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Packed Hamilton forum demands end to police carding

A diverse crowd of more than 200 crammed Hamilton city hall Tuesday to call for an end to the controversial policing practice of street checks, or carding, held by many to be unconstitutional and a violation of privacy.

'Do I want to have my name in that database?'

Coun. Matthew Green convened a forum Tuesday to address questions of constitutionality, discrimination and privacy in the police carding practice. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

A diverse crowd of more than 200 people crammed into Hamilton city hall Tuesday to call police to account for a tool known as carding, viewed by many to be unconstitutional and a violation of privacy.

They spoke straight to the people who can do something about it, many of them angrily and passionately.

HPS has not been transparent about why this data is collected, or even where this data is going.- Kermeisha  Williams, co-organizer, 'Black, Brown, Red Lives Matter' march

In the audience were the provincial Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi, Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire, Deputy Chief Eric Girt and four members of the Hamilton Police's oversight board, including the chair, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson. 

Though the province is looking at regulating street checks, commonly called carding, most speakers, like McMaster students Kayonne Christy and Kermeisha Williams, called for an outright end to the practice.

Carding, is an "invasive, dehumanizing and unconstitutional practice," Christy said Tuesday.

"To this day, the HPS has not been transparent about why this data is collected, or even where this data is going," Williams said. 

"Most of our community is not in favour of carding, and I hope, Minister, that you take this seriously and not try to water down the recommendations," said Evelyn Myrie, a community leader and former executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

"We are tired of giving you our voices, believing in a system, and it fails us."

'A sign we've hit a crossroads'

Kermeisha Williams and Kayonne Christy were two organizers of a Dec. 2014 march called "Black, Brown, Red Lives Matter" and called again Tuesday for an end to carding. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
Coun. Matthew Green called the meeting, saying he believes that carding is fundamentally unconstitutional. 

"I fully recognize the pain and frustration felt by many of you here today," Green said. "Because I share it with you."

He asked every law enforcement officer in the room, even plainclothes and off-duty, to raise their hands and identify themselves as the meeting began. But, he said, the community should not, in its anger, ignore this chance to have an important dialogue with the province and local police.

De Caire called the event "a very important conversation for the city of Hamilton" but did not commit to any changes to the practice until he hears more direction from the province and the police oversight board. 

Coun. Terry Whitehead, who sits on the police services board, said the size and passion of the crowd should not be ignored.

"I think it's a sign that we've hit a crossroads," Whitehead said. "I think we heard comments that people are tired and they need a change in approach."

He said practices like carding can create a "distrust, an us-and-them."  

Another member of the board, Madeleine Levy, said the issue has "come to a head."

The police "information-gathering and retention needs review," she said.

'We found out that was a lie'

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)
The attention and focus on the carding issue comes more than 10 months after a downtown march in December 2014 called for an end to carding and the police database with information collected in noncriminal street stops.

Two of the organizers of that march, Christy and Williams, came to speak Tuesday.

Williams said the police responded to that march and said, in part, that they do not collect race-based data, meaning a breakdown of racial impact of the carding practice could not be done. 

"However, recently we found out that that was a lie," Williams said. She referred to a police presentation from July that showed the racial breakdown of street checks and demonstrated a disproportionate impact on black and indigenous individuals.

'Do I want to have my name in that database?'

One of the biggest questions came around what happens once an officer fills out the 65-plus fields on the street check form. Police have said the information is retained indefinitely in their database. 

"Part of what ought to be collected and what ought to be demonstrable, is that if Hamilton collects data for criminal investigations and it's helping them, they should be able to demonstrate that to us," said Sean Hurley, a Crown Point resident and data activist.

"They should be able to show us that the data they're collecting is creating actionable intelligence that leads to arrests, convictions and the closing of cases," Hurley said. "But whenever they're asked about it, the best we get is stories."  

And that's not good enough to justify it either from a privacy perspective or from the perspective of whether the tool is a good use of police time, Hurley said.

Ultimately, Hurley said, the question for thinking about justifying the data should be, "Do I want to have my name in that database?"

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

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