Edmonton Police Service is continuing the controversial practice of street checking or “carding”, despite being accused of racism from groups in Edmonton. Black Lives Matter along with Indigenous groups are calling for a ban on carding when police do random spot checks on individuals and collect their personal information. They say too often Indigenous and black people are targeted. They are calling for the Edmonton Police Service to scrap the program by the end of the year.
“Street checks are the process of arbitrarily stopping and collecting information from individuals who are not suspected of committing a crime.” says Bashir Mohamed from Black Lives Matter Edmonton. They requested data about who Edmonton Police are stopping. They found Indigenous individuals are 4 times more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts. Indigenous women face the highest rates at 6.5 times than the number of white women checked, and black Edmontonians are 3.6 times more likely to be carded than white Edmontonians.
Edmonton police conduct about 26,000 of these checks per year. Many are simply situations where officers ask people how they are doing. In some cases officers collect personal identifications. The practice is based on criminal profiling, not racial profiling, the police stress. Talking to the community is critical to the EPS’ work. All officers are trained on racial vs criminal profiling. Loosing the ability to conduct street checks would compromise the ability for officers to do their jobs, police argue.
“As much as community-based policing model is in our DNA, I would almost say or suggest that we move to a relationship-based policing model, where relationships with the community are important on all levels.” said Insp. Dan Jones, EPS Investigative Supports Branch, “whether that be our youth, our business owners, our vulnerable population, or our criminally involved.”
“We’re continuing to see the number in our street checks decline.” says EPS. In 2016, the Edmonton Police put in place a new street check policy. They say these numbers don’t tell the whole story, and they may be misrepresented geographically like in downtown problem areas. “We’re not just randomly arbitrarily stopping people. That were doing it in those areas that we’ve identified to have issues with crime.” Some community groups are defending the practice. “Had they not checked on me, I probably could have been dead a few times, you know, because there was times where I needed them to check on me” said Theresa Strong, a former gang member. “I needed to go to jail for the night and sleep for the night or something because I was so addicted.”
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It’s a controversial practice across Canada, with Ontario banning random carding at the start of this year. But critics say the rules don’t go far enough, some saying officers can still gather private and sensitive information if they say they are probing a crime. Last week, a Lethbridge, Alberta lawyer also called for the checks to be stopped. The province’s Justice Minister has already formed a group to review police checks. Kathleen Ganley says “consulting with Albertans is the next step in determining if changes are needed or should they be stopped all together.”
She went on to say “Community based policing can build trust and relationships that prevent criminal activity and keep communities safe. Police are expected to use this tool in accordance with Alberta’s Provincial Policing Standards, which indicates policing must be impartial to all persons and service must be provided without regard to race or ethnic origin. I and my office have been in contact with Edmonton Police Chief; Rod Kencht, and I understand the EPS has been examining their practices regarding street checks, including having reached out to the Alberta Human Rights Commission to ensure they are following best practices. Although we have not received any formal or specific complaints related to street checks, my office has been in contact with the Alberta Human Rights Commission to ensure that policing practices respect the diversity of this province. We will continue to seek guidance from the Commission.”
This article was written by Stacey Leochko.