Hamilton police board passes new carding policy with little fanfare

"I just don't support carding, period," says Terry Whitehead, the only board member to vote against it.

'I just don't support carding, period,' says Terry Whitehead, the only board member to vote against it

Kayonne Christy was an organizer of a Black, Brown and Red Lives Matter march in 2015 that included a demand to stop street checks in Hamilton. On Thursday, the police services board passed a new policy around the practice. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Quickly and with little fanfare Thursday, Hamilton's police oversight board approved a new street check policy — with only one person voting against it.

After months of discussion, the Hamilton Police Services board barely talked about the provincially-mandated policy before rubber-stamping it.

Only Terry Whitehead, Ward 8 councillor, voted against it.

"I just don't support carding, period," Whitehead said.

Police have done good work on the policy, he said. But "philosophically, I just have trouble with the concept."

Street checks have been a hot topic in Hamilton, where critics say the practice unfairly targets racial minorities.

It was even in the headlines hours before the meeting, when Matthew Green, Hamilton's first black city councillor, attended a Police Services Act hearing for an officer who faces charges of discreditable conduct, accused of unfairly questioning him. Green was waiting for the bus at the time. Green has called the all-white police board "culturally incompetent" when it comes to dealing with the street check issue.

Coun. Terry Whitehead was the only Hamilton Police Services board member to vote against the new street check policy. "I just don’t support carding, period,” he says. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The policy comes after the province passed new legislation about the practice earlier this year. It mandated police boards develop their own policies. Lloyd Ferguson, board chair and Ancaster city councillor, says the Hamilton policy is largely influenced by the province.

The new policy includes:

  • Requiring police to offer a receipt to someone who is being stopped, including the officer's name.
  • Requiring the chief to complete an annual report of how many such interactions took place, and include in it demographics like race and age.
  • Data collected in street checks or carding interactions before Jan. 1, 2017 may be kept only under certain conditions such as officer discipline matters or for the purposes of an ongoing investigation. 

Activists, however, said the policy needs more detail around stops for people under 18, and the language police use to notify people of their rights. 

For two years, street check opponents have made their presence known in Hamilton. There have been public meetings and marches where they called for a ban on the practice. Last September, Green organized a town hall with Yasir Naqvi, Ontario's attorney general.

Some anti-racism activists still aren't happy with Hamilton's policy. That includes Marlene Dei-Amoah from the city's committee against racism (CAR), who was one of two people to appear last month to give feedback on the policy. She echoed a familiar refrain — that minority groups hadn't been consulted enough.

While Ferguson said two people speaking indicated satisfaction with the policy, Dei-Amoah said last month that it's more likely people are just weary.

Coun. Matthew Green, left, attended a Police Services Act hearing for an officer he says questioned him for about seven minutes at a bus stop. "I know how I felt," says Green, who attended with Toronto civil rights lawyer Selwyn Pieters. "I felt targeted." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"How many times do you want us to talk about this?" she said. "You're not understanding it. What other measures can we do to help you understand?"

Dei-Amoah invited police board members to an upcoming CAR meeting to discuss the policy, but only one member — Ferguson, who already sits on the committee — attended.

The new policy isn't just about street checks. It also deals with warrants and other circumstances where police deal with the public.

Police will report back to the board in a year on the impact of the new policy.

In London, city council called for a ban on street checks last month. The city's police services board was due to discuss it on Thursday.