Five days after the New Year’s Eve ball drop of a 300-plus page review of carding and police street checks in Ontario, Justice Michael Tulloch and his team met with reporters and the public to talk about the results and recommendations at a downtown Toronto hotel that is a brisk 10-minute walk away from the politics of Queen’s Park.
What will come of Tulloch’s street check report is dependent upon political will and the majority provincial Progressive Conservative government, led by Premier Doug Ford.
It is was one of four, highly critical major reports into policing released within the past month, including a review of Thunder Bay Police Service by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and an interim report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in its ongoing inquiry into racial profiling and discrimination by the Toronto Police Service.
The common thread to all of them is that none of the findings were news to Black and Indigenous communities in Toronto and the province.
On Friday, before a conference room at the Chelsea Hotel packed with rights advocates, the public and police brass from several Ontario police services at the Chelsea Hotel, Tulloch stressed the importance of police maintaining the trust of the communities they serve.
“The police are the public, and the public are the police,” said Tulloch, referring to one of the guiding tenets of the Peel Principles, which he said helped guide him in his review.
In order to maintain safety, there must be community and police co-operation, said Tulloch, who said he was not sure before he began his review what constituted a legitimate street check.
Tulloch, an Ontario Court of Appeal justice, and his team consulted with more than 2,200 people, including representatives from 34 police services, and received more than 100 written submissions.
He soon learned the scope of the issue, and how it disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and racialized groups.
Tulloch’s street checks report stresses the importance of training and making it clear to police what is expected of them in street check encounters, where “carding” — the complete randomness in choosing who to stop, question and document, and creating “a database for general intelligence purposes” — has no place.
Of the 103 recommendations made, many of them aimed at tweaking and adding language to existing provincially-mandated street check regulations enacted in 2017, several aim to clarify, suggesting the regulations should:
- Expressly state that they do not apply to “attempts to confirm the identity of an individual who matches the description of a missing person, human trafficking victim or other victim of crime” or to “interactions that have a community-building purpose, meaning on-duty police contact with members of the community meant to foster positive relationships and/or assist members of the public without gathering identifying information for an investigative or intelligence purpose.”
- Define “suspicious activity” to mean an activity where, under all of the circumstances, there are objective, credible grounds to request identifying information.
- Direct and train officers who have identified suspicious activity and if it is “feasible to do so, a police officer should first make inquiries of an individual to confirm or dispel the officer’s suspicion without requesting identifying information.”
Shortly after coming to power, the Progressive Conservative government hit the pause button on a police reform bill that included wide-ranging changes, including enhancements to the province’s civilian Special Investigation Unit, a law brought in by the previous Liberal government in response to another of Tulloch’s reports on police oversight. The Conservatives are reviewing the bill, and intend to introduce a bill of their own.
In reaction to the report, Sylvia Jones, the minister who oversees policing, said this week that the government will review Tulloch’s street check report. Jones said “new police legislation will reflect a simple principle: racism and discrimination have no place in policing. Justice Tulloch’s report will inform our work as we fix Ontario’s policing legislation.”
Between 2010 and 2014, repeated Toronto Star analysis of Toronto police street check and carding data, obtained through freedom of information requests, has shown that Black people were more likely in each of the city’s 70-plus patrol zones to be stopped, questioned and documented than white people, and more so in predominantly white areas of the city.
While Black and, to a lesser extent, brown-skinned people were subject to higher rates of street checks, compared to what they represent in Toronto’s population, people with white skin colour represented the largest skin colour group, by sheer volume, in street check data examined by the Star.
Similar patterns emerged in other Ontario police jurisdictions, leading to the enactment of the province-wide regulations.
Toronto police suspended street checks involving the inputting of personal details into a database in 2015.
Jim Rankin is a reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @Jleerankin