06/03/2015 09:28 EDT | Updated 06/03/2016 05:59 EDT

Concerned Citizens to End Carding demand end to controversial policing tactic

In an unprecedented display of unity against the Toronto police's use of carding, more than 30 prominent current and former politicians, civil servants and community leaders gathered at city hall this morning to demand an end to the controversial practice. 

The group, which has dubbed itself Concerned Citizens to End Carding, includes three former mayors of Toronto, former Ontario chief justice and attorney general Roy McMurtry, former provincial MPP Mary Anne Chambers, former city coun. Gordon Cressy and a host of high-profile social justice advocates from the city. 

Speaking in turns, various members of the coalition called for Mayor John Tory, city council and the Toronto Police Services Board — the civilian body that oversees the police force — to ensure that the use of carding will end in the near future. 

The practice of carding — which allows police officers to stop any person on the street at any time, question them, record information and then store that data indefinitely in a secret database — has repeatedly been shown to target people of colour and neighbourhoods that police call 'at risk.'

"At this point, it should just be abandoned," said McMurtry of carding. "It has created great collateral damage that threatens the foundations of our diverse communities.

"The stopping of law-abiding citizens who are just going about their daily lives … is, in my view, in violation of the Charter of Rights and the Human Rights Code," he added. 

McMurtry said the Police Services Board should be required to demonstrate unequivocally that the policy does not violate Charter rights, which it has thus far failed to do. 

'Devalued' citizens

Former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall called carding "a policy that is destroying young people's futures and our society."

"We all know young black men, young brown men — and women — who've been going about a good productive healthy life who've all of a sudden been stopped and treated in a way that changes their lives and that makes them feel devalued in our society."

Cressy told reporters that he and other members of the group met with Tory prior to the news conference to express their opposition to carding and asked him to sign a statement in support of ending the practice. Tory revealed that he is working in conjunction with the police board to amend the carding policy, Cressy said. 

For their part, Toronto police, have been defiant in the face of criticism. In a recent interview with CBC News, the new chief, Mark Saunders, said the practice is legal and insisted that carding "does enhance community safety."

Saunders said the intelligence helps police "see the bigger picture" when it comes to what's going on with the 2,000 gang members in the city. But, he said, it doesn't give police officers a "green light" to treat people badly.

"This is a tool that is utilized for gaining better intelligence. But it has to be used properly," Saunders said.

Late last month, deputy leader of the Ontario NDP, Jagmeet Singh, called for a provincial strategy against carding after revealing he has been stopped at least 10 times by police.

Correction : A previous headline on this story said the news conference was held by a group called The Campaign to Stop Police 'Carding' Now. While that group does exist, the news conference was in fact hosted by a group called Concerned Citizens to End Carding. (Jun 03, 2015 11:19 AM)