Alberta government seeks public input on controversial street-check policy

Province of Alberta investigating police street checks policy
WATCH ABOVE: The Government of Alberta is looking into the police policy of street checks. Tom Vernon reports.

The Alberta government is planning public consultations with community groups surrounding the controversial policy of street checks.

Alberta Justice said Thursday it will begin surveying about 100 community groups later this month. Organizations involved in the process will receive a written survey from the province, asking them to weigh in on how police interact with the public, how personal information is gathered and police officer training.

“It is vital for us to hear from community groups on this issue and receive their feedback,” Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said in a media release.

“Our goal is to draft a provincial guideline to ensure the rights of the public are respected, while still allowing community policing that engages with the public. We believe a provincial guideline will provide consistent rules for all police to follow.”

READ MORE: Edmonton police continuing controversial street check practice

Street checks, also known as carding, allow police to stop citizen who aren’t necessarily suspected of a crime to speak to them or collect personal information.

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The practice has become a particularly controversial subject in Edmonton over the past few months after Black Lives Matter (BLM) released data obtained through a freedom of information request on Edmonton Police Service (EPS) street checks from 2012 to 2016. The information showed Aboriginal and black Edmontonians are much more likely to be subject to street checks.

READ MORE: Aboriginal women, black people much more likely to be ‘carded’ by Edmonton police

Black Lives Matter called for a ban on police carding in Edmonton. Two weeks later, the Edmonton Police Commission announced it had agreed to launch a third-party external review of the practice.

Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht has since met with community leaders to start on open discussion on street checks and how best to move forward. That meeting wasn’t without controversy, though, as the co-chair of BLM Edmonton, Bashir Mohamed, refused to take part in the meeting when he learned it was not open to the public, calling it “very secretive.”

READ MORE: Edmonton police talk street checks with community leaders, but not Black Lives Matter

Mohamed said Thursday that the government’s consultation is a good first step, but added it is well overdue.

“This is work that should have been done a long time ago.”

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Mohamed said he is not opposed to police stopping and having a conversation with people, what he’s against is officers gathering innocent people’s information.

“When we talk about carding we mean the arbitrary stopping of individuals and the collecting of their information,” he said. “That’s what we want to end. We still want police to talk to people, we still want them to do community engagement. In fact, we’re not opposed to that. What we’re opposed to is this piece of arbitrary collection of their information.

“There’s been a lot of talk about community policing and how this relates to that, but we should understand that there’s ways to build friendships without asking for people’s IDs. There’s ways to learn about communities without having to have that database of information.”

He also wants to ensure the province enforces its guidelines with police agencies across Alberta.

“When it comes to provincial standards, that has to be the province. They have to be the ones looking into this and ensuring compliance,” he said. “There needs to be a way to ensure that those guidelines are being followed.”

Watch below: The Edmonton Police Service is under fire for street checks, also known as “carding.” Activists say the practice unfairly targets minorities who’ve done nothing wrong. Reid Fiest reports on the calls for the checks to be banned in Alberta. (Filed June 27, 2017).

Alberta activists call for ban on ‘carding’ or police street checks
Alberta activists call for ban on ‘carding’ or police street checks

The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police (AACP) said in a statement it is supportive of the government consultation, and is looking forward to a “broad and unbiased” consultation process.

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The AACP said street checks are a critical component of how police officers do their day-to-day work.

“We have facts that illustrate how street checks assist with ongoing investigations, help prevent criminal activity and contribute to public safety – all expectations that the community has of their police,” The AACP said. “The ability for a police officer to interact with a citizen at any time must not be hampered by restrictive policies or regulations.

“Street checks in Alberta have always followed all applicable Canadian laws, and will continue to do so.”

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Ganley said the goal is to create a standard, Alberta-specific model for policing agencies across the province that clearly states what is allowed during a street check and what is not.

“We want to hear from as many different groups as possible to ensure that at the end of the day, we’re creating something where everyone’s rights are respected, but police still feel that they’re able to engage in community policing,” she said.

“What we don’t want to stop is the ability of the police to interact with anyone who is not detained, because that is the basis of community policing. But there are a number of things which are already prohibited by the Charter now and so obviously those won’t be affected by this.

“At the end of the day, everyone wants to live in safe communities and everyone wants to make sure everyone’s rights are respected. So I think we can get to a place where people have a better common understanding.”

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Organizations participating in the survey will have six weeks to complete it. The government said in-person consultation sessions will also be planned, although those details have yet to be released.

Once the feedback is received, the government will work on drafting provincial guidelines on street checks. A timeline for when the guidelines will be complete has not been set.