Amused and Insulted: Personal Reflections of a Contact Card Target

Anti-Black Racism Network Press Conference on Police Carding

Ryerson University – May 13, 2015

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I’m not sure whether I should be amused or insulted by the proposition, put forth by various police officials over the last half decade, that carding plays an indispensable role in maintaining public safety.

Perhaps I should be amused because the Toronto Police Service has a distinguished record of being less than honest with the public, as evidenced by the fact that they won the 10th annual “Code of Silence” award given by the Canadian Association of Journalists “to the most secretive government agency in Canada.”

Perhaps I should be amused because in affluent, predominantly white parts of Toronto – such as Bloor and South Kingsway – black people are more than 10 times as likely to be carded as their white counterparts and the police justify this disparity with reference to “crime hot spots” in such areas, though, of course, they never specify the crimes or the particular “hot spots.”

Perhaps I should be amused because the police are fully aware that “stranger danger” is not the norm, meaning violent crimes such as murder, attempted murder, assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, forcible confinement and other violent crimes overwhelming take place between family members, friends and acquaintances, in which case you don’t need a contact card to identify the perpetrator; that’s especially the case for violent crimes committed against women.

Or perhaps I should be amused because the Toronto Police Service, with a budget of $1 billion per year, has never earmarked a tiny fraction of that budget for the task of producing a detailed statistical report which would explore whether carding has a direct and verifiable positive impact on public safety; nor have they provided a list of the presumably hundreds of concluded court cases that resulted in convictions due, in part, to evidence in the form of contact cards. I suspect they’ll do neither because in the first case the results would not be in their favour and in the second case the list of concluded cases would be pathetically miniscule.

Having said this, however, I’m more inclined to be insulted than amused, because the document that I’m holding in my right hand was produced in connection with a traffic stop in April 2010, at which time I was carded by two officers from 33 Division; as far as I could tell, they were living testaments to the fact that the Toronto Police Service is a grossly over-resourced organization staffed with officers who devote their excess energy to the time-honored tradition of targeting people on purely racial grounds.

Since any healthy democracy is founded on distrust of heavily armed agents of the state, I decided to file an access request which enabled me to secure my contact card information. Under the heading “nature of contact” we find the words “general investigation,” which means there was no specific investigation which means I was carded on arbitrary grounds, an experience shared by hundreds of thousands of other people.

Additionally, they listed my date of birth, sex, skin colour, eye colour, hair colour, height, weight, address and clothing. And in the interests of public safety they also provided a “facial hair description” and characterized me as “clean shaven.” I assume, therefore, that public safety will be undermined if I grow a beard and they fail to update my file.

I want to conclude by quoting the words of Kim Derry, who was the Acting Chief of Police in Toronto in early 2010. In a January 2010 letter to the Toronto Star he spoke glowingly of a police project that made Toronto “infinitely safer.” It wasn’t carding, it was “Project Safe City” which entailed the confiscation of “firearms illegally possessed by city residents.” Here is his description of the project:

“It aims to ensure those people comply with the Firearms Act or submit their firearms for destruction to ensure they can’t be diverted to the illicit firearms market. Since March 2009, more than 1,150 firearms have been seized. More than 70 per cent were handguns, assault rifles, machine guns or submachine guns. Of the last 13 RCMP officers killed, 12 were killed with long guns. Of women killed by their partners, 23 per cent were killed by long guns.”

Now I’m not one to tell top notch media professionals how to do their jobs, but I’m pleading for one of you to do a piece entitled “What Happened to Project Safe City?” All internet references to the project end in the year 2010 even though the police, at the time, remarked that they were nowhere near seizing all of the illegally possessed guns that fell under the ambit of the project.

My contention is that Project Safe City – which made the city “infinitely safer” – was terminated because it was regarded as infinitely insulting to those who had their weapons confiscated: people who are much more white and much more affluent than the preferred targets of the Toronto police.

So when police officials attempt to present carding as utterly indispensable it’s because they consider their usual targets as utterly expendable and hence beneath contempt. This is why after over a hundred anti-carding deputations to the Toronto Police Services Board the practice of carding continues, thereby illustrating the futility of reform efforts and the wisdom of seeking the outright abolition of carding.

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