As Hamilton police implement new Ontario rule banning carding, activists hoping for a new relationship

Hamilton police implement a new Ontario rule banning carding by police but the city's anti-racism activists say the problem isn't with the policy, but the culture of policing.

'It's not the policy, it's the culture' of policing that needs to change, Coun. Matthew Green says

Kayonne Christy, right, reads a list of demands at a "Black, Brown, Red Lives Matter" march held two-years-ago, calling for an end to carding in Hamilton. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Hamilton's anti-racism activists are hoping new provincial rules banning police carding, or street checks, can be the start of a change in policing culture.

And one activist is hopeful the new rules will give members of visible minorities more confidence about their rights.

The new regulations ban 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 police force needs to know more about the culture of the community they are policing.- Roger-Wayne Cameron, Committee Against Racism

"It's not the policy, it's the culture, it's the philosophy of policing that needs to change," says Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green, who has been an outspoken opponent of carding.

Green has filed a complaint with police over a carding incident that is now the subject of a police services act hearing.

Ban doesn't apply during traffic stops, arrests

The provincially-mandated policy took effect Sunday. The Hamilton police board approved the new street check rules, Dec. 15 with few objections to the changes, following two year discussions about how to address the controversial practice. 

'There's been years of mistrust of policing'

Roger-Wayne Cameron, centre, listens as councillors discuss setting up a resource centre for victims of racism in 2014. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

After adopting the rule, Hamilton police reiterated in a news release its commitment to interacting with members of the community.

It said its officers are fully trained in the new rules, but that the service will not change its policing practices, which it described as a "community-based, intelligence lead, model where interaction with the police and the community is expected by the community."

But critics say it will take focused effort to improve a community's relationship with police. 

"There's been years of mistrust of policing," says Roger-Wayne Cameron, chair of the city's Committee Against Racism (CAR). 

In recent years, the disproportionate targeting of homeless people, people of colour and indigenous people has hurt the community's trust of police, he said. This has also impacted communities willingness to come forward with information and assist police. 

Green, Cameron and Sarah Jama, co-president of McMaster University's Womanists organization, all said rules themselves are not enough to make difference for visible minority communities.

Jama is skeptical about the new policy's impact on the community.

"Regulations have always existed to keep police in check, and again and again we see regulations go dismissed."

But Jama hopes the new changes will empower minorities when interacting with police.

 "People will no longer have information about their race collected in certain instances," she said. "I hope this will make community members more confident in pushing for their rights."

Cameron who has been a member of the Committee Against Racism for 16-years, believes "this is a step in the right direction to build confidence."

For the community to be more confident in police, we need to have those protections in place for everybody.- Roger-Wayne Cameron, CAR

Kevin Flynn, Ontario community safety and correctional services minister, said in a news release that the regulation was drafted after the provincial government consulted the public on how to improve public confidence in police. 

"These new rules protect the rights of people who are not under investigation while also laying the foundation for more positive, trusting and respectful relationships between police and the public," Flynn said. 

'Return to community-based policing'

"I felt targeted. I felt like it was an arbitrary stop," Matthew Green told CBC News last month. Green, left, is an outspoken opponent of carding. He has hosted forums to address questions of constitutionality, discrimination and privacy of street checks. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Activists like Green and Cameron are calling for a "return to community-based policing." 

"We have to go back to the main thing that policing is always about — to serve and protect," added Cameron.

"Are we protecting everybody or are we just protecting a certain class?" he said

It's not the policy, it's the culture, it's the philosophy of policing that needs to change.- Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor

"For the community to be more confident in police, we need to have those protections in place for everybody." 

But how are police going to rebuild relationships with communities who have felt targeted by a controversial practice for years? 

New culture, more dialogue

Cameron says it must be a two-way dialogue between police and the community. 

"The police force needs to know more about the culture of the community they are policing," he said, in order for officers to understand and connect with the communities they serve.   

And Green agrees. He believes policing needs to be "relationship-centred" in order to address the culture of racism in policing.   

"I'm interested in culture. I'm not so much interested in the politics of the policy that's taken two years to bring about," he told CBC News. "That doesn't solve the culture.

"The culture happens when police officers are being trained in police college. The culture happens when they're being orientated to the service. The culture happens every morning before they go out in their shifts, you know the tone and the direction of their staff sergeants."