How many police stops should one man take?

Going all the way back to the July 27, 2015 posting, “A ‘carding’ game. Wanna play?”, the Toronto Star’s Jim Rankin and other reporters started a campaign to help people learn what the Toronto Police Service had collected during “carding” stops, and asked that their information be shared with the newspaper. A compilation of the results would reveal what was in the police database.

So, what happened?

I asked Jim Rankin this summer if we had blinked and missed something. “No, you didn’t miss anything,” he wrote back, “It never gained much traction, unfortunately.” He didn’t speculate as to why, but we could presume privacy issues might be a factor, but more importantly, the curious would have to submit access to information requests (the Star offered financial assistance if needed). Too much work? Fear?

Mr. Rankin suggested we stay tuned for a story he was completing about a Toronto man who had gone after the information on his own ‘cards’. While this person had never been convicted of a crime, there had been more than 40 encounters with police, and some of the notations on those cards were described as “quite troubling.”

“The man Toronto police won’t stop stopping” was published on the front page under the paper’s banner on Sunday, August 14. The story continued for a full page inside the first section.

Dale James, a slim 33 year-old black Torontonian has been stopped and ‘carded’ dozens of times by police on a regular basis over 16 years. He now stays home most days in the apartment he shares with his mother in northwest Toronto, and has stopped the trips to a therapist for treatment of depression, even though it’s getting worse. He fears for his life if he’s not able to avoid more contact with police.

Dale submitted multiple freedom-of-information requests and was able to retrieve details of 43 encounters with Toronto police from 2006 to 2015, and is appealing to Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner for what he believes are many more. The Star’s own analysis of contact card data indicates that James is correct, finding dozens more that involve him.

James and his younger brother are suing Toronto police for $2.2 million in damages, claiming an assault on James, racial profiling, arbitrary detention and search of James outside their apartment, and further, that police are “terrorizing” the entire family. There has already been one “substantial” settlement by Toronto police as the result of a 2013 lawsuit and a human rights complaint, but his lawyer says the details can’t be disclosed.

The contents of the numerous contact cards are contentious, lengthy, subject to argument, and very likely on the wrong side of the law in many instances. Nonetheless, James and his lawyer, Osborne Barnwell, visited a high-ranking officer in the local police division last year that resulted in a confidential resolution intended to develop a more positive relationship with police. The agreement also included a provision to assist with counselling services.

The latest lawsuit arises because that agreement had no impact on police behaviour towards Dale James and his family. It’s not a stretch to conclude that Toronto Police Service management did intend to resolve the issues between the two parties, but some officers on the street would have none of it.

This begs the question:  just who do our police think is in charge here, anyway?

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