Carding opponent: Chief justifies 'arbitrary detention based on fear'

An activist and law student responds to Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire's position on carding and street checks.

Knia Singh: Hamilton Police put 'onus on civilians to protect themselves through the court'

An anti-carding activist was "very disappointed" by Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire's position on carding. (CBC)

The Hamilton Police chief's position on carding and street checks reads like a justification for racial profiling says an activist and law student who has filed a legal challenge over what he says are breaches of Charter rights inherent in the carding practice.

In a letter to the province, Chief Glenn De Caire said street checks solve crime and their abolition would make Hamilton less safe. The province is conducting a review and planning to issue new regulations to police services around Ontario.

"I'm in disbelief of how blatantly oppositional the police chiefs are and how much they want to justify arbitrary detention based on fear," said Knia Singh, an Osgoode Hall law student who filed a Charter challenge in June, claiming he's been stopped illegally by Toronto Police just for being black. 

He said he began reading De Caire's letter and found a lot to like in the beginning, like his welcoming of provincial regulations and his statements that the police don't activate their policing based on race and that the police intend to uphold the Charter.

"It started out so nicely and then it took such a turn for the worse," Singh said Thursday.

'An excuse to stop every black man'

"What really alarmed me was the talk about upholding the Charter but then starting to say there are certain things that justify Charter infringement," he said. "That because two black men happened to shoot each other, that that's an excuse to stop every black man. This is what racial profiling is."

Singh was referring to the chief juxtaposing the street check conversation with one of the highest-profile crimes in Hamilton this year, the May daylight shootings involving two black male suspects on Main Street East.

The community expects police to show up in the area to stop, talk to and investigate young black males, the chief said in his letter.

"How do the police intervene to stop gun violence, get guns off the street, or dismantle criminal organizations without stopping and talking to people and recording their information?" the chief asks.

Singh said when white people commit violent crimes there's not the same response. 

"[Police] don't go into the white communities when a white person kills a white person and start stopping every white male that they see in hope that they're going to stop a crime from happening," he said.

Accountability for police overreach

Law student and activist Knia Singh has filed a Charter challenge over the carding practice in Toronto. (Knia Singh)
The chief emphasizes in his letter that people have the right to file complaints under the Charter "when the police violate those rights and freedoms." 

Singh's own legal challenge centres on the Charter rights to be free from arbitrary detention, from unreasonable seizure and to equality without discrimination. 

But not everyone who is stopped knows that he or she doesn't have to answer police questions. Not everyone who is street checked or carded, he says, is a law student like him.

"How many people know how to do a charter challenge?" he said. "The police are supposed to be the law enforcers. They're putting the onus on civilians to protect themselves through the court."

He said the police chief is wrong about the threat that eliminating carding will diminish police engagement with the community. "The more the police card, the less engaged the community is," Singh said. 

And he called on the chief to provide data showing how often crimes are solved using the tool.

"If you solve one crime for every million cards it's disproportionate," Singh said.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett