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Ontario Moves to Ban Random Police Stops — And Issue Receipts for All Else

“It is unprecedented what we’ve introduced today,” Ontario's community safety minister Yasir Naqvi told VICE News, calling the regulation the “first of its kind” in Canada.
October 28, 2015, 10:20pm
Image via Flickr Creative Commons

Ontario is on its way to banning "carding," the random and arbitrary police practice of stopping and collecting identifying information, which has been widely denounced as discriminatory.

New regulations, announced Wednesday afternoon, would prohibit such stops and require police to document every time they collect data, which is still allowed in certain circumstances. They're also supposed to issue a receipt.

"It is unprecedented what we've introduced today," community safety minister Yasir Naqvi told VICE News, calling the regulation the "first of its kind" in Canada.

The new rules, he explained, are designed to do two things — stop the random and arbitrary collection of identifying information, and protect individual civil liberties during voluntary interactions with police.

Carding is a practice that has caused heated controversy in Toronto, where an ongoing series of reports by the Toronto Star has exposed how it disproportionately affects people with black and brown skin. And with an unprecedented level of attention being paid to police behavior in Canada and the US, more and more citizens are challenging how they are being treated.

Related: After Years of Outcry, Toronto Could Soon End Controversial Policing Practice

If the regulation is approved, during "voluntary police-public interactions," police will have to let people know they're not legally required to give them any identifying details, and that they don't even have to stay to talk to them. Officers also must explain why the information is being collected, unless doing so compromises their ability to investigate a particular offense, results in the identification of a confidential informant, or compromises someone's safety.

The draft regulation, which is open to public input for 45 days, would also require police officers to provide people they stop a document that says their name and identification number; the date, time, location, and reason for the collection; information about how the person can reach the Independent Police Review Director in case they want to file a complaint; and how to access all the details that were collected.

Officers will also have to provide a detailed rationale for the stop, and it can't be based on a "hunch or an intuition," race or presence in a high-crime neighbourhood, the regulation says.

Officers also won't be allowed to collect info just because someone has refused to answer a question they're not legally required to answer or because they want to walk away when they're legally entitled to do so.

They will, however, be able ask for identifying information when they believe it will help investigate "people known or reasonably suspected to be engaged in illegal activities" and inquire "into suspicious activities for the purpose of detecting illegal activities."

Related: California Cops Are Pissed About the State's New Racial Profiling Law

These rules don't apply if the officer is undercover, if the person is required by law to provide the information to the officer (for example, during a traffic stop), or if the person is under arrest or being detained.

The regulation also won't apply in cases where a police officer is investigating a particular offense, executing a warrant, court order or other related duties, or when the information is being collected during a casual interaction or from someone is involved in the administration of justice

Officers will have to record details every time they decide to ask someone for identifying information. Within 30 days, those details will be reviewed, and if it's determined that the information wasn't collected in accordance with the new rules, it'll be moved to a restricted database, accessible only to the Chief of Police and kept for a limited time in case of misconduct allegations or a civil lawsuit, Naqvi explained.

Every year, police forces in Ontario will also have to publicly report on street checks. They are banned from setting quotas.

"We listened to Ontarians and their lived experience," said Naqvi, who conducted province-wide consultations on carding over the summer.

"What was really impactful for me was when I heard from many young people that sharing their personal information was just normal for them," he said. "For me, that's unacceptable. That should not be normal for anyone in our society."

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk

Image via Flickr user Ashton Pal