Carding (or ‘street checking’) is the process where police arbitrarily stop someone on the street and ask them to their personal information. In the Toronto area, the process began in the 1950’s when police were provided ‘Suspect Cards’ to document information about people of interest. Carding has often involved random checks and includes recording of details such as name, address and date-of-birth as well as the physical appearance of the targeted person. Individuals are typically asked to show their ID when they are carded.
Since the advent of computers, the information gathered during carding has been entered into police databases. Analysis of this data by the Toronto Star in 2010 indicated that, in mostly non-criminal circumstances, police in certain patrol zones in Toronto were far more likely to target black individuals for carding. In April 2015, a young black man, Desmond Cole, wrote a chilling article in Toronto Life, describing how he had been detained by police in excess of 50 times while innocently walking alone or with friends in Toronto. Such reports have supported decades-long criticisms by black citizens and community leaders who allege that carding is frequently discriminatory and often amounts to harassment.
The suggestion that carding is often racist is certainly not unique to Ontario. Analysis of data in Alberta cities, for example, suggests that black and Indigenous people are many times more likely to be stopped and asked for personal information and ID by police. And, many Canadians question whether random street checks are actually legal under Canadian law.
What are my rights if I’m carded by police?
In response to allegations of discrimination and personal rights violations, the Province of Ontario passed changes to the Police Services Act, Ontario regulation 58/16, which became effective January 1, 2017. The new regulation prohibits random street checks, particularly when based on race.
You now have the right to ask police why you are being asked to identify yourself, and the officer must provide a reason for the street check.
Police must inform you that you don’t have to answer their questions.
Unless you are driving or cycling, if the officer’s request for your personal information or ID is not connected to a criminal activity or suspected criminal activity, you can walk away and you do not have to give police your name or personal information or show your ID. And, police cannot ask you for ID simply because you happen to be walking in a high crime area or refuse to answer their questions.
However, police can request personal information during traffic stops, when executing a search warrant, and when a person is being detained or arrested. Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, drivers and cyclists are required to identify themselves when asked by police.
When you are carded (whether or not you provide police with your ID), police officers must give you a receipt indicating the officer’s name and badge number, as well as who to contact if you have a complaint or if you want to see the information police have stored about you.
Many people believe that the change to Ontario law hasn’t gone far enough. A recently-published independent review suggested that random street checks should be banned because there is little evidence to indicate that carding actually reduces crime; on the other hand, there is substantial evidence that carding disproportionately affects racial minorities.
Certainly, being stopped or detained by police is a disturbing and scary situation for most people, as it’s suggestive that we may have been involved in a criminal act and/or may be unjustly accused of a crime. Further, it can result in our personal information being recorded and we may rightly be concerned that our personal data could be used against us at some future date if it’s implied that our carding experience was associated with a recently committed crime.
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