An Ontario judge says carding doesn't work. But will politicians listen?

An Ontario judge who earlier this week called for the elimination of random street checks spoke Friday about the results of an independent review he led into the police practice known as "carding."

After an 11 month review, Tulloch found carding has little to no value as a policing tool

Justice Michael Tulloch was hired by Ontario's previous Liberal government to assess the effectiveness of new regulations meant to limit the impact of street checks on racialized groups. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

An Ontario judge who earlier this week called for the elimination of random street checks said the practice generates only "low quality intelligence" and alienates certain communities from the police.

Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch elaborated on the findings of his 310-page review on the police practice known as "carding" Friday morning.

In his remarks, Tulloch said there is no evidence that random street checks lead to fewer crimes, and that the roll back of carding practices has, in some cases, resulted in lower crime rates.

"The tools already at the police's disposal are more than sufficient" to tackle crime and violence than carding, he said.

"Stops must be based on more than a hunch or 'spidey sense,'" Tulloch said. 

Published on Monday, Tulloch's review combined 11 months of province-wide consultations with thousands of people including community groups, members of the public, as well as 34 police forces.

"There is little to no evidence that a random, unfocused collection of identifying information has benefits that outweigh the social cost of the practice," Tulloch wrote in the report.

Carding, he concluded, has little to no value as a law enforcement tool and should be significantly limited given the "social cost" of the practice.

How the province and municipalities plan to respond to the recommendations remains to be seen.

"We are currently reviewing the Report of the Independent Street Checks Review and we look forward to working with the government as it decides how to respond to the report's recommendations," a Toronto police spokesperson said on Twitter.

'Considerable' effort with 'little to no' results

Tulloch's review followed new rules around street checks, instituted in 2016, requiring police to inform people during a street check that they aren't required to provide any identifying information. That move followed years of scrutiny amid data showing officers were disproportionately stopping black and other racialized people.

Police across Ontario have long argued street checks have investigative value — something Tulloch challenged in his report.

"A widespread program of random street checks involves considerable time and effort for a police service, with little to no verifiable results on the level of crime or even arrests," he wrote. "Some police services reported that there are other ways to gather data or use data that they already have more effectively."

But exactly when street checks should be allowed isn't quite as clear.

Among the recommendations in the report, Tulloch advised the government take a harder line on street checks, tightening definitions of terms such as "identifying information" and "suspicious circumstances," and broadening protections during vehicle stops. Street checks, he said, can have value in cases where there are clear suspicious circumstances, or when police are looking for a missing person or crime victim.

Tulloch also recommends the creation of a new police college to standardize practices among officers, and he said he wants to see police services automatically destroy any data collected by a random check after five years.

Tulloch, who was hired by Ontario's previous Liberal government to assess the effectiveness of new regulations meant to limit the impact of street checks on racialized groups, said those circumstances are very specific and the practice as a whole should be sharply curtailed.

Friday's event is billed as an opportunity for the public and members of the media to ask questions about the findings.

With files from The Canadian Press