Tag Archives: carding

CityNews engaged in reckless journalism by pushing pro-carding police propaganda

Image: A Toronto police car. (Image credit: Wikimedia/Raysonho)

This past weekend, there was a late-night shooting in Toronto’s Chinatown neighbourhood. Two people are dead and three injured; the shooter remains at large. It was the latest shooting in what was an unusually violent January for Toronto.

In this post, I’m not going to be looking at the shooting in much detail. Instead, I’d like to look at the way that one specific media organization has responded to it – by using irresponsible and unfounded remarks by the president of the Toronto Police Association to draw in traffic and stir up a false controversy. Continue Reading

Body cameras, TPS’s biggest response Sammy Yatim shooting, wouldn’t have prevented his death

Image description: A close-up shot of a Toronto police officer, from chin to mid-torso. Attached to their uniform just below the shoulder is a small black camera with a forward-facing screen. (Image credit: TPS)

Image description: A close-up shot of a side-facing Toronto police officer, from chin to mid-torso. Attached to their uniform just below the shoulder is a small black camera with a forward-facing screen. (Image credit: TPS)

As you’ve no doubt heard if you live in Toronto, James Forcillo, the cop who shot and killed Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013, was found guilty this week – not of murder, but of attempted murder.

It’s a sad but true fact that no cop has ever been convicted of murder in Ontario, and many legal observers expected that, given the legal system’s built-in lenience towards killers in uniforms, Forcillo was likely to get off scot-free. It’s better than nothing, a lot of folks are saying. At least he was found guilty of something.

While I see where this argument is coming from, it feels defeatist to me. It feels like it gives up too easily, resigns itself to a certain level of police brutality and impunity.

James Forcillo murdered Sammy Yatim. He had a vast variety of options at his disposal short of shooting and killing the disturbed teenager, and he tried literally none of them. Sammy Yatim’s death was tragic, senseless, entirely unnecessary. In finding Forcillo not guilty on a charge of second-degree murder, the jury was essentially saying that his actions were justifiable. That this is possible, that we aren’t able to legally hold police to higher standards than the general population, is a travesty.

As for the precedent this trial sets, it’s hard to say. Police union president Mike McCormack is convinced that it will have a chilling effect on officers, will make them more hesitant to act in volatile situation, will make us all less safe. There’s a lot of bullshit in the way he’s spinning that, but maybe it’s true that cops will feel slightly less trigger-happy knowing that they may actually face (gasp!) consequences.

To date, the most significant consequence of the Yatim shooting is the implementation of a few key recommendations made by an inquiry into his death by Frank Iacobucci, a retired Supreme Court justice. One of these recommendations was the use of body cameras by frontline Toronto police officers, and a pilot program was launched last May.

In this article, I argued that body cameras are a solution in search of a problem (in that we don’t lack for footage of abusive cops, taken by civilians or surveillance cameras or dash cameras), that they are problematic and prone to abuse, and that body cameras do literally nothing to address the actual root causes of police brutality. Continue Reading

Don’t act so smug about Trump, Canada – Islamophobia is a serious problem here too

Image: Zunera Ishaq wearing a colorful patterned niqab. Ishaq’s battle to wear her niqab while she took her oath of citizenship became a central focus in the recent election, just one example of widespread anti-Muslim racism in Canadian politics. (Image credit: CP/Patrick Doyle)

Yesterday, as the first few hundred Syrian refugees since the election began to arrive in Canada, the Toronto Star printed a front-page editorial saying, in English and Arabic, “Welcome to Canada,” telling refugees that they’re “with family now.”

The short piece, which leaned heavily on well-worn and outdated Canadian stereotypes (and a totally gratuitous plug for Tim Hortons), played up the notion that Canadians are, as a group, a welcoming and tolerant people.

There was an almost self-congratulatory tone to the whole thing – an entirely implicit one, of course. But in a week which featured a call from a leading candidate for the American presidency to ban all Muslims from entry into the “land of the free”, the very act of publicly welcoming Syrian refugees takes on a secondary dimension of subtly proclaiming that we are a much more open and accepting nation.

As for Trump himself, his anti-Muslim remarks this week set off a flurry of condemnation from Canadian politicians. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called for banning Trump and others who “spout hatred” from entering Canada, and Toronto and Vancouver city councillors are working on proposals to remove Trump’s name from high-profile skyscrapers in the two cities. Toronto councillor Josh Matlow went so far as to call Trump a “fascist” on Twitter.

And for many, the contrast between Canada and the United States was crystal clear: Continue Reading

Tory flip-flops, calls for carding to be abolished after pressure from elites

April 16, 2015:

In a high stakes move, the Toronto police board has passed a revised community engagement [i.e. carding] policy Thursday, rushing through a document before Chief Bill Blair leaves at the end of the month without the “progressive” citizen safeguards first sought by the board a year ago…

Board member Mayor John Tory said after the board vote that he chose to support the revised policy because it was the only way forward after an eight-month stalemate.

“That policy could not and was not operationalized,” said Tory. “Communication was diminishing, attitudes were hardening on all sides,” says Tory, although he says any suggestion that Chief Bill Blair was insubordinate were unfounded.

June 3, 2015:

After dozens of prominent Torontonians stood just steps from John Tory’s second-floor city hall office to demand an end to carding, the mayor said he heard their message “very clearly.”

But on Wednesday, Tory refused to join that call, instead doubling down on his position that the practice needs reforming, not shelving.

“Work has continued virtually non-stop on improving the procedure which governs police-community engagements and relations, and though it is a complex issue I think all sides acknowledge that we are making progress,” Tory said at a press conference held inside his office. “I have always maintained that the recently-passed policy is a beginning not an end.”

Today:

Toronto Mayor John Tory has called for an end of the controversial police practice of carding, which he said has “eroded the public trust.”

“It is my intention to see carding cancelled permanently and that we start fresh,” Tory told reporters at a news conference on Sunday.

Tory said he intends to go before Toronto’s police board on June 18 and call for the practice to be eliminated.

So what happened here? Continue Reading

Activists flood Toronto city council meeting, demand end to TPS cooperation with immigration enforcement

Toronto Police Services is in violation of the City of Toronto’s Access Without Fear policy, which guarantees access to city services to all residents of the city regardless of their immigration status. What’s more, TPS misrepresented both their policies and their obligations in a report to Toronto’s city council.

Those were the accusations levelled by a coalition of community groups and activists at a meeting of council’s Community Development and Recreations Committee this morning. In a series of well-prepared and impassioned deputations to the committee, representatives from a broad array of organizations working with different affected communities detailed the many ways in which Toronto police violate non-status immigrants’ right to access law enforcement without fear of deportation.

The consequence of this, as many of the deputations made clear, is that many communities are fearful of turning to the police even in the most severe emergencies.

TPS’s policy is that they will not ask for proof of status unless they have a “bona fide” reason for doing so – what they call their “Don’t Ask” policy. They also contend that, once they have discovered that a person is a non-status immigrant, they have a legal obligation under the Ontario Police Services Act to inform the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Both of these positions were hotly disputed at the committee meeting. Continue Reading

TPS’s new body cameras: tamper-friendly, a privacy nightmare, and a private-sector cash grab

The rhetoric of the police apology is highly distinctive.

More often than not, the apology never happens, of course, because police forces are great at not acknowledging police brutality or corruption or lawbreaking. The victims become the perpetrators, and the thin blue line is all that stands between all that is decent and the depraved anarchist thugs.

Occasionally, though, some cop does something so brazen and unforgivable that the force must respond publicly, and when they do, they do their utmost to throw the perpetrator under the bus.

One hears of bad apples, and of tireless service, and of how most cops are really great people; while “mistakes were made”, nobody particularly high-up or important made them; and if you just for God’s sake trust us, things will work out better next time.

After Sammy Yatim, a distressed teenager with the world’s tiniest switchblade, was murdered on a Dundas streetcar two years ago by a cop who had so many other options at his disposal, we heard these same tired slogans and excuses and empty promises, from police apologists in the press and from TPS spokespeople.

But there was a lot of disbelief in the community. After so many years and so many deaths, that “Trust us” rang pretty goddamn hollow. Continue Reading

“Better training”, “more oversight”, and other technical non-solutions to police brutality

In the aftermath of revelations of police brutality/corruption/violence/abuse/extortion/entrapment/[insert your choice of awful behaviour here], defenders of institutionalized oppression are often desperate to find some way of appeasing the angry masses without actually changing the deeply broken system which led to all the outrage to begin with.

These champions of the police, a group composed of politicians, police bureaucrats, P.R. flaks and pundits, as well as the arms dealers and prison operators who thrive on the criminalization of everyday life, are powerful but not very numerous. They therefore rely on arguments and policy changes which will appease and convince enough of the populace to either agree with them or at least stop actively resisting them, so that they can get away with not making meaningful changes.

There are many tried and tested strategies available to these people. One of the most effective is the appeal to prejudice, which is to say, fear.

Continue Reading

Criminal ex-police chief Bill Blair will run for the Liberals

Civil liberties violator, racial profiler, and apologist for police brutality Bill Blair announced today in an exclusive interview with the Toronto Star that he will seek the nomination for the Liberal Party in Scarborough Southwest.

This is one of those times when I hate being right.

You may recall that last week I was sounding the alarm about a “grassroots initiative” led by “local Liberals” to “draft Bill Blair” to run in the upcoming federal election. It was transparently an astroturf group, but based on the respectful and widespread coverage it received, I concluded that it was essentially a beat-sweetener put forward by the Liberal Party to float the idea and get some same press. At the time I said:

So one could see this as the first step in what would essentially be a coronation of Blair as the candidate for Scarborough Southwest. And ultimately, that’s the way I’m reading this…I expect that we’ll hear something next weekend, when Blair is officially a civilian, if we’re ever gonna hear anything at all. In the meanwhile let’s all keep our fingers crossed that this is some kind of horrible nightmare.

And now here we are. I’m sad to say I’m not surprised that he’s made it official. There were a few surprises in the Star’s gushing piece, though: Continue Reading

Carding – how about we just stop doing it?

Just a thought.

I mean, there’s a “reasonable policy debate” at the moment about what restrictions should apply to police when they stop totally innocent people and collect information on them which sits in some TPS database for we don’t really know how long. Should cops be obliged to tell the (mostly young black male) people they harass that they’re under no obligation to stay put? Should the (not actually being detained) detainees be given a “receipt” detailing the interaction, or just an officer’s business card on request?

Or how about we just scrap the whole racist train wreck of a program?

The above-linked op-ed by Marcus Gee of the Globe and Mail tries really really hard to make this seem like a two-sided issue, but it ain’t.

The board and the police chief, Bill Blair, were at loggerheads for months on how to reform carding. The board worried that it was souring relations with minorities, given that men of colour showed up in disproportionate numbers in carding statistics compiled in a series of articles in the Toronto Star. The chief worried that ending or severely restricting it would prevent police from gathering useful information.

Both concerns are valid. Any city wants at all costs to avoid conflict between police and minority or disadvantaged groups. But it also wants cops to be able to get out in the city and do their job.

Chief Blair said on Friday that he doesn’t want his officers just hanging around the station “waiting for a radio call to say some catastrophe’s happened” then going out to put yellow tape around the scene. Instead, he wants his officers to hit the streets to make contact with the public, build trust with the community and gather information that might help solve or prevent crimes.

Shorter Blair: We need to coerce information out of communities of colour because they’re a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Like, that’s literally what he’s saying. We need to collect information on people of colour because they’re criminals, or potential criminals, or they know criminals.

And we really are talking about communities of colour here. A lot of news reports make it sound like a matter of opinion. The Globe in particular is tone-deaf on this one – in a summary of Blair’s last police board meeting, Selena Ross writes that carding “is thought to affect minorities disproportionately”. Robyn Doolittle uses identical language in a recent article on the search for a new chief. The phrasing makes it seem like there’s room for debate.

There isn’t.

In late 2013, you were seventeen times more likely to be stopped by police in certain neighbourhoods if you were black than if you were white. Seventeen times. That’s not a thought. That’s a fact.

And it’s facts like that which has led affected communities to label carding terrorism against their community, and to call for the repeal of carding, or at least requiring officers to proactively inform people of their Charter rights at the outset of any encounter.

Let’s stop pretending like this is a hard question. Cops aren’t able to point to any tangible benefits carding has brought. It was initially designed to be an outreach program in minority communities but looks like that didn’t work out too great, did it?

So how about we just scrap the whole thing? Admit it was a terrible idea and tell the cops to stop hassling people of colour whenever they feel bored?

Just a thought.

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