It didn’t come quickly or easily, but Ontario’s Liberal government has finally said good riddance to random and arbitrary carding by police. Now the challenge is to ensure that no similar, unnecessarily invasive procedure is allowed to return through new regulations coming within a few weeks.
Until Thursday, when Minister of Community Safety Yasir Naqvi announced a ban on carding, the government’s position was that such “street checks” were a necessary and valuable tool for police, when properly conducted. Queen’s Park’s goal was to reform the practice, not eliminate it.
That changed when Naqvi — citing community opinion — told the legislature that “street checks, by definition, are arbitrary as well as discriminatory and therefore cannot be regulated; they must simply be ended.”
In other words, Queen’s Park at long last got the message on carding. The province is poised to introduce a regulation banning random street checks by the end of this fall and writing it into the Police Services Act.
The practice certainly deserves to be stopped. It involves having police stop people who have committed no apparent crime in order to ask a series of intrusive questions. Their answers could be kept on file for an indefinite period.
In Toronto responses were recorded on special “contact cards” and held in a massive data base.
The point was to gather information on people, more or less at random, so that officers could better understand the neighbourhood they were patrolling. But a series of Star investigations found that individuals with black or brown skin were being stopped at disproportionately high rates. And that pattern is consistent with racial profiling.
The Toronto Star’s findings provided statistical evidence for what members of targeted communities had long felt — that they were the subject of extraordinary and unfair scrutiny by police.
A tipping point came earlier this year amid mounting concern expressed at virtually every level of society. Former mayors, legal experts, human rights crusaders, community activists, and religious leaders all joined in demanding an end to carding. The Ontario Human Rights Commission forcefully spoke out against prejudicial street checks. And black law student Kina Singh filed a constitutional challenge arguing the practice is a breach of charter rights. This entirely justified clamour could no longer be ignored.
Further undercutting the case for continued carding, no Ontario police service has yet provided solid evidence of a law enforcement benefit from this toxic policy that outweighs the harm it has done.
It doesn’t make sense to continue offending entire communities — alienating the very people police are supposed to protect — by persisting with street checks.
Carding has been suspended in Toronto pending release of new provincial regulations. But police in other jurisdictions, such as Peel Region, continue doing street checks arguing that their particular approach is both fair and, according to anecdotal evidence, a valuable crime-fighting tool.
Even after a provincial ban is in place, some police services may strive to maintain an amended or modified carding policy. It’s important that new regulations explicitly and conclusively put an end to this corrosive practice.
There’s no point in attempting to reform the irredeemable. Carding can’t be fixed — it needs to be terminated.