Hamilton police draft carding policies don't go far enough, say activists

Anti-racial profiling activists say their concerns aren't met by new draft Hamilton Police policies on the controversial carding/street checks practice.

Anti-racial profiling activists say the draft policies were created without input from the black community

Black, Brown and Red Lives Matter supporters raised Hamilton concerns at a discussion about street checks at a Hamilton Police Services board meeting in June 2015. They say they haven't been consulted on new draft policies. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Anti-racial profiling activists are upset that senior police leaders and police board members haven't consulted them on new draft policies on carding and street checks.

New polices released by the service last month don't go far enough, say members of the groups who showed up in droves over the past year-and-a-half to complain about the practice at public meetings and marches, met with the former police chief and made special trips to talk to the Hamilton Police oversight board.

The fact that it doesn't come from within speaks volumes about how our (police) service is willing to gain back public trust.- Ismael Traore , anti-racism activist

Sarah Adjekum, a graduate social work student at McMaster University, said she won't "pretend that this is enough to undo the deep distrust that has developed between the Hamilton community and its police force."

Those tasked with overseeing Hamilton's police should be looking for "unchecked bias" in the force and taking steps to address it, she said.

"While these changes are important, they don't explicitly address the prejudice that police have towards racialized communities that have been disproportionately targeted by carding practices," she said.

'No interest in adequately addressing this issue'

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the Hamilton Police Services Board, said he has not asked his fellow board members or the police chief to get in touch with the activists who have been pushing for changes to carding.
The draft board policies are part of new provincial law meant to clarify the rules for interactions between members of the public and police when police collect identifying information – including but not limited to instances police would've previously considered "carding" or street checks.

The document includes a statement that the board is committed to enhancing trust in police, and that the collecting of ID in the stops "shall not be" arbitrary or "based upon any racial/biased profiling."

The policies include: 

  • 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, including demographics like age and race.
  • Data collected in street checks or carding interactions before Jan. 1, 2017 may be kept only under certain conditions like officer discipline matters or for the purposes of an ongoing investigation. 

But activists like Adjekum say that the policies don't get at underlying issues like unchecked biases that may lead to disproportionate impacts on certain communities. They want to see considerations for stops of kids under age 18, and they want to know more about the language police must use to notify people of their rights to walk away. 

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson is chairman of the Police Services Board. Ferguson said he has not asked his fellow board members or the police chief to get in touch with the activists who have been pushing for changes.

"Until we have a completed draft policy there is no sense on getting board direction yet on public consultation," he said.

Coun. Matthew Green convened a well-attended forum last September to address questions of constitutionality, discrimination and privacy in the police carding practice. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
But Coun. Matthew Green, who has been an outspoken critic of carding and Hamilton Police's response, said the rollout of the draft policy raises questions of how effective police governance is in Hamilton.

He said their silence in public consultation so far has "dismissed the experience" of those who've come forward to share personal impacts of the tactic.

"That board is culturally incompetent. It's unprepared and unequipped to have this conversation," he said. "That board has no interest in adequately addressing this issue."

Deadline extended on oversight

Activists like Kayonne Christy have been calling for an end to carding and the police database records kept from the non-criminal interactions in Hamilton since late 2014. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
The carding practice has been criticized for its disproportionate impacts on visible minorities. It has been called an infringement on Charter rights to privacy. New provincial law announced earlier this year aimed to address similar concerns raised around Ontario. 

The board's requirement is to:

  • Figure out policies for what document should be given to individuals whom police stop.
  • Codify policies for data retention from street checks that were done before 2017, as well as those to come. 
  • Describe what should be included in reports from the chief about the service's street checks or similar interactions. 

Its initial deadline was July 1, but the province has extended that until the new year. At the same time, the police service is waiting for training guidelines from the Ontario Police College to train officers on their new parameters.

Ismael Traore is another activist who was a graduate student at McMaster.

"It's saddening that we have to have an external body such as the Ontario government or the Ontario Human Rights Commission to hammer down, to force our police chiefs to be progressive to racial profiling and classist profiling," he said.

"The fact that it doesn't come from within speaks volumes about how our service is willing to gain back public trust," Traore said.

'I don't want carding to be his rite of passage'

Hamilton Police Deputy Chief Ken Weatherill, right, said the service did not direct officers to stop or cut back on street checks, even though they plummeted to 30 total in 2015. (John Rieti/CBC)
Adjekum said she didn't want to make light of the proposed changes, like outlining more details about when police are allowed to keep data collected, for how long and that the time the data is kept has been limited to five years.

But Adjekum, who sits on the board of the Community Coalition Against Racism, still has questions, and fears for interactions that members of her family may have with police.

"I'm a black woman," Adjekum said. Her nephew will be going to high school next year.

"I don't want carding to be his rite of passage like it has been for so many Black men," she said. "Without a greater accountability piece that recognizes the link between the past and the present; that pays specific attention to class and race and the role of carding, I don't know if that fear will truly go away."

Board decision

The draft policies circulated at the board's June meeting were developed by the board's attorney in consultation with Ferguson and vice-chair Madeleine Levy, Ferguson said.

He said any consultation or community conversation about the policy "will have to be a board decision," or may be directed by the province.

kelly.bennett@gmail.com | @kellyrbennett