Feds award $400,000 for project looking at carding's effect in Prairie Provinces
U of S professor Scott Thompson says a research project on the effects of street checks — also known as carding — is about understanding “how justice works within our community.” The study will gather data from police services in the Prairie provinces.
A University of Saskatchewan team will study the use of street checks, also known as carding, among RCMP and municipal police services in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba over five years after the project was awarded $400,000 in federal funding.
The team, led by Scott Thompson, an assistant professor of sociology at the university, will look at how street checks affect the community. The practice has long been questioned due to concerns it was unfairly targeting people based on race and socioeconomic status.
The research team, which will include academics, masters students and PHD students, will gather data from RCMP and 34 city police services in the three Prairie provinces.
“This project is really about understanding justice and how justice works within our community. It really tests the question of carding and how it fits into people's understanding of justice and how justice is being done,” Thompson said.
Research shows that people's understanding of their ability to participate in decision-making — having a voice — is crucial to their feelings of belonging or perception that a process is just, he said. With carding in particular, some community feedback indicates the practice erodes or harms this understanding of justice and some see carding as an unjust process, he added.
“This is problematic because if we have people turning away from the justice system as a means for resolving issues, they're going to be looking for other alternatives or they may be concerned or fearful of police.”
The research team will include assistant sociology Prof. Julie Kaye, who will look at how youth experience street checks; Prof. Glen Luther and associate Prof. Sarah Buhler of the College of Law will review the data with a focus on the legality of the interactions between citizens and police, based on court precedents.
Computer science Prof. Kevin Schneider and assistant Prof. Zadia Codabux will analyze 10 years of police data to look at issues including overrepresentation of ethnic groups and biases in police data compiling technology.
The results of the study will be shared with police, municipalities, police boards and the community.
The project developed out of feedback Kaye, Luther and Thompson gathered when meeting with community members. Carding was a topic of concern they raised, particularly when it came to the contact interview policy implemented in Saskatchewan.
Thompson said people were concerned about their rights and whether they had to provide information if stopped, and what information they had to give police.
The policy was introduced by the Saskatchewan Police Commission in 2018, defining the practice of contact interviews and creating rules around their use. When police initiate a contact with a member of the public that is not connected to an investigation, it can't be done on a random or arbitrary basis or based solely on a person's membership of an identifiable group.
Providing information during a contact interview is voluntary and police have to report contact interviews to the commission annually. The policy does not include a requirement for collecting racebased demographic data.
Of the 269 contact interview reports Saskatoon police officers filed last year, 239 were determined to be contact interviews, and all were found to be compliant with the policy.
Over the course of the project, researchers will see if there are differences in how people feel about carding and its effectiveness based on different policies applied in different jurisdictions. Thompson said they hope through analysis to see what the best practices are, or what elements of carding are concerning to communities across the region.
“It's quite possible that carding under certain conditions is very helpful and it's beneficial to the community, so we want to make sure we explore those avenues as well as the avenues where carding may be harmful and hurtful,” he said.
This project is really about understanding justice and how justice works within our community.