Complaint filed against Lethbridge police for 'racist' carding practices

Lethbridge's police chief, the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to complaints against the force, says he's frustrated with one such complaint recently filed for the practice of carding.

Chief of force bristles at suggestion his officers engage in misconduct

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

Lethbridge's police chief, the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to complaints against the force, says he's frustrated with one such complaint recently filed for the practice of carding. 

In fact, he's frustrated with the very term. 

"The terminology being used is carding and it's a term that came out of the U.S., was applied in the Toronto area and it's sort of become a sensationalized term to describe a practice," said Chief Rob Davis. 

"We engage in street checks."

'Racist and possibly illegal practice'

He's reacting to a formal complaint filed by local lawyer Miranda Hlady, who went public earlier in June with data she received from a freedom of information request that showed First Nations and black residents were more likely to be stopped and questioned by police than white residents. 

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

Hlady said the terminology might change over the years, but whether it's called carding or street checks, her concerns remain. 

"I think that it's universal to be defensive about practices that have been in place for many years, and in fact for decades in some jurisdictions, but I think we do need to move forward," she said. 

Formal complaint

Hlady filed a formal complaint late on Monday and asked the chief to explain the reasoning behind carding, or street checks, why he thinks its essential to police work and what steps are being taken to deal with what she sees as some of the more problematic consequences. 

Included in her concerns are stopping youth, not informing citizens they do not need to answer questions, disorganized record keeping and the force's assertion that the practice contributes to arrests. 

Lethbridge Police Chief Rob Davis said he's frustrated with the suggestion his officers are engaging in racist practices. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

"I think the suspicion I have is, who is a suspicious person?" said Hlady to media following a police commission meeting. 

"I think there are certain people who are more likely to be viewed as suspicious for no other reason than the colour of their skin. And I think that is unfortunate, but I think it's an aspect of the racialized society in which we live."

First Nations police chief

Chief Davis, a Mohawk who grew up on the Six Nations reserve in Ontario, bristles at the suggestion that the force he leads is in any way racist. 

"Our officers, we're committed to public safety, we're committed to operating within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and on a personal level, as I said, the bulk of my career has been protecting, and looking out and advocating for the Aboriginal community," he said.

Despite his frustrations, Davis said he takes complaints seriously.

"This one's a complaint on policies, the way I interpret it," he said. 

"It makes us look in the mirror. That makes us better. I'm not adversarial about the complaint, it's the wide sweeping allegation that our officers are doing something wrong that frustrates me. Absolutely we'll look at the policy, it makes us better, that's how we evolve."

The process

According to the Lethbridge police website, a sergeant with the professional standards unit will first interview or get statements from those involved in a complaint against the police force and prepare a report for the chief. 

If it's determined there's been criminal wrongdoing, the report and investigation will be passed on to Alberta Justice. If it's not criminal in nature, the investigation and report are handed to the chief and he will determine a course of action. 

The chief's decision can be appealed, in some cases, to the Law Enforcement Review Board. 

With files from Lara Fominoff