The Saskatchewan Police Commission is telling officers not to randomly stop people on the street and ask for information.
The commission also reminded people Wednesday that they are under no obligation to talk to police if they are stopped.
“Members of the public … are free to walk away at any time,” the commission said in a news release.
The police commission is bringing in a new policy which spells out that people can’t be stopped based on their race or just because they are in a high-crime area.
The commission, which regulates municipal and First Nations police forces, refers to the practice as contact interviews, but the terms carding or street checks have been used in other provinces. Minority groups have raised concerns, saying they are unfairly targeted by officers.
Chris Kortright from the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism said that it’s problematic for the commission to word the process as voluntary.
“It’s fundamentally ignoring the relationship most citizens, especially Indigenous and marginalized people, have with the police,” Kortright said.
“When a cop calls you over and demands to see your ID and starts asking you questions, most individuals don’t feel like they have the right to refuse that.”
Commission chair Neil Robertson said the agency deliberately avoided the term carding because it wanted to use a neutral term.
“Stopping someone because of some identifiable characteristic that’s protected under the Human Rights Code, including race, would be improper,” Robertson said.
Ken Norman, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said that the commission got it right in principal but that police need to pay attention to what is happening.
“Police carding has got to be premised on a better basis than stereotypical assumptions,” Norman said.
The policy does allow for interviews when circumstances warrant – for example, if someone is in an industrial area late at night when all the businesses are closed.
Estevan police Chief Paul Ladouceur said it’s important to have a policy that guides police officers across the province.
“The policy has to be broad enough that it allows the police to still do the important work that they have do within their communities … recognizing the balance between public engagement and respecting right of individuals and freedoms of individuals,” he said.
Ladouceur said he didn’t think random street checks have been an extensive problem in the province.
“Recently, obviously, we’ve seen across the country this has gone beyond that,” Ladouceur said. “So this was the approach of saying, ‘Let’s deal with this now so it doesn’t become a problem.“’ Kortright disagrees and said that his group has heard a lot of complaints by people who are targeted because of the neighbourhoods they live in or how they look.
Human rights lawyer Larry Kowalchuk said there’s no question that racism in Saskatchewan, as well as police interaction with Indigenous people, is a problem. He added that the new policy seems redundant.
“They are now saying ‘Well, from now on, you shouldn’t pick a particular group of people, class of people. You shouldn’t do that,“’ Kowalchuk said. “That sounds to me like an admission to that they have been doing that.”
Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper said in a statement that street checks are an important component of community policing, but there has to be a balance to maintain public confidence.
“I want to assure our community that our service will be reviewing the policy in consultation with the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners and will develop an approach that will best meet the needs of our citizens,” the statement said.