Peel police delay release of race data on street checks
Star filed freedom of information request June 16
Two months after a deadline to produce race and ethnicity data for people stopped by Peel police in 159,303 street checks — a practice known in Toronto as carding — the force has not produced the information requested under access to information laws.
The request was filed on June 16, as public controversy over carding and street checks mounted.
But when the information was released in August, revealing Peel police had conducted 159,303 street checks from 2009 to 2014, the race and ethnicity of the people stopped in checks was not included.
“The race data is absolutely critical . . . (in) our push to eliminate carding.” HOWARD MORTON TORONTO LAWYER
“The race data is absolutely critical,” said Howard Morton, a Toronto lawyer and member of the Law Union of Ontario, an influential legal group that has advocated for eliminating carding and street checks, alleging the practice violates citizens’ Charter rights.
“It was the Star data on race and ethnicity that gave us the ammunition that allowed us to launch the lawsuit (a Superior Court lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services Board and the police service), our submissions (to the Toronto police board) and our push to eliminate carding.”
Morton said obtaining race data from Peel promptly is important because the “issue is very alive in Peel right now. I am speaking at a Peel Police Services Board meeting on Sept. 25, where the issue of street checks will be addressed. It will be critical to have this data before the meeting.”
After the initial release in August without the race-ethnicity information, the force agreed to provide the missing data. On Aug. 27, it said the information would be compiled that week. On Monday of this week, with the information still not forthcoming, the Star was told that a “decision” would be made by Sept. 22.
The Star’s original request was for data recorded on the force’s streetcheck cards, known as PRP 17 cards. The cards, which identify each person stopped, include a category for skin complexion, with checkboxes next to the descriptions albino, dark, discoloration, light/fair and medium.
Next to the “Race” category are checkboxes for options including Aboriginal, Asian, Black, South Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Multiple and White.
The practice of street checks has become highly controversial. Members of racialized minority groups point to Toronto police data that shows they have been disproportionately targeted in random stops. After Brampton MPP Jagmeet Singh, the NDP deputy leader, rose in Queen’s Park early this summer to urge the elimination of carding and street checks, the Liberal government instead pledged to regulate the practice. In a series of public consultations, including meetings in Brampton and Toronto, Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, was confronted by dozens of angry residents who told him the government can’t regulate a practice that is unconstitutional.
Critics have pointed out that police forces have no consistent policy on the issue. Toronto police conducted 400,000 carding stops in 2012, claiming it was an effective crime-fighting tool. If that’s truly the case, critics argue, why did that drop to only 11,000 stops two years later, amid scant evidence that it helps solve crimes?
In June, Mayor John Tory waffled on the issue, calling for an outright elimination of carding after previously calling the practice a legitimate tool to help fight crime.
Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi met with Brampton residents to talk about street checks last month.