A rhetorical question from a young black Torontonian to a newspaper reporter a couple of years ago: “Just where is this mysterious black man the Toronto police are always looking for?” It seems that a common explanation given by the police for stops is the search for a suspect sighted in the area.
Here we are at the end of 2016, and carding is still taking up the time and resources of police boards in Ontario, attracting media attention, and spawning protests and objections. Data isn’t readily available but it’s likely this same conflict is raised in every urban centre in the country.
Mohamed Salih is a thirty-year-old London city councillor. As an adult, he’s been stopped 15 times by police as he’s traveled across southern Ontario, including Toronto, Peel, Kitchener-Waterloo, and in his hometown. Each time it was for no reason and each time it was humiliating.
Salih made an emotional address to London city council in the middle of November, underscoring the damaging impact of carding/’street checks’ on parts of the community, and the “devastating” realization particularly on children to know their family car has been pulled over because they are black.
At his urging to do right, and after a standing ovation from his fellow councillors, a motion passed unanimously calling for a permanent end to the practice. Not only is London the first city in Canada to ban carding, but the vote implicitly criticized the new provincial regulations for not going far enough to restrict police intrusions into peoples’ lives. Council’s decision will still have to pass London police board scrutiny to become policy.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, the police board is implementing the revised street check provincial standards which are really an attempt to mollify critics without making any substantial changes to the how and why of police stops. Desmond Cole’s op-ed in the November 24 Toronto Star makes a valid argument that the point of carding is more about control than safety.
‘Control’ is one of the tenets of police training, and understandable when warranted. However, what is also true about police training is to never surrender an advantage once gained. The practice of stopping people under whatever guise sounds reasonable has been a part of our landscape for decades. That this now is focused primarily on blacks and other minorities has galvanized parts of society into one united protest.
In truth, we could all benefit from the comfort of knowing we are the ultimate controlling social force. That so many of us turn away from what does not directly disadvantage us…..for the moment at least….is cause for refection on the state of our humanity.