Toronto police urged to ban practice of carding in light of report

A new analysis concludes the detrimental effects of carding outweigh its usefulness as a crime-fighting tool

TORONTO – Toronto’s police services board is being urged to implement an outright ban on carding — random police checks of people on the street — in light of a report that concludes the practice does far more harm than good.

Carding critics plan to make their views known when the board meets Thursday to discuss public awareness of a new provincial rule that prohibits the practice except in certain circumstances. They argue it’s not enough that the board last month politely received the study it commissioned by two criminology professors.

“You should not waste any time thinking about the ‘public awareness’ of that regulation,” lawyer Peter Rosenthal said in a letter this week to the board. “Instead, you should refocus your attention on the report presented to you at your last meeting.”

In their analysis, University of Toronto professors Anthony Doob and Rosemary Gartner examine credible research around street stops to look at their broader impact. Ultimately, they conclude, the detrimental effects of carding outweigh its usefulness as a crime-fighting tool.

MORE: Ontario regulation bans random street checks by police

“One cannot conclude that something is effective just because assertions are made that it is,” Doob and Gartner write. “It is quite clear to us that it is easy to exaggerate the usefulness of these stops, and hard to find data that supports the usefulness of continuing to carry them out.”

Street checks started coming under intense scrutiny several years ago amid data showing officers were disproportionately stopping black and other racialized people. For their part, police argued they simply go where the crime is, and that stopping people ostensibly at random, asking for identification, and recording the information is useful.

The issue, however, prompted the provincial government to enact a regulation this year that purports to ban race-based stops — except under certain conditions. Those conditions include cases in which an officer is looking for a particular individual or investigating a specific crime.

Officers must also explain why they want identifying information, tell people they can refuse the request, and give a receipt with their names and badge numbers, the regulation stipulates. Those requirements have exceptions, too, such as if meeting them could hurt an investigation.

Last month, the Community Safety Ministry asked for feedback on materials the government had developed to help people understand the new rule. That request is on the agenda for Thursday’s board meeting.

Jack Gemmell, with the Law Union of Ontario, said Wednesday he plans to tell the board that one ministry poster is uninformative and reads like the “fine print in a mortgage.”

In addition, Gemmell and other critics say the provincial regulation has huge loopholes. They want the board to drive a stake through carding’s heart — especially given research that the practice of “stop, question, and frisk” is largely ineffective in cutting street crime, and that even a perception of racial profiling undermines community support for police.

In accepting the Doob and Gartner report last month, the board said its carding policy would “evolve over time” and that the research would “assist it in assessing the policy.”

However, Rosenthal said the researchers have already found such policies wanting — a message he hopes to drive home Thursday during the five minutes he and others are given for oral submissions.

“The only reasonable response to the Doob-Gartner report is to use their research as the basis for adopting a policy that the Toronto police service will no longer engage in carding,” Rosenthal said.

“If carding is not completely stopped, there will be many additional harms to police-community relations, many more expenses in carrying out and regulating the practice, continued debate, and a number of lawsuits.”

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