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Hamilton Police chief: Limiting carding will make Hamilton less safe

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire's submission to the province on carding warns that limiting or ending it will hurt police ability to solve crimes.

Chief Glenn De Caire files letter with province on carding/street checks

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire filed a letter with the province outlining his perspective on the controversial street check/carding practice. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire says Hamilton will be less safe and crimes will go unsolved if the controversial tool known as street checks, or carding, is limited or abolished.

There will be "unintended consequences" in limiting street checks, De Caire warns in a strongly worded defence of the controversial policing tactic used in cases where a person is questioned but may not have done anything wrong. 

If they're abolished, it would cripple the police ability to investigate drug and gang crime, he argues.

"Information must be gathered before it can be analyzed and interpreted. The public expects us to solve crime."

He lays out a dire eventuality: "The result of reduced officer-community engagement can lead to increased crime, violence, injury and death."

De Caire makes these arguments in a submission to the provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which is drafting new provincial regulations for the practice. The chief's letter is included in the agenda for the Hamilton Police Services Board meeting Thursday. Two community members will also be speaking about street checks at the meeting. 

While the chief supports the province clarifying the practice and issuing new standards and regulations, he doesn't include specifics about what he thinks those regulations should look like. Nor does he provide a description of how Hamilton Police conduct street checks.

Beyond a few anecdotal examples, the service has not provided data showing how many of the more than 9,000 street checks done since 2010 have played a role in solving a crime. 

The letter mirrors the remarks De Caire has passionately delivered to the board about the risks he sees in limiting the police's ability to stop, ID and record information indefinitely from people who may or may not ever be formally investigated. The province, in beginning its review, described the street checks in question as noncriminal stops, "unrelated to a specific criminal investigation or police function."

He references an Ontario Human Rights Commission report on the practice, but does not explicitly endorse its recommendations, which in fact would significantly limit the street check tool and would eliminate officer "hunch" as a reason to stop and ID someone.

Limits to charter protections

In street checks, colloquially called carding in Toronto, police can ask for ID, take down information about the person's appearance, whereabouts and "affiliations," and record that information forever in the police database. The form Hamilton officers use has more than 65 fields they can fill out. 

All rights have limitations.- Glenn De Caire, Hamilton Police Chief 

The chief acknowledges the interactions causing "tension" come "in circumstances that do not meet the legal test for 'detention' under the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms]." 

He says charter protections have to be balanced against community safety. The courts have ruled that police activity like RIDE checks can supercede the Charter right not to be arbitrarily detained, he argues.

"All rights have limitations," he said.

The chief juxtaposes 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.

"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.

The chief's question raises more questions.

Hamilton Police say they've only done street checks since 2010, and only their ACTION team uses them, mostly downtown. So how have police traditionally stopped gun violence, gotten guns off the street or dismantled criminal investigations before Hamilton officers used street checks?

Officer discretion

Much of the controversy around street checks centres on the disproportionate impact of the practice on communities of colour. Black residents, for instance, make up 3 per cent of the Hamilton population but 11 to 14 per cent of the street checks — a rate of three to four times the population. Even restricted to downtown, where police say they focus street checks, the rate of being street checked is still disproportionate for black residents.

In the letter, the chief states explicitly that "a police officer must not activate any of their policing authorities based on race." 

"However, I am in full support of our officers exercising their discretion to stop, investigate, identify and record information of individuals in the appropriate circumstances," he said. 

What that discretion and appropriate circumstances are, he doesn't explain.

Here are the circumstances the Ontario Human Rights Commission suggests should not be reason enough to stop someone: 

  • An unspecified future offence or criminal investigation;
  • A "hunch" or unsupported suspicion or belief, whether based on intuition gained by experience or otherwise;
  • Mere presence in a particular neighborhood, high-crime neighborhood or "hot spot";
  • A suspect, victim or witness description that lacks sufficient detail other than race;
  • Meeting a quota or performance target for number of stops or street checks; and
  • Raising awareness of police presence in the community. 

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