Edmonton police defend street checks, reject allegations of racial profiling

Justice minister calls it 'troubling' that data suggests carding disproportionately targets people of colour

Edmonton Street checks graphic

A CBC News investigation found people of colour are disproportionately targeted in street checks. (CBC News Graphics)


Edmonton police are defending the value of conducting street checks despite the release of figures showing Indigenous and black people are much more likely to be carded than white people.

While Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said Tuesday the statistics are "definitely a concern," she stopped short of supporting calls for a provincewide ban from the local advocacy group Black Lives Matter Edmonton, which described the "carding" practice as "a form of systemic" racism.

"I think they're always going to be troubling when you see that there seems to be an unequal distribution," Ganley said when asked to respond to Edmonton Police Service street check figures obtained by freedom of information requests from CBC News and Black Lives Matter Edmonton.

Last year, Alberta Justice formed a working group to create a provincewide guideline around street checks. The department is also planning to launch community consultations on the subject this year.

"We've heard concerns from community groups and we're working with police to try to get something established," Ganley told reporters. "It's important to get it right, cause obviously there's sort of liberties and safety both at stake at the same time."

A CBC News investigation revealed Edmonton police have been disproportionately stopping, questioning and documenting people of colour in non-criminal interactions.

In 2016, Indigenous women were nearly 10 times as likely to be carded as white women, the figures show.

Aboriginal people generally were six times more likely than white people to be stopped. And black people were almost five times as likely to be checked as white people.

Three-shot street checks

From left to right: Bashir Mohamed of Black Lives Matter Edmonton, Edmonton police Staff Sgt. Warren Driechel, and Rachelle Venne, CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women. (CBC)

A police representative spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon outside EPS headquarters, just hours after advocates from Black Lives Matter and the Institute For the Advancement of Aboriginal Women addressed reporters in the same location and released street check statistics they said are evidence of racial profiling.

"Members of the Edmonton Police Service are not racially profiling or stopping people based on bias," said Staff Sgt. Warren Driechel.

Driechel ruled out a ban on carding, insisting it would significantly limit how police can interact with the public, especially in crime-ridden areas.

"If we see somebody in that area that we think reasonably could be associated to that criminal activity or disorder, I think the public expectation is that we will stop to talk to them," he said.

Driechel added street checks are also used to engage those at risk of victimization.

'This clearly shows that street checks are a form of systemic racism which unfairly targets ordinary citizens' - Bashir Mohamed, Black Lives Matter

But Bashir Mohamed of Black Lives Matter told reporters earlier that carding amounts to racial profiling, is discriminatory and is "most likely illegal," despite what police say.

"This clearly shows that street checks are a form of systemic racism which unfairly targets ordinary citizens," he said, alluding to the police service's own figures.

The group released a report, obtained under their own access to information request made in April 2016, saying the figures were analyzed by academics and lawyers.

"Our research also revealed that street check data is collected in a way that further criminalizes affected citizens by feeding their personal information into law enforcement databases," said Mohamed, whose group is calling for the destruction of personal information collected in street checks.

Rachelle Venne, CEO of the Institute For the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, said the statistics reinforce that prejudice exists.

"Carding for no reason does not build relationships, rather the contrary," said Venne. "It reinforces the attitude that Aboriginal women are not worthy of the human rights that most Canadians enjoy."

When asked if street checks could be used as a safety measure, Venne said: "I think there's other ways. And that's what we'd like to discuss."

If you have a street check experience you would like to share, please send the information to newsedmonton@cbc.ca



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