The TPS Carding Debate: Confusion and Misinformation is the Point

tory saunders (kevin van paassen globe and mail)

By Nooria Alam

On June 24th, the Toronto Baha’i Centre hosted a public forum called “Conversation on Carding”,  where community members came together to discuss the Toronto Police Service’s’ policy on carding, lately a hot topic in Toronto media.

Conversation focused on recent appearances by new TPS Chief Mark Saunders, who has defended carding as a harmless, “intelligence-led practice”.

Idil Burale, a former candidate for City Council who spoke at the event, pointed out that the claims TPS makes about its policy are inconsistent with reality. For example, when cops question people, the information they collect is supposed to be put into a ‘secure’ central database, which only police officers can access.

However, “there have been instances where information gathered from carding encounters is brought up when people have job interviews,” said Burale. “The top brass refuses to release any facts or statistics that supports their claim that the method of information-gathering has been useful in deterring crime.”

Anthony Morgan, the research and policy lawyer for the African Canadian Legal Clinic, detailed some of the information which can be recorded during an encounter: “they’ll take down anything: your address, information about the people were with, your skin colour, height, and weight, your disposition toward police…even the status of your parents’ marriage.”

“Black people are highly overrepresented in carding data,” he said. “Over 1.2 million contacts obtained through carding can never be justified.”

He added that Chief Saunders has referred to the tens of thousands of Black Torontonians caught up in the TPS dragnet as “collateral damage.”

Burale continued by pointing out that in spite of tall claims from police spokespeople, “the top brass refuses to release any facts or statistics that supports their claim that the method of information-gathering has been useful in deterring crime.”

“Crime rates have been decreasing since the 1970s, but the policing budget has not. Who can justify a billion-dollar budget right now?” This, despite an $850 million backlog of repairs just for the existing TCHC housing stock .

When Mayor John Tory recently announced that he wanted to put an end to carding practices, many Torontonians breathed a sigh of relief. But recent flip-flopping on his part, plus Chief Saunders’ support of the policy, have brought confusion to the issue.

Burale explained that “a lack of clear procedure from the police chief in the implementation of these practices means that nothing will change; but this ambiguity is deliberate and not something that is new.”

Many of us have noticed that the mayor and the police chief have been saying very different things about carding; but this confusion is intentional. It’s never been quite clear whether or not it’s legal for police officers in Toronto to profile Black and racialised youth. Carding isn’t explicitly legal, so the city can’t easily be called out on it, but it’s so widely accepted that in practice, cops can harass, intimidate, and assault whoever they want. While Tory flip-flops, Chief Saunders calls the shots; if his words are anything to go by, carding is here to stay.

(Photo Credit: Kevin van Paassen/Globe and Mail)