Activist’s protest against practice of ‘carding’ derails Toronto police board meeting
Meeting adjourned after journalist Desmond Cole refuses to leave following deputation.
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A meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board came to an abrupt end Thursday afternoon when journalist and activist Desmond Cole admonished board members for failing to destroy carding data, then stalled the proceedings by refusing to leave the speaker’s chair.
Cole had been making a public deputation about the controversial police practice of “carding” when he announced that he would launch an immediate protest if the board did not agree to put stricter constraints on police access to the data collected through the “illicit” practice.
“It was never your information to take in the first place,” said Cole, who is a Toronto Star columnist.
“I plan to stand here in protest until you commit today, here and now, to restricting the police having our information going forward.
“You want to ruin another generation of children’s lives, and I’m not going to allow you to do it,” Cole continued, rising from his seat and raising his fist in the air.
When Cole was asked to leave to let the meeting continue, he refused, prompting a 10-minute adjournment.
Soon after, the board reconvened to cancel the remainder of the meeting.
Uniformed police officers then moved into the meeting room at Toronto police headquarters and escorted Cole out — “intimidation” Cole said was telling, considering he was protesting how police follow racialized people throughout the city “and their response is to send more police.”
Speaking to the Star after the meeting, Mayor John Tory, who is a member of the police board, said it was “unfortunate” the meeting was curtailed when other members of the public wanted to have their voices heard and the board wanted to respond to public concerns.
“None of that could happen. We just couldn’t proceed,” Tory said.
After years of debate over carding or ‘street checks,’ the practice of stopping, questioning and documenting civilians not suspected of a crime, new provincial restrictions came into effect this year setting strict limits on carding intended to abolish random police stops.
Late last year, the Toronto police board passed its own policies stemming from the province’s regulations, including one setting firm restrictions on the use of historic carding information.
Critics have argued that police should not be allowed to continue accessing information gleaned from damaging, and, in some cases unconstitutional, stops. However, the board says it’s been told by many lawyers that it had a legal requirement to retain the data for lawsuits or human rights cases.
Instead, the police board passed a policy that restricted access to personal information gathered in past carding interactions.
Access to historic carding data would be subject to approval from police chief Mark Saunders, and would only be granted when there is a significant public interest or to comply with a legal requirement.
The chief would then publicly report on the requests to access data, the number of approvals and the rationale for them and whether the historical data had served a purpose.
The board would then strike a review panel to oversee the chief’s reports.
Stressing that his preferred choice had always been to destroy the data, Tory noted Wednesday that the board has not even had the chance to see the first report, in order to evaluate how the restricted access system is working.
“You’ve got to have a chance first to see what’s going on with it. There hasn’t been any passage of time yet, there’s been literally two months and no report’s come back yet on how many people looked at the data yet, if any,” Tory said.
Cole was not the only one speaking out about carding at Thursday’s meeting.
“You spent years on carding and you think it’s all wrapped up, but it’s not wrapped up,” said Toronto lawyer Peter Rosenthal, urging the board to end the practice entirely.
Rosenthal said he could not understand how Toronto police could be allowed to continue carding given a report presented to the board last month by University of Toronto criminologists Anthony Doob and Rosemary Gartner.
Among the conclusions of the report was that any benefits from carding are “substantially outweighed by convincing evidence of the harm of such practices both to the person subject to them and to the long term and overall relationship of the police to the community.”
“You cannot, in good faith, continue carding given that report,” Rosenthal told the board.
The carding-related item on the board’s agenda pertained to the Ontario government’s request for feedback on its carding-related public education campaign — its initiative to explain complex new carding rules.
One aspect of the government’s education campaign is a text-heavy poster with no fewer than 23 bullet points.
It’s intended to summarize the new regulations.
Jack Gemmel, a lawyer with the Law Union of Ontario, called the poster “turgid” and said it must have been written by “a well-meaning lawyer” within government.
“This is virtually incomprehensible to anyone,” Gemmel told the board, saying improvements needed to be made to communicate the regulations “so people can actually understand them.”
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