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Green will work to get province to Hamilton for forum on police carding

With Hamilton left off the list of cities the province is visiting in its consultations on police carding, Councillor Matthew Green says he'll organize a local forum.

Effort comes after province leaves city off of consultation tour

Halima Hatimy applauded during a June meeting of the Hamilton Police Services board. She attended a meeting with the province this week to outline some Hamilton-focused concerns about street checks. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Coun. Matthew Green is working to organize a forum where Hamiltonians can share their experiences and perspectives on the police practice known as street checks or carding. 

He'll go next Monday to a formal province-led forum in London, and then build a similar format for the Hamilton event. 

Green said he is "extremely disappointed"  Hamilton wasn't included in a list of five cities where the province has scheduled formal consultation. Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath has also criticized the province for not including Hamilton in its consultations on how to regulate the controversial policing practice.

We're looking at the opportunity to even have the conversation on how we do our policing.- Hamilton Coun. Matthew Green

But Green said he talked Thursday with Minister Yasir Naqvi from the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, who promised to send a representative to the Hamilton meeting to record the feedback as part of the provincial review even if it extends past the Aug. 31 deadline.

"I get a strong sense that he understands what's at stake here," Green said.

Meanwhile, some other activists in Hamilton who've called for an end to police street checks are still making their position known.

There's a tension in even having the conversation, because the province is talking about regulating a practice many advocacy groups here and elsewhere believe to be unconstitutional. 

That leads to some frustrating conversations. 

"Right now as it stands, they want to regulate carding and we want carding abolished," said Halima Hatimy, a member of the Hamilton-based Black, Brown, Red Lives Matter group. 

Hatimy traveled this week to Toronto attend a meeting with staff from the minister for Community Safety and Correctional Services's office. They were expecting a room full of other advocacy groups. But instead, there were two Hamilton activists there, outnumbered by a handful of staffers with laptops. 

"I do not feel we were heard," she said. "How do you regulate something that is unconstitutional? There is no way that you can regulate something like this."

Ministry spokesperson Lauren Callighen previously said the ministry wanted input from Hamilton, and that they would use the public consultations as input to produce "clear and consistent guidelines" for police officers. They would also be used to make everyone aware of the new rules, "whether you're in Toronto, Hamilton or Thunder Bay."

'Unspecified future investigation'

The activists filled in the ministry on some of the revelations about street checks in Hamilton, like that street checks disproportionately impact visible minorities and that information is kept indefinitely in the police database.

Among the things the group wants to see: 

  • destruction of records in the police database collected before the new rules the province will adopt
  • no gathering personal information for use in an "unspecified future investigation"
  • no using street checks to meet quotas for officers or increase awareness of police presence in a neighbourhood
  • no street checks of minors unless a parent or guardian is present and agrees

"It is ludicrous and a sad state of affairs that almost any conversation we have with the police can be stored in a police data bank," the group wrote in a position statement posted on its website.

'Tiny, incremental steps'

The Hamilton group wants the practice completely abolished, full-stop.

Longtime Hamilton anti-racism activist Ken Stone attended the meeting with the province this week. Stone acknowledged that in his decades of experience lobbying on politically controversial issues like this, such an outcome may be unlikely.

"I know that the province moves in tiny, incremental steps," he said.

"We're telling them if they're to continue with this process they at least have to some controls over the data, have a public awareness campaign [about individuals' rights] and strengthen the civilian oversight," he said.

Green praised the minister's openness to discussing changes to carding and to the Police Services Act. 

"First, we're looking at the opportunity to even have the conversation on how we do our policing," Green said. "That in itself is a huge step forward. I'm very encouraged." 

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has also issued its position statement this month. The ministry has not proven that street checks lead to solved crimes, the commission said. And police should have to state individuals' rights to walk away from a street check, and issue a receipt, the commission argues.

But even when the province or police services argue that the tool is a necessary component of preventing crime, that doesn't mitigate the negatives, Stone said.

"The damage that has been done and will continue to be done to whole communities of people of colour and  people marginalized by their class backgrounds by street checks, outside of strictly investigative purposes, far outweighs the possible benefits," he said.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

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