Carding, Street Checks and “Community Engagement”: Know Your Rights

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

What is Carding?

Carding (sometimes referred to as street checks or “community engagement”) is a controversial police practice of stopping people, apparently at random, to ask a series of intrusive questions and collect information. Carding often begins when a police officer approaches someone in a public place – on the street, in a park, outside a convenience store – and strikes up a conversation, asking an individual or group what they are doing. The officer then asks for identification, without placing the individual(s) under arrest.

According to investigative reports conducted by the Toronto Star , people stopped for carding between 2008 and 2013 were more likely to be African-Canadian than white, and the vast majority of encounters did not involve an arrest or charges. Despite charges not being laid, details about each individual were recorded and entered into a massive database. The Star reporters found that Toronto police filled out at least 2.1 million contact cards involving 1.2 million people between 2008 and 2013.

In 2014, rules about carding were briefly amended to require police to inform people of their rights and issue a receipt to the individual which would include the officer’s name and badge number. However, these rules were never fully implemented. In April of 2015, a new policy was announced requiring police officers to tell people why they are being stopped if they ask, and inform them that they are free to walk away. Police would also be required to give citizens business cards instead of receipts.

Although the police have claimed that the practice is legal, the legality of the practice is still unclear. Earlier this week, departing Ontario ombudsman Andre Martin stated in a report, “Stopping citizens without an objective an reasonable basis for believing that they may be implicated in a recent or ongoing criminal offence, or where there are reasonable and probably grounds to arrest them, is unconstitutional – it’s a form of arbitrary detention contrary to section 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Those calling for an end to the practice see no distinction between carding and racial profiling.

Know Your Rights

Many people are not aware that Canadians are not required to carry identification except when driving. In addition, an individual has the right to walk away from the police if he or she is questioned and not offered a legitimate reason for the police interest. If an individual is being arrested, he or she also has the right to counsel. But many people who have been carded report being intimidated by the confrontation and feel pressured to speak to police.

Jurisdictions across Ontario have been considering whether to suspend the practice as they await provincial regulation. Hamilton and Peel Region announced this week that they would not be suspending carding. Meanwhile, Queen’s Park has been consulting with police, concerned community groups, civil libertarians, the Ontario Human Right Commission and the general public with the aim of introducing a reform of carding later this fall.

If you have any questions about carding or to find out more about your rights, contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer at Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.

Sources:

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/knowntopolice2013.html

http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2015/01/06/toronto_police_chief_bill_blair_suspends_controversial_practice_of_carding.html

http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2015/04/16/toronto-police-board-passes-revised-carding-policy.html

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/09/25/peel-chief-refuses-to-suspend-carding.html