The announcement on Tuesday that the Ontario government plans to standardize police carding procedures contained two implicit messages: one, that the practice of carding has at times been a violation of Charter rights and a source of racial discrimination, and has damaged the public's confidence in the police; and, two, that carding will continue in some form.
This apparent contradiction has left the critics of carding saying the practice can't be regulated in a way that both protects people's right to remain silent and be treated equally, and also allows police to collect the data they say they need to fight crime. Therefore, say critics, carding should be banned. It will be up to Yasir Naqvi, the Minister of Community Safety, who made Tuesday's announcement, to prove otherwise. He hasn't got an easy job ahead of him.
Carding happens when police officers randomly stop innocent citizens and ask them for personal information that might be useful in an "unspecified future investigation," as the Toronto Police Services Board put it last year. The information, including age, race, gender and "known associates," is put in a police database. When a future crime is committed, investigators turn to the database to see if any of the names in it are linked to the suspects in the crime. It's all a bit Minority Report.
Because Toronto police mostly use carding to pre-investigate crimes in "high-risk" neighbourhoods with large minority populations, a disproportionate percentage of innocent black men and teenagers have been carded. Police are sometimes aggressive in their approach, which leads to hostility. Citizens who were minding their own business one minute wind up being arrested the next and charged with disorderly conduct, all because of a random contact initiated by an officer.
If the Ontario government regulates carding in a way that doesn't allow police to target neighbourhoods and requires officers to inform people that they are at liberty to walk away, no questions asked, will police even bother? When the Toronto Police Services Board adopted new rules last year with those requirements, the police simply stopped carding. The practice is still officially on hold.
"The new regulation would support the province's police officers with clear and consistent guidelines to help them deliver fair and effective policing, while strengthening public accountability and safeguarding respect for human rights," says Mr. Naqvi.
Good luck with that.