Police carding is probably the single most politically charged issue in Toronto at the moment. The practice of stopping people (usually young black or brown men) for no discernible reason, taking down their information, and saving it in a secret database for an unknown period of time has been under intense scrutiny recently, and for good reason. In a harrowing essay, journalist and VICE contributor Desmond Cole discussed the dehumanizing effect of being treated like a criminal simply for existing.
"On numerous occasions, I myself have been stopped and documented by our police," Cole wrote in a column for VICE. "If they ask me from now on I will refuse, but my resistance won't erase the information that has already been collected about me."
The practice is of import outside Canada's largest city, too. While this specific iteration of police intrusion into marginalized communities may not exist across the country, there are myriad other examples, from Saskatoon's infamous Starlight Tours to police ambushing indigenous anti-fracking protesters in New Brunswick. How we deal with this kind of institutional mistreatment of people of colour is of the utmost importance in a country that prides itself on its multicultural open-mindedness, however successful we are (or aren't) in making that a reality.
While many people find it easy to look away from injustice they don't personally experience, two teenaged girls in Toronto are doing the opposite when it comes to carding. Meghan Sage-Wolfe and Sapphire Newman-Fogel have grown up around activists and frank discussions about social injustice; Sage-Wolfe's mother is a lawyer, and Newman-Fogel's mother is a gender studies and sociology professor at York University. They also both attend an alternative, social justice-focused school. For their final project this year, they were tasked with finding a social issue and looking into it. They chose police carding.
"My mom is part of Stop Racial Profiling, that committee, so I learn about it at home all the time," said Sage-Wolfe.
The two are putting together a documentary about carding for their project, but have already begun doing other work outside the scope of their project, and have no plans to stop working on the issue when their project is done. They're working under the moniker Youth Against Carding and are hoping to engage other young people in their work. Earlier this month, they gave a deputation to the Toronto Police Service Board about carding, and they're planning on developing a "know your rights" workshop to do in schools.
"Because police didn't change the carding policy," said Newman-Fogel, "it's something we still need to keep fighting for."
"The people who usually speak out about carding," Sage-Wolfe added, "usually are white, middle-aged men. And so, you know, there needs to be—like, we are girls, and we are youth, and the youth perspective needs to be heard."
The pair are also keenly aware of where they stand in the conversation on carding: Sage-Wolfe is aboriginal, and Newman-Fogel is Jewish, but both readily admitted they have the privilege of appearing white. Because of that, they know they are far less likely to be subject to carding, and are more likely to be heard by the mostly middle-aged white men making policy decisions on the issue.
"We're both members of groups that have been persecuted before," said Newman-Fogel. "So we do know what it feels like for our families and ourselves to be part of a marginalized group, so that's part of why we're standing up for black people, but also, it's just something that we believe in really strongly. We're not trying to take away the voice of black people, that's really something we've struggled with, that we're not trying to take a voice away from them or put words in their mouth."
Sage-Wolfe added that the prospect of giving a deputation was nerve-wracking enough for them that she can't imagine what kind of experience it would be for "someone who's already scared of the police because they've been stopped, making a deputation in front of police about their feelings."
"So while we wrote down what we were going to say, we tried to sort of say, like, 'From what we've heard,' 'this is how they feel about this,' so we're not trying to.... We're not trying to take the voice away. From anyone."
It's heartening to see young people so interested in a pressing social issue, and finding ways to do something about it. But ultimately, Sage-Wolfe and Newman-Fogel themselves said, the people capable of making the large-scale changes that could end abuses of power like police carding are the same middle-aged, mostly white, mostly male groups that have refused to change time and time again. Even Toronto's new police chief, African-Canadian Mark Saunders, has yet to come out against the practice, and in fact said last night that ending carding "is not the way we are going to be able to say, 'everything is going to be better.'" Desmond Cole has written for VICE about Saunders' reputation as a "cop's cop" invested in the system of policing.
So while projects like Youth Against Carding are not going to bring an end to carding on their own, they are vitally important, because outside pressure is often the only reason people and groups in power make difficult decisions.
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