Police board chair expects 'hard questions' on anti-carding law

Hamilton’s police board chair says there will be “some hard questions asked” about the impact of the province’s regulation on carding and street checks at Thursday afternoon’s board meeting.

New regulations in 2017 ban police from collecting ID on someone not under investigation

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson was reelected chair of Hamilton's police services board last month. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton's police board chair says there will be "some hard questions asked" about the impact of the province's regulation on carding and street checks at Thursday afternoon's board meeting.

Speaking on CHML talk radio last Friday, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, the board's chair, said he has been hearing from constituents that they are "concerned" about a spike in the number of shootings in the city.

On the radio, Ferguson stopped shy of tying the shooting trend to the decline in officers engaging in carding or street checks, but said he wants someone to look into a possible connection.

The police service, the board, and the public will be providing feedback to Justice Michael Tulloch, who is reviewing the impact of the provincial law, which went into effect just over a year ago.

"It's hard to statistically tie it to the reduction in street checks to shootings," Ferguson said on the radio. "And I'm not a statistician, so I can't attempt that, but I've asked Justice Tulloch to look at that."

Police invoked new regulation five times in 2017

A report scheduled to be presented to the board Thursday states that the Hamilton Police Service conducted five interactions with members of the public in 2017 that required them to follow the regulations outlined in the law.

Four of the people whose ID was collected were males between 12 and 29, and one was female, the report states. Two of the interactions took place in the lower city and three on the Mountain.

Ferguson has compared the handful of "street check" type interactions police have done in recent years to thousands of so-called street checks officers used to do – like more than 4,800 in 2012.

Shootings in Hamilton have risen in recent years, from seven in 2014, to 14 in 2015, to 22 last year and to 40 as of mid-December 2017.

Hamilton Police Service statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of shooting incidents in the city in recent years. (Hamilton Police Service)

What the regulation does

Throughout 2016, carding and street checks were a hot topic in Hamilton and around the province, as anti-racism advocates pushed for fairer rules on when an officer can log someone's ID and whereabouts in a database.

New regulations that came into effect in January 2017 banned police from collecting identifying information on someone who is not under investigation, on someone "arbitrarily," or on someone based on race or presence in a high crime neighbourhood — all concerns that had eroded trust of many communities with police.

The carding practice was criticized for its disproportionate impacts on visible minorities and was called an infringement on Charter rights to privacy.

Ferguson acknowledged some of the pressures Tulloch and the province are balancing. 

"He's a big advocate for human rights, as he should be, and for upholding the constitution," Ferguson said. "So he can't change the constitution, as he shouldn't. But I've asked him to maybe get an expert ... that can see if he can draw a connection to that."

'Are our streets less safe?'

Ferguson has previously wondered aloud whether the streets are less safe because police have had their interactions with members of the public regulated by the recent law.

Last June, he asked, "Are our streets less safe now as a result of that legislation?"

"No," said Insp. Greg Huss.

Ferguson asked whether "the bad guys feel safer walking around with guns now than when we were doing 4,000 street checks versus 6?"

But Huss said officers are still talking with people, still "engaging" with a visible presence.

"To say that it's more dangerous now with the legislation, I can't say that," Huss said.

At a December meeting, Police Supt. Ryan Diodati discussed the number of shootings – incidents where a victim was shot or shot at – and said the police service continues to see those incidents tied to the drug trade and turf wars.

But, he said, beyond shootings, total gun-related crimes — including home invasions, assaults and threats — are down over the past three years.

Tulloch is scheduled to be in Hamilton for a public consultation on the carding regulation on March 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the public library on York Boulevard.



Kelly Bennett is a freelance reporter based in Hamilton. Her writing has appeared in CBC News, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, Voice of San Diego and in the National Observer for the Local Journalism Initiative. You can follow her on Twitter @kellyrbennett or email kelly@kellyrbennett.com.