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Ban Carding, Street Checks and Racial Profiling in Canada

Momentum, together for Black lives.

For decades, racialized communities have been disproportionately and negatively impacted by commonplace practices of law enforcement. One way to begin to fix the broken system of policing is to ban the practice of carding and street checks—policies in which reasonable suspicion is grounds enough for a police officer to stop, question and document individuals when no offence is being investigated.

Reform changes to policing don’t always work, but they can be a first step. Challenging the root cause of bias and criminalization lies in confronting systemic racism in law enforcement. Reviews from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, Independent Review of Street Checks and an independent report commissioned by the City of Montreal Police Service documenting the instances of anti-Black racism in Canada, particularly in connection with law enforcement, have given activists powerful data to support community reports and show that Black, Indigenous and People of Colour people experience disproportionately high police encounters.

It’s facts like in Toronto, Black people make up on average 8.3 percent of the population but represent nearly 37 percent of the victims of deadly encounters with police and in Winnipeg, Indigenous people represent on average 10.6 percent of the population, but account for nearly two thirds of victims, that has finally got the federal government talking. In June, the Canadian Parliament began to tackle this conversation after a motion to recognize systemic racism within the RCMP and ask for an assessment of police budgets, accountability measures and officer training.

Amnesty International–Canada cites five reasons why we must end carding, street checks and racial profiling:

1. It's racist

Carding, or asking for identification, is a form of systemic police racism that disproportionately impacts Black people in Canada. Carding can often be the first point of contact that can lead to further mistreatment, violence and racism within other segments of the justice system as well as negative mental and physiological health outcomes.

2. It violates human rights

Racism in policing, including carding, violates many rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as:

• Article 3 on life, liberty and security of person; • Article 7 on equal protection without discrimination before the law; • Article 9 on arbitrary detention, arrest, or exile; • Article 13 on freedom of movement;

and the list goes on.

3. It doesn’t prevent crime

Carding does not lower crime rates and according to Justice Michael Tulloch, “there is little to no evidence that a random, unfocused collection of identifying information has benefits that outweigh the social cost of the practice.” Negative impacts on racialized groups and particularly on Black individuals, far outweigh any supposed benefits that police claim result from carding.

4. Existing measures to ban carding haven’t worked

In 2017, a set of restrictions were introduced to ban carding in Ontario but were not supported by the provincial government. Without adequate monitoring and accountability measures and with loopholes in the regulation’s language, carding is still a regular practice in Ontario. In order to achieve a complete ban on carding, we need strong legislation, monitoring and enforcement to hold perpetrators accountable.

5. We have momentum

Activists and anti-racism organizations have been leading the way on speaking up against this form of racial profiling. Prominent human rights organizations and UN experts have raised the alarm on anti-Black racism in policing and we should ensure their recommendations are turned into action. A permanent and effective ban on carding is one step towards curbing systemic racism in policing.

Momentum, indeed. Community and human rights advocates across Canada have been demanding an end to street checks at the provincial and city level. In British Columbia, the BCCLA and over 70 other organizations are calling for a provincial ban. On July 22nd, 2020, the Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to abolish this practice. The next step lies with the Vancouver Police Board, as the Board deferred the vote on the motion on September 17th, citing need for more information. Of the deferral, Harsha Walia—Executive Director of the BCCLA, said “…instead of another review, they have community very directly telling them what they want. There doesn’t have to be more time or resources spent on this.”

Ontario banned police checks in 2017, which advocates such as Sandy Hudson, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, said did not go far enough. Speaking to the CBC when the ban went live, she said "Our position is that the regulation doesn't ban carding at all, but instead gives a roadmap as to what is an acceptable form of carding according to the province."

Encounters with police begin with carding and street checks. Carding, street checks and racial profiling by police forces enable systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and must end.

Sign Amnesty International Canada’s petition demanding Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Blair ban carding, street checks and racial profiling by policing and law enforcement agencies under federal jurisdiction, including the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.

Join the momentum for Black lives.

Text MOMENTUM to 40649 (US) or 70734 (Canada) to be part of the movement that's making history. *Message and data rates may apply.