In an unprecedented display of unity against the Toronto police force's use of carding, more than 30 prominent current and former politicians, civil servants and community leaders gathered at city hall this morning to demand an end to the controversial practice. 

The group, which has dubbed itself Concerned Citizens to End Carding, includes three former mayors of Toronto, city Coun. Michael Thompson, former Ontario chief justice and attorney general Roy McMurtry, former provincial MPP Mary Anne Chambers, former city coun. Gordon Cressy and a host of high-profile social justice advocates from the city. 

Speaking in turns, various members of the coalition called for Mayor John Tory, city council and the Toronto Police Services Board — the civilian body that oversees the police force — to end what Thompson called a "draconian" policing measure. 

The practice of carding  which allows police officers to stop any person on the street at any time, question them, record information and then store that data indefinitely in a secret database  has repeatedly been shown to target people of colour and neighbourhoods that police call 'at risk.'

"At this point, it should just be abandoned," said McMurtry of carding. "It has created great collateral damage that threatens the foundations of our diverse communities.

"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," he added. 

McMurtry said the Police Services Board should be required to demonstrate unequivocally that the policy does not violate Charter rights, which it has thus far failed to do, though police have repeatedly asserted that carding is constitutional. 

'Devalued' citizens

Former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall called carding "a policy that is destroying young people's futures and our society."

"We all know young black men, young brown men — and women — who've been going about a good productive healthy life who've all of a sudden been stopped and treated in a way that changes their lives and that makes them feel devalued in our society."


Mark Saunders full interview21:27


Cressy told reporters that he and other members of the group met with Tory prior to the news conference to express their opposition to carding and asked him to sign a statement in support of ending the practice.

At an unscheduled news conference this afternoon, Tory publicly responded to the group. He began by pointing out that a moratorium on carding was issued in January by former police Chief Bill Blair, as the police board worked to address "fundamental" issues with the policy.

"I've been clear that we need to significantly reform police community engagement procedures," Tory said. "I know we can do better. I know we must do better ... The message has been received."

He added that he doesn't have the power to "wave a wand" to end carding entirely — a move that would require co-operation between Police Chief Mark Saunders and the police board. 

For their part, however, Toronto police have been defiant in the face of criticism.

The 'bigger picture'

In a recent interview with CBC News, Saunders said the practice is legal and insisted that carding "does enhance community safety."

Saunders added that the intelligence helps police "see the bigger picture" when it comes to what's going on with the 2,000 gang members in the city.

"This is a tool that is utilized for gaining better intelligence. But it has to be used properly," Saunders said.

The chief's support for carding dates back at least to his days as deputy chief. 

A year-long Toronto Star investigation published last month revealed that Saunders was among the lead authors on a secret internal 2012 report that denied the existence of racial profiling in carding. The report was never made public and the Police Services Board never saw it. 

Since becoming Toronto's top officer, however, Saunders has mandated that police on the street limit random carding encounters and only record information about people who are believed to be involved in a criminal enterprise or are part of an ongoing investigation. 

Despite protestations from police brass, the policy has little support among community leaders anywhere in the city. 

"Lately it feels like we've been going backwards. How can that be in 2015?" asked Hall at the news conference.

"When working relationships are destroyed and policies that virtually no one has defended would be reaffirmed as the direction for our city?"

Corrections

  • A previous headline on this story said the news conference was held by a group called The Campaign to Stop Police 'Carding' Now. While that group does exist, the news conference was in fact hosted by a group called Concerned Citizens to End Carding.
    Jun 03, 2015 11:19 AM ET