Toronto policy designed to restrict police activity
TORONTO - The Toronto Police board has adopted a revised carding policy its authors claim goes beyond the minimum requirements set out by the province’s new "street checks" regulations, but that critics say won’t stop the harmful legacy of the controversial police practice.
TORONTO – The Toronto Police board has adopted a revised carding policy its authors claim goes beyond the minimum requirements set out by the province’s new “street checks” regulations, but that critics say won’t stop the harmful legacy of the controversial police practice.
In a scene that has become familiar in the years-long battle against carding, community members addressed the police board inside Toronto police headquarters Thursday. Chief among their concerns: that police will still be allowed access to historic carding data, reaping the benefits of damaging, and in some cases unconstitutional, police stops.
While the board’s new policy creates a highly restrictive system to access personal information gathered in past carding interactions, critics have a simpler solution.
“I consider this information to be the stolen property of the people of the city of Toronto,” Toronto carding activist and freelance journalist Desmond Cole told the board.
“Despite the fact that the police may find it inconvenient to have to give up this information now, the true inconvenience and harm is what has been done to the community.”
Carding, also known as street checks, is the police practice of stopping, questioning and documenting people not suspected of a crime. It has disproportionately targeted racialized people, particularly young black and brown men. Their personal details, such as name, address, height, weight and more are added to an investigative database.
Following a bitter carding battle between Toronto’s board and then-police chief Bill Blair, the Ontario government stepped in last year to establish province-wide carding regulations aimed at eliminating arbitrary, discriminatory police stops.
Released in March, the regulations contain new, rights-based requirements, including that officers must issue a receipt at the completion of a carding interaction including their name, badge number and information about making a complaint.
Those regulations come into effect January 1, 2017 — creating a looming deadline by which Ontario police services and boards must establish policies, procedures and training programs.
The retention of historic carding data is among the most complex issues with which police boards must now grapple. Amid calls to purge all the data, there’s the complicated matter of the legal requirements to retain it.
Both the Toronto police board and the service are being sued in relation to carding; at last count, there were 15 human rights cases or civil suits regarding carding.
Generally, once a lawsuit has been filed the party being sued cannot destroy records connected to the claim, meaning neither the Toronto police board nor service can delete certain carding data.
Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters Thursday the litigation issue is a “huge” consideration when it comes to data retention.
“Right now, we are liable if we eliminate things. People are saying we did (carding) wrong. We’ve admitted we did it wrong in certain instances, and now to remove that evidence? We might as well start signing the checks,” he said.
Frank Addario, the Toronto lawyer hired to write the board’s carding policy, said it would be impossible to sift out properly collected information from wrongful carding stops — meaning the choice was between keeping all of the old data or none of it.
The new policy passed by the board establishes a system whereby historic information will be retained, but access would be highly restricted. Approval would have to come from the chief, and only be granted when there is a significant public interest or to comply with a legal requirement.
The chief would then publicly report on the requests to access data, the number of approvals and rationale and whether the historical data had served a purpose. The board would then strike a review panel to oversee the chief’s reports.
“Those measures, I propose, will allow the board to monitor and control how and when old and bad carding data is used,” Addario told the board Thursday.
In a statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory said that while he advocated for the deletion of historic carding data, he believes the proposed policy “appropriately restricts access to this data and increases accountability and transparency around its use.”
Stating the new policy must be “a living document,” Toronto city councillor and police board member Shelley Carroll passed a motion to have the chief city solicitor report annually to police headquarters on the status of ongoing carding litigation.
“We may find in the judicial decisions that we have a reason to amend the retention policy with respect to that old data,” she told reporters following the board meeting. “Everyone would love to destroy it.”
Another fundamental concern raised by critics is that the efficacy of carding has still not been demonstrated by police — despite frequent police claims to the importance of carding to solving crime.
“I remain concerned by the fact that we’re developing a policy without evidence of the need for it, or its effectiveness,” said Anthony Morgan, a Toronto-based community advocate and lawyer. “The question is, what is this really for?”
In that spirit, the board retained criminologist Anthony Doob, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, to research the effectiveness generally and the viability of carrying out research specifically on carding’s utility in Toronto.
The carding policy approved by the board Thursday comes after years of bitter debate between the police board and former police chief Bill Blair.
In April, 2014, amid fierce criticism of carding and declining public trust, the Toronto police board passed what many rights advocates considered a progressive policy with sufficient civil rights safeguards. Among them was an outright ban on carding for “unspecified future investigations” or because of an “unsupported suspicion.”
But the policy gathered dust as Blair refused to write procedures to implement it. After months of debate, a watered down carding policy was passed in April 2015.
Soon after taking over from Blair, Saunders called carding a valuable investigative tool, but said Toronto police needed to end “random” stops.