Toronto police board meeting shut down as critics continue to take aim at carding

Desmond Cole's protest shut down Thursday's police board meeting, but not before multiple critics demanding a complete end to carding spoke out.

Lawyers say they want the controversial practice ended, not better explained to the public

A protest by activist and journalist Desmond Cole ended Thursday's meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, but not before critics again called for the end of carding in this city. (John Rieti/CBC)

Desmond Cole's protest shut down Thursday's police board meeting, but not before multiple critics demanding a complete end to carding spoke out.

Cole, the journalist and activist, raised his fist, saying he was standing up for black youth in the city and that he wouldn't leave until the board destroyed data collected in past carding stops. In response, the board adjourned its meeting.

"We have to make change happen when it comes to this police board, because they're not going to do it on their own," Cole told reporters after ending his protest.

"I don't have any faith in them whatsoever."

We have stopped carding as it was then known ... the rules have been radically changed.- Mayor John Tory

The board was set to discuss materials the Ontario government is developing to help people understand their rights when it comes to being questioned by police. The province's new rules governing carding, or street checks as the practice is known in other municipalities, took effect this year and there is a series of guidelines for how officers are supposed to behave when they stop and question citizens..

That debate didn't happen due to the meeting's abrupt stop, something Mayor John Tory calls unfortunate.

"We have stopped carding as it was then known," Tory said at city hall about an hour after the meeting ended.

"The rules have been radically changed."

The province has banned police from arbitrarily collecting identifying information, or using a person's race or presence in what's considered a high-crime neighbourhood as a reason to question them.

But lawyer Peter Rosenthal says those changes aren't enough, and cited a report given to the police board last month that warned the controversial practice does more harm than good.

"Carding is harmful no matter how it's done and it has to be abolished," lawyer Peter Rosenthal told CBC Toronto before the meeting.

"Any way you do it has harmful effects on the individuals who are carded, and disastrous effects on police-community relations."

Groups like Black Lives Matter Toronto have called for an outright ban on the practice. And in a recent CBC opinion piece, U of T sociologist Akwasi Owusu-Bempah argues the province's new rules allow for "creative circumvention" by police officers.

Rosenthal said that perception alone is destroying the relationship between police and those they serve.

Province's carding poster ridiculed

Lawyer Peter Rosenthal says Toronto police should pay attention to a recent report that suggests carding does more harm than good. (John Rieti/CBC)

Both Rosenthal and Jack Gemmell, of the Law Union of Ontario, also blasted the province's initial offering to educate the public about their rights.

Rosenthal calls the guidelines a "mess."

Gemmell says the province's new carding rules are "opaque and complex," but had harsher words for a draft poster the province provided to educate people about their rights when it comes to getting stopped by the police.

"This is virtually incomprehensible," he told the board, holding the black and white paper.

While reading it, "your eyes stop."

Officers getting trained on new rules, police say

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders didn't speak with the media following the meeting, but a spokesperson issued a statement that said police have a procedure in place to guide interactions with the public.

"The procedure itself was created in line with the [Toronto Police Services Board] policy and the Ontario regulation," the statement said.   

"Officers have been trained on this procedure."

The spokesperson couldn't say how many times police have questioned people in 2017.

Tory says it's inevitable that people will come in contact with police officers, and said the force is working on improving those interactions.

"It's going to be an ongoing evolution to a new policy that treats people more respectfully, and we're trying to do just that," he said.

Cole, meanwhile, vowed to maintain the pressure on the police board to abandon the practice.


John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.