End carding? Be careful for what you wish.

The Toronto Star and Globe and Mail have run carding items almost daily since the beginning of the month, and there’s no expectation the papers will give up on a good story any time soon. What had been intermittent background media static against carding for the last few years is now a noisy gong, ….relentless, deafening, demanding.

So, why did it take this long for so many prominent voices to finally come to the microphone when the people in the street have been speaking out in vain since ‘climate change’ came into the lexicon? Was Desmond Cole’s Toronto Life essay really a tipping point with the magnitude to bring out so many big guns?
Pierre Trudeau tried to curb police random stops by retracting two parts of the vagrancy section of the Criminal Code back in the first half of the 1970s, to little notice and with no impact. He thought simply removing a provision would effect change. Trudeau underestimated police determination to evade civilian control. What the prime minister did was the sound of one shoe dropping; he needed prohibitions to force his vision. Was he naive and erred innocently?

Speculation is an academic pastime. Change comes with action.

Of all the newspaper pieces this month, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah’s op-ed in the Tuesday, June 9, Globe and Mail is among the most revealing. He’s currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at Indiana University, and received his PhD in criminology from the University of Toronto, researching the policing of black males in Toronto. He also worked for Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and sat on consultative committees at Toronto Police headquarters.

“End of carding just a beginning” is an overview of many years of institutional racialization in Toronto, and warns that “if we decide to stop at carding, and consider ourselves satisfied with a victory on it, we will have done ourselves, and our city, a great disservice. If we are going to commend Mr. Tory, it should be for having started a process, not for having ended one.”

And, that is the point. An end to carding will not make for a substantive change to police practice and tactics. It is but a beginning.

Reprinted here is our latest carding letter, this one to the president of the Toronto Police Association: –

June 11, 2015

Mr. Mike McCormack, President,
Toronto Police Association,
200 – 2075 Kennedy Road,
Toronto, ON M1T 3V3

Re: Carding

Mr. McCormack:

I don’t question that ‘carding’ has been “a proven, pro-active police investigative strategy that reduces, prevents and solves crime.” The Toronto Star’s claim that no evidence is available to support your position has merit, but then it may be a matter of the degree to which carding is a police asset.

I contend that what the practice does or doesn’t do is irrelevant. After all, we can offer our police services much more effective tools: suspend habeas corpus, dispense with the need for search warrants, and legislate that identification must be carried on our persons and presented whenever asked. But, both Lincoln and Jefferson subscribed to the axiom that says if we give up a little bit of liberty in the name of law and order, we’ll deserve both and have neither. We should all say the same.

Men and women who train to become our police officers are taught to get on top and take control. “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” is police psychology 101, designed to put anyone on the defensive. Tactics that coerce people into doing what they don’t want and don’t need to do are not conducive to a positive relationship between public servants and the citizenry to whom they are accountable.

Carding in any and all the forms it’s taken over the last many decades is an affront to democracy, and needs not only to be abolished, but prohibited as well.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

copies to: Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario
John Tory, Mayor of Toronto
Mark Saunders, Chief of Police


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