By Nigel LakeLast month, Toronto mayor John Tory called on police to end the “illegitimate, disrespectful, and hurtful” practice of carding. Although Tory’s statement does not guarantee the abolishment of carding, his acknowledgement sends a message to the Toronto Police Service that it is an immoral practice.
In May, journalist Desmond Cole wrote for Toronto Life where he described his many experiences of police officers carding him — these included asking him for ID, searching him, and questioning him on what he was doing in a certain neighbourhood. Cole was one of the people with whom Tory had discussions regarding carding, crediting Cole as one of those who helped change his opinion of the police practice.
During Cole’s second year at Queens University, he was walking home at night with a friend, a white woman, when a police officer approached them and asked his friend directly if she needed any assistance. She replied that she did not, and the cop walked away.
Cole said he was shocked and angry that his “mere presence could cause an armed stranger to feel threatened on [his friend’s] behalf.” This officer’s interaction with Cole, and similar conversations between other police and civilians, are damaging. By racially profiling people, police are assuming that they are a threat to public safety, which marginalizes them. How can these people, in turn, trust the police when the police, only based on knowledge of skin colour, don’t trust them?
Another point Cole brings up is that “black people are also more frequently placed in maximum-security institutions, even if the justice system rates [them] as unlikely to be violent or to reoffend.” He then hits the nail on the head when he writes, “if [black people] are always presumed guilty, and if [they] receive harsher punishments for the same crimes, then it’s no surprise that many of [them] end up in poverty, dropping out of school and reoffending.” The point he is making is that it is a vicious, never ending cycle which is fuelled by racist stereotypes and a system which marginalizes the black community and other communities of colour.
The Toronto Police, however, take a different stance on carding. President of the Toronto Police Association, Mike McCormack, stated “carding is a proven, pro-active police investigative strategy that reduces, prevents and solves crime.” Police Chief Mark Saunders, Toronto’s first black police chief, is also against the abolishment of carding. Though he wants to end the “random” part of carding, he still stands behind this practice, believing it enhances public safety.
As a Torontonian who takes pride in my city’s diversity, I was very pleased to hear my mayor make his statement against carding. Although I have never been carded, stopped, or searched by a police officer, I have heard many stories from friends who have. It pains me to hear of their experiences and to read articles such as Cole’s. But I become infuriated if people believe carding is not a racist practice. The Toronto police state carding helps reduce and solve crime, yet they have never provided evidence to back this up.
Carding is racial profiling, simple as that. And the fact that it is implemented in today’s society shows us we still live in a world with racism. As Canadians, we take pride in being a welcoming, democratic and free society. Yet this blinds us from the fact that there are many societal ills which we adhere to; institutionalized racism being a very prominent one.
This all being said, Mayor Tory took a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. There is much work to be done to fix what has been broken by racism, and ending carding is only a drop in the ocean. We can’t just “start fresh,” as Tory suggests, on issues such as this. We must recognize the damage it has done, and also try to rebuild the trust between the police and the people. I love my city, and I believe that ending carding is a step in the right direction as we learn to thrive in our abundant diversity.