By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario — Toronto Mayor, John Tory, has now added his voice to the call for an end to the police practice of carding.
Tory said the issue has been among the most personally agonizing for him, since he became mayor. He intends to seek the permanent cancellation of carding once and for all at the next meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, scheduled for June 18.
“The best investigative tool the police have is the trust of the people they serve and protect. The issue of community engagement or carding as it has become known has eroded public trust to a level that is clearly unacceptable,” he said.
A moratorium on carding has been in place since January and Tory noted that the best way to deal with this is to start with a new slate. He said the practice has come to be regarded as “illegitimate, disrespectful and hurtful.”
His announcement came at a hastily-held press conference at City Hall on Sunday afternoon, a few days after over fifty prominent citizens of Toronto, including three former mayors of the city, came together to speak out against the practice.
“The personal stories I’ve heard in recent months, and even before, the words laden with deeply felt emotion had been building up in my conscience and they have stuck with me. And the impact has been magnified by my very longstanding, close, and mutually respectful relationship with our Black community. I don’t have a relationship that is as important or any more important to me as the relationship, the friendship that I’ve built up over many years with that community, Tory said.
On Friday, Alok Mukherjee, Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Star in which he said there is no justification for the practice of police carding to continue.
He called the practice “deeply offensive” and said he came to his conclusions about carding after two random contacts with people who said they had been stopped by police and carded several times.
Police Chief Mark Saunders has defended carding as being very important in intelligence gathering to eliminate Toronto’s street gang culture.
“The Toronto Police Association is extremely concerned by today’s decision to end carding, an announcement that may impact public safety. This decision comes at a time when the number of shooting victims in Toronto has spiked 74%, shooting injuries are up 76% (as of June 1, 2015) and overall crime in Toronto’s downtown core (52 Division) has increased 18% (as of April 30, 2015).
“Carding is a proven, pro-active police investigative strategy that reduces, prevents and solves crime. Our members will continue to work within the law and procedures to ensure public safety. We need clear and articulate direction from the TPSB in regards to how our members are expected to proactively gather intelligence information while engaging with the community,” says a statement on the website of the Toronto Police Association in reaction to the mayor’s announcement.
It is the largest single association of its kind in Canada and represents approximately 8,000 civilian and uniform members of the Toronto Police Service.
The group, Concerned Citizens to End Carding, held a press conference at City Hall on June 3, calling on Mayor John Tory, Alok Mukherjee, Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) and Mark Saunders, Chief of Police to immediately cease the practice of carding.
It is also urged all citizens of Toronto “to step forward and make known their distaste of this fear-mongering practice.”
In a statement headlined “Stop Carding Now,” the group said: “We are committed to a Toronto that is inclusive, diverse, welcoming, and respectful, and carding does not fit that vision. Carding has led many in our city to distrust and disrespect our police. Anger, hurt and unrest have replaced any benefits police may have derived from this practice.”
The statement continues: “We all need to oppose carding vehemently. We resent having to witness its debilitating impact on our neighbours. It sends a message of hopelessness to young people with black or brown skin. We cannot and will not accept this for any group or community in our city. We do not need a new generation of Torontonians growing up to believe our police are their adversaries.”
The group said it is offended by carding – “the notion of casually and routinely stopping citizens, outside of police investigations of actual criminal acts that have occurred, to question and record, and then store personal data in police files.”
“We are deeply distressed that Toronto residents of colour are subjected to this invasion of their privacy when the overwhelming majority of white-skinned citizens are not. We believe that carding violates the human rights of citizens. It goes against the principles of our Charter Rights. It paints a disturbing picture and repeats a narrative that is reminiscent of ugly practices that were historically endured by racialized residents, particularly those of African Canadian backgrounds.”
Gordon Cressy, former president & CEO of United Way of Greater Toronto; Roy McMurtry, retired Chief Justice of Ontario and former attorney general; Barbara Hall, former mayor of Toronto and retired chief commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission; Anne Golden, former president, Conference Board of Canada; Mary Anne Chambers, former minister of training, colleges & universities and former minister of children & youth services of Ontario and City Councillor Michael Thompson spoke out against carding at the press conference.
“The stopping of law abiding individuals who are just going about their daily lives and to question such persons with respect to personal information for the purpose of creating so-called intelligence is, in my view, a violation of the Charter of Rights and Human Rights Code,” said McMurtry.
Hall said many who are a part of the group have come together in the past on a range of social justice and equity issues and that “progress has been made but lately, it feels like we’re going backwards.”
‘This is not an issue that we want to leave to be fought out in the courts. All of our rights are connected. We have an investment to make as citizens, as people to say, no, not anymore, get rid of it,” she said.
“Carding is unproductive and it is wrong. It cannot be right when it continues the practice of targeting innocent people for police questioning based on race and ethnicity,” said Golden, a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University.
She said recently the City Building Institute at the university held a major public on how to bridge the urban divides in Toronto. Four hundred people attended but, she said, the most powerful speaker was a young black man who at the end of the program shared his experience of being carded many times although he did nothing wrong.
“He described how this practice is diminishing trust in the police and eroding a sense of community. And his message resonated with the audience. He got a huge ovation. Why? Because these are the issues – the erosion of trust and the undermining of our sense of community — and that’s why we all have to care about it,” she said, noting that trust is the glue that makes democracy work.
Chambers spoke of the Youth in Policing Initiative, which started when she was minster of children & youth services as a component of the new Youth Opportunities Strategy.
It provides a summer employment experience for youth from under-served communities, known as priority or at-risk neighbourhoods.
“But in addition to having the opportunity to acquire work experience and earn some dollars, the opportunity for police officers and youth to learn about each other under positive circumstances was my real objective.”
She said the program has been a huge success and has been expanded to include after-school programs in the fall and winter of each year.
“Opportunities like the Youth in Policing Initiative are a step forward in achieving the kind of relationship that show exist between law-abiding civilians and police. Carding policy, as it currently stands, takes that kind of relationship several steps backwards.”
Chambers said she became convinced that the mayor was not getting the best advice when she was recently asked by a staff person in his office, why it seemed that it is only black people who are opposed to carding.
Councillor Michael Thompson, a former member of the TPSB, said carding should be scrapped.
“Although it is labelled “community engagement” by police, it does just the opposite by enabling police to intimidate the people they are sworn to serve. People in neighbourhoods with the heaviest use of carding believe that the practice demonstrates a lack of respect for their communities, and promotes anger, suspicion and mistrust among targeted citizens,” he said.
Speaking about the group of leaders, he said, “they reflect a broad consensus growing within the city that the practice of carding is not consistent with Toronto’s values of diversity, tolerance and fairness.”
Cressy said this is the moment to say, starting right now, carding is stopped forever.
He said there was a feeling that the issue of carding was being fought only by the Black community, and after receiving a call from David McCamus, retired president & CEO of Xerox Canada Ltd., who was moved by an article by journalist, Desmond Cole, about his person experiences of being carded, published in Toronto Life, he started galvanizing members of the group to speak out.
Cressy said the group will be asking thousands of Ontarians to join this cause and that the group is not stopping but is in it for the long haul. An online petition was created recently for this purpose.
Three of its members met with Mayor Tory and Chief Saunders, who was out of city but on the phone, before the press conference and Tory told them that he is working alongside the TPSB to draft procedures to eliminate the random stops.
“I think that this is actually something positive or at least encouraging cause it seems as if there are people who are more, I suppose you could say, influential within Toronto politics, within other spaces. Maybe they have some persuasion with respect to business or whatever, just in general, the middle class in Toronto, and are now using that influence to try to push and encourage the mayor and others to seriously consider ending this practice,” said Runako Gregg of the African Canadian Legal Clinic who attended the press conference.
He was, however, concerned that this was only about the policy of carding, noting that it does not address the practice of racial profiling or biased policing.
Gregg was also conscious of the many young black men who have articulated their experiences of being carded and did not want their voice to be overshadowed in the call to end carding by the group of prominent citizens.
“The people you see here today are people who love Toronto, who are really a part of Toronto and when they spoke about the diversity of Toronto, these people are not talking about dances and song. They are talking about the way of living, the way of giving and sharing, so therefore if any of the citizens are being encroached upon and they stand by and watch another brother or a sister, or a part of the community being attacked, it would irresponsible for them all. So, what you’re seeing is the real Toronto emerge, “ he said noting that, “it’s a strong signal to tell all politicians or policy makers that they are being watched carefully at a level much higher than their representation, they’re representing the morality of the city and if anything goes wrong we’ll be out talking about it.”
“Today is a great day for social Justice in Toronto,” said Kingsley Gilliam of the Black Action Defense Committee, in a press release.
“After several years of fighting against police racial profiling and carding, Toronto’s Black community has received a shot in the arm from prominent members of the mainstream community [who] held a press conference at Toronto City Hall demanding an end to racial profiling and carding,” he wrote.