'Street checks' common practice among GTA police services
Police vehicles are pictured in this file photo.
Codi Wilson, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, June 3, 2015 5:16PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 5, 2015 8:13AM EDT
Toronto police continue to face heavy criticism for ‘carding’ people on the street but it appears a similar practice is widely used by other police services in the GTA , though they are quick to distance themselves from the unpopular term.
Peel Regional Police, Durham Regional Police, York Regional Police and the Ontario Provincial Police all say they practice a form of "street checks." Toronto police too prefer to use the term “community engagement” in lieu of 'carding.'
In York region, authorities say they do have a policy on “police checks” but that the service “does not engage in the practice of carding.”
Spokesperson Const. Andy Pattenden explained the difference by defining carding as “the systemic questioning or collecting of information from citizens in specific target areas."
“Our officers are expected to make use of a function in our records management system to gather information and intelligence by documenting interactions such as traffic stops where only warnings are issued, noise or youth complaints where no charge is laid or calls regarding suspicious people or vehicles,” he told CP24.com in an emailed statement.
Pattenden said the service regularly analyzes the statistics they gather with regard to these police checks.
“These statistics show they mirror the demographic of the communities we police in terms of race and ethnic origin,” he added.
Pattenden also said police work within the laws to collect this information.
“The Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act permits the collection of personal information for law enforcement purposes, with or without the consent of knowledge of that person. However our officers are mindful of the fact they must not practice arbitrary detention or discriminate against a particular group and we have internal policies which address these areas.”
The Durham Regional Police Service also said officers conduct street checks and fill out contact cards but officials did not provide CP24.com with the specifics of their policies.
According to Peel Regional Police spokesperson Sgt. Dan Richardson, officers within the police service use "street check forms" as an investigative tool that he says "has proven extremely useful over the years."
"These street check forms are submitted by officers to report suspicious activity that when combined with other evidence may assist investigators in solving crime," Richardson said in an emailed statement.
The OPP says its officers conduct street checks but that everything officers do has “a public safety component to it.”
OPP Sgt. Peter Leon told CP24.com that street checks are used primarily when speaking to possible witnesses and suspects to ongoing crimes.
“This is an investigative resource for us that provides very valuable information to our officers,” Leon said.
Despite the laws protecting the practice, critics say some have been unfairly targeted based on their race, their attire and their neighbourhood. The people who are being stopped are often not suspects in a crime and are frequently not being told in a timely manner that they're not obligated to give out their personal information to police.
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the equality program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says carding is undoubtedly an issue that extends beyond the city of Toronto, pointing to cities not only across the GTA but across Canada.
“There is very little data about what happens in other places. There has been some information about things that are happening in Ottawa because there was a human rights complaint. There is a little bit of data about Kingston because there was an initiative to provide more information to the public. There was a human rights commission report that came out in Montreal. But there isn’t sufficient information about what is happening,” she said.
There are, however, community advocates in other Canadian municipalities that are keeping a watchful eye on how ‘carding’ or ‘street checks’ are impacting racialized residents, she said.
“The fact that they weren’t able to get quantitative, statistical analysis in other locations doesn’t mean that other communities aren’t aware of it. They are very aware of it and are writing about it to a greater or lesser extent.”
Mendelsohn Aviv says the negative impacts of ‘carding’ could be mitigated if officers disclosed to people that the street checks were voluntary and if officers provided people with carbon copies detailing the information they recorded.
“I think when you give police… power to stop people in a totally non-criminal circumstance where the person is not a suspect, where the person is not believed to be a witness or a victim, but simply a person that is walking down the street, I think it is open to various kinds of misuse or even abuse,” she said.
“Whether that’s intended or simply a result of systemic discrimination, the impact on the racialized communities is enormous either way.”