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Hamilton police board limits carding to 'clear policing purpose'

Hamilton's police oversight board Thursday required a "clear policing purpose" for street checks in a new motion passed unanimously that nonetheless leaves much confusion about the practice.

But Mayor and police chief appear to define that differently

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire said he doesn't always know when information collected in a street check will become valuable for an investigation. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton's police board on Thursday emphasized their commitment to Charter rights and required a "clear policing purpose" for street checks in a new motion passed unanimously. 

But while police chief Glenn De Caire supported the motion, both he and the mayor, who moved it, indicated little will change in the day-to-day application of the police information-gathering tool, often referred to as carding. 

We will continue to stop people... We will continue to gather evidence and information in order to solve crime.- Chief Glenn Decaire 

The mayor believes the safeguards he proposed are already in place in how police do street checks.

"The Hamilton Police Services Board does not condone the unfounded, random and discriminatory stops and street checks of residents," said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, reading his motion. "Street checks without a clear policing purpose are prohibited."

Though the chief supported the motion "absolutely," the definition of "clear policing purpose" appears to look different to the two leaders.

Questioned after the meeting, the mayor said street checks should only happen on reasonable suspicion a person is connected to a specific crime.

De Caire, however, said police will continue to gather information in street checks even before they know what use it will serve in an investigation.

It was yet another example of a conversation lacking specifics between the police and the board about what a street check looks like in Hamilton, how many times the tool has played an integral role in solving crime and what discretion officers use to stop, question, ID and record information from someone. 

And in that void, a lot of confusion around the board table has arisen over the last few months. 

'We will continue to stop people'

The mayor said after the meeting that his motion means the police must have a clear investigative reason to stop a person, connected to a crime. 

But the province, in beginning its review, described street checks as noncriminal stops, "unrelated to a specific criminal investigation or police function."

"That individual has every right to say, 'No, I'm not going to talk to you,' and has every right to ask the police officer, 'What are the grounds? What suspicion did you have? What compelled you to stop [me]?' You'd better have a damn good reason.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

And De Caire said in his submission  to the province that the very issue that has caused "tension" is the interaction between a police officer and a person where police don't otherwise have the right to detain someone, like considering that person a suspect or witness. 

He said after the meeting the community wants police to be stopping, talking to people and learning about who's in what neighbourhood.

"We will continue to stop people," he said. "We will continue to investigate matters. We will continue to gather evidence and information in order to solve crime. ... This is a legally proper investigative technique that we will continue to use." 

He said it is "correct" that street checks could still happen "outside of a traditional investigative detention," even under this motion passed Thursday.

"We can, and the public expect us to be, in their neighbourhoods, talking to people and we will continue to do that," he said. 

"The importance for us is always to have the ability to solve crime," he added. "And our challenge is we don't know when information is coming to us that will be pertinent in any investigation." 

But that sounds different from how the mayor fleshed out his understanding:

"There's got to be a reasonable suspicion of a connection to a crime," he said. "A police officer on the street can not just stop you and I because he doesn't like the look of us or whatever, has a suspicion because of our race, creed colour or otherwise. There has to be a reasonable grounds, justifiable grounds for them to stop you.

"If that doesn't exist," the mayor continued, "then that individual has every right to say, 'No, I'm not going to talk to you,' and has every right to ask the police officer, 'What are the grounds? What suspicion did you have? What compelled you to stop [me]?' You'd better have a damn good reason." 

It's also not clear why the mayor's motion didn't prompt the same kind of pushback from the police over meddling in day-to-day operations as Terry Whitehead's proposal to suspend carding outright did at last month's meeting.

The board's position comes as the province is conducting a review and drafting new regulations for the practice. And the provincial NDP justice critic Jagmeet Singh called Thursday for the end to arbitrary street stops, which passed unanimously.

Other items from Thursday's meeting

Other decisions and items from Thursday's meeting: 

  • The board reinstated a commitment to allowing individual members to speak publicly even if their opinion differs from the board decision.
  • Two members of the public, anti-racism activist Ken Stone and legal clinic worker Maria Antelo spoke about carding and street checks. Stone called for the chief's contract not to be renewed, a discussion which will likely come up before the end of 2015. 

See more of the play-by-play in the stream below.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

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