Repeated street checks on people undercut Charter freedoms: activists

Chief, activists respond to data revealing that many people are carded more than once in a year and visible minorities and aboriginal people are the ones who face the most repeat stops.

Chief: Multiple street checks may prove to be ‘entirely justifiable stops by our officers’

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire says a deeper look at individual cases may show justifiable reasons for people to be carded multiple times in a year. (Adam Carter/CBC)
  Chief Glenn De Caire said Thursday he has not had the chance to review the data from his force that CBC Hamilton obtained this week showing that the vast majority of people street checked more than once in a year are visible minorities and aboriginal people.     
I don't know why someone would be stopped 14 times in a year.- Desmond Cole

The numbers showed that of 134 people who've been stopped three or more times in the same year in street checks, all but eight of them were visible minorities and aboriginal people. 

  In one example, the same aboriginal woman was street checked 14 times in 2012. One black man was stopped 13 times in 2013.

The information was released to CBC Hamilton under a Freedom of Information request. 

Coun. Terry Whitehead read a statistic from the article to the chief at the service's oversight board meeting on Thursday and said he wanted to give the chief an opportunity to respond:

"Of the 46 people stopped more than five times in one year in street checks, 44 of them were recorded in the police database as visible minorities, either black, aboriginal, "Mid East" or "S. Asian/E. Indian." 

Chief: I haven't seen the data

De Caire said he hadn't seen the FOI request or the data that was released.

He reiterated the service's policies that officers do not stop people based on their race and said he will respond and comply with the public safety minister's draft regulations for the practice. 

"I've seen the article, but I haven't seen the particulars," De Caire said.

"Going back, we may have the opportunity to look at every single one of those to find out they were entirely justifiable stops by our officers. I haven't seen that data." 

Journalist Desmond Cole wrote in Toronto life about his experience of being repeatedly questioned by police. 'This hasn't happened to be one time," he told Metro Morning in April. "It's a pattern."
Journalist and anti-carding activist Desmond Cole said interactions where the same person is stopped and questioned without having done something wrong, as has happened to him, is troubling. 

"I don't know why someone would be stopped 14 times in a year," Cole said, referring to the Hamilton numbers. "And not just talk to them but document the situation. What do they want that information for?" 

Whitehead said after the meeting that the revelations about the people stopped multiple times "isn't reflecting what we've been told" by police about the impacts of the Hamilton street check practice.

"That concerns me and I need more explanation on that," Whitehead said.

'You can't stop people based on the fact that you think they may be involved in a future offence'

  The experience of being stopped by the police more than once for not doing anything wrong can be "damaging," said Cole, whose  account of being stopped 50 times by Toronto and other police forces catalyzed a discussion about the  carding/street check practice in that city and around the province. 

"It's confusing," Cole said. "It can be very scary."

That intimidation could be what some of the individuals are feeling in Hamilton who've been street checked multiple times in one year, Cole said. 

"This person wasn't necessarily breaking any law," Cole said. "But we know where they were, what they were wearing, we know who they are, who they were with."

  Cole responded to a comment that De Caire made on talk radio on Wednesday, that the street check practice is vital because "at the time you're doing [a street check], you have no idea that you're actually speaking to a person who later will face charges of murder."

Cole said that suggests the police would rather have a file on everyone's whereabouts.

  "Police are essentially saying if they could have one on everyone they would," Cole said.

"That would mean that we no longer live in a free society. And I would argue that we don't live in a free society anyway, based on the numbers."

Knia Singh, a law student who has filed a Charter challenge on the carding practice in Toronto, said police should stop people based on "reasonable suspicion," grounds that have been well-defined in case law. 

  "You can't stop people based on the fact that you think they may be involved in a future offence," he said. "That is beyond textbook racial profiling, that is Orwellian control over the public and reminiscent of the 'Minority Report'."