The Ontario government has announced it will end "arbitrary, random" carding this fall, but community advocates say the move is more symbolic than anything else.
"We have heard from the community that street checks, by definition, are arbitrary as well as discriminatory and therefore cannot be regulated; they must simply be ended. The province agrees that these types of stops must end," Yasir Naqvi, minister of community safety and correctional services, said in the legislature Thursday.
Carding is the controversial police practice of stopping civilians to gather and store their information; it has been shown to disproportionately target minorities and is considered unconstitutional by many.
In the coming days, the government is expected to release specifics on how the Police Services Act will be updated to reflect the new position on carding.
Neil Price, executive director at Logical Outcomes, a non-profit consulting firm that conducted a study on carding, told VICE the province needs to show that police officers who continue to stop people without cause will face consequences.
"What the police still haven't done is... articulate the purposes of those stops and how those stops actually help to reduce crime," he said.
"If that doesn't happen and the province says that it is illegal, when it does happen there needs to be consequences."
Toronto Police Services suspended carding in January, but Price said residents of areas frequently impacted by the practice are still being stopped. According to a Toronto Star investigation, black and brown Torontonians are far more likely to be carded than white people. Former police chief (and now Liberal MP) Bill Blair told the Star "racialized" neighbourhoods—Jane and Finch—are often targeted. In Brampton and Mississauga, the Star found black people were three times more likely to be carded.
"If the regulations are not perceived to be strong enough to rein in this practice and actually have police adhere to law and respect people's civil rights... I still think we're going to see the courts weigh in more heavily on this matter," Price said.
Toronto lawyer Vilko Zbogar, who has launched several legal challenges in relation to carding, said arbitrary stops are already illegal under Canadian law—but cops frequently disregard those rules.
"Police forces across Ontario have not been following the law. They need to be told in very clear, explicit language that the law forbids the kind of arbitrary stop they've been frequently conducting."
Zbogar noted almost any stop that occurs outside of an actual investigation is arbitrary, but some cops try to "fudge it" when justifying their reasons for carding someone.
The province has said it will more clearly define the criteria for stopping someone for "suspicious activity" as part of an investigation.
"There has to be some specific crime. Just hanging out in the park late at night is not a suspicious activity," said Zbogar. "It's not like a white guy in a suit is going to be accused of suspicious activity, it's always going to be a black kid or an Aboriginal kid."
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash told VICE the organization's position is in line with what the ministry has said and that it is waiting for the regulations to come out before commenting further.
Alrighty then, Pugash.
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