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Police board won't ask chief to suspend carding while province drafts new rules

Councillor Terry Whitehead was warned off a motion to suspend carding in Hamilton because it might go beyond the police board's powers to say how police operate.

Board struggles to find "middle ground" that addresses public concerns

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire rejected the argument in a meeting Thursday that the practice of street checks/carding is a violation of Charter rights. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton police will not suspend carding, or street checks, while awaiting new regulations from the Ministry of Public Safety and Community Services,. 

Coun. Terry Whitehead originally wanted the police to suspend carding until the province releases new regulations. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
At Thursday's police board meeting, Coun.Terry Whitehead proposed the service stop using the controversial practice while awaiting new provincial rules.

But he was warned off that motion by the police service's lawyer Marco Visentini, who argued the board doesn't have the power to make day-to-day policy decisions for the police.

Whitehead then suggested the board—an oversight body of the police service— get its own independent legal opinion. But board members voted that idea down. 

Whitehead, a member of the police board, was anxious to have board take some action after attending a meeting at city hall last week where there was a clear, "powerful perception" of injustice connected with the practice, he said. 

"We've got a bit of a powder keg" on carding in Hamilton, Whitehead said. Carding is the practice of police stopping people who aren't accused of a crime and recording their information indefinitely in the police database, 

Suspending the practice would show some respect to communities who feel unfairly affected by street checks and the retention of their information in police databases, he said. 

'Minimize the potential negative effects'

A copy of the Hamilton Police form used to compile and record personal information in "street checks," obtained by CBC Hamilton under a Freedom of Information request. (Hamilton Police Service)
Thursday was the first robust discussion of the board's feelings on street checks after months of discussion and calls from activists for the police to stop. Chief Glenn De Caire was clearly frustrated by the repeated questions about the police practice. 

De Caire said the conversation is "important" and "complicated" and reiterated that officers are not trained to stop people arbitrarily based on race. 

Mayor Fred Eisenberger and board chair Lloyd Ferguson raised the possibility of the service adopting seven pages of guidelines and protocols developed by Toronto police to build in some community safeguards. Those cover such things as officer training, defining a public safety, purpose and data retention connected with street checks.

The chief rejected the idea of wholesale adopting those guidelines.

"We have a perception, right or wrong, that what we're doing is unacceptable, and that's why I'm trying to find some middle ground," said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the police services board.

The compromise struck came from Mayor Fred Eisenberger, and the police will adopt five general principles from the document, including that the service will "minimize the potential negative effects of contacts on the community." 

The board also directed him to come back to the board's October meeting with a report on adopting the whole list of policies.​

There was some confusion around the board table about what the discussion was about, with at least one member suggesting street checks are not the same as carding. 

"I've heard no mention so far of common sense," said Stanley Tick, one of the civilian board members. "When they interchangeably call "street checks" "carding," then they're confusing the issue."

But the word "carding" was a colloquial term adopted to describe the "street checks" in Toronto, and the form the Hamilton Police Service uses to record information from someone in a street check appears nearly identical to the one used in Toronto. 

'All rights have limitations'

De Caire acknowledged there is a tension between collecting information from the public and pursuing public safety. 

"We want to make sure that any investigation, that the police collect information for any use, that it is done lawfully and appropriately," he said.

De Caire said he rejects the blanket statements that the practice of street checks violates Charter rights.

"We need to remember that all rights have limitations," he said. 

The provincial public safety minister, Yasir Naqvi, concluded a review this week of the street checks practice around Ontario, in which he and his staff traveled to consultations including one in Hamilton to hear community feedback. 
Naqvi said he wants to get new regulations on the practice out this fall. 

Statistics released by Hamilton police in July showed that 25 per cent of street checks were conducted on visible minorities between 2010 and 2014. Visible minorities make up about 15.7 per cent of Hamilton's population, according to 2011 Census numbers. 

The rate is especially disproportionate for black people, who made up 3.2 per cent of Hamilton's population in 2011.

Between 11 and 14 per cent of the street checks done in Hamilton were on black people between 2010 and 2014 -- a rate three to four times the population.  Police did between 1,365 and 2,893 street checks in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. But in 2014, the numbers plummeted.

Police only did 188 street checks last year. Police have blamed the public debate or putting a chill on officers.

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