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Hamilton drawn into provincial debate over carding: regulate or stop?

The balancing of police powers and individual Charter rights will be among the considerations in a provincial review of carding and street checks practices.

Ombudsman: 'Whatever benefit the police get out of it is outweighed by the breach of individual liberty'

Yasir Naqvi, minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, will be issuing province-wide regulations after a review of the carding and street checks practices across Ontario's police forces. (CBC)

The debate over police carding and street checks in Hamilton is heating up at the same time the conversation about the controversial policing tactic picks up across Ontario and the government is poised to begin regulating it.

A provincial review of the carding and street checks practice will try to navigate balancing police powers and individual Charter rights. And Hamilton's practices, where police revealed new details about Hamilton's practice last week, will be included.

Ontario's ministry that oversees police forces wants to hear perspectives from across the province, including Hamilton. 

"We believe that all interactions between officers and the public should take place in a way that allows officers to do their work to keep our communities safe, while respecting the human rights of the community members they engage with," said Lauren Callighen, press secretary for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. 

The ministry will provide "clear and consistent guidelines" for police officers, and build public confidence by making everyone involved aware of the new rules — "whether you're in Toronto, Hamilton or Thunder Bay," Callighen said.

'I don't see how that can be justified'

One high-profile voice against carding came from Ontario's ombudsman Andre Marin. He called it "illegal" as he delivered his office's year-end report on Tuesday. He said when officers engage in stopping, questioning and recording information from citizens not under investigation, it's reminiscent of the controversial policing in Toronto during the G20 summit.

"I don't see how that can be justified," Marin said. "Whatever benefit the police get out of it is outweighed by the breach of individual liberty involved in carding."

Hamilton's police chief, Glenn De Caire, maintains that the police need the tool in order to connect the dots in high-crime neighbourhoods.

Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin called the practice of carding "illegal" during a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday. (Darren Calabrese/CP)
The street checks practice involves stopping people who have not necessarily done anything wrong to question them, record their ID and whereabouts, and later enter that information in the police database. 

'A question of the constitutionality of this police practice'

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire said street checks are a necessary and warranted police practice. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
The ministry is "establishing rules to ensure these encounters are without bias, consistent and carried out in a manner than promotes public confidence and protects individual and Charter rights," Callighen said.

The ministry is already hearing from some community groups and police agencies, she said, but plans to roll out its formal consultation process soon.

"We're drafting a province-wide regulation; we want to hear all viewpoints," Callighen said. 

Coun. Matthew Green has already written to the province asking for Hamilton's street checks practices to be evaluated.

Green said while much of the attention since the police presentation a week ago has focused on the race breakdown of the police practice, that's not his biggest problem with the practice. Like Marin, Green contends the practice is illegal. 

"The arbitrary stopping of citizens and residents of Hamilton, not under investigation, is unconstitutional and counter to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms — regardless of race," he said. "Although there are disproportionate impacts on visible minorities, this is primarily a question of the constitutionality of this police practice." 

Hamilton Police officers are trained to respect citizens' right to walk away from a noncriminal encounter, Deputy Chief Eric Girt said at the July 23 police board meeting.

But police are not required to tell someone on the street about those rights unless they're under arrest, De Caire said. 

"There may be no legal reason for people to speak to the police, but there is clearly in the law a moral and social obligation to participate in keeping all our communities safe," Chief De Caire said at that board meeting. "Similarly there's no legal reason to advise people of those rights that are not activated until that arrest and detention threshold is met."

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