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'Unjustifiable': Human Rights Commission slams Hamilton police on carding

The head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission said Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire's description of his policing approach is "a textbook description of racial profiling."

'It is not discretion in action – it is a racially-motivated round-up'

Hamilton police released this image of the shootout that took place in May in central Hamilton in hopes of tracking down suspects. (Hamilton police)

The head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission said Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire's description of his policing approach on street checks and carding is "a textbook description of racial profiling." 

It is not discretion in action – it is a racially-motivated round-up.- Ruth Goba , interim chief commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission
Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire said the community expects police to stop, talk to and investigate "young black males" in the neighbourhood in a daylight gunfight in May. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
"Hamilton police chief Glenn De Caire's position on carding and street checks contains a fundamental and significant error," writes Ruth Goba, interim chief commissioner at the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

She was responding to De Caire's submission to the provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services on carding reforms. In it, De Caire uses the example of a day time gunfight in May between two black males to outline police response.

"When we send officers to this area in response to the shooting, we are going to be stopping, talking and investigating young black males," he wrote. "We are going to be stopping and talking to as many people as possible because we do not know who might be a suspect, person of interest, victim, witness or a person who may wish to be a confidential informant. We don't know until we gather the information."

'This is a textbook description of racial profiling'

The commission takes issue with De Caire's approach. 

"Anyone who happens to be a 'young black male' is going to be stopped, without evidence of wrongdoing, without even a suspicion of wrongdoing; they are to be stopped and questioned and information about them added to a police database solely because they are young Black males," Goba writes.

"This is a textbook description of racial profiling," Goba said. "It is not discretion in action – it is a racially-motivated round-up."

The commission submitted the response as a letter to the Hamilton Spectator and shared a copy with CBC Hamilton. 

Both letters were written before Minister Yasir Naqvi laid out new draft regulations Wednesday governing what he called "voluntary interactions" with the police.

De Caire cited the Human Rights Commission in his letter, touting its support for the importance of officer discretion. 

"We agree that discretion is important – vitally so," Goba said. "But we have always been clear: officer discretion must be informed and guided to prevent racial profiling – and discretionary decisions that are informed by racial bias should lead to officer discipline."

De Caire does say in his letter, and repeatedly in public remarks, that police should not activate any policing activity based on race, and that "discretion is a major component of applying the law in a fair, consistent and bias free manner and must never be exercised to favour or to target an individual or group."

Goba's letter cites an example of a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruling on a case in Toronto in which it found the policing approach "unjustifiable." In that case, "an officer investigating a gun-related incident involving a Black male suspect driving a black sports car decided to follow the man simply because he was a young Black man driving alone in a black BMW."

The HRTO found that if the suspect had been a Caucasian man in the same circumstances, with no other defining characteristics, and with as little information available about the car and direction of travel, the officer would probably not have chosen to investigate," she said.

De Caire said after the minister's announcement Wednesday that the service will continue its "work to prevent and solve crime as we balance the rights of individuals in line with the expectations of the public regarding their safety."

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