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Toronto police board adopts new 'carding' rules, but refuses to destroy historical data

Toronto police board refuses to destroy ‘carding’ data

Toronto police will retain the personal details of thousands of people subject to the controversial practice of carding, thanks to a new policy approved by the city’s police services board that rejected pleas to destroy the information

Carding, the practice of stopping and questioning people who are not suspected of a crime, has disproportionately targeted young black and brown men in Toronto, and was reined in by the provincial government earlier this year.

After years of debate, the Toronto Police Services Board finally approved its own policy governing the practice on Thursday—and addressed what to do about a database of historical information gathered over several years.

Under the comprehensive policy, the information will be kept, but access would be limited. The police chief would have to approve requests to access the data, and that approval would only be granted if there’s a significant public interest or if there is a legal requirement for it.

The chief would then have to inform the public, on a quarterly basis, of the requests, the number of approvals, why the requests were approved, and whether or not the release served the purpose for which it was accessed. The board will form a three-person panel to then review the reports.

This, despite calls from activists and members of racialized communities that the data be thrown out.

“Black people are ‘known to police’ simply for existing — we are over-documented in every single Toronto neighbourhood, regardless of its location, average income, or racial diversity,” wrote journalist and prominent anti-carding critic Desmond Cole wrote for VICE last March.

“The police say the disproportionate cataloguing of blacks was unintentional, yet they’d like to keep all the detailed information they’ve collected throughout the process on our whereabouts, our addresses, our movements, our relationships—just in case,” Cole continued.

Mayor John Tory said in a statement on Wednesday night that he had “advocated for the deletion of the historical data” but that the board “received compelling advice related to the legal and practical rationale against deletion, including legislative provisions and the data’s relevance to civil litigations and active Charter challenges.”

“I am satisfied that the resulting policy appropriately restricts access to this data and increases accountability and transparency around its use,” he said.

In March, the Ontario government released new regulations with the goal of eliminating arbitrary stops, including a requirement that officers keep written records of their interactions with the public, inform people that they have the right to walk away from the interactions, and issue receipts, including their own names and badge numbers, to those they stop.  

Under the new policy, Toronto cops will be prohibited from stopping people arbitrarily or solely on the basis of race, and will be required to inform people why they are being carded and that they don’t have to provide any identifying information, except in certain circumstances, like when it could compromise an ongoing police investigation. On their receipts, officers will also be required to explain why they asked for the identifying information.

Cover: Photo by Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

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