Imagine waiting for the bus when a police car pulls up and an officer waves you over. You go over to the car and the officer asks you to identify yourself. You ask why they need this information, but the officer continues to demand that you provide identification. You hand over your ID and the officer tells you that you are not who they are looking for.
You again ask why they needed this information and why they stopped you in the first place, and the officer says there was a robbery nearby and someone wearing a red shirt is believed to be the suspected thief. You are wearing a red shirt, but you are confused because you were simply waiting for the bus. The officer moves on and the interaction is over.
This was the reality faced by a racialized minority who shared their experience at Wednesday’s public consultation on street checks.
Although they did not share their name, this person said they felt the only reason they were stopped was because of the colour of their skin.
Since this person was stopped, regulations for street checks have changed. Those changes are why Justice Michael H. Tulloch is conducting an independent review of Ontario’s laws on police street checks, otherwise known as carding.
The aim of the review and public consultations, according to the streetchecksreview.ca, is to ensure “police-public relations are consistent, bias-free and done in a way that promotes public confidence and protects human rights.”
During the consultation held at the Delta London Armouries, participants answered a variety of questions through a discussion with their table and then presented their findings.
One question was whether or not there is any real benefits or value to carding.
“I don’t see there being any value to street checks other than to make communities very aware that they are being hyper-surveilled and policed,” said Rowa Mohamed, who is thinking of running for council in the upcoming municipal election.
“I don’t think citizens should be stopped and checked when they haven’t done anything wrong,” she said.
Even with the new regulation, Mohamed feels there is still no concrete way of holding officers accountable.
Ontario Regulation 58/16, which outlines Ontario’s new rules on police street checks, came into effect January 1, 2017.
Among other things, if an officer asks for identification, the regulation requires they be able to articulate a reason for stopping you as well as why they need your ID. They must also tell you that you can refuse to give identifying information and officers must offer to give you a receipt of the interaction, which includes the officer’s name, badge number and how to contact someone regarding complaints or other inquiries.
The problem Mohamed raises, however, is that in rare cases — such as when following those rules could negatively affect an investigation — officers do not have to tell you why they are asking for information, they don’t have to tell you that you have the right to refuse giving ID and they do not have to give you a receipt of the interaction.
“If you make a rule and you have no way of holding people accountable to it, then that’s really not a useful rule,” said Mohamed.
The concern is that an officer can stop someone and ask for identification without following the rules laid out in the new regulation and the officer will not be held accountable because when asked why they didn’t record the stop, they can say it was for an ongoing investigation.
“What happens if a police officer stops somebody and asks for their information, but doesn’t record it? There is no evidence that it happened. Where does that leave us?” said Janet Collins.
Collins believes there are gaps in the regulation that need to be addressed, but overall she doesn’t agree with street checks.
“It shouldn’t happen. As defined, stopping people and asking for their personal information for no ostensible reason, is simply wrong,” she said.
For Collins, training is essential.
“Without training, officers may not have the insight to recognize their own biases, prejudices and lack of respect for ‘the other’ as they perceive it,” said Collins.
“It’s very important they go through a form of training which demonstrates what it’s like from the other side.”
If carding is going to happen, Collins feels there is a better way to go about it.
“If people are stopped in a respectful way and if the police treat the individual as they would want themselves to be treated, then there is mutual respect and the communication can flow in that way,” she said.
Making sure the public is educated about their rights and responsibilities was also a major concern raised at the public consultation.
As for responsibilities Collins says the police are here to protect and serve, but they cannot do it alone.
Taking it a step further, Arielle Kayabaga, another person who is thinking of running for council in the upcoming municipal election, feels police need to build trust.
“It’s important to focus on building the community and the trust between police and racialized communities so these street checks are properly conducted.”
Kayabaga, who has experienced carding, says she understands it’s important for police to do their job, but it has to be done in a way that doesn’t target racialized people.
Proper training, education for both police and the public and mutual respect were at the centre of Wednesday’s consultation.
But, in the end, Mohamed feels there is only one true solution.
“We need to redirect funds that we pour into police back into our communities, so that we can reduce poverty and homelessness and these struggles that a lot of immigrant communities and racialized communities face,” said Mohamed.
“We simply wouldn’t need as much policing, it would reduce stigma around those communities and eventually you wouldn’t have the association of people of colour and poor people with policing and crime,” she said.
Public consultations on street checks have been happening all across the province. There are two more consultations, one in Ottawa and one in Sudbury. Justice Tulloch will then prepare his recommendations for the government, which he says will be submitted on November 30, 2018.