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Toronto Reaction divided on new rules for police questioning, ‘carding’ tactics

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, right, announced what he called a “remarkable milestone” in building public trust of police, but critics were quick to pan the new proposal.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair announced what he called a "remarkable milestone" in building public trust of police, but critics were quick to pan the new proposal.

The Toronto Police Service and its civilian oversight board released new proposed rules Friday around officers' habit of "carding," or questioning and taking down information from people without detaining them.

Those who have followed the controversial street checks, however, said the new policy is largely a reversion to old practices that first inspired public anger.

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Anthony Morgan, a lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, said the news would help define Chief Blair's legacy a month before he steps down, undoing some of the progress he made on race relations in his 10-year tenure.

"I actually think this brings [Chief Blair's] term full circle in the sense of … finishing where he started," Mr. Morgan said.

Critics have said officers disproportionately card racial minorities, and the Toronto Police Services Board has been trying to implement new written guidelines for more than a year. Chief Blair, who was accused of dragging his heels making the changes, suspended the practice in January pending new rules.

The policy released Friday, which the board will look at formalizing in a special meeting on April 2, eliminates some of the board's current restrictions, including requiring officers to issue receipts after every carding interaction. After that rule was created in 2013, carding declined by as much as 90 per cent, the board's lawyer said last year.

Officers would now provide business cards only upon request. Chief Blair said he wanted to make clear that the new policy addresses public concerns "rather than debate one process over the other."

The policy also expands the circumstances when officers may perform the street checks, said Mr. Morgan and another legal advocate, Noa Mendelsohn Aviv of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Before, officers needed to be investigating a particular crime; under the proposed rules, they need only to be working towards public safety in general.

"I wasn't expecting such a big step backwards," Ms. Aviv said.

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One good step was the addition of new legal language, she said. The policy asks officers to avoid creating situations of "psychological detention," in which people haven't been arrested but feel they aren't permitted to leave. That term comes from a Supreme Court decision and recognizes that people may reasonably feel they are detained, even when they haven't been handcuffed or physically held.

Mr. Morgan said officers should inform people before starting the conversation that they may leave at any time. Chief Blair said the force will focus on educating the public about their rights through other means.

The long debate over carding "inspires cynicism," Mr. Morgan said. However, Chief Blair deserves credit for acknowledging racial profiling as chief, he said.

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