Street checks are still 'harassment' and should be abolished, critic tells Toronto Police Services Board

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The Toronto Police Services Board grappled again with the issue of street checks at its meeting Thursday, pledging to turn the controversial practice from a "spot interrogation" to a "spot conversation."

But one critic told the board that softening the practice simply isn't good enough.

"We see it as harassment. We see the cops coming in our neighbourhoods, and we don't see a collegial type of interaction," Danardo Jones, director of legal services at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, told the board.

The board was presented with a January report from the University of Toronto looking at the issue, which determined that the disadvantages that come along with carding outweigh the benefits.

Toronto police said they'd take some recommendations in the report and soften some of the questions officers ask the people they stop, to make the experience more co-operative and less threatening..

The new provincial rule banning carding came into effect this year, but it only banned police from "arbitrarily" collecting information based on a person's race or presence in a high-crime area.

The province mandated that officers must tell the person they've stopped that they have the right not to reveal  information.

However, the report recommends that police take care in making sure the person understands that it's not against the law to say no when they are stopped on the street.

Chief Mark Sanders says Toronto Police there will enforce strict parameters.

"It's voluntary and it's right based so people have the right to leave, and people are asked up front about that," Sanders told CBC Toronto.

But Jones was skeptical of the police's new approach.

"Folks around this table characterize it as police having a conversation with people of African descent. That's not the way we see it," Jones told the board. 

He argues that the information obtained through carding is tainted, and he supports abolishing the practice entirely opposed to softening it.

"This is such of a devastating issue in our community that I have to maintain a certain level of cynicism until I see some real changes on the ground," Jones told CBC Toronto. "Yes, this might be a step in the right direction; yes, there may be good intentions behind this, but we all know the old adage about good intentions."