Safety minister vows to end ‘arbitrary’ police checks as Ontario wraps up consultation on new rules

Ontario Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi pledged Tuesday to draft a regulation to crack down on arbitrary “police interactions with members of the public.”

Speaking in at the final public meeting in a province-wide review of police street checks — more commonly known as — Naqvi said his government opposes all “arbitrary or random stops by police.”

Opponents of carding say it amounts to racial profiling, alienates the community from police and is a violation of Charter-guaranteed rights; a Toronto man has filed a court challenge hoping to prove just that.

Advocates of carding say it helps police identify and track suspicious persons, connect the dots between “known associates” and solve cases.

J.P. Moczulski for National PostJ.P. Moczulski for National PostProtesters partially block the intersection of Yonge and Bloor Streets prior to the start of the Ontario Street Checks hearings on carding in Downtown Toronto on Tuesday, September 1, 2015.

The Ontario government intends to introduce a standardized provincial policy this fall to regulate the practice.

At Tuesday’s downtown meeting at the Toronto Reference Library, the frustration on both sides was palpable. It focused on Naqvi and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, who sat quietly listening for much of the evening at one of the few dozen roundtables around the room.

As Naqvi pledged his government’s opposition to discriminatory policing, the crowd turned hostile, a few yelling, “then end carding.”

Many speakers said they felt that governments at all levels, and police services in many corners, have failed to prove the value of street checks.

“Where’s the data?” wondered Desmond Cole, whose Toronto Life magazine feature on his lifelong experiences with carding turned the city’s attention to the issue in a whole new way. The journalist said police have never been able to point to concrete examples or rationale for why street checks are necessary or effective.

RelatedToronto man files charter challenge against police policy of ‘carding’ after being stopped at least 30 timesOntario to tighten police carding rules, but critics say ‘this is not a practice that can be regulated’

Some at the meeting also questioned the review process, saying the pre-drafted questions appeared biased toward street checks. Others said the fact the province was still holding consultations, when activists had been raising the issue for years, was “insulting.”

Ellie Adekur summed up the patronization she felt: “I’m not even allowed to hold my own microphone.”

Naqvi said that for the government, the proposed regulation will be about dividing what’s arbitrary and what’s a street check “with cause.”

“In our view, a police interaction that is based on some sort of suspicious activity is the one that needs to be regulated. If it’s arbitrary or random … that is not permissible under the law and something that we will be very clear that we will put an end to,” he said.

J.P. Moczulski for National PostJ.P. Moczulski for National PostProtesters partially block the intersection of Yonge and Bloor Streets prior to the start of the Ontario Street Checks hearings on carding in Downtown Toronto on Tuesday, September 1, 2015.

Speaking in advance of the meeting, Anthony Morgan with the African Canadian Legal Clinic said he sees value in a regulation, but only if it ends a “practice that has proven racist in jurisdictions across Ontario.”

“We support the establishment of regulations … but not the institutionalizing of the limited use of this practice,” he said, adding any new rules must require monitoring of how and when police are stopping people with an eye to ending carding entirely.

“When they (the government) are saying they are opposed to arbitrary stops, that’s exactly what carding is,” said D!ONNE Renée, a community organizer. She called the pledge to end arbitrary stops “a good step forward.” But she also warned it must be substantive reform, not simple pandering.

The province will accept written, digital and telephone submissions on the subject of carding until Sept. 21. Once a regulation is released, another round of public consultation will be required by law.

About Ashley Csanady