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Lethbridge police accused of 'racist' carding practices

Black people are 9 times more likely to be carded while Indigenous people are 5 times more likely, lawyer says

Miranda Hlady

Lawyer Miranda Hlady says 'carding is a racist and possibly illegal practice.' (Bryan Labby/CBC)

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Black and Indigenous people in Lethbridge are more likely to be "carded" than others in the Alberta city of 98,000 — a practice described by a local defence lawyer as racist and discriminatory.

Miranda Hlady filed a freedom of information request with the Lethbridge Police Service after a family friend wondered why her black son had been stopped by local police and questioned for no apparent reason.

Hlady said the data she obtained shows black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and asked by police to provide identification and other personal information. Hlady said the data also shows Indigenous people are five times more likely to be carded.

"Carding is a racist and possibly illegal practice," she said.

"The practice of stopping people and asking for information without advising them that they can refuse to answer without consequence is offensive. It's part of an ongoing systematic racist practice and an example of discrimination in our midst."

'I did not feel safe'

According to the documents obtained by Hlady, Lethbridge police carried out 2,264 "street checks" in 2015 and 2016. 

Of those, 455 involved either black or Indigenous people.

There were 663 identified as unknown, and 1,081 as Caucasian. Almost a quarter of all street checks involved people between the ages of 18 and 25. A total of 69 charges were laid.

Cherilynn Blood, a member of the Blood Tribe west of Lethbridge, joined Hlady at the Tuesday news conference. The tribe has a total population of 12,000, with about 7,700 living on the reserve, making it one of the most populous in Canada.

She described an encounter she had with a white Lethbridge police officer in 2014.

Blood said she was a passenger in a car that was pulled over, but the officer asked for her identification first. 

"I had no reason to feel terrified, but I was," said Blood, 21. "I did not feel safe as an Indigenous woman."

Call to end carding 

Blood said they are calling on Lethbridge city council to denounce the carding and asking the Lethbridge police to end the practice.

"I feel very strongly that we need to make changes to the way police interact with people of colour," Hlady said. 

She said some of her clients have told her they feel the police are discriminating against them.

Cherilynn Blood

Cherilynn Blood says she was in a car that was stopped by Lethbridge police and asked for ID, while the white driver was not. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

The Mayor of Lethbridge turned down a request for comment. A spokesperson said it would be more appropriate for the police commission to respond. The chair of the commission, Lee Cutforth, could not be reached for comment.

Lethbridge police refuse interview

The Lethbridge Police Service is not granting interviews to address the findings of its street checks. Instead, the service released its street check policy.

Lethbridge officers are "responsible" to conduct "field interviews" with individuals who are seen under suspicious circumstances, "and the nature of their actions and presence in the area raises the possibility of criminal activity."

Officers are told it's not just people who are known to be involved in criminal activity that they can stop and question.

They can interview "persons who may be able to supply information about criminal activities," or persons who are "believed involved in criminal activity."

The policy stresses the importance of recording the information into a police databank. 

"It is important that records of field interviews be maintained so that persons involved in crime or who have knowledge of criminal activity may be monitored," reads the policy.

"Persons checked under suspicious circumstances should also be recorded in the event that they are linked to criminal activity."

Alberta working on guidelines 

In an email, a spokesperson for the Lethbridge Police said it has been part of a working group in collaboration with the Alberta Ministry of Justice to develop guidelines for street checks and they are awaiting direction from the minister.

"All Albertans deserve to feel safe and respected in their communities," Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said in a emailed statement. "Under Alberta's policing standards, police agencies are required to provide impartial policing without regard to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, belief or social standing."

The ministry said it is finalizing a consultation plan and will be launching community consultations in the near future.

Happening across Canada

The executive director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre said she's not surprised to see carding practices in Lethbridge. 

"That doesn't shock me, I'm sorry that it's that way, but this is happening in other jurisdictions across Canada," said Linda McKay-Panos.

She's concerned about how the information is collected, used and stored. She wants restrictions on how police use the data.

"I think the bigger part of the solution is for the public to be educated about what their rights are and for the police officers to (ensure) you know why are they collecting this information and what's going to be done with it," said McKay-Panos.

"I think they need to look at their crime statistics and figure out if it actually does result in solutions, or does it end up discriminating against particular races and Indigenous people," McKay-Panos said.

Cherilynn Blood doesn't expect the practice to end quickly, but she's hopeful changes will be made.

She's still angry about her experience in 2014.  

"I felt targeted, and I felt that I was facing discrimination and racism because of the colour of my skin," said Blood.

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