'What is arbitrary?' Questions remain as province moves to ban carding

Anti-carding activists left wondering how the controversial tactic will be stopped, what safeguards will be adopted and what consequences there will be for police services that continue to stop and document people without a clear connection to a crime.

Coun. Matthew Green: 'I reject the premise that banning this practice would make us less safe'

Provincial public safety minister Yasir Naqvi, seen in front of Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire, said arbitrary street stops and any policing involving discrimination must end. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Hamilton Coun. Matthew Green, a vocal critic of police carding, praised Thursday's statement from provincial Minister Yasir Naqvi promising an end in Ontario to "random, arbitrary" carding and street check stops. 

But Green, like other critics around the province, said they'll be watching closely for details and still have many questions:

  • How, practically, the proactive policing tactic will be stopped?
  • What kind of stops will be allowed?
  • What safeguards will be adopted?
  • What consequences there will be for police officers and services that continue to stop and document people without a clear connection to a crime?

"They have to define what is arbitrary," Green said.

The Ontario Association of Police Chiefs said earlier this week they would strongly oppose some proposed limitations on street checks and there was "no agreement on substantive issues" with the province about a new way forward. The association has not yet responded to Naqvi's statement.

Hamilton Police have said street checks are a vital tool for keeping communities safe, but have yet to provide data showing how many of the more than 9,000 street checks done since 2010 have played an integral role in solving crime.

"Residents of Hamilton ... have been stopped, carded and info being stored without having any connection to any investigation or crime," Green said. "I reject the premise that banning this practice would make us less safe, given the chief has yet to provide any substantial evidence to prove that this practice results in any arrests."

Hamilton's police board on Thursday passed a motion to limit street checks to being used only when there's a "clear policing purpose," but the definition of that limit sounded different when the mayor described it than when the police chief did.

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire has not responded Friday morning to the minister's comments. He said in a letter to the province last month that Hamilton will be less safe and crimes will go unsolved if street checks, or carding, are limited or abolished.

'He said it in the legislature'

Coun. Matthew Green convened a forum in September to address questions of constitutionality, discrimination and privacy in the police carding practice. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
In Hamilton last month, Naqvi said the law already prohibits racial profiling, and the province is against arbitrary stops of citizens. He made the remarks during a packed community forum when more than 200 people came to city hall to speak out against the police practice.

But yesterday's announcement carried more weight, Green said: "He said it in the legislature."

Knia Singh, a law student and activist who has filed a legal challenge about what he calls breaches of Charter rights inherent in the carding practice, called Naqvi's statement a "strong positive message." 

"What I really want to see is if the regulation is sufficient," he said. "Banning street checks and carding is a good way to inform the public, but the reality is they are already illegal under our Constitution and common law."

He called Naqvi's statement and MPP Jagmeet Singh's related private member's bill "bold." But he said he would be concerned if whatever regulations come from the province do not stop police from "the same discriminatory practices under a new or different name." 

Another anti-carding activist, Desmond Cole, raised a series of questions about the government's ban. 

Halima Hatimy, one of the loudest critics of carding in Hamilton and a co-organizer of a march last December that raised the issue, concluded that the province is "not ending carding. They are regulating it."

Ismael Traore, another critic of carding in Hamilton, said he was surprised to see the province's language around banning arbitray carding, because this summer's consultations were set up on the premise that the province was planning to regulate, not abolish the practice.

"At this stage, community members and organizers and activists have legitimate reasons to be cautious and not claim victory prematurely," he said.

Regulating non-random stops

Naqvi said he wants all random, arbitrary stops without cause to end, but signaled there are some police stops that are still "voluntary" that need to be regulated. 

"Where there is reasonable grounds ... to stop somebody because there's some suspicion of illegal activity, or you want to prevent illegal activity, that even those interactions, which are voluntary in nature, must take place in a rights framework," he said.

Naqvi said the ministry has been working with groups to hammer out those details, which could include new regulations on: 

  • Providing cautions (ie. letting an individual know he or she has the right to walk away)
  • Receipts (Hamilton Police said they would consider adopting receipts for police interactions sometime this year)
  • Retention of information 
  • Appropriate training 
  • Accountability and transparency of the information collected so we can understand whether this type of practice is effective or not

These pieces will likely be more contentious.


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