You’re walking home after school and from the corner of your eye you notice a police cruiser approaching you. You think nothing of it, as you haven’t committed a crime.

Not too long after, you hear a “hey you” from the direction of the cruiser, and find the officer inside motioning at you to come over. You approach and the officer asks you, “where were you going?” and “do you have anything illegal on you.” and then continues with, “you matched the description of a suspect in nearby house break-ins” or “we’re looking for someonen who matches your description.” Finally, they end by asking for you for identification or to give them personal information such as your name, age and address.

The collection of this information being collected on a Toronto Police form and entered into a database is often referred to as “carding”. Carding is an unfortunate reality for many youths, and disproportionately so, for young males who are ethnic minorities. In law, when an individual is approached by an officer and asked for personal information, the person can decline to answer as his or her right to remain silent are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, failing to answer or not cooperating can lead to greater problems. Each person must decide what to do in this situation.

Why do officers randomly collect personal information from the public?

The police justify carding as a method to reduce crime in high-risk communities. Police officers are asked to document their daily practice and to be as detailed as possible, this includes taking notes of incidents as they happen and documenting their interactions with the members of the public. Large quantifies of carding forms are completed by the police in the identified communities. Additionally, filling out these carding forms is regarded by the police as good police work because the information collected is entered into large databases that the police use to search for connections, persons of interest, and bystanders of previous crimes.

Problems with “carding”

The police have been under heavy scrutiny in Toronto (as well as in other large cities such as New York USA and London UK) because research shows that the police stop racial minorities more frequently. A Toronto Star article reported that the number of black youths carded in Toronto over the last five years is equivalent to the number of black youths in the city itself.

The finding that minorities, such as African-Canadians, are stopped for carding at a higher rate than other groups is problematic. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code both protect individuals against discriminatory treatment. As representatives of the state, police officers should be held to an especially high standard. In targeting ethnic and racial minorities over other groups, the Toronto police has potentially violated the fundamental rights of many innocent citizens and there is a Stop Police Carding Campaign.

Recommendations for improvement

In response to the over-use of carding by the Toronto police, the the Toronto Chief of Police Bill Blair is required to release statistics of individuals being carded every three months, and to directly address discriminatory practices by law enforcement authorities. The police may soon be required to give out “receipts” or copies of the completed information form that also states the purpose each stop. Other suggestions that have been made to improve police practices includes the development of stricter criteria for carding, strengthening diversity training for law enforcement teams, and limiting the amount of time for retaining personal information.