Hamilton Police have told anti-racism advocates they don't engage in the controversial "carding" practice under fire in Toronto, but the "street safety checks" they do use appear to add up to the same thing, according to an internal Toronto Police report. 

2012 report by the now-chief of the Toronto Police Service said Toronto's "carding" looked like what surrounding police departments in Ontario — Peel, York, Durham and Ottawa — called "street checks".

'All refer to their carding practices as 'street checks.'' - Toronto Police report 

"These agencies used carding practices very similar to that currently used by the Toronto Police," the report found. 

The four "all refer to their carding practices as 'street checks,'" the report states. The report was released as part of a Toronto Star investigation last week. Hamilton Police Service is not specifically referenced in the report.

The "street safety checks" in Hamilton comprise "written information officers may record in an interaction with community members on the street," according to the service's community relations coordinator, Sandra Wilson.

Hamilton Police have also said in recent months their ACTION team has gathered 305,000 "community contacts" since 2010. They say they use proactive policing tactics that sometimes mean questioning and asking for ID from people who are not under investigation for a crime.

Hamilton Police did not respond to a request for comment Thursday on the link drawn in the report between "carding" and "street checks," nor for comment on how its practice is similar or different to Toronto's approach. 

Meanwhile, the "carding" issue is generating controversy and discussion about racial profiling and privacy rights in the nation's largest city.

'Not comfortable with the term "carding"'

Earlier this spring, Wilson told the advocates that the Hamilton Police "do not and have never practice carding," according to Ismael Traore, a sociologist at McMaster University who has been meeting with the police on this and other racial issues.   

"Right now, Sandra Wilson is not comfortable with the term 'carding'," said Gary Fondevilla, a nurse who chairs the anti-racism group called Black, Brown Red Lives Matter. "That's not a term, at least, used in the Hamilton Police Service."

The "carding" practice has been heating up in Toronto, where Wednesday a group of high-profile Toronto figures, including three former mayors, called for an end to the practice. Last week, the deputy leader for the provincial NDP said he wants to the province to enact legislation to prevent police across the province from detaining and stopping people arbitrarily.

"The stopping of law-abiding citizens who are just going about their daily lives … is, in my view, in violation of the Charter of Rights and the Human Rights Code," said former Ontario chief justice and attorney general Roy McMurtry.

In Hamilton, Wilson has said the "Hamilton Police Service is not engaged in any way in the random stopping and collecting of information from our citizens."

But the service has acknowledged that they stop and ask people on the street for information about where they're going, their name, where they live and in some cases for identification, even in cases where someone is not involved in an investigation or witness to a crime. In some cases, they retain that information in the service's database.

'Highly beneficial information' for policing

The practice of stopping and asking for identification even when someone is not accused of a crime — and then recording that information on a contact card, or "carding" — has been under fire for years in Toronto for what opponents call a disproportionate impact on visible minorities.

The Hamilton Police don't collect racial details in their interactions that would allow for an analysis about the rates of who's stopped, but have said they'll consider it. They added language to a brochure and an iPhone app earlier this year to emphasize that citizens have the right to walk away from a police officer when they're not under investigation.  

The 2012 Saunders report notes that the police services all train their officers in human rights law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

And all of them said that "the information captured through street check submissions provide highly beneficial information for police during a wide range of investigations."

Fondevilla plans to speak at the next Police Services Board to learn more about efforts to combat racial bias in policing and to push for more public education campaigns around individuals' interaction with the police. The group has asked for definitions of policing terms and practices.

"It's a bit of a waiting game, to see how Sandra (Wilson) is going to define these things," Fondevilla said.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett