Toronto's new police chief used one of his first public appearances since getting the job to caution the black community that policy changes won't happen overnight, and that he isn't considering getting rid of the controversial practice known as carding.
The practice, in which officers stop people who aren't suspected of a crime and take down their personal information, has drawn much anger from the black community, which complains it has been disproportionately affected.
Many black community leaders said they didn't know Mark Saunders well when he was named the first black chief of Canada's largest police force. But they got a better sense of his policing plans on Wednesday when he spoke at the African Canadian Summit in North York.
"Abolishing [carding] is not the way in which we are going to say 'Everything's going to be better,'" Chief Saunders said to reporters after his speech, just four days into his new job.
The chief instead promised incremental change, especially around officer training. Repeating a pledge he made after his appointment last week, he said he would sit down for extensive talks with community leaders.
Of the final candidates for the top job, Chief Saunders was widely seen as one of the more traditional options, less likely to bring in drastic reform.
He said carding is still necessary for public safety, though he wants to eliminate the idea of "random" police stops. But concrete change doesn't come from arguing over how policies are worded, he said, and it doesn't come overnight.
"If anyone thinks tomorrow's a new day, it's not," he said in response to a question from the audience after his short speech at the summit.
"Law is complicated. You have to deal with the circumstance at hand, but more importantly, you have to be genuine with why you're doing what you're doing," he said. "You have to be able to justify your actions on a day-to-day basis, and you have to understand what your role is in the community."
Anthony Morgan of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, which co-hosted the summit, said last week that he was taking a "wait-and-see" approach, looking for signs of the new chief's policing philosophy, and especially a firm stand on carding.
Margaret Parsons, the legal clinic's executive director, asked the chief to talk about policing from the perspective of black people.
"Our community has been overpoliced to death," she said. "Is community safety about also keeping us safe from the police as well?"
In his response, Chief Saunders said citizens need to work more co-operatively with police if they want to see change.
"It takes two sides to make this happen," he said. "If I don't have this side that's willing to participate, that's willing to have meaningful discussions, that's willing to have solutions to help make this safe, then all is lost. … You cannot rely on the police to do everything."
After hearing of the chief's comments, activist Andray Domise said he wasn't satisfied with his promises to tweak carding or to start discussions about it. The policy's fundamental purpose is asking people for personal information they're not legally obligated to give, said Mr. Domise. He said one of his biggest concerns is that the police haven't demonstrated how carding has helped them achieve arrests or convictions.
"It needs to be done away with," he said. "It's still a violation of our Charter rights, and that's not acceptable."
Barry Coke, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association, said he doesn't accept carding in its current form, but will take the new chief up on his offer to talk one on one, "instead of to do it in the media."
Mr. Coke said he believes Toronto's black community and Chief Saunders have philosophical differences they don't yet understand.
"There is a gap," Mr. Coke said. "He knows it, and the community knows it."
However, he said carding is a debate the whole city should be having, not "a Jamaican black-community thing."