youth who have been harassed by police asked the Police Board members to imagine what it would be like if, as they went to get milk from the convenience store, a cop car pulled up beside them and officers asked them questions. And then, as they walked home, another cop car pulled up again and asked them questions again. He also stated that this practice would never be tolerated in their neighborhoods. A criminologist described how the practice alienates and turns youth against the police, hindering actual investigations, and actually leading to more crime.

Many black Torontonian citizens spoke about the effect that the practice had on their own lives. A mother spoke about how she worried for the safety of her son, and how she herself had been arbitrarily stopped and carded. She stated how angry she was that the police retain your information indefinitely in the carding database. A young man, both a law student and the green party candidate in his riding, expressed his frustration with this issue and the indignity of being carded. Another young man told the board that he had been carded dozens of times in his neighborhood; he was first carded when he was 11. Another deputant spoke about how so many in the city had been carded simply for “the crime of driving while black.”

In spite of the racial bias that was highlighted, all deputants pointed out that the practice infringes on everyone’s rights. One deputant altered the Police Board to how the questions asked of him were completely at odds with legitimate police work: “What does my parents marital status have to do with a crime investigation?” Another deputant stated that the practice has been “instituted by the police without the knowledge or consent of the public. Everytime you leave your home, you may be subject to thinly-veiled criminal investigations.”


After the three hours of depositions, city councillor and vice chair of the board Michael Thompson spoke, in his words, from the perspective of as a black man, and decried the carding. He also made cryptic but striking remarks that during his lunch hour today at city council he saw a particular “officer, and he is not typically of the force, but I wished the ground between us would separate. He, if I was a young black man, would scare me. … I think we actually have a major  problem here.”The room erupted into applause at his candor. Heading the deposition statement of a criminologist, he asked the police representatives about an alternative police method that could be put in place here as an effective alternative to carding. Dr. Mukherjee, the chair of the board, pointed out that even if carding was officially stopped, some effective policy would have to be drafted “to stop this practice from simply going underground.”

Closing the meeting, Mukherjee suggested the Board could have a decision out by February. Councillor Michael Thompson and Cllr Mike Del Grande pressed that since this issue was of such importance, the board should have a statement by mid-December. The board, and the people in attendance, assented.  


From a recent Toronto Star article:

After officers were told by police Chief Bill Blair in July that they had to issue receipts for the carding interaction, at the direction of the board, they basically stopped carding altogether.

Carding went down more than 75 per cent after July, says a source who asked not to be named, and in October Blair told the board he was cancelling the receipts.

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