Can I get a receipt with that? Toronto’s street checks plan a step in the right direction

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew

Residents of Toronto who are stopped and questioned by police regardless of whether they are suspected in a crime will soon have a small memento by which to remember their experience.

The Toronto Star reports that Chief Bill Blair will submit a board report on Wednesday requiring officers to present those stopped in non-criminal encounters with a receipt detailing the event.

The change comes amid claims that Toronto's street check program racially discriminates against visible minorities. A recent Star investigation found that black men were 3.2 times more likely to be stopped that white men.

Many critics have pointed to the street check program as racial profiling by the Toronto Police Service, while others are more focused on the constitutional legality of the stops in general.

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Mike Leitold, a member of the Law Union of Ontario, told the Star:

I think many judges agree that detaining individuals for the purpose of requiring ID is unlawful. I think it's unconstitutional and a violation of people's rights.

The presentation of a receipt will in no way satisfy those who oppose the street check program on constitutional grounds. But at least the program they oppose will have a better system of oversight.

And those who have somehow "bought" the attention of police will have proof of purchase.

A similar stop-and-frisk program in New York has similarly garnered the attention of those claiming racial inequality. But it is the larger question of constitutionality that had the program in from of a federal court last month, according to the New York Times.

Where does that leave Toronto's program? Not retreating, but working on improvements. The agenda for Wednesday's police board meeting suggests the changes are being made to better serve the public.

From the Toronto Police Service Board meeting agenda:

[T]he review identifies the importance of training to ensure that Street Checks are carried out professionally, for clearly articulated purposes, in a manner sensitive to the needs of the community.

Those involved will hopefully understand better why they were approached, or at least be more aware of the avenues of recourse they have at their disposal.

Cynics can prepare for citizens waving stacks of receipts gathered in unjust street checks to be the stars of future public protests.

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The National Post's Marni Soupcoff writes in favour of the receipts, saying the tickets will also act as a gut check for the officers involved.

Soupcoff, via the Post:

If all goes well, the most important element of the program would be the split-second, but significant, second thought they will cause officers to have before choosing to stop and question an individual whom they have no grounds to arrest.

Anything that quickly and painlessly jogs officers' memories about the constitutional rights of the citizens they are charged with protecting is a good thing. An added bit of accountability — I presume and hope that these receipts will include the officer's identity — should serve as a way of discouraging officers from over-stepping, and identifying officers who do so nonetheless.

In an ideal world, police will be engrained with that level of accountability coming out of the academy. But until then, perhaps this receipt system has merit. We demand receipts from waitresses and grocery store clerks. Why would we expect less from police officers?

Consider these receipts a "How's My Driving" bumper sticker for every officer on patrol.