It has long been recognized that the Canadian justice system is fraught with racism that disproportionately impacts Black people and communities across the country, resulting in racial profiling, harsher sentencing, mistreatment in prison, denial of services, and other injustices which can be compounded for people with intersecting identities (e.g. Black Muslims, Black LGBTQ2S folks, etc.)The way that racism is institutionalized in the justice system, as well as in broader society, is connected to Canada’s long, sordid legacy of perpetrating anti-Black racism throughout history with enslavement, exclusionary immigration, and more.
One form of racial discrimination that has taken the spotlight in policy discourse and media in recent years, is the issue of carding — or police street checks — when police officers stop, question, and document individuals without any evidence that they have been involved in, or have any knowledge of, an offence. Bias and stereotyping play into the officers’ decisions of who to stop and why, which affects many racialized groups, but especially Black people. Carding can often be the first point of contact that can lead to further mistreatment, violence, and racism within other segments of the justice system as well as negative mental and physiological health outcomes.
The stats on police racism are enraging, but not surprising. The Ontario Human Rights Commission interim report on anti-Black racism in policing states that Black people in Toronto are up to 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police than white people. If you’re Black in Halifax, you are six times more likely to be carded by police, compared to white counterparts. In Vancouver, a comprehensive third-party review of police data is currently underway, but statistics currently show thatin 2017, 5 per cent of street checks involved Black individuals, who make up only 1 per cent of the city’s population. Ottawa is no different, where Black drivers are stopped 2.3 times more than the dominant population. And despite sharing stats from just four cities, anti-Black racism in policing is undoubtedly present in all other regions of the country due to institutionalized racism where deliberate structures of oppression and white supremacy are deeply embedded within all levels of the justice system.
Canada is on the radar of international human rights bodies for its neglect of dealing with racial discrimination in policing as well. The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has raised alarms about systemic racism within Canada’s justice system, including specific concerns on how carding disproportionately impacts Black people. And, the 2018 United Nations Universal Periodic Review for Canada – which includes recommendations from 107 countries –highlighted discrimination against Black Canadians as an issue of concern.
So what can be done to stop carding once and for all? Canadian Federal, Provincial and Territorial governments can take measures to ensure this racist practice is put to an end. Legislating a ban of this nature isn’t easy. It requires cooperation across governments, commitment from police boards and unions, and true accountability. We need legislation with teeth and not just empty words as we’ve seen happen with Ontario’s 2017 supposed ban on carding, which unfortunately still lets police get away with racist street checks, with loopholes in the language and no clear monitoring or accountability in place, not to mention an uncooperative provincial government that seeks to hold back progress.
We’re long overdue in joining this conversation to advocate for a true and effective solution. Racism in policing violates many rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including Article 3 on life, liberty and security of person, Article 7 on equal protection without discrimination before the law, Article 9 on arbitrary detention, arrest, or exile, Article 13 on freedom of movement, and the list goes on.
To get involved in speaking up against carding and other forms of anti-Black racism in policing, you can ask your local political candidates what they are prepared to do to address anti-Black racism in your own community.