Mayor John Tory has acknowledged that carding “as carried out in the past” is “not acceptable” and is promising to overhaul the policy before a moratorium on the practice is lifted.

Tory made the comment to reporters in the wake of a Wednesday morning news conference where a group of prominent community leaders spoke out against carding, calling it an “assault against social justice” and a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The group, which included former Chief Justice of Ontario Roy McMurtry, former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall, former Ontario cabinet minister Mary Anne Chambers and former politician Gordon Cressy, held the press conference after meeting with Tory and TPS Board Chair Alok Mukherjee to express their dismay with the policy, wherein officers stop and in some cases collect information from people who are not under arrest or suspected of any crimes.

During that meeting, Tory was presented with a petition signed by 35 well-known Torontonians that calls for carding to be “immediately ceased.” In addition to Hall, the petition was signed by two other former mayors in David Crombie and John Sewell.

“I completely accept the strong expression of urgency communicated today by a respected group of community leaders. I heard their message very clearly and I want them to know, along with the people of Toronto, that I will work even harder from today forward to produce policies and procedures that ensure the proper supremacy of the human rights of every citizen of Toronto,” Tory said. “I know we can do better and I know we must do better.”

In April, the Toronto Police Service board amended its carding policy to prohibit officers from considering “race, place of origin, age, colour, ethnic origin, gender identity or gender expression” when deciding whether to stop someone for questioning and ban any carding quotas from being put in place by management.

The changes, however, were promptly slammed by carding opponents who had pushed for the practice to be scrapped altogether.

“The stopping of law-abiding individuals who are just going about their daily lives for the purpose of creating so-called intelligence is in my view in violation of the charter of human right and the human rights code,” former Chief Justice of Ontario Roy McMurtry told reporters earlier Wednesday. “There is indeed great collateral damage (from carding) that threatens the foundations of our diverse communities in Toronto and elsewhere. At this stage it should simply be abandoned.”

Carding has been on hold since January

Then-Police Chief Bill Blair instituted a moratorium on carding in January but the practice is expected to resume when new police chief Mark Saunders “decides its appropriate,” according to TPS Spokesperson Mark Pugash.

Speaking with reporters, Tory said that Saunders has made it clear that he doesn’t want people “stopped randomly.”

The policy, Tory said, just needs to be revised to reflect that mandate.

“You have to define these things carefully in terms of in what circumstances people should or should not be stopped, what they should be advised of when they are stopped in terms of their rights not to stay there and what kind of document will be given to them as evidence of the fact that they have been stopped,” he said. “These are the complex issues we are dealing with right now and we are working hard at them but they are not simple.”

City going ‘backwards’ on carding

Though Tory said that the city has been moving ahead with needed reform to the policies surrounding carding, former mayor and chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission Barbara Hall told reporters earlier in the day that it feels like the city is “going backwards.”

“How can policies that virtually no one has defended be reaffirmed as the direction for the city?” Hall asked. “We all know young black men, young brown men and women who have been going about a good, productive, healthy life who have all of a sudden been stopped and treated in a way that makes them feel devalued. That is not a policy that we want to maintain; it is a policy that needs to end now.”

Saunders, who officially took over the job from Blair in April, has expressed a willingness to address some of the complaints around carding but at the same time has called the practice a “valuable tool” in tracking down criminals and preserving public safety.

Of course that logic doesn’t hold much weight with Hall, who said carding is “destroying young people’s futures and communities” or McMurtry who said it “abuses the dignity of its targets.”

Former minister of children and youths services Mary Anne Chambers also slammed the practice, noting that as a mother of teenagers she often laid awake worried about her sons being targeted by police because of the colour of their skin.

“A young woman or man who happens to be my colour shouldn’t have to be concerned that he or she will be suspected of doing something wrong or being somewhere that they don’t belong,” she said.

Debate heated up with first-person account

The debate about carding in Toronto has been ongoing since a series of stories were published in the Toronto Star two years ago, suggesting that people of colour are 10 times more likely to be stopped and carded than those with white skin.

The debate then heated up back in April when journalist Desmond Cole wrote a piece for Toronto Life in which he alleged that he has been stopped by police 50 times, all because of the colour of his skin.

That piece, Cressy said Wednesday, has marked a “tipping point for Toronto” that has helped take the debate over carding from just the black community to homes and workplaces all across Toronto.

“They are carding 9 and 10 and 11-year-old children. Is that about gang violence? The OPP stopped my friend, a black woman, the other day and searched her for no reason. Is that about gang violence? Are elders in our community, 60 and 70-year-old men being stopped about gang violence?” Cole asked reporters on Wednesday. “No that is about anti-black racism and a tradition of using police power to keep black people in their place and it has to stop.”

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