Ontario sets strict new limits on police street checks

Changes to carding, the new Ontario policy:

You will be told you have the right to walk away. You will be told the interaction is voluntary. You will be told that you do not have to give any information, and why you are being stopped and asked for it to begin with.

You will be provided with a written record of your interaction, given information about the officer, and informed about the police complaints system.

In a move hailed as historic — and overdue — the Ontario government is proposing a strict set of regulations banning all random and arbitrary police stops, and setting limits on how and when police can question and document citizens.

“The regulation makes it very clear that police officers cannot stop you to collect your personal information simply based on the way you look or the neighbourhood you live in,” Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s minister of community safety and correctional services, announced at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.

“This is the first rights-based framework surrounding these police interactions in our history.”

Source: Ontario sets strict new limits on police street checks | Toronto Star

And Desmond Cole’s reminder that rules need to be accompanied by cultural change:

The Wynne government is finally acknowledging that residents’ stories of intimidation and surveillance are credible, and deserve a response. It’s a welcome, if long overdue, development. But new rules cannot, on their own, reverse a police culture of aggression and hostility towards residents, especially black Torontonians. We can’t regulate decency and respect in policing, but we must nevertheless demand it.

… Too many residents — especially those who are black, indigenous, homeless, or living with mental illness — can recount stories similar to Miller’s. They rarely have the video evidence to prove what we should all collectively know by now: the police regularly abuse their authority when dealing with vulnerable and marginalized people.

New rules and technologies can help discourage bad behaviour and hold officers to account when they transgress, but without tackling the ingrained culture of police intimidation no real solution to this problem is possible. Indeed, the arresting officers in Miller’s incident directed their TAVIS colleagues to “turn the camera on that guy,” to use their recording devices as a tool of intimidation. Equipping police with body cameras is different from insisting that police respect all residents, and ensuring that those who do not are taken off the streets.

Likewise, provincial rules on carding, which have simply not existed until now, can’t fully eliminate arbitrary police stops or disproportionate police suspicion of black people. It makes no difference that the TAVIS officers who accosted Miller are themselves black; if the expectation in police culture is to treat black residents with greater suspicion and less respect, all officers must fall in line, or must face internal scrutiny for failing to play the game.

It took too long for the province to object to carding. It will be many months before the new regulations are critiqued, modified and passed. Even then, it will be up to local police services boards, many of whom have shown no interest in stopping carding, to make the proposed changes real. But carding is just an ugly manifestation of the dominant social belief that blacks and other marginalized people need to be kept in line with aggression, dominance, and disrespect.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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