The carding of citizens by police is troubling as it pertains to their Charter rights and, given the nature of recently published data in the Toronto Star, even more problematic for racial minorities, says Toronto criminal lawyer Kevin Hunter.
“As the recent data shows, people with black or brown skin are stopped and carded disproportionately more than their white counterparts,” Hunter says of the recently published Toronto Star investigation called Known to Police. “This sends an unfortunate message to members of racialized communities that they are being targeted by the police, an experience shared by many of my clients and their families.”
Starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Canadian police services began to stress the importance of intelligence-led policing, says Hunter, associate with Edward H. Royle & Associates and a former police officer. The idea, learned from police departments in the United States, was that policing agencies would benefit from the proper collection of data from the communities they serve. Through data analysis, Hunter says, “the police would be more effective in identifying community concerns, patterns of criminality and in making connections between potentially suspicious individuals and past or future crimes.”
As the saying goes, information is power, Hunter says, and the police aspired to be more powerful in their crime-fighting mandate through the use of carding.
“The message to the general public was clear — the police would take proactive measures to prevent and solve crime rather than strictly reacting to situations as they occur,” says Hunter.
In theory, this effort is understandable, even laudable, he continues. In practice, however, “the data shows that the carding system has yielded results which may fairly be characterized as anywhere from concerning to systemically racist.”
Most concerning for Hunter is the evolution of carding from a secondary tool of information gathering for police, “to a primary instrument of arbitrary detention and search by historically recent branches of targeted policing.”
Policing agencies have developed specific units designed to proactively target particular communities, Hunter says, pointing to Toronto Police Services’ TAVIS unit. These units are tasked not with responding to calls for service, “but with engaging with members of communities deemed to be high risk or of particular concern to police.”
Experience has shown that these units use aggressive patrol practices that involve detaining members of the community, Hunter says. These practices are legally distressing to begin with, “but when compounded by issues of race, there is an undeniable tension between the public interest in crime prevention and the Charter protected rights of Canadian citizens of all backgrounds,” he says.
The fact that the chair of the Toronto Police Service Board has recognized the racially-charged dynamics of the police carding issue is encouraging, Hunter says.
“A new message is being sent to the public that the current racially disproportionate carding practice is unacceptable to the police oversight body,” says Hunter. “The real challenge will be to ensure the police are carding citizens based on legitimate suspicion of potentially criminal activity, rather than simply hunches based on skin colour.”
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