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Province should review Hamilton police practices: councillor

Advocates for transparency and accountability in police practices say Thursday's reports don't go far enough to address concerns of racial bias in Hamilton Police street checks.

Coun. Matthew Green wants Hamilton included in provincial review of carding/street checks

Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 and Julia Horton, equity vice president of CUPE Local 5167, listen to a police services board discussion in June about street checks. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Coun. Matthew Green says "startling" new numbers that show blacks are disproportionately targets of street stops by Hamilton police means the city should be included in a provincial review of the controversial practice.

Green and London councillor Mohamed Salih have written to Deputy Premier Deborah Matthews, asking to be included as representatives of cities with their own street checks issues, and also "as councillors with lived experience," in the provincial conversation about the practice, commonly know as carding.

If (Thursday's) presentation told me anything it's that I have a four-to-one likelihood of being pulled over or stopped as compared to the board chair.- Coun. Matthew Green

New information revealed Thursday about police street checks in Hamilton showed that black people are proportionally stopped more often than other groups. Though Hamilton's black population represents 3.2 per cent of the population, the street checks records showed 12 per cent of the stops were black people. 

By straight numbers, the majority of street checks were done on white people, the police presentation revealed. That led some members of the board, like police oversight board chair Lloyd Ferguson, to see the report as putting to rest the concerns that the practice is weighted against visible minorities.

A 'startling statistic'

But Green, who is black, was "surprised at how well-received the data was," he said. The disproportionate impact on black people was a "startling statistic to me, which really demonstrated what folks have been saying," Green said. 

But that wasn't the takeaway for everyone. 

"Based on how it was presented, it was received as though it was a good thing," Green said. "If yesterday's presentation told me anything it's that I have a four-to-one likelihood of being pulled over or stopped as compared to the board chair."

Deputy Chief Eric Girt defined "street checks" on Thursday as "police engaging with the community members for investigative purposes" and said they're a "core function" of police work especially downtown to help keep track of contacts and leads. It was also revealed data collected is kept indefinitely.

Kojo Damptey, a Hamilton musician originally from Ghana who attended the board meeting, said he wants the board to seek input and experiences from people who've been affected by the police practice. The board, made up of city councillors and provincial appointees, has no members who are visible minorities.

"The whole board, there's nobody on there that has experienced racism so how would they know what racism looks like?" Damptey said.

'This confirms what people in the community have known for years'

Riaz Sayani-Mulji is a law student who has worked as a youth worker in Hamilton. He said he requested a race breakdown for police stops and tickets given in 2014. He was told that the service does not keep race-based statistics and that compiling a report would cost $5,000. 

He said that response left him surprised to see the report Thursday that the police are able to compile race analysis for their stops.

"This confirms [what] anecdotally, people in the community have known for years — that people of colour, especially black and First Nations, are over-policed," Sayani-Mulji said.

Halima Hatimy, left, applauds a point made by Black, Brown and Red Lives Matter presenter Gary Fondevilla during a Hamilton Police Services board meeting in June. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
Halima Hatimy, a co-leader of a Dec. 1 march that called for an end to carding in Hamilton, and a member of its offshoot group Black, Brown Red Lives Matter, said the report validated the work of the group. 

Street checks are "impacting the quality of life of people of colour and indigenous people in this city," Hatimy said. She said she hopes the police will provide more analysis of the data in future reports — "to ensure that we are actually being served and protected by police and not being targeted." 

Desmond Cole is a Toronto-based journalist and activist who has called for an end to carding and written about his experience being stopped dozens of times by police

Cole said he and other advocates are working to push for an adoption in cities beyond Toronto, like Hamilton, London and Ottawa of some measures to help increase transparency and accountability in street checks, including: 

  • Every time a police officer takes someone's information, they should issue that person a receipt.
  • Police should make sure they are not psychologically detain someone by proactively telling them their right to walk away. 
  • Police should adopt a clear definition of the parameters for times when police should be collecting information. 

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

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