Police associations and police service board members across Ontario are calling on the government to provide more money and more staff to get officers into communities, in response to a newly released report examining the practice of carding – or random street checks.
Justice Michael Tulloch’s report made several recommendations, including providing adequate funding to allow for greater community involvement by police and facilitating partnerships with Indigenous communities. He also called for an end to the practice of “randomly stopping individuals to gather their identifying information for the creation of a database for intelligence purposes.” Street checks have come under fire in recent years, with data indicating that officers were disproportionately stopping blacks and other visible minorities.
“There’s going to have to be a training curriculum involved in this, retraining of police officers. Where are we going to find the time and people to do this when we can’t even put people out on the street?” asked Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack, in response to the Dec. 31 report’s recommendations. “To me, this is totally cart-before-the-horse.”
Bruce Chapman, president of the Ontario Police Association, says that police services across the province are struggling to find time for community policing. “We’re going call to call,” he said.
In Thunder Bay, where the force has recently been investigated over allegations of systemic racism, police services board chair Celina Reitberger says she hopes the government responds to the Tulloch report by opening its wallet.
“If you spend all the money that you do on all these studies then I think it behooves the government to back it up with financial assistance,” she said Wednesday. “It’s all well and good to come up with good ideas, but if there’s not the money to put it into effect than it’s just going to be another study that sits on the shelf and gathers dust.”
Justice Tulloch’s 310-page report outlines, among other details, the appropriate circumstances where officers may stop people and request information that is not part of an investigation. He draws a line between street checks and carding, which he says are a “small subset” of street checks. Ontario introduced new regulations in 2016 that, in part, dictated that police must inform people that they aren’t required to provide identifying information during such checks. The intention of the regulation was to end arbitrary stops, particularly stops based on race. Justice Tulloch was hired by the former Ontario Liberal government.
Some advocates – including Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto – have called for an end to the practice of street checks in all forms. “To us, there’s no way to card appropriately,” she said in a phone call on Wednesday.
Ms. Reitberger said she understands there may be occasions when street checks could be important, but believes it’s “more the exception than the rule.”
The two police association presidents, Mr. McCormack and Mr. Chapman, didn’t interpret the report so much as a denouncement of street checks, but a delineation of when they might be appropriate. “He is clearly saying that street checks are a valuable tool when done right and lawfully,” Mr. McCormack said, clarifying that he didn’t believe in random or arbitrary stops.
Mr. Chapman said he thought the “very small part” of the report that concluded that random street checks provided little benefit had been sensationalized, though he didn’t dispute the conclusion.
Toronto Mayor John Tory also spoke about the report on Wednesday, describing in a statement what he saw as a necessary balance to strike – between avoiding unfair targeting and ensuring police officers could do their jobs with “clear rules, definitions and training.”
“I have been clear that arbitrarily stopping people, often in the past predominantly young, black men who have done nothing wrong, does not make us safer, is inconsistent with our basic rights as Canadians and only damages public trust in the police,” Mr. Tory wrote in an e-mail. “The police, however, have a difficult job to do and an important challenge arising out of this report will be to educate the public and officers about circumstances in which the police can and must stop people when there are grounds to do so.”
Justice Tulloch is expected to speak about the report publicly on Friday.
The province, meanwhile, is reviewing his findings, and declined to say whether police services in Ontario will be given extra money or resources. “We need to take the time to examine all of Justice Tulloch’s recommendations,” said Marion Ringuette, a spokesperson for Ontario Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Sylvia Jones.