A legal advocacy group has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services Board and four police chiefs over the practice known as carding, alleging that randomly stopping individuals and collecting their personal information violated Charter rights.
The proposed lawsuit, filed in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice on Monday, is seeking a declaration that the board and former chiefs Bill Blair, Mark Saunders and James Ramer, as well as current Police Chief Myron Demkiw, violated the rights of individuals who have been stopped and required to provide personal information without any suspicion of criminal activity.
The lawsuit, which must be certified as a class action before it can proceed, also claims the police service is still using the practice even though it is illegal.
Carding has long been controversial and was banned in Ontario in 2017. Police are now obligated to explain their reason for stopping someone and tell individuals that providing identifying information is voluntary if criminal activity isn’t suspected.
Reports conducted across the country have found the practice has disproportionately been used against Black and Indigenous communities.
The proposed class action was launched by the Black Legal Action Centre and McCarthy Tétrault LLP on behalf of Ayaan Farah, a Somali-Canadian woman who a court ruled in 2016 unfairly lost her job at Pearson International Airport after her security clearance was revoked.
In the lawsuit, Ms. Farah alleges she was detained by Toronto police while sitting in public in 2011 and required to give identifying information, which was later used by RCMP when she was accused of associating with an unidentified person affiliated with gang activity.
In a statement Tuesday, Ms. Farah said the situation made her fearful to be out in public and affected her mental health.
“Hopefully, this case will cause the police to rethink their practices,” she said. “There must be a way to keep our communities safe without intimidating and harassing innocent people.”
The allegations haven’t been tested in court and the defendants haven’t submitted a response to the claims. The police board told The Globe and Mail it wouldn’t comment as the matters are before the court.
Ms. Farah is the proposed representative plaintiff for the class action that intends to represent all Black and Indigenous people who say they have been unfairly carded by Toronto police since 2011.
The litigation is seeking upward of $250-million in compensation from the board and police chiefs as well as a public apology.
“Carding has made class members fearful to walk down the street, made them feel like criminals because of their racial or ethnic identity, and made them feel like second-class citizens, denied the right to live their lives without arbitrary police interference,” the statement of claim says.
The legal challenge argues carding infringes on Charter-protected rights against unreasonable search and seizure, freedom from arbitrary detention, and the right to not be arbitrarily deprived of liberty and security of the person.
Michael Rosenberg, a partner with McCarthy Tétrault and co-counsel for the class action, said cases of carding and racial profiling are still being reported. There are also exemptions to the rules that allow for personal information to be collected, including during traffic stops or criminal investigations.
The lawsuit calls for information collected by the police prior to the new rules to be expunged.
“Maintaining the data that was improperly seized from members of this proposed class with very slight restrictions on use amounts to nothing more than window dressing,” Mr. Rosenberg told The Globe.
The proposed class action comes as the Ontario Human Rights Commission is working on a final report of its public inquiry into anti-Black racism by the Toronto Police Service.