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Toronto's Carding System Is Basically a 'Stop and Frisk' Program

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Part Two of Senator Jaffer's Blog Series on Systemic Discrimination in our Criminal Justice System

Most Canadians regard the police as trusted personnel whose job it is to protect you. When my children were growing up I often told them that if they ever got lost they should go and find a police officer to help them. Unfortunately, many visible minority youth do not have such a trusting relationship with the police. These feelings of distrust begin from a young age when they see their parents, family members or peers being unfairly targeted by the police. For these young people the sight of a police officer can conjure up feelings of fear, resentment, distrust, and even anger.

On March 3, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights discussed the issue of visible minority youth and their interactions with the criminal justice system. The most concerning issue that was raised was of the systemic discrimination inherent in the policing of racialized communities and the lack of trust that can brew from this discrimination.

In Toronto, the police have implemented a carding system where police forces stop, question and document people during non-criminal encounters on the streets. The program is akin to New York's notorious "stop and frisk" program which was recently ruled unconstitutional and abolished.

Statistics about carding in Toronto tell us that people who are black or brown are more likely to be carded than whites. Essentially this means that a brown or black person is more likely to be seen as suspicious by the police than someone who is white.

During our meeting on visual minority youth and the criminal justice system, Emma Rhodes of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defense Lawyers told us that "rates of carding are highest in racialized communities, and these youth report that they are often searched during these stops and that they feel criminalized by this process."

Research conducted by Robin Fitzgerald and Peter Carrington suggests that there has been a disproportionate visible minority youth contact with the police. Their paper on the issue concluded that racially discriminatory policing may explain why visible minority youth are more likely to come into contact with the police. The consequence of having a segment of the youth population that is untrusting of the police and other authority figures is that it can lead to feelings of alienation and despondency for young people.

The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights heard from several witnesses on this issue. I asked the Department of Justice and Public Safety Canada about how they were addressing the systemic discrimination that visible minority youth face. Their answer might surprise you.

Take a look at the video below and see for yourself.

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