Toronto Mayor John Tory is vowing to end the controversial police practice of carding, a change of heart that comes as forces across North America struggle with questions of public trust, especially in their relations with racial minorities.
Mr. Tory called a rare Sunday news conference to say he will introduce a motion at this month's meeting of the police services board asking for a permanent end to the policy by which individuals who are not under investigation are stopped and information is collected about them. He had previously opposed abolishing carding.
"It was time for me to say, 'Enough,'" the mayor said. "It was time to acknowledge that there is no real way to fix a practice which has come to be regarded as illegitimate, disrespectful and hurtful. It was better to start over with a clean slate."
A potential end to carding in Toronto could trigger change elsewhere in the country. A Toronto police-committee review of street-check policies found that several Canadian police agencies use similar carding practices.
Joseph Hickey, executive director of the Ontario Civil Liberties Association, said his group has fielded complaints about the practice in Ottawa and other Southern Ontario communities.
"Hopefully, Toronto taking the lead will help to abolish this practice across the province," he said.
The mayor's policy reversal follows a damaging week politically for Mr. Tory, who came to office with a promise to be a uniting figure. He weathered attacks from prominent citizens on two fronts: first for his support over keeping the eastern leg of the city's waterfront Gardiner Expressway, then for his support of carding.
On Wednesday, a group of community leaders – including three former mayors, a university president and some of Mr. Tory's key allies – assembled steps from his second-floor office to call for an end to the police practice, which they said amounts to racial profiling.
Mr. Tory's weekend announcement creates some much-needed goodwill before a key and potentially divisive debate on the Gardiner this week at council. It also sets the stage for a broader debate about policing, civil liberties and race relations.
Standing alone at a podium in his city hall office Sunday, an emotional Mr. Tory said the carding issue has been "among the most personal and agonizing" for him during his time as mayor.
"I don't think there is any issue on which I have spent more time," said Mr. Tory, a member of the police board that just two months ago decided to continue a revised version of carding. He credited the personal stories of those who have been stopped by police for persuading him to give up on efforts to reform the existing practice, which has been suspended since January.
"The issue of community engagements, or carding as it has become known, has eroded public trust to a level that is clearly unacceptable. As mayor, it is up to me to do whatever I can do to restore that trust," Mr. Tory said.
Members of the police board reached Sunday, including chairman Alok Mukherjee, expect the mayor's motion will gain wide support, but he and others characterized it as a "first step."
If approved, it will be up to the city's new police chief, Mark Saunders – the first black man to lead the country's largest urban police force – to implement the change.
Councillor Michael Thompson, a former member of the police board and a vocal critic of carding, said he is waiting to see what new policies will be put in place and the language of the mayor's motion. "Starting with a clean slate – I don't know what that means," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee, who supports abolishing carding, said an examination of practices will be needed to ensure that officers can still gather "legitimate" information.
Councillor Shelley Carroll, appointed to the police board by Mr. Tory, predicted the mayor's motion will receive unanimous support. But, she added, there is work to be done to fix the "toxic situation" at the board created under the last term of council and during the tenure of former chief Bill Blair. Mr. Blair retired this spring and is now seeking a nomination to run for the Liberals in the coming federal election.
Mr. Tory said he has informed the new chief of his change of thinking, but would not discuss details of their conversation. "He understands what I'm doing and I think he understands why I am doing it. And I'm looking forward to working with him," he said.
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said the chief "will work very closely with the board" to develop future policy.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack expressed concern about the mayor's decision.
In a statement, he described carding as "a proven, pro-active police investigative strategy that reduces, prevents and solves crime."
Toronto journalist Desmond Cole, who recently wrote about his interactions with police in a lengthy feature in Toronto Life, called Mr. Tory's reconsideration of carding "historic" and "potentially ground-shattering."
"It's such a big moment. It's such a big day," Mr. Cole said Sunday afternoon on his one-hour radio show.
Mr. Cole credited people who spoke out against carding and shared their experiences for changing the mayor's mind. Mr. Tory cited Mr. Cole as one of those who had swayed his opinion.