Critics see no difference between police street checks and now-banned carding

Edmonton police released the results of a recent internal audit into street checks at the same time as the Alberta justice minister announced a province-wide ban on carding.

Some see no difference between the two and call for similar ban on street checks

Edmonton police conducted 3,591 street checks in the first six months of 2020. (CBC)

Edmonton police say they cut the number of street checks conducted during the first six months of 2020 almost in half compared to last year. 

Between Jan. 1 and June 30, a total of 3,591 street checks were performed, an average of about 20 each day, according to a report prepared for the Edmonton Police Commission.

In 2019, 6,889 street checks were conducted during the same time period, about 38 a day.

The numbers were unveiled Thursday, the same day that Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu announced a provincewide ban on carding and new regulations for street checks. 

"There is a difference between carding and street checks," Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee told the provincial news conference. 

"Carding is the practice of randomly requesting personal information when there are no reasonable grounds," according to the EPS website.

The website's definition of street checks states: "Conversations between a police officer and a member of the public; they may only be conducted if there are clear grounds that it may further an investigation or prevent crime, disorder and victimization."

Rob Houle doesn't believe there is any difference between carding and street checks.

Rob Houle calls it 'verbal judo' and 'semantics' for police to differentiate between carding and street checks. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

"I think there's a lot of verbal judo happening," said Houle, who has worked for the City of Edmonton as an Indigenous relations consultant. "Advocates in the community for a long time have said they are one and the same." 

Houle, who is from Swan River First Nation but has lived in Edmonton for almost two decades, called the distinction "semantics" that are used to justify street checks as part of ongoing police investigations. 

"We've heard from Edmonton police and police services in the past that the only time they stopped people for carding is when they were actively investigating a crime as well," said Houle, who stressed that the opinion is his own. "It's another tool used to violate people's rights and do unlawful stops." 

'That puts my life in danger'

Ubaka Ogbogu, a University of Alberta associate law professor, criticized the carding ban announcement on social media Thursday afternoon. 

"I fail to see the difference in carding versus street checks," Ogbogu told CBC News. "I don't see how you can have street checks without police incorporating an element of carding into it." 

Ogbogu thinks the province should also ban street checks. 

"To ban one without the other makes absolutely no sense," he said. "What's the point of street checks? Study after study has shown that it doesn't prevent crime. It also does not reduce crime."

Madu said Thursday that police can only collect personal information from the public in specific circumstances, and must make it clear that people have a right not to answer questions and do not have to provide personal identification.

Ogbogu said that may not go over well with officers.

University of Alberta law professor Ubaka Ogbogu is calling for street checks to be banned along with carding. (CBC)

"As a Black man, if I said to them 'I can't give you that because the minister of justice said I shouldn't give you that,' that puts my life in danger," he said.

Edmonton's police chief said he thinks quarterly audits mandated by the province will stop any abuses. 

"Now we have checks and balances, including a central audit function that actually ensures we look at this on a quarterly basis to get this right," McFee said.

Edmonton police have conducted seven internal street-check audits since 2016, and said the last three have shown a 95-per-cent compliance rate with the guidelines set down by a centralized approval process.

EPS released the results of its most recent audit to the police commission on Thursday. Out of the 3,591 street check reports, an internal team reviewed 188, or about five per cent of the total. 

The audit showed three cases of implied basis, but no explicit bias.

Ogbogu said the findings would be more meaningful if a larger number of cases had been looked at and if the audit had been conducted externally. 

"What I'd like to see would be statistics on how this has had an impact on reduction in crime and in preventing crime," Ogbogu said.


Janice Johnston

Court and crime reporter

Janice Johnston was an investigative journalist with CBC Edmonton who covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades. She won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2016 for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father.